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Race to the finish: Who'll be the biggest winner of 2011

ps_news_thn.jpgLex Veldhuis versus Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier. Phil Hellmuth versus Ben Lamb. Pius Heinz versus Martin Staszko. These are just a few of the matchups made famous in 2011, each for very different circumstances. The first was an entertaining kickboxing match, the second a heated race in the 2011 World Series of Poker Player of the Year, and the latter a battle for poker's biggest title. Now, another duo is making headlines -- Ilari "Ilari FIN" Sahamies and Rafi "refaelamit" Amit -- two men locked in a battle to become the biggest winner on PokerStars for 2011.

Of the two, Sahamies is the most familiar to the poker masses. He is a long time high-stakes pro, and has played pot-limit Omaha against some of the world's best. The Finnish pro, known for trash talking, has had the benefit of appearing on several poker television programs and developed a fan base in both the online and live realms. Meanwhile, Amit is an two-time WSOP bracelet winner from Israel, who has essentially given up live play to focus on crushing online.

Both players are mainstays in the high-stakes games, and their results certainly speak to their abilities. The two men are the biggest winners of 2011 on PokerStars, with the Sahamies currently leading by $400,000. Given the stakes and volume the duo play, the poker would anxiously awaits the end-of-the-year race that will inevitably transpire. It has also inspired us to take a look back at 2011 and explore the origins of this friendly rivalry.

Surprisingly, Sahamies' journey to the top didn't begin until August; in fact, up until that point he was a small loser on the year. On the flip side, Amit started right out of the gates, toeing the line at around $800,000 in profits between March and August. It seems the latter month was when the real race between Sahamies and Amit began. Here is a month-by-month look for each player leading up to December 8, 2011:

Ilari "Ilari FIN" Sahamies 2011 Results

  • January | $0
  • February | -$132,430
  • March | -$278,420
  • April | -$373,090
  • May | -$225,890
  • June | -$610,760
  • July | -$873,360
  • August | -$362,660
  • September | $536,340
  • October | $1,300,000
  • November | $2,070,000
  • December | $2,390,000

  • Rafi "refaelamit" Amit 2011 Results

  • January | $262,480
  • February | $205,270
  • March | $767,470
  • April | $800,990
  • May | $800,990
  • June | $800,990
  • July | $800,990
  • August | $756,930
  • September | $1,830,000
  • October | $1,810,000
  • November | $1,920,000
  • December | $1,970,000
  • At a low of minus $873,360 in July, Sahamies switched things into high gear and recoup all of his losses, plus a half-million dollar profit, in just two months. Since then, he hasn't looked back, improving every month in the last third of the year. On the contrary, Amit was never in the red in 2011; instead, he was up $200,000 in January and continued to build on that, though he faced a small setback in February. Interestingly, Amit didn't play between March and July for reasons untold, though it isn't a stretch of the imagination to picture him venturing to Las Vegas for the summer.

    It is also worth noting that both of these players were involved in the biggest pot ever played on PokerStars, which occurred on Sept. 7.

    The hand occurred at a six-handed $200/$400 PLO table and saw Sahamies ($247,909) opened for $1,400 from the cutoff. While Amit had folded prior to Sahamies' raise and did not play the hand, he was still present in the game. As it turned out, Andreas "Skjervøy" Torbergsen ($30,208) and "bernard-bb" ($195,609) were the only to players to make the call, creating three-way action to the K♠2♥3♠ flop. After a check, Sahamies fired out $4,595, Torbergsen raised to $18,380, and both bernard-bb and Sahamies made the call. When action checked to Torbergsen on the 9♥ turn, he moved all-in for $10,428, bernard-bb check-raised to $91,019 and Sahamies called. The 3♥ river saw bernard-bb bet $84,810, Sahamies called, and suddenly there was a pot worth $421,826 on the line. Sahamies revealed A♥K♥6♥4♣ for a flush, which bested the A♦A♠2♦7♠ of bernard-bb. Torbergsen simply mucked and Sahamies took down the largest in PokerStars' history.

    While Amit didn't make the history books in the aforementioned hand, at least as the winner, he's managed to take down a few decent pots. In fact, his three biggest pots of 2011 were $134,534, $140,397, and $170,394, with the first and third both coming in the same game on Aug. 25.

    In his biggest pot of the year, Amit ($155,605) was playing three-handed $100/$200 PLO against Viktor "Isildur1" Blom ($98,241) and Ronny "1-ronnyr3" Kaiser ($29,296), with the latter folding from the button. Amit took the opportunity to raise to $600, Blom three-bet to $1,800, and Amit four-bet to $5,400. Blom opted for a call, and then called his opponent's $5,600 bet on the 2♠6♥Q♣ flop. When the K♠ hit the turn, Amit slowed down with a check, Blom bet $17,400, and Amit called. The 2♣ river saw Amit check-call a bet once again, this time a hefty $56,768, and Blom rolled over 5♠3♣9♣4♥ for a missed wrap. Amit rolled over A♥J♣A♦Q♦ and took down the pot.

    More recently, Dec. 2 to be exact, Amit returned to action for a quick 100 hands, which saw him win $78,700 and make him the day's biggest winner. Unfortunately for him, Sahamies has been grinding a bit more, winning $317,000 as of Dec. 8 and extending his lead to a little over $400,000.

    Given the stakes these two play, it wouldn't be surprising to see that lead disappear in a single night. With that said, we expect the last three weeks of December to be ripe with high-stakes action as two titans race to be 2011's best.

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