A look at the WSOP winners from the 1990’s and early 2000’s

Prior to the Internet Era (2003- the present) the World Series of Poker was the playground of a small elite group of professional poker players that numbered a couple of hundred, along with a few dozen weekend warrior-type poker players whose estimation of their ability was far from the actual reality. As the year’s pressed on at Binions Horseshoe (the former and original home of the WSOP) the casual poker players who participated in the WSOP grew, culminating with the huge numbers finally achieved in the Internet Era.

In this article I’ll take a look at the lead-up to the Internet Era during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and the players who managed to capture the coveted WSOP Main Event title.

  • 1990: Mansour Matloubi (Iran-Britain) $895,000

Matloubi was the first non-American to win the WSOP, and the British-Iranian poker pro went on to have a successful poker career throughout the 1990’s. Matloubi later became an investor in Ultimate Bet poker, with many people feeling he was complicit in the Super-User scandal at the site (no proof has ever been put forward on this front however and it remains just speculation).

  • 1991: Brad Daugherty (USA) $1,000,000

Daugherty was the first player to receive a $1 million prize-prize at the WSOP and he parlayed his WSOP win into a number of book deals. Recently, Daugherty’s WSOP Championship bracelet has come up for auction on eBay, but failed to reach the reserve price set by Daugherty.

  • 1992: Hamid Dastmalchi (Iran) $1,000,000

Dastmalchi continued the success of Matloubi becoming the second Iranian poker player to win the Main Event, which was the genesis of the future and current crop of Iranian poker players including the late Amir Vahedi and Antonio Esfandiari. Dastmalchi would go on to win a total three WSOP bracelets in his career.

  • 1993: Jim Bechtel (USA) $1,000,000

Bechtel is the forgotten champion of this era, but his win in 1993 was only one piece of his poker career which has spanned five decades now. Showing he still had what it takes to compete, in 2006 Bechtel final tabled the $50k Players Championship at the WSOP, picking up nearly $550k in prize-money and putting his career tournament earnings at $2.5 million.

  • 1994: Russ Hamilton (USA) $1,000,000

Hamilton is by far the most controversial WSOP champion of all-time thanks to his alleged role in the Ultimate Bet Super-User scandal. Perhaps a tip-off that Hamilton was not to be trusted comes from an anecdote after his WSOP victory, where the winner received not only a million dollars but also their weight in silver an idea of Jack Binion’s to honor the 25th anniversary of the WSOP: According to the story, the already hefty Hamilton may have filled his pockets to top-off at 330lbs!

  • 1995: Dan Harrington (USA) $1,000,000

Harrington, now a Poker Hall of Fame member, would later become famous for his back-to-back WSOP Main Event final tables in 2003 and 2004, but in 1995 Harrington won the whole thing! He would later write what is considered the seminal work on tournament poker, titled Harrington on Hold’ Em, in a3-volume set.

  • 1996: Huck Seed (USA) $1,000,000

Seed’s win in 1997 ushered in a new breed of young, fearless, talented poker players. Huck Seed would go on to be one of the most enduring figures in poker, still relevant and on top of the game in 2012. Now known as one of the best Heads-Up tournament players in the game, Seed is among a very elite few who have been successful both before and after the Internet Era began in poker.

  • 1997: Stu Ungar (USA) $1,000,000

In 1997 the back-to-back champion from the early 80’s Stu Ungar returned to the mountaintop of the poker world, earning himself the nickname “the Comeback Kid”.  Ungar’s poker career saw him win 10 of the 30 $10,000 tournaments he entered, a record that will never be broken.

  • 1998: Scotty Nguyen (USA) $1,000,000

“You call and its gonna be all over baby!” were the famous last words of the 1998 WSOP Main Event, and Scotty Nguyen was absolutely right. One of poker’s most colorful and controversial characters, Nguyen is known for his soft heart, but also imbibing too many drinks and getting very nasty in the process. A surefire Hall of Famer had it not been his egregious display during the 2008 Players Championship at the WSOP.

  • 1999: J. “Noel” Furlong (Ireland) $1,000,000

The year of the Irish was capped off with Noel Furlong’s win in the 1999 WSOP Main Event. Furlong was quick to call himself an amateur poker player, was one of the top Irish poker players for many years despite playing a limited schedule –anybody who played with Furlong would surely argue his “amateur” status! Furlong finished in 6th place at the 1989 WSOP Main Event and is a regular participant at the Irish Poker Open, playing in it as recently as 2011.

In 1999 Furlong was one of three Irishmen at the final table –Padraig Parkinson and George McKeever were the others– with a fourth, Mickey Flynn, finishing in 14th place.

  • 2000: Chris Ferguson (USA) $1,500,000

Ferguson kicked-off the new millennium with a win in what would turn out to be one of the most well-known final tables in poker history thanks to 5th place finisher James McManus book chronicling his path to the final table (as well as women in poker and the Binion murder) Positively Fifth Street.

Ferguson would go on to become one of the most recognizable poker players in the world, not only for his success (he is a 5-time bracelet winner) but also for his unique look which earned him the nickname Jesus.

  • 2001: Carlos Mortensen (Spain) $1,500,000

Considered the toughest final table in WSOP History, Carlos Mortensen triumphed over a final table that included Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Phil Gordon, and Dewey Tomko.

The then relatively unknown Mortensen would go on to be one of the winningest players in tournament poker history, including three World Poker Tour titles including the WPT Championship, to go along with his WSOP Main Event win – the only player in poker history to have won both tournaments.

  • 2002: Robert Varkonyi (USA) $2,000,000

Varkonyi was the most improbable WSOP winner since Hal Fowler in 1979, and his inability to reproduce his WSOP win even on the smallest scale has left Varkonyi in the conversation of the worst player to win the Main Event –something Phil Hellmuth predicted when he said he would shave his head if Varkonyi went on to win in 2002 after knocking him out. Varkonyi did win, and Hellmuth did shave his head!


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