The 10 Best Moments in WSOP Main Event History
Over the course of the more than 40-year history of the World Series of Poker there have been a lot of thrilling moments (as well as an equal amount of agonizing defeats) and in this column I have selected the 10 moments that stand out from all the rest as the absolute Best moments in WSOP history.
I chose the following 10 entries based not only on their historical importance, but also their overall impact on poker, and the amount of coverage they received both at the time and in today’s poker world. So without any further delay here are my choices for the 10 Best Moments in WSOP Main Event history, in no particular order.
- 1. Stu Ungar: 1997’s Comeback Kid
A two-time WSOP Champion by the age of 25 (which could easily have made the list in its own right), Stuey “The Kid” Ungar was written off by the poker community after falling on some hard times due to his addiction issues, but in 1997 “The Kid” added a third World Series of Poker Main Event title to his resume (his 10th win in the 30 $10,000 poker tournaments he entered in his lifetime) and in the process was given a new moniker, The Comeback Kid” as his hard living and over a decade since bursting on the WSOP scene had destroyed his baby face.
Ungar’s comeback would be short-lived, as his newfound windfall caused him to fall back into his bad habits. He was found dead in a divey Las Vegas hotel room just a year after his improbable comeback with only a few hundred dollars.
- 2. Chris Moneymaker’s Historic Win
In 2003 the perfect storm occurred at the World Series of Poker: The tournament saw ESPN expand the coverage exponentially; the introduction of a Hole-Card Camera changed the way people viewed the broadcast; and an online qualifier by the name Chris Moneymaker gave everyone in the US and across the globe hope that they could win the WSOP Main Event.
The win was so important and historic that Moneymaker’s name has become as synonymous with the WSOP as Phil Hellmuth, even though he is basically a one-hit-wonder at the legendary tournament series.
- 3. Joe Hachem puts Australia on the Poker Map
If Moneymaker’s 2003 victory was responsible for the rise of online poker in the US, then Joe Hachem’s win in 2005 saw poker expand into new markets in Asia, Australia and Europe. No longer, the American’s game, poker grew in popularity around the world, fueled in no small part by the charismatic Aussie’s win in 2005.
Hachem would go on to be one of the all-time winningest poker players in the history of the game, and is easily the best poker player to win the Main Event during the Internet era.
- 4. Jack Strauss: A Chip and a Chair
Strauss is credited for coining the phrase “Chip and a Chair” which came about after Strauss thought he had been eliminated from the 1982 World Series of Poker Main Event after sliding his entire stack into the middle of the table. Strauss later discovered he had another chip under a napkin, and since he never made an all-in declaration was allowed to play on. Strauss would go on to win the tournament and the Chip and a Chair legend was born. While numerous versions of the story exist, and the veracity has never been verified, it’s still a GREAT story!
- 5. An Amateur Wins: Hal Fowler
Up until 1979 the World Series of Poker was mainly a gathering for professional poker players, and was dominated by the early Texas Road Gamblers. But in 1979 Hal Fowler, an unassuming amateur player managed to win the WSOP, causing a buzz in poker players around the country, all of whom now thinking they could be the world champion. Fowler’s win saw WSOP continue to increase as more and more amateurs flew to Las Vegas during the summer to take part in the tournament series.
Fowler nearly pulled off a Strauss, coming back from a mere 2,000 chips at the final table (a tall feat considering there was over 500,000 chips in play). In true amateur fashion it took Fowler making a gutter-ball straight to crack Bobby Hoff’s Pocket Aces to win the tournament!
- 6. Johnny Chan vs. Erik Seidel
The hand that decided the 1988 World Series of Poker has been immortalized thanks to the movie Rounders, and the hand is likely the most well-known hand in poker history. It can be argued that this hand’s inclusion in the movie Rounders (and the numerous mentions of it by the cast) demonstrates everything that poker represents; from skillful play to the rollercoaster of emotions players undergo as nothing embodies the game more than the smug sense of glee on Chan’s face and the look of outright misery from Seidel.
- 7. James McManus makes the Final Table
While an amateur player at the final table was from abnormal, the inclusion of McManus, along with his assignment covering women at the WSOP and the Binion murder trial gave his WSOP run the chance to land in a best-selling book, Positively Fifth Street. It can be argued that along with Rounders, Positively Fifth Street was instrumental in introducing the WSOP to the masses.
- 8. Barbara Enright Crashes the Party
The first and only female to make the World Series of Poker Main Event final table in 1995, Enright’s achievement gave women a chance to get their foot in the door of what was (and still is) a man’s world. Enright is possibly the most accomplished female player in WSOP history with three bracelets to her credit (two in the Ladies tournament and one in an Open event) to go along with her fifth-place finish in the 1995 WSOP Main Event.
Since Enright’s accomplishment only Annie Duke has flirted with a final table appearance, finishing 10th in the 2000 WSOP Main Event. Now every year at the WSOP Main Event a big to-do is made about the last female standing.
- 9. Phil Hellmuth Youngest Champion Ever
There’s no telling how the history of poker would have been altered if Phil Hellmuth had fallen to Johnny Chan in the Main Event. Instead of the youngest ever Main Event Champion the story would have been all about Chan’s 3-Peat and Phil Hellmuth may have faded off into poker obscurity. Instead, the Poker Brat went on to rack-up 12 WSOP bracelets and is one of the best self-promoters in the poker world.
- 10. The Early Days
Considering all of the early WSOP’s were big deals, and game-changers for the world of poker, I’ve decided to combine them for the final entry in this article. The first WSOP Champion was Johnny Moss who was “elected” the winner in 1970, and then won the first tournament-style WSOP in 1971. Moss’ wins were followed by fellow road gamblers Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, Moss again in 1974, Sailor Roberts, and finally Doyle Brunson in 1976 and 1977. The first non-Road Gambler to win was Bobby Baldwin in 1978, but Baldwin had proven himself amongst the old-time players by this point in his life.
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