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WSOP Most Memorable Moments

World series of poker memorable moments

The first World Series of Poker tournament took place way back in 1970 and has been played every year since, but in a much different format than their first event.

From tears of joy, millionaires made and lives changed, to tragedy and depths of despair, there have been plenty of talking points down the years.

Here we look at some of the more memorable ones which will make you laugh, cry and in some cases, wince.

They are in chronological order from earliest to most recent.

1977: The old 10-2 strikes again
We all have a favorite starting hand in Texas Hold’em Poker and for many, it isn’t one of the premium ones.

It may be one that won us our first tournament, or largest pot, even one that has some kind of sentimental value.

For Doyle Brunson, it was 10-2.

In the 1976 World Series of Poker Main Event, he got down to heads-up against Jesse Alto.

The final hand saw Brunson’s 10-2 up against the A-J of Alto, and with a board of A-J-102, things didn’t look good.

However, a 10 on the river gave him his first WSOP Main Event win.

Fast forward a year and Brunson found himself heads-up again, this time against Gary Berland.

The final hand saw Berland all-in with 8-5 on a board of 10-8-5-2.

Brunson once again held 10-2 and incredibly for a second successive year it was a 10 on the river that saw him crowned champion.

1979: Who needs to be a professional?
Up until the 1979 edition of the WSOP, most players were professionals who made a living out of the game – after all, back then the $10,000 buy-in was on paper a lot more expensive than it is today, and believe me, it is still a lot of money today.

But, in 1979, an amateur by the name of Hal Fowler decided to go along and take part against 53 other players, nearly all pros.

He didn’t do too great to start, going down to 2,000 chips at one point, but he hung in there and slowly the cards started to turn.

In the end, he got down to heads-up play with pro-Bobby Hoff, cracking Hoff’s Aces with his own 76o with a Straight to become the first amateur winner of the Main Event and walking away with a cool $270K.

From then on, a lot more amateur players chanced their luck once a year having seen how well Fowler fared.

1982: A Chip and a Chair
My personal favorite fairy-tale from this list relates to the 1982 tournament and Jack Strauss. You may have heard the poker term ‘Chip and a Chair’ before, and it was the 1982 Main Event where it was coined.

Strauss had all his chips in during the tournament – or so he thought – and when he lost the hand, he got up to leave.

However, as he did so, he found another $50 chip hiding under a napkin. He never put the chip into the middle or declared himself ‘all-in’ during that hand and therefore he was allowed to keep it.

He doubled up from it and then did so again, getting himself a nice little chip stack a short while after thinking he had been eliminated.

His ‘nice little chip stack’ grew so much, that by the end of the World Series of Poker tournament, all the other chips had joined his stack giving him the win, bracelet and $520,000 in prize money.

It just shows, if your chips are down, never give up hope…

1989: So close to a hattrick…
I’m not sure about you, but I get fed up of seeing the same sports team win year in, year out. We don’t get that in poker due to the high number of players in the Main Event, but one player who came closer than any other to dominating was Johnny Chan.

In 1987, he became the first non-US born player to win the Main Event beating Frank Henderson into 2nd out of a field of 152 to win $625,000.

In 1988, he was at it again, outlasting a field of 167 this time and walking away with $700,000.

Going for the hattrick, he was promised an NBA Championship Ring if he made it by the owner of the LA Lakers, Jerry Buss.

He very nearly did it as well, getting down to heads-up with the relatively unknown – at the time anyway – Phil Hellmuth.

To this day, he is still the last player to win back-to-back Main Events.

1995: The only female Final Tabler
It is a sad state of affairs in this day and age that even now there has only been one lady to reach the final table of the WSOP Main Event.

That happened back in 1995 and was thanks to a lady by the name of Barbara Enright.
She finished 5th in the end and also has 3 WSOP bracelets to her name (2 were in female-only tournaments, 1 in an open event).

Only Annie Duke has got close to joining her since, finishing 10th in the 2000 edition.

Her feat did lead to an increase in female players though so there is plenty of hope that one day we will see a female Main Event winner.

1997: The Comeback Kid
One of the saddest stories on our list involves poker pro, Stu Ungar.

He burst onto the scene in the early 1980s as a baby-faced assassin and won 2 WSOP Main Events, in 1980 and 1981.

The winnings allowed him to do other things, some of which led to some addiction issues – his first 2 wins occurred before he was 25.

Although many players and fans had written him off, 1997 saw him hit the headlines again as a stunning run in the Main Event which gave him his 3rd title and $1m in prize money. He played 30 $10K buy-in tournaments during his lifetime and won 10 of them- an amazing record.

Tragically, whereas his win should have changed things for the better, the wealth he received simply allowed him to slip back into his old ways and just a year after his 3rd triumph, he was found dead in an LA hotel with just a few hundred dollars to his name.

2003: Moneymaker by name, Moneymaker by nature
The 2003 tournament saw the first players qualify by online satellites.

One of these was Chris Moneymaker, an online qualifier himself for just $39.

It coincided with extra ESPN coverage of the Main Event and the introduction of the Hole-Card camera gave viewers a new level of feeling involved.

Moneymaker went on to win the Main Event and with it a $2.5m payday. He also booked his place in WSOP folklore even though if he was a music act, he would be known as a one-hit wonder.

2012: The first ever $1m buy-in event
There is only a very small percentage of people on this planet who can afford to pay $10K to enter a poker tournament.

When poker nut and philanthropist Guy Laliberté proposed the world’s first $1M buy-in event during the 2012 WSOP, it was a sign that the world had officially gone mad.

However, 48 players didn’t agree and found the funds to buy-in, raising over $5.3m for charity in the process.

The last man standing and the first one to run to his bank was Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari.

It provided the largest ever WSOP payout of $18,346,673, and also the 3rd largest in history for runner-up Sam Trickett.

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