Back in 1971, the Main Event established itself as the showstopper and focal point of the World Series of Poker. When Jack Binion envisioned the WSOP, no one including himself ever imagined such an explosive growth!
From its humble beginnings at Binion’s Horseshoe in Downtown Las Vegas to its present home at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, the WSOP main event has captured the dreams of poker players all around the world, while new champions are being crowned and reaching legendary status. With the 50th annual WSOP’s Main Event underway here’s a look at the victories that shaped the event to the mammoth legacy it has today!
1972: Amarillo Slim
In 1972 Thomas Preston, better known to the world as Amarillo Slim, prevented Johnny Moss from winning three in a row and suddenly became the first face of poker. Amarillo Slim was a frequent visitor on talk shows, including “The Tonight Show,” hosted by Johnny Carson. Preston helped introduce poker to mainstream America and created public awareness of the WSOP.
2006: Everything Jamie touched turned to gold
Entertainment producer and agent Jamie Gold took over the chip lead in an event field of 8773 and literally never looked back. Gold’s dominating performance earned him a record $12 million for his victory. Usually the main event the tournament lead jump around among numerous players, but this was like none other.
2004: Players become extinct via “Fossilman”
The MoneyMarker effect shocked the poker world and Binion’s Horseshoe Casino was overflowing with players. However, one winner emerged from the 2,576-player mammoth field adorned with hologram sunglasses and protecting his cards with a fossil: Greg Raymer. The patent attorney from Connecticut led the final table from wire to wire, eliminating David Williams heads-up. This would also be the last time the Horseshoe would hold the entire WSOP main event.
2009: Youngest champion ever
Peter Eastgate broke Phil Hellmuth’s 19-year-old record as the youngest WSOP main event champion. The mark didn’t last long, as 21-year-old Joe Cada broke it the following year. The 2009 WSOP main event final table was jam-packed with notable players. After a lengthy and competitive heads-up battle, Cada came out victorious, earning more than $8.5 million.
1998: “You call, it’s gonna be all over, baby.”
Delivering one of the most famous poker quotes, 35-year old Scotty Nguyen exclaimed, “You call, it’s gonna be all over, baby,” to Kevin McBride during the final hand with a full house (9-9-8-8-8) on the board.
Nguyen boldly broadcast the remark, and McBride called, playing just the board. Nguyen revealed J-9 for a bigger full house to become the 1998 WSOP main event champion, and the Prince of Poker was born.
1993: First satellite champion
In 1983, Eric Drache, the WSOP tournament director from 1973 to 1988, created the concept of the satellite to increase the number of participants in the main event. The field size of the main event was merely a 100 players at that time. Thus, for every player that could satellite into the main event, the field size would increase by a percentage point.
Satellites came into the spotlight when Doyle Brunson was eliminated in third place. Both remaining players, Tom McEvoy and Rod Peate, had won a 1983 WSOP main event seat via satellite. Today the WSOP main event is primarily fueled by satellite winners.
2012: Double-double WSOP winner
Entering the WSOP main event, Phil Hellmuth, who had finished second in the WSOP Player of the Year standings in 2006 and 2011, was leading the 2012 WSOP POY race and was waiting to add another line on his illustrious resume. The only scenario that would prevent Hellmuth from achieving his long-awaited goal was a Greg Merson victory in the main event.
In the end, Merson played a masterful final table and ended up beating Jesse Sylvia heads-up to capture the unparalleled double-double (WSOP main event and POY winner in the same year).
1980-81: The kid is unstoppable
Born in New York, Stu Ungar was a card prodigy. he was considered one of the best gin rummy players in the world. When he eventually moved to Las Vegas, he discovered poker when people wouldn’t play him in gin rummy anymore.
In 1980, he entered the WSOP main event for the first time. His ultra-aggressive style helped him become the WSOP main event champion after defeating two other back-to-back champions in the process: Johnny Moss (fourth) and Doyle Brunson heads-up.
The following year, he continued right where he left off and eventually became only the fourth back-to-back main event champion, joining legends Moss (1970-71), Brunson (1976-77) and Johnny Chan (1987-88).
1992: A chip and a chair
This iconic phrase was conceived during the 1992 WSOP main event, when eventual champion Jack “Treetop” Straus came back from one chip to claim the victory. Strauss pushed his chips forward, thinking it was all of his chips, and was called. After losing the hand, he stood up only to realize that he still had one chip under a napkin.
Subsequently, he spun that single chip into a WSOP main event bracelet and the epic phrase was born. Hoping for a similar improbable run, every short-stacked player today utters this phrase on the felts.
1976-77: 10-2 nickname is born
Several poker hands have nicknames — bullets (A-A), cowboys (KK), Big Slick (A-K) and snowmen (8-8). It is rare that a poker hand is named after a player. However, Doyle Brunson is an exception.
In 1978, he orchestrated the original bible of poker, “Super System” and he is still tied for second all time with 10 WSOP bracelets. But the reason why 10-2 is named after Brunson is that ‘Texas Dolly’ captured both the 1976 and 1977 WSOP main events with this exact same hand.
1989: “Poker Brat” stops Chan’s bid for triple
In 1989, Johnny Chan was simply the best poker player around and was on his way to become the first three-peat WSOP main event champion. When he made the 1989 main event final table, this feat seemed like a foregone conclusion.
However, a Wisconsin native named Phil Hellmuth had his own plans and wanted to put his own name in the record books. The young poker pro disrupted the predetermined outcome with his aggressive playing style to become the youngest WSOP main event champion. Hellmuth has since gone on to become one of the most successful tournament poker players of all time. This victory was his first of currently 15 WSOP bracelets.
2003: The Moneymaker effect
So much has been written about the amateur accountant from Tennessee who qualified via a satellite and almost didn’t play in the 2003 WSOP main event.
The 2003 Main Event was highlighted by Moneymaker’s elimination of multiple poker superstars. His “Bluff of the Century,” which recently was named the “Most memorable TV Hand” at the WSOP First Fifty Honors, will be etched in poker history.
Without doubt, Moneymaker’s win was the No. 1 victory in WSOP main event history, prompting a boom for the game.