Tracking Down Former WSOP Champs

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In the poker world, there is no higher honour than winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. As the official sponsor of the 2016 WSOP, we thought it'd be worthwhile to take a look back at all the past winners and answer one simple question – where are they now?

1970, 1971 & 1974 – Johnny Moss: The "Grand Old Man of Poker" was the first-ever winner of the WSOP, back when his peers elected him to the title. He then won it outright in competition in both 1971 and 1974. Moss played in every WSOP from its inception through 1995, during which time he won nine WSOP bracelets.

Sadly, Moss passed away on December 16, 1995, at the age of 88. He's a member of the Poker Hall of Fame, and you can read more about him by picking up a copy of his authorised biography, Champion of Champions by Don Jenkins.

1972 – Amarillo Slim Preston: One of the most colourful characters in poker, Preston helped popularise poker in the mainstream by appearing on shows such as The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and 60 Minutes. Preston won four WSOP gold bracelets and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.

Preston, whose life was documented in his 2003 autobiography Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People, passed away on April 29, 2012, at the age of 83.

1973 – Walter "Puggy" Pearson: Pearson was known to "play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount I can count, provided I like it." Pearson defeated Moss heads up to win the title in 1973, which was just one of his four bracelets. Pearson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1987. He passed away on April 12, 2006, at the age of 77.

1975 – Brian "Sailor" Roberts: One of the legendary Texas road gamblers, Roberts developed a reputation for loving the ladies and living a little too hard. Still, he managed to win two WSOP bracelets and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame posthumously in 2012. Roberts passed away on June 23, 1995, at the age of 64.

 “In a time fifty years ago when poker players relied on luck, Sailor was developing sophisticated strategies that would enable him to make his own luck,” said fellow Hall of Famer, Crandell Addington. “At a time in which professional poker players were viewed as outlaws and poker was illegal, he formed a partnership with Doyle and Slim, and they travelled across the country from poker game to poker game. They deployed advanced strategies unknown at the time that featured playing their opponents hands on many occasions rather than their own hands. More often than not, they got the money.”

1976, 1977 – Doyle Brunson: Little needs to be said about the "Godfather of Poker." He is truly a living legend of the game, and while Brunson, a 10-time WSOP bracelet winner and member of the Poker Hall of Fame, doesn't play many tournaments anymore, he can be found grinding the high-stakes cash games almost every day in Las Vegas.

1978 – Bobby Baldwin: At 28 years of age, Baldwin was the youngest winner of the Main Event up to that point. Inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2003, Baldwin is a four-time gold bracelet winner. While Baldwin still plays, he only does so in between his duties as a casino executive, which includes being CEO and President of City Center.

1979 – Hal Fowler: The first amateur to win the Main Event, Hal Fowler disappeared from the game soon after. He suffered from diabetes, which affected his eyesight, and passed at a nursing him on November 7, 2000, at the age of 73. Des Wilson wrote an excellent exposé on Fowler in his book, Ghosts at the Table.

1980, 1981 & 1997 – Stu Ungar: "The Kid" is considered one of the best players in poker history. Unfortunately, the five-time bracelet winner battled drugs most of his life. He eventually lost that battle on November 20, 1998, at the age of 45 when he was discovered dead inside room No. 6 at the Oasis Motel in Las Vegas. The cause of death was a heart condition brought on by years of drug abuse.

1982 – Jack "Treetop" Straus: His win resulted in the popular poker aphorism "a chip and a chair" – there was a chip underneath a napkin after he lost an all-in pot, one that he used to come back and win the tournament. On August 17, 1988, Strauss, who stood 6'6", died at the table while playing at the Bicycle Casino. The cause of death was an aortic aneurysm. Strauss was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.

1983 – Tom McEvoy: He was the first player to win the Main Event after qualifying via a satellite. The former accountant went on to author more than a dozen poker books, win four WSOP bracelets, and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2013. He was also instrumental in getting smoking banned in card rooms, and in 2009 won the WSOP Champions Invitational, a televised tournament that invited back all former WSOP Main Event champs, of which 20 participated. Now 71 years old, McEvoy still plays poker.

1984 – "Gentleman" Jack Keller: A three-time bracelet winner that was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1994, Keller passed away on December 5, 2003, at the age of 60.

1985 – Bill Smith: The three-time bracelet winner was a staple on the poker circuit in the 1980s, though he was known as a bit of a drinker.

“Bill was the tightest player you'd ever played in your life when he was sober," said TJ Cloutier. "And when he was halfway drunk, he was the best player I'd ever played with. No one could read opponents’ hands better than half-drunk Smith. But when he got past that halfway mark, he was the worst player I'd ever played with.”

Smith passed away in 1997.

1986 – Berry Johnston: At the ripe old age of 80, Johnston is still getting it done at the WSOP. He cashed in at least one event every year from 1982-2010, and his 29-year streak is still a record. Johnston, who can be spotted at the WSOP each year, was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2004. He has finished in the money at the WSOP 67 times for $2,108,498.

1987 & 1988 – Johnny Chan: While he still plays, the "Orient Express" has spent a lot of his time in the Asian market in recent years. His last cash at the WSOP came back in 2012 when he finished 353rd in the Main Event for $32,871. Chan may have faded from the spotlight in recent years, but his poker legacy, which includes an appearance in the film Rounders and induction into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002 – is cemented.

1989 – Phil Hellmuth: The "Poker Brat" needs little introduction. He is the most decorated player in WSOP history with 14 bracelets, and he returns each and every year looking to extend that record. Hellmuth was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2007.

1990 – Mansour Matloubi: Where he's at is a good question. The last time the poker world saw Matloubi was back in 2006 when he finished 13th in the Asian Poker Tour Singapore Main Event for $14,570. Where he's at now is anyone's guess.

1991 – Brad Daugherty: Known for being the first player to win a $1,000,000 first-place prize at the WSOP, Daugherty co-authored some books with Tom McEvoy. Now 64 years old, Daugherty occasionally makes appearances at the WSOP. In both 2010 and 2011, he placed his Main Event bracelet up for auction on eBay, though it failed to meet the reserve price.

1992 – Hamid Dastmalchi: You can essentially copy and paste from Matloubi above. Poker media members don’t' seem to know, and Dastmalchi hasn't cashed in a poker tournament since 2002, which is when he placed 14th in the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $15,303.

1993 – Jim Bechtel: An Arizona cotton farmer, Bechtel had been playing poker for decades before he won the Main Event. In 2006, Bechtel, who travels to the WSOP every year, finished fourth in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship, which was won by Chip Reese. More recently, he finished 121st in the 2015 WSOP Main Event for $46,890.

1994 – Russ Hamilton: Reputed to be the main person responsible for the cheating incidents at the now defunct UltimateBet, Hamilton is disgraced and persona non grata in the poker world. However, in recent years, he has occasionally been spotted playing cash games in Florida card rooms.

1995 -- Dan Harrington: At the age of 70, you don't see "Action" Dan around too much these days, though he does tend to make an appearance at the WSOP each year. While he won the Main Event in 1995, Harrington is perhaps better known for making back-to-back final tables in 2003 and 2004. The co-author of the historic Harrington on Hold'em books, Harrington was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2010 alongside Erik Seidel.

1996 – Huck Seed: A four-time bracelet winner, Seed is known as a prolific prop bettor. He won the 2009 NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship for $500,000, and in 2010 won the WSOP Tournament of Champions for the same amount. That was the last year the TOC was held. Seed is a familiar face at the WSOP to this day.

1998 – Scott Nguyen: In 2008, ten years after his Main Event win, Nguyen took down the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship, one of the most prestigious titles in all of poker. A five-time bracelet winner, "The Prince of Poker" was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2013 and still plays poker regularly.

1999 – Noel Furlong: Another former champ that has seemingly disappeared. While he's up there in years, Furlong is still alive and well at his home in Dublin. He occasionally makes appearances in events based in Ireland, but he never really attained any sort of fame after the poker boom. His last tournament cash came in April 2011 when he finished 32nd in the Irish Open for $13,580.

2000 – Chris Ferguson: After the events of Black Friday in the United States, Ferguson is no longer involved in the poker business. His last tournament cash came back in November 2010 when he finished third in the Doubles Poker Championship for $100,000. That said, he was spotted at this year's $10,000 Seven Card Stud World Championship, but he was eliminated after less than 2 hours of play.

2001 – Carlos Mortensen: A strong candidate for the Poker Hall of Fame, the Spaniard has enjoyed a long and storied career. He is one of the World Poker Tour's most decorated players, and the only one to win both the WSOP Main Event and WPT Championship. The latter came in 2007 when he topped a field 639 of the world's best players to win $3,970,415, his largest score to date.

In 2013, Mortensen barely missed out on making the WSOP Main Event final table yet again, bubbling the November Nine in 10th place for $573,204. Mortensen can be spotted playing tournaments in Las Vegas on almost a daily basis.

2002 – Robert Varkonyi: The New Yorker essentially bubbled the poker boom, and while he doesn't play much poker, he still makes the occasional appearance. In 2011, he finished 514th in the WSOP Main Event for $23,876, and in 2013 finished 73rd in the WSOP Seniors Championship for $5,751. More recently, he placed 69th in a Foxwoods Poker Classic event for $1,637.

2003 – Chris Moneymaker: By winning the Main Event, Moneymaker sparked the "Poker Boom," which changed the face of poker forever. To this day, Moneymaker is one of the most recognisable players in the world. In addition to playing poker, Moneymaker serves as an ambassador for the game, works with the Hollywood Poker Open, and has his own team, the Las Vegas Moneymakers, in the Global Poker League.

2004 – Greg Raymer: Like Moneymaker, Raymer has been able to build a career by winning the Main Event. A political advocate, "Fossilman" runs poker-coaching seminars while continuing to travel the United States playing poker.

2005 – Joe Hachem: His win sparked a poker boom in Australia, and to this day Hachem maintains a certain level of fame. A year after his win, Hachem became a World Poker Tour champ when he took down the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic for more than $2.2 million. He also almost won a second bracelet in 2006 when he finished runner-up to Dutch Boyd in the $2,500 Short-Handed NLH event. 

Hachem is often spotted at charity tournament alongside Shane Warne, and still makes the annual trip to the WSOP.

2006 – Jamie Gold: He's been around the poker world ever since his win, which has included numerous appearances on GSN's High Stakes Poker. However, Gold hasn't put up any impressive results in eight years since his win. 

In fact, it wasn't until last year he notched a six-figure score, winning $120,952 for finishing fifth in the 2015 WSOP Event #59: $1,500 NLH. Then, back in March, he finished runner-up to Antonio Esfandiari in the WSOP Circuit Bicycle Casino Main Event for $139,820. 

Gold admits he's been working on his game over the last 18 months, and the results are starting to show. He could be primed for a big summer.

2007 – Jerry Yang: The last champ before the institution of the November Nine, Yang hasn't had the easiest go of things. He faced some major IRS problems that forced him to part with his bracelet and Corum Admiral's Cup watch. Both were later sold at auction for an undisclosed amount. 

Despite the hardships, Yang remains a devoted family man who spends time at his Las Vegas restaurant – Pocket 8's Sushi and Grill. He also comes to the WSOP for a few events every year, and makes frequent appearances at charity poker events across the country. 

2008 – Peter Eastgate: One of the only players in recent history to disappear from the game, Eastgate auctioned off his WSOP Main Event bracelet for charity – it went for $147,500 to businessman William Haughey. He hasn't cashed in a poker tournament since 2013, which is when he finished 80th in the ISPT €3,000 Main Event for €3,000. Eastgate is now officially MIA from the poker table. 

2009 – Joe Cada: Michigan's all-time money winner still resides in the Wolverine State, but he travels to Vegas every summer for the WSOP. In 2014, he became the first former champ in the modern era (2003+) to follow up his Main Event win by capturing a second bracelet. It happened in 2014 when he topped a field of 264 to win Event #32: $10,000 NLH Six-Handed for $670,041. 

2010 – Jonathan Duhamel: In the last five years, the Canadian has shown his win was no fluke. In the five full years since his win, Duhamel has won more than a million dollars in three of them, with 2015 being a massive $4,970,513. That is when Duhamel won both the WSOP $111,111 High Roller for One Drop for $3,989,985 and the WSOP Europe €25,000 High Roller for $628,915 giving him his second and third gold bracelets, respectively. 

2011 – Pius Heinz: In the two years following his win, Heinz amassed a mere $8,739 in tournament winnings and essentially disappeared from the game.

“Poker has basically turned back to a hobby for me I guess," Heinz told PokerNews in 2014 during a rare tournament appearance. "I was kind of a professional before I won the Main, and I was a professional for a year and a half after I won the Main. Now I just play whenever I feel like it and when I enjoy it, when I don’t, I just don’t play...I’ve never been like a huge traveller, so that kind of makes poker not so appealing for me." 

That said, back in March, Heinz was at the Eureka Poker Tour €5,300 Super High Roller and won it for €44,814. Is it possible we'll see the former champ back in action? Only time will tell.

2012 – Greg Merson: A former champ still killing it in the poker world, Merson laid fairly low in 2013 – he won just $42,990 – but followed it up a year later by winning $1,067,641. In 2015, he won an additional $321,766. His biggest cash since winning the Main Event came in January 2014 when he finished runner-up to Jake Schindler in the PCA $25k High Roller for $948,996.

2013 – Ryan Riess: He used to be a WSOP Circuit grinder, but since winning the Main Event he's graduated to the big leagues. After a stint as an 888poker pro, Riess now splits his time between his homes in Michigan and Las Vegas, while often travelling the world to play poker. Back in February, he finished sixth in the EPT Dublin High Roller for $102,779, his biggest score since winning the Main Event.

2014 – Martin Jacobson: The Swede is still one of the most respected poker ambassadors on the circuit. He continues to travel the world playing poker in such locales as Prague, Malta, Monte Carlo, and Dublin. That said, Jacobson only managed two cashes in the follow-up year to his big win finishing 55th in the 2015 WSOP Event #51: $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em Six-Handed for $7,887 and 111th in Event #57: $1,000 NLHE for $2,516. 

2015 – Joe McKeehen: It's certainly too early to be asking where the reigning WSOP champ is. In fact, Pennsylvania's all-time money winner has been killing it since winning the WSOP. In October 2015, he topped a field of 267 players to win the Wynn Fall Classic Main Event, which he followed up back in January by finishing runner-up to Bryan Kenney in the PCA $100k Super High Roller for more than $1.2 million. Most recently, he won the World Poker Tour Bay 101 Shooting Star $25,000 High Roller for $156,966.McKeehen will be at this year's WSOP looking to defend his title.

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