When it comes to iconic moments in poker history, the vast majority have taken place at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). From bracelets to bad beats, ESPN cameras to online qualifiers, the WSOP has had it all.
This year marks the 50th annual WSOP, and for many, it’s an occasion to look back and reflect. Many outlets are offering their take on the best players of all time, while the WSOP itself established the “First Fifty Honours,” which will pay homage to those who have left a mark on the game, dating all the way back to 1970.
Among the categories are Best Overall WSOP Performance, Fan Favourite Player, WSOP’s Favourite Bad Boy, and Most Memorable WSOP TV Hand. To recognise the WSOP’s long history, we thought we’d take a look back at eight of the best moments in WSOP history.
Here they are in no particular order.
WSOP History Best Moments
1. Johnny Chan, the Master
The 1988 WSOP Main Event heads-up match has gone down in poker lore. That’s because it was featured in the 1998 film Rounders starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton. You’ve no doubt seen it and recall Damon’s character, Mike McDermott watching Johnny Chan battle it out heads-up with Erik Seidel.
Chan had won the tournament the year before and was looking to go back-to-back. Seidel, a future Poker Hall of Famer, was a relative newcomer to the WSOP and looking to stop him.
In what would be the final hand of the tournament, Chan flopped a queen-high straight and Seidel top pair. Betting ensued and then came the river, which failed to change the standings.
“Will Erik Seidel fall for the bait?” the announcer asked. “Yes, he’s going all-in, and Chan has him. Johnny Chan, the master.”
It was a truly historic WSOP moment broadcast to the masses 20 years later via what most players consider the best film about poker.
2. Phil Hellmuth Denies Johnny Chan
Just one year later, Chan was back at the final table and looking to make it an unprecedented three WSOP Main Event wins in a row. The only player that stood in his way was the young, brash “Poker Brat” from Madison, Wisconsin – Phil Hellmuth Jr.
In the final hand of the tournament, Chan moved all-in holding the A♠7♠ and was up against Hellmuth’s 9♠9♣. The K♣K♦10♥ flop gave Chan some counterfeit outs, but neither the Q♠ turn nor 6♠ river helped Chan, and he was denied an extraordinary third consecutive Main Event title.
“And there it is, Hellmuth wins the championship,” the commentator exclaimed. “So, Phil gets the money, the gold bracelet, but perhaps best of all he has the knowledge that he beat one of the all-time greats Johnny Chan.”
3. Bluff of the Century – Chris Moneymaker vs Sammy Farha
There’s no denying that when this hand aired on ESPN, it sparked the poker passion for millions of viewers. Chris Moneymaker, a Tennessee accountant, showed the world that amateurs could not only take on the pros but emerge victoriously.
The hand developed on a 9♠2♦6♠ flop with Farha holding the Q♠9♥ for top pair and Moneymaker the K♠7♥ for not much of anything. Both players checked, and the 8♠ appeared on the turn. Farha bet 300,000 and Moneymaker, who had the better flush draw, raised 500,000 more.
Farha wasted little time in making the call, and the 3♥ completed the board on the river. Farha checked, and Moneymaker said the magic words, “All in.”
“You must have missed your flush huh?” Farha said. Moneymaker didn’t give anything away.
Farha thought long and hard trying to draw a reaction out of Moneymaker. Eventually, he folded and Moneymaker breathed a big sigh of relief.
“That’s the bluff of the century,” commentator Norman Chad quipped. Moneymaker went on to defeat Farha and change the course of poker history forever.
4. Martin Jacobson Wins 2014 WSOP
What’s memorable here isn’t one specific moment, but instead Martin Jacobson’s performance at the final table as a whole. The Swede entered the November Nine eighth in chips and grinded a shortstack for more than a third of the hands played.
Finally, on Hand #145 of the final table, he doubled up his eight-big-blind stack and over the next 40 hands built his way back. He would bust Will Tonking in fourth place to end Day 8 of the tournament, and he returned on Day 9 to take the chip lead from Jorryt van Hoof within 22 hands.
Jacobson, now an 888poker Ambassador, went on to win the tournament for $10,000,000 and to etch his name in poker history.
It truly was one of the best performances in WSOP Main Event history.
5. Scotty Nguyen, Baby
“You call, it’s gonna be all over baby!”
Those were the words Scotty Nguyen told Kevin McBride just before winning the 1998 WSOP Main Event. In the final hand, the two saw a flop of 9♥9♦8♣ and Nguyen checked. McBride, who had raised before the flop, came out firing 100,000 and Nguyen asked how much he had left.
Nguyen just called and the 8♥ double-paired the board on the turn. The “Prince of Poker” checked for the second time and called another bet. When the 8♠ put a full house on the board, Nguyen moved all-in and stood up from his chair. As McBride debated what to do, Nguyen uttered his famous words.
That inspired McBride to call off while stating that he was playing the board with his Q♥10♥. Nguyen then rolled over the J♦9♣ for a superior nines-full-of-eights.
In a post-elimination interview, McBride revealed that the only reason he did call was because Nguyen spoke up. Had it not been for his gift of gab, poker history may very well be different.
The silver lining for McBride was that he turned a $420 satellite into a $687,500 payday.
6. John Hesp Lights Up the Poker World
The breakout star of the 2017 WSOP Main Event was by most accounts fourth-place finisher John Hesp, who took home $2.6 million for his efforts. Before his deep run, during which he sported a colourful ensemble as well as an 888poker Patch, Hesp was simply an elder statesman from the UK that sold caravans in Yorkshire for a living and played poker once a month at his local casino.
Now, thanks to his brash play and contagious attitude, he’s one of the most beloved players in all of poker and rumoured to be having a movie made about his life.
Hesp was actually on a great path to win the 2017 WSOP Main Event before a cooler flop against eventual winner Scott Blumstein derailed him.
7. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!!!
The 2005 WSOP Main Event took place during the “Poker Boom” and instantly made superstars of the final nine players including Andy Black, Tex Barch, and Mike Matusow, just to name a few.
In the end, the title came down to Australia’s Joe Hachem and the affable Steve Dannenmann. The final hand between the two became one of the most memorable in poker history. With the blinds at 150,000/300,000, Dannenmann raised to 700,000 holding the A♦3♣. Hachem had the pitiful 7♣3♠ but defended to see the 4♦5♦6♥ flop, which gave him a straight.
Hachem checked, Dannenmann bet another 700,000, and Hachem check-raised to 1.7 million. Dannenmann called and the A♠ turn paired Dannenmann. Hachem bet 2 million, Dannenmann raised 3 million more, and Hachem moved all-in. Dannenmann called off and was looking for a seven just to chop. It was not meant to be, though, as the 4♣ bricked the river.
Pass the sugar!
8. Stu Ungar Wins One Last Time
In 1997, Stu Ungar made poker history by winning the WSOP Main Event for the third time (Johnny Moss won it three times, but the first time was by player vote). It was one of poker’s most historic comebacks after he went back-to-back in 1980 and 1981. Unfortunately, Ungar would pass away a little more than a year later.
Ungar, who was donning a pair of circular holographic glasses, squared off against John Strzemp in heads-up play. One thing that made the match so memorable was that Binion’s Horseshoe opted to hold that year’s final table on Fremont Street under the extreme Vegas heat.
Ungar dominated the competition at the final table, but he did have to get lucky in the final hand on his way to winning $1,000,000.