WSOP Main Event Winners of the Boom.

The poker boom has come and for some parts of the world at the hands of the legislators, it has gone.  In this article we’re going to look at the World Series of Poker Main Event champions since the turn of the century and the explosion in popularity and compare their styles and their ability, and take a look at how history has judged them.

Of course by history, I mostly mean poker discussion forums. So in chronological order, starting with 2000 let’s take a look at the men who have won the game’s biggest prize.

Chris Ferguson, 2000: 512 Entrants.

A man who’s been in the news for all of the wrong reasons lately, Ferguson was revered as studious player who played a very mathematical style of poker at the time. Since then, he’s mostly been labeled as having a nitty, nut-peddling style and his extremely slow and deliberate play with lots of unnecessary Hollywooding has drawn the ire of those who play against him and watch him on TV. The general consensus is that Ferguson’s nitty style might have worked well back then when we were all brutal at poker, but would get crushed by the loose-aggressive youngsters that dominate the game today.

Let’s not forget the rather lucky river that sent him on his way when he was heads up against T.J. Cloutier.

Carlos Mortensen, 2001: 613 Entrants. 

Probably one of the less well know winners of the WSOP, Mortensen is still doing the rounds 11 years after his $1.5 win. He’s an EPT regular and is generally held in fairly high regard by his peers and has had some impressive results in the past couple of years including a win at the Aussie Millions Heads-up Challenge in 2011, a WPT win and a victory at the LAPC in 2010, and $25k WPT win in 2007. There’s no doubt that Mortensen has stayed with the times and is one of the Better WSOP champs of the 21st century. There’s not much footage of interesting hands from his win as it comes from the days before hole card cams, but here’s how he got the job done.

Robert Varkonyi, 2002: 631 Entrants.

Varkonyi is probably the least known WSOP winner since poker started to make a name for itself. Since his 2002 victory, Varkoni has done little to inspire. Again his victory came in the pre-hole card days, so we can’t read too much into his play, but the echoes around poker are that he was a very poor player. His dull personality didn’t do much do win him any fans and the fact that he was the last WSOP winner before poker exploded means that the poker history books won’t spend too many pages talking about him. Here he is bluffing Scotty Nguyen in 2003:

Chris Moneymaker, 2003: 839 Entrants.

The field took a jump to 839 in 2003 thanks to a lot of online qualifiers. One of those qualifiers was Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker who turned his $39 investment into $2.5m when he beat Sam Farha heads up for the bracelet, turning poker into a worldwide sensation through which the ‘every-man’ could change his life along the way. He followed up with a 2nd place finish in the Bay101 Shooting Stars in 2004, where he lost out to Phil Gordon. Since then, Moneymaker has been a regular on the live scene and has done very little. It’s widely accepted that Moneymaker isn’t a good player and has poor fundamentals. His victory in 2003 was fueled by fearless, sometimes even reckless aggression and a lot of good luck. He was all-in against Phil Ivey with by far the worst of it and hit a lucky river to send Ivey packing in a big pot.

Here’s his famous bluff against Farha; genius or suicide? You decide:

Greg Raymer, 2004: 2576 Entrants

Poker had exploded by the time the 2004 WSOP rolled around and Greg Raymer had to fight off a massive 2575 opponents on his way to claiming the bracelet. Behind his silly fossil glasses which irked a lot of people, lay a pretty good poker player. Raymer was a regular on poker forums before most of us knew they even existed and if you go back through the twoplustwo archives you’ll see some pretty advanced strategy posts (for their time) by the user ‘Fossilman’, which is the name Raymer posted under, including some very good posts on the stop n’ go play. Raymer  almost completed an amazing feat of back to back final tables, finishing 25th in 2005. He also finished 4th at the 2009 WSOP 40th anniversary event for almost a million dollars. Since then we haven’t seen much of him, but there’s no doubt that Fossilman is one of the classier and more skilled winners of the last decade. Here’s a fun hand from Raymer’s march to victory.

Joe Hachem, 2005: 5619 Entrants

The field for the 2005 WSOP ballooned to a whopping 5619 players and the last man standing was Lebanese-Australian Joe Hachem. At the time of his victory, Hachem wasn’t overly popular with many taking a dislike to his cocky and somewhat brash personality.

He certainly wasn’t helped by the most annoying rail in history, with their ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ chants driving everyone demented. The next year he had a huge score winning a WPT event and since then has had a handful of six figure cashes. Though certainly not the best player to ever win the big one, he’s not the worst. There are however, plenty of examples of him making dubious plays on YouTube, like this rather bizarre information raise against Scott Seiver on The Big Game.

Jamie Gold, 2006: 8,773 Entrants

In what remains the largest WSOP field in history, a record that seems unlikely to ever be broken in the post UIGEA and Black Friday poker world one of the most controversial figures ever to hit the poker big time walked away with the biggest chunk of the spoils. If ever there was an unpopular winner, it was Jamie Gold. A former Hollywood producer, Gold had poker lessons from Chris Moneymaker and Johnny Chan before he sat down on Day 1 of the 2006 Main Event. By day 4, Gold had amassed a huge chip lead that he never relinquished, eliminating 7 of his 8 opponents at the final table and earning $12.1M.

His overconfidence, incessant table chatter and insistence on telling his opponents his actual holding (which is against WSOP rules) are the main reasons why poker fans took a dislike to him. In one instance he actually flashed one of his hole cards to his opponent  Michael Binger during a hand

His image wasn’t helped by a scandal that emerged whereby a friend who had payed half of Gold’s entry fee in exchange for half of his winnings which he reneged on. After an initial court hearing, the two reached a settlement out of court.

Here’s Gold flashing his hole cards:

Here he is in a hand with Prahlad Friedman

Jerry Yang, 2007: 6,358 Entrants

‘Please God, if you love me more than these other degens, send me that two outer’. Anyone who watched the 2007 Main Event will remember Yang’s constant pleas to the man above to send him the ace from space and so on. He ended up running so well at the final table that I’m sure there were a few new sign-ups on the following day. Yang, although a terribly nice guy didn’t play great and was a disaster in marketing terms for poker. He took his $8 mil and effectively said ‘so long suckers’. He does play the odd WSOP event these days but he rarely features for longer than it takes for Norman Chad to make a wise crack about him. Yang played aggressive stuff in 2007 but it was reckless at times.

Here he is doing some crazy stuff and getting lucky:

Peter Eastgate, 2008: 6844 Entrants

2008 saw the introduction of the November Nine and the beginning of the era of youth dominance. Though the November Nine concept was met with mixed reaction it has stood the test of time and did make for an exciting spectacle in 2008.

I think one of the most fun hands in WSOP history was this on between Ivan Demidov and Dennis Philips which has to get a special mention:

Eastgate played really solid, aggressive poker with good fundamentals for the whole final table and was probably the best player to win the event for many years. It didn’t come as a huge surprise though, as he was a high stakes regular on several European online sites. He has since retired from poker but returned again, because nobody can ever quit!

Though his quiet personality wasn’t great in terms of marketability, he was still signed by PokerStars. Here he is at work in 2008:

Joe Cada, 2009: 6494 Entrants

American Joe Cada saw off possibly the worst player to ever make the final table in Darvin Moon in 2009, the second year of the November Nine. Cada was day 1c chip leader and didn’t look back, although he got ridiculously lucky after making some bad plays at the final table, twice hitting two outers when getting all in with a lower pair. Overall Cada probably ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to skill level.

He hasn’t really done a whole lot since winning the Main Event, except his 2012 win at the PCA leaderboard event. Here he is pulling off his special move:

Jonathan Duhamel, 2010: 7319 Entrants

Duhamel is doubtless one of the best players to win the Main Event. He navigated his way through the second biggest field in history in 2010 to win almost $9M and did it in style, beating John Racener in heads-up match where he was certainly the neutrals’ favourite. Since then Duhamel has been a regular on the tournament circuit and put up some good results including an amazing 2012 PCA which saw him finish 4th at the Super High Roller, a  win at the $5,000 8-max and a second at the $25k 8-max for total cashes of over $1.1M. Here’s Duhamel’s winning hand:

Pius Heinz, 2011: 6,865 Entrants

Lastly, we get to German Pius Heinz, another one of the solid players to win the big one. Anyone who watched the 2011 Main Event coverage and the final table live with hole cards couldn’t disagree that Heinz played really well. The hand he played against Eoin O’Dea shown in the video below was one of the most exciting hands of the 2011 Final Table. Heinz was a feared online player long before the Main Event, having racked up over $700,000 in online tournament winnings. Heinz still plays regularly online and is a member of Team PokerStars. His shoes will be tough ones to fill; the fact that young online pros have won the last four Main Events speaks volumes about how well the loose and aggressive style that these guys employ works. Maybe it’s worth a try; either run up a monster stack or bust out on day 1 sounds like a much better proposition than going out with a whimper after 4 days of grinding!

Here’s that hand against O’Dea in full and as live: