In order to crush the World Series of Poker Main Event, it takes everything you’ve got: skill, luck, guts, luck, intuition, luck and…just a little bit of luck.
There have been some amazing Main Event performances over the years. There are players like Ben Lamb, Antoine Saout, and Mark Newhouse, who all improbably made it incredibly deep in multiple years. Ronnie Bardah managed to cash in the Main Event a record five years in a row. 2004 Main Event Champion Greg Raymer finished in 25th place out of a field of over 5,600 in the year after he won it all.
But when you think of the most dominating performances, you think of the guys who won it all. Outlasting an elite field and imposing their will on their opponents all while, very likely, catching an insane run of cards.
So, while we tip our cap to the performances put in by every WSOP Champ, here’s a list of players who got it done their way. Love them or hate them, these five champions dominated en route to claiming the WSOP Main Event crown.
Stu Unger – 1997
Legendary poker player Stu Unger had already won the WSOP Main Event, twice in fact, by the time the 1997 WSOP Main Event came around. Allegedly steeped in debt, Unger had been trying for days to raise the buy-in just to have a shot at the Main Event before Billy Baxter came to his aid and posted the buy-in for him.
A wreck physically, history noted that he was literally falling asleep at the table until Mike Sexton and Baxter urged him to get it together. He did and when he showed up for Day 2, he was forced to do battle with poker legends Doyle Brunson, Bobby Baldwin and Phil Hellmuth. Unger emerged from that competition and made the final table.
At six players, the final table was moved outside onto Fremont Street for the first time to accommodate the fans that wanted to watch Unger play.
He didn’t disappoint. He came out firing in his unique aggressive style. Holding an overwhelming chip lead Unger had a hand in the elimination of all five of the remaining players he faced including vanquishing his heads-up opponent John Strzemp in six hands for the $1,000,000 first-place prize.
Unger would be crowned “The Comeback Kid” for his remarkable showing 16 years after he last won the event. It was his last WSOP Main Event.
Chris Moneymaker – 2003
The beginning of the poker boom started with legend of the accountant who won it all and the aggressive play that got him there. Chris Moneymaker may have had destiny, and a little bit of luck, on his side but his impressive resume in the 2003 Main Event shouldn’t be overlooked.
In his run up to winning the 2003 Main Event, Moneymaker was responsible for the eliminations of world-class poker players Johnny Chan, and, of course, Phil Ivey (in one of the worst coolers in WSOP history).
At the final table, Moneymaker, who entered with the chip lead, let rival Sammy Farha do a lot of the early dirty work until it was his time to shine. When it was, Moneymaker took out Tomer Benvenisti in fifth, eliminated Jason Lester in fourth, was responsible for Dan Harrington’s third place finish and then, after pulling off the bluff that sealed history, finished off Sammy Farha during heads-up play to not only be the epicenter of poker’s golden age but earned himself $2.5 million and possibly a spot in the Poker Hall of Fame.
Jamie Gold – 2006
During the 2006 Main Event, Jamie Gold, coaxed, cajoled and coerced his way into making his opponents do almost anything he wanted. A master of speech play Gold used his Hollywood producer persona to manipulate anyone that got in his way to besting the largest Main Event field in history and securing the mammoth $12,000,000 payday.
By the time the final table started Gold held an overwhelming chip lead. He took that lead wire-to-wire from nine players to the winner’s circle, having a hand in eliminating seven out of his eight opponents. Heavy hitters including Allen Cunningham, Nick Binger and heads-up opponent Paul Wasicka all fell victim to Gold’s incredible run of cards and verbal manipulation.
Gold’s war of words, or speech play if you will, inspired a rule change by the WSOP which prevents players from discussing the contents of their hands while the hand is still in play.
Jerry Yang – 2007
Yes. Jerry Yang. The man that allegedly nicknamed himself “The Shadow” and has been the butt of poker jokes for years absolutely destroyed his final table. Thought to be one of the underdogs headed into the 2007 Main Event Final Table, Yang completely switched up the style of poker his tablemates were expecting to see. Rather than a cautious, calculating approach, Yang came out firing – placing huge overbets and putting players to the ultimate test early and often.
The other players seemed reluctant to play back at Yang, folding huge hands in spots that could have taken Yang out. Yang accumulated chips and then went on a tear of eliminating players systematically. First it was Phillip Hilm, who had a complete meltdown having started the table with the chiplead. Then he and Lee Watkinson went to war with both camps, literally, praying for divine intervention. Yang busted Watkinson and held an overwhelming chip lead which he never relinquished.
Yang sent Lee Childs, Hevad Khan, Alex Kravchenko, Raymond Rahme and runner-up Tuan Lam all to the rail as he collected the $8.25 million first place prize.
Jonathan Duhamel – 2010
In 2010, Jonathan Duhamel conquered the second largest WSOP Main Event field (7,319) in history en route to becoming the first Canadian to win it all. Sure, Duhamel had a little luck along the way, perhaps most notably is when Duhamel’s pocket jacks ran down Matt Affleck’s pocket aces with 15 players left in the field for another one of the worst bad beats in WSOP history.
However, Duhamel took those chips and put them to good use. He entered the final table as the chip leader and battled what would be one of the toughest final tables in recent years. Matt Jarvis and John Racener would both go on to win WSOP bracelets, online grinder Jason Senti was considered a top-flight poker coach, the man who would become a three-time Poker Player’s Championship winner Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi had a seat at the table as well.
Duhamel would also play in what was one of the biggest pots and most memorable hands ever played at a final table. No-limit crusher Joseph Cheong six-bet shoved his ace-seven and Duhamel had to make a gutsy call with pocket queens.
Duhamel wins the hand and goes on to eliminated Racener in short order heads up to solidify his place in WSOP history.