4 of the Most Exciting Poker Tournament Moments of All Time

poker cards and chips

When it comes to gambling, some like to rely purely on luck. Many of these players like to play slots online to discover what fate has in store for them. Other gamblers like to play games with an element of skill, with the hope of shifting luck in their favour. For many of these players, poker is the ultimate game that balances luck and skill.

Whether you play amongst your friends or take poker a bit more seriously, there’s no doubt that it has always been a competitive game. However, even the most experienced poker player had their world turned upside down when the World Series of Poker (WSOP) launched in 1970. In honour of this long tradition of competitive poker tournaments, we take a look at four of the most exciting and memorable moments from the history of poker tournaments.

1. Chris Moneymaker wins WSOP Main Event – 2003

This was a win so iconic that it started a catchphrase – “the Moneymaker effect” – which referred to the massive increase in the interest in poker after a particular player won the WSOP Main Event. Leading up to the WSOP Main Event, nobody had any idea who Chris Moneymaker was (yes, that’s his real surname). Moneymaker was working as an accountant when he entered an $86 satellite tournament that was taking place online. By the end of this event, he’d managed to win a seat at WSOP 2003, which would be his first-ever live poker tournament.

During WSOP 2003, Moneymaker managed to make his way to the final table where he went up against professional player Sam Farha. In the final hand, Farha held a Jack of hearts and a 10 of diamonds, versus Moneymaker’s five of diamonds and four of spades. However, the first four community cards swung the game in Moneymaker’s favour, with the river card, a five of hearts, securing the win (and $2.5 million) with a full house.

2 & 3. Johnny Chan wins back-to-back WSOP Main Events – 1987 and 1988

There are very few people who have claimed back-to-back tournament titles in professional poker. The last person to have done this was Johnny Chan, who managed to win both the 1987 and 1988 WSOP Main Events. 

Before claiming his first WSOP Main Event win, Chan was a university dropout who’d given up a degree in hotel and restaurant management to become a professional gambler, which undoubtedly helped him gain the experience he needed to claim his historic wins two years in a row. 

In the 1987 tournament, he went up against Frank Henderson, another professional poker player, in the final round of WSOP. In a brazen display of courage, Chan, with an Ace of spades and a nine of clubs, matched Hendersons all in, which he played off a pair of fours. As the community cards were revealed, it looked like Henderson might walk away as the new world champion. However, fifth street blessed Chan with another nine, making him the winner of the WSOP Main Event.

Fast forward a year to 1988, and Chan had again made it to the final table of the WSOP Main Event. However, this time he was facing off against Erik Seidel, another professional poker player whom many consider to be one of the best. In the final round, the flop revealed a Queen of spades, an eight of diamonds, and a 10 of hearts. Chan wagered $40k, which Seidel matched and raised by another $50k. Chan took his time making up his mind, eventually matching Seidel’s $50k. The dealer revealed a two of spades for fourth street, which gave no benefit to either player. 

However, for those watching at home, the players’ hole cards were revealed, showing that Chan had a Jack and nine of clubs, while Seidel had a Queen and a seven! This whole time Chan had been pretending to be worried when he already had a straight! A six of diamonds was revealed on fifth street, with Seidel choosing to go all-in. Chan’s strategy had worked, allowing him to claim the 1988 WSOP title as well.

4. Phil Hellmuth denies Johnny Chan three WSOP wins in a row – 1989

Johnny Chan came close to making WSOP history in 1989, but sadly he was denied a third consecutive win by Phil Hellmuth, the young poker player whom Chan had eliminated and sent home in 33rd place the previous year. 

Helmuth came up against Chan in the final round in 1989, and before the flop Helmuth came out aggressively with a $40k wager. Chan raised the wager to $130k, which Helmuth followed by going all-in. Chan, who had an Ace and seven of spades, spent some time thinking about his decision, but eventually chose to match Helmuth’s wager, which he’d made with a pair of nines. 

The flop revealed a pair of Kings and a 10, giving Helmuth two pairs. Fourth street revealed a Queen, and a six of spades on the river saw Helmuth going home the WSOP champion at age 24, the youngest to achieve the honour at the time.

Honorary mention: WSOP launches $1,000,000 Buy-in Tournament – 2012

The final entry on our list is an honorary mention because it doesn’t actually cover a moment from a poker tournament, but rather shares an equally exciting moment in poker tournament history. While poker tournaments had always been reasonably big money, the WSOP took things even further when they announced their first $1,000,000 Buy-in Tournament Big One for One Drop. This event not only has big stakes but also a big heart, with $111,111 of each player’s buy-in going towards the One Drop Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness around water-related issues.

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