Taking a Trip Down Memory Lane: The 51 Most Iconic Moments in WSOP History Part II

19 min read

In Part I of this series, we looked back on the 25 most memorable moments in WSOP history. That included some historic accomplishments such as Phil Hellmuth winning his 15th bracelet and Chris Moneymaker setting off the poker boom.

Today, we recollect on 25 more instances where greatness, or at least excitement, was achieved at the World Series of Poker. As a bonus, we speculate on what the most memorable moment of the 2020 WSOP would have been if not for COVID-19.

26. Make it Three for the Texan (1974)

Johnny Moss WSOP
Johnny Moss was one of poker’s all-time superstars. (Image: beatthefish.com)

In the 1970s, the game of Texas Hold’em was, fittingly, dominated by players from the Lone Star State. Legendary pros like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, and Amarillo Slim were unbeatable on the felt back then. Some would argue Moss, not Brunson, was the best at tournament poker during that era. And they’d have a valid argument.

Moss, a Dallas native, won the inaugural WSOP in 1970, and then again in 1971 and 1974. Sure, the fields were tiny back then. In 1974, for example, he beat out just 16 players. But there were no fish in the pond at the series in that era. Only the top players came to Vegas in the 1970s to compete for a poker championship.

27. First (and Only) Woman to Reach Main Event Final Table (1995)

Barbara Enright might not be the best female poker player of all-time, although you could certainly make a case for her. But she is one of the most iconic women in the game for a couple of things she accomplished at the World Series of Poker.

After having won two ladies’ events in 1986 and 1994, she shipped the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha tournament in 1996, becoming the first woman ever to win a bracelet in an open event. The year before, she became the first female to reach the Main Event final table, and she is still the only one. Enright finished 5th at the 1995 Main Event for $114,180.

28. Hollywood Star Wins WSOP Bracelet (2005)

Jennifer Tilly poker
Jennifer Tilly was a star on the big screen before she became a card player. (Image: imdb.com)

Away from the felt, Jennifer Tilly is best known as “Tiffany Valentine,” her character in “Child’s Play,” an iconic horror flick. On the felt, she’s as fierce as her evil character was on the big screen. Tilly, an Academy Award-nominated actress, won the $1,000 ladies event in 2005 for $158,625, an incredible accomplishment for someone who devoted most of her adult life to theater, and not the game of poker.

Since she won her bracelet 15 years ago, Tilly’s become more of a poker player than an actress. She’s competed in numerous televised high-stakes cash games, and has certainly held her own against the best pros in the world. Her long-time boyfriend, Phil Laak, is one of the most colorful figures in poker history.

29. The Never-Ending Heads-Up Match Between Poker Hall of Famers (2019)

Daniel Negreanu isn’t bashful about his desire to compete for bracelets. He’s won six in his career but, somehow, hasn’t won one since 2013. The GGPoker ambassador had a golden opportunity to win number seven last year in a $10,000 Seven-Card Stud event.

Negreanu was heads-up against 2018 Poker Hall of Fame inductee John Hennigan for the bracelet, and he had a sizable chip advantage. He appeared to be just minutes away from ending his six-year drought.

Instead, he found himself tangled in a marathon heads-up battle that seemingly wouldn’t end. After more than four hours of the poker legends trading the chip lead, Hennigan ended up winning the event for $245,451 and his sixth bracelet, which further extended Negreanu’s drought.

30. ‘You Call, Gonna Be All Over Baby’ (1998)

Scotty Nguyen has always been one of poker’s most colorful stars, and he enjoys being the center of attention. At the 1998 Main Event, he was center stage, heads-up against Kevin McBride after the legendary TJ Cloutier busted in third place.

Nguyen, the chip leader, moved all-in on a board of 8-9-9-8-8 with J-9. As McBride, who was playing the board (Q-10), pondered his move, Nguyen famously said, “you call, gonna be all over, baby.” McBride ended up making the call and Scotty Nguyen was crowned the 1998 world champion.

31. Poker Legend’s Son Wins a Bracelet (2005)

Doyle Brunson won his record-setting 10th WSOP bracelet in 2005. Just days prior, his son won his first. Todd Brunson, who was already an accomplished poker pro, took down Event #21, $2,500 Omaha Hi-Lo 8-or-Better for $255,945. He outlasted 359 players, including his heads-up opponent and friend, Allen “The Chainsaw” Kessler, whom the younger Brunson refers to as the “Soda Thief” for stealing free soda from Brunson’s Las Vegas restaurant, Roma Deli.

Brunson didn’t need to win a bracelet to get out of his father’s footsteps. He’s long been one of the most respected high-stakes mixed-game players in the world, and regularly competes in the famous Bobby’s Room at Bellagio. In 2016, along with former world champ Carlos Mortensen, Brunson joined his dad in the Poker Hall of Fame.

32. Young Phil Ivey Wins WSOP Title (2000)

Phil Ivey was a budding poker star in the early 2000s, well before the poker boom era began. The top pros at the time knew the young pro, then 23, had talent when the 2000 WSOP began. That year, he’d go on to win his first of 10 bracelets, and he did so by defeating an old-school legend.

The $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha tournament had 100 entries, many of whom were at the top of the game. Phil Hellmuth, David Ulliott, and Allen Cunningham were among those who cashed. But the tough event was down to the final two players — Ivey and old-school great, Amarillo Slim, the 1972 Main Event champion. Ivey defeated the poker legend heads-up for the bracelet (and $195,000) before going on to dominate the poker world for the next 15 years.

33. ‘Texas Dolly’ Retires (2018)

Doyle Brunson retirement poker
Doyle Brunson competes in his final WSOP event in 2018. (Image: CardsChat News)

Doyle Brunson shocked the poker world in 2018 when he showed up to compete in the $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Championship. He hadn’t competed in a tournament in years, and his last cash at the WSOP was in 2013. But Brunson decided to make one last run at an 11th bracelet, and he darn near pulled it off.

Brunson informed the poker community on Twitter that morning that he was heading to the Rio to play. And he said that it would likely be his last-ever poker tournament. So, the poker media and fans all hovered around Doyle’s rail at the Rio as he made a deep run in the $10k tourney.

On Day 3, he entered the final table with the goal of winning one final gold bracelet. But he was eliminated in sixth place ($43,963), marking his 37th and final World Series of Poker cash. “Texas Dolly,” at age 86, continues to compete in the nosebleed cash games at Bellagio.

34. Soul-Crushing River Card Destroys “Kid Poker’s” Dreams (2015)

Daniel Negreanu 2015 WSOP
Daniel Negreanu after one sick river card destroyed his dreams of reaching the Main Event final table. (Image: f5poker.com)

We all remember the devastation on Daniel Negreanu’s face when he busted from the Main Event in 2015. He’d come so close to reaching his goal of becoming a November Niner, but ran into a cruel river card that dashed his hopes and dreams.

With just 11 players left, nine of whom would achieve the final table, a short-stacked Negreanu put all of his chips in the middle with A-4 on a connected board of A-K-10 with two diamonds. Joe McKeehen, the eventual champion, made the call with J-3 of diamonds. The 3 on the turn gave McKeehen, who ran hot all tournament, extra outs.

Negreanu and the pro-Negreanu crowd in attendance nervously awaited the river card, desperately hoping the dealer would turn over a blank. But the queen of hearts on the river sealed “Kid Poker’s” fate — McKeehen hit a straight — and DNegs was eliminated in 11th place ($526,778), just two spots shy of the exclusive November Nine.

35. The Really, Really Big 50 (2019)

The WSOP hosted a special $500 buy-in tournament — The Big 50 — last year to commemorate the 50th annual World Series of Poker. Femi Fashakin would go on to win the tournament for $1,147,499, an impressive accomplishment to be sure. But the main story here has nothing to do with the champion of the historic tournament.

When the Big 50 was announced, many poker experts anticipated it would give the record number of entrants in the 2015 Colossus a run for its money. An almost unthinkable 22,374 players entered the $565 Colossus, a No-Limit Hold’em tournament. That set a live poker tournament record, but it didn’t last long. The Big 50 shattered that mark with a whopping 28,371 entries in 2019, a record that will likely stand for many years, if not for eternity (okay, maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but you get the point).

36. Not Quite the Big 50, but Still Humongous (2015)

The $565 Colossus launched in 2015 and became the talk of the series for breaking a record, which we just discussed. Although it wasn’t the Big 50, it was still a memorable event that helped spark the new era for the World Series of Poker. Tournaments with buy-ins under $1,000 at the WSOP were unheard of before the 2015 Colossus.

When the WSOP organizers saw how popular the Colossus became — more than 22,000 entries — they realized the need for lower buy-in bracelet events. This event was also a personal favorite of mine because I cashed in it. In most events, 1,454th place isn’t very impressive. But when you consider that was among the top 6% of the field, it’s not too shabby. Unfortunately, I blew all of the $2,225 I cashed for the following day in a cash game.

37. Poker Cheat Wins Main Event (1994)

When Russ Hamilton won the Main Event in 1994, no one could have envisioned the downward spiral his life would take in the years after. Hamilton won $1 million for becoming world champion and would continue playing in WSOP events until 2006. He stopped playing because he was banned for his role in one of the most egregious cheating scandals in poker history.

Hamilton previously served as a consultant for the now-defunct poker site, Ultimate Bet. During his time with the poker site, he was found to have cheated other players to the tune of $22 million. Ultimate Bet eventually paid back the players who were cheated by a superuser account that had access to other players’ hole cards. Not exactly the best way for a supposed poker ambassador, as many Main Event winners are considered, to behave.

38. PokerStars Pro’s Week-Long Heater (2016)

Jason Mercier was the star of the show at the 2016 World Series of Poker. The former PokerStars ambassador had one of the most memorable weeks in series history that summer. It all started with a win in the $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Championship for $273,335.

Just two days later, Mercier nearly won his second bracelet of the summer in the $10,000 Razz Championship before losing heads-up to Benny Glaser. He still scored $168,936. Two days after narrowly missing out on a second bracelet, he completed the task, this time in the prestigious and difficult $10,000 HORSE Championship for $422,874. If that wasn’t enough, he finished eighth four days later in the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo 8-or-Better Championship for another $39,269. Mercier then cashed an additional six times that summer en route to a runaway Player of the Year title.

39. ‘Fossilman’ Nearly Goes Back-to-Back in Main Event (2005)

Greg Raymer, an unknown amateur, shipped the Main Event in 2004 for $4 million. At the time, it was far-and-away the largest Main Event in history with 2,576 players, tripling 2003’s previous record. The next year, he almost pulled it off again.

Raymer, who most remember as the poker champion who wore colorful shades during his WSOP run, was a big stack late in the 2005 Main Event. With just three tables remaining, however, he headed to the exits in 25th place for $304,680. He actually outlasted more than twice as many players that year than he did when he won in 2004. The 2005 Main Event, won by Joe Hachem for $7.5 million, set another record with 5,619 entries.

40. Moneymaker Finally Cashes Again in Main Event (2019)

Chris Moneymaker really isn’t much of a tournament poker player and has never grinded a regular WSOP schedule. But he always competes in the Main Event. Moneymaker hasn’t had much success since he won the tournament in 2003. Okay, he hasn’t had any success, except for last summer.

In 2019, Moneymaker cashed in the Main Event for the first time since he won it all 16 years earlier. The 687th-place finish was good for $20,200. The former world champ who helped spark the poker boom era gave his fans a bit of excitement as he made it through the first three days of play before bowing out well short of the final table.

41. Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! (2005)

Joe Hachem 2005 WSOP
Proud Aussie Joe Hachem celebrates his 2005 Main Event title. (Image: wsop.com)

Joe Hachem became one of poker’s most positive and entertaining ambassadors when he won the Main Event in 2005. The Australian poker pro put on an impressive performance as he maneuvered through a field of 5,619 entries to win $7.5 million, the largest prize for any live tournament in poker history at the time.

Hachem brought quite a boisterous rail with him to the final table. His rowdy fans from the Land Down Under chanted, “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! … Oy! Oy! Oy!” every time he won a pot. His heads-up opponent, Steve Dannenmann, was also rather entertaining. The Maryland native, an amateur with minimal tournament experience, was a happy-go-lucky runner-up who earned life-changing money ($4,250,000).

42. Poker Pros Penalized for Fighting (2005)

Tempers were flaring between two hot-heads late in the 2005 WSOP. On the final day, prior to the final table, Shawn Sheikhan and Mike Matusow feuded throughout the session. Eventually, tournament director Jack Effel had to intervene to put a stop to the bickering.

With Sheikhan down to a tiny stack, he folded a hand pre-flop that Matusow was in. After the flop was turned over, he smacked the table in frustration as if to indicate he would have caught something. Matusow was angered by his behavior and swore at his opponent. That forced Effel to interject and give both players a 10-minute penalty.


To add insult to injury, Matusow would later bust Sheiky in 11th place ($600,000). “The Mouth” would go on to make the final table, but was eliminated in fifth place ($1 million).

43. Former Champ Makes Consecutive Final Table Appearances (2003/2004)

“Action” Dan Harrington won the Main Event in 1995, but that may not have even been his greatest poker accomplishment. The author of the “Harrington on Hold’em” series returned to the Main Event final table in 2003 and memorably pulled off some incredible bluffs. He didn’t win it again that year, but he finished third for $650,000.

Already a legend of the game, the Poker Hall of Famer once against found himself in familiar territory in 2004 — back at the WSOP Main Event final table. But once again, he came up a bit short, finishing fourth for $1.5 million. ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad referred to Harrington making consecutive final tables as the “greatest accomplishment in poker history.” He might be onto something.

44. Future MGM CEO Wins Poker Championship (1978)

Bobby Baldwin is one of the original legends of the game. For his impact on the game, he was rewarded with a high-stakes poker room named after him at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Many of the highest-stakes games in the world take place inside “Bobby’s Room,” a tiny extension of the Bellagio poker room.

Before becoming an executive for MGM Resorts and getting his name on an MGM-brand card room, Baldwin won the 1978 Main Event for $210,000 and his third bracelet. The future casino exec defeated perennial runner-up Crandall Addington for the title.

45. Lucky Deuce on the River for Main Event Title (2017)

Scott Blumstein and Daniel Ott had minimal live tournament experience, and virtually none at the $10k level when they met heads-up for the world championship in 2017. Blumstein had the lead throughout, but Ott found a golden opportunity to get back in the match when he shipped it all-in with A-8 against A-2.

The flop came out nice and clean for Ott (J-6-5), and the 7 on the turn was another good card. Blumstein was down to needing a deuce, or he would double up his opponent. Anyone who’s ever played tournament poker can probably guess what happened, so we’ll just end this one by saying Scott Blumstein was the 2017 Main Event champion and won $8,150,000, more than life-changing money for a low-stakes player.

46. Poker Champ Takes All the Money and Runs (2011)

Pius Heinz, we barely knew ye. The 2011 Main Event champ dominated a field of 6,865 for $8,715,638, and then decided poker wasn’t his future. Most players who win large sums of cash in poker either give some back to the poker ecosystem or they continue winning. But not Heinz. He took his ball, went home, and decided to rarely play poker again.

The German poker champ has only cashed for small amounts in three WSOP events since 20111, and none since 2013. Heinz occasionally plays poker, but far less than most other past champs, save for 2008 winner Peter Eastgate, who also quit the game a few years after taking down the Main Event.

47. Matt Damon’s Horrible Acting Performance (2009)

Matt Damon is one of the greatest actors of all-time, including his role as Mike McDermott in the iconic poker flick, “Rounders.” But his acting skills were a bit off at the 2009 WSOP, at least in one memorable televised hand. The Bourne trilogy star proved the old adage that when players act weak, they’re usually strong.

Damon, from the big blind, flopped a full house with 10-6 on a 10-10-6 flop. He did everything he could to bait another player to bet into his monster, but no one would oblige. We’ll let you see for yourself just how horrendous his acting performance was in this hand.


48. Online Crusher Wins $15 Million, Acts Like It Was Just Another Day (2014)

Dan Colman was already among the top players in the game when he entered the $1 million Big One for One Drop in 2014. He was an online crusher who dominated virtually every heads-up opponent he encountered. Colman ended up heads-up in this tournament, against Daniel Negreanu, who was chasing his seventh bracelet. The winner would take home just over $15 million, and the loser would settle for $8.3 million.

Colman would eventually defeat Negreanu for the title, and not only won his first bracelet, but earned more in a few days than most people do in their entire lifetime. But if you saw him afterward, you wouldn’t have guessed he had just won $15 million. In his post-game interview on ESPN, the One Drop champ barely showed any excitement or emotion. His reaction to having just won an insane amount of money was … odd.

49. Crazy Man Strips at Table, Gets DQ’ed from Main Event (2019)

naked man wsop

Unless you’re trying to make lists such as this, it’s not a bright idea to show off your junk at the poker table. Kenneth Strauss, however, missed this memo. On Day 1 of the 2019 Main Event, Strauss moved all-in and then proceeded to stand-up while his opponent pondered his decision.

Instead of patiently waiting for the other player to call or fold, Strauss decided to randomly remove his shorts, exposing his genitalia to the entire room. In case that wasn’t unacceptable enough to get him disqualified from the $10,000 tournament, he then chucked his shoe at the dealer for no apparent reason. That sealed his fate as one of the few players to ever be booted from the Main Event for violating basically every poker etiquette rule in the book.

Despite his ridiculous behavior at the poker table, Strauss wasn’t arrested. He was simply removed from the casino. He then headed over to the Luxor later that evening and, again, stripped naked on top of a craps table before he was finally hauled off to the Clark County Detention Center. A month later, the exhibitionist was arrested on terrorism charges for making threats against Las Vegas casinos. He is currently where he clearly belongs … in a mental hospital.

50. ‘Bye, Bye, Vanessa!’ (2017)

There are times in poker when you simply can’t do anything to avoid going broke. Vanessa Selbst learned that the hard way on Day 1 of the 2017 Main Event. The former PokerStars pro picked up pocket aces and hit a dream flop of A-7-5. Her opponent — Gaelle Baumann — had pocket 7s, and Selbst appeared to be moments away from piling up a massive stack early in the lengthy tournament.

Then, the most devastating card — a 7 — came on the turn, and there was nothing Selbst could do to avoid going broke. To her credit, when Baumann moved all-in on the river, she actually tanked for a minute before calling. Her gut was telling her that she was up against quads, but no one is folding a hand that strong.

BONUS PREDICTION: Negreanu Finally Gets Monkey Off His Back

The 2020 WSOP likely won’t take place, even in the fall. It’s hard to envision the Nevada Gaming Control Board relaxing its four-handed restrictions for poker rooms in Las Vegas in time. And social distancing is likely to still be a thing in a few months. But we’re sure that this year’s World Series of Poker would have been one for the ages.

So, here’s a bold prediction for what the 2020 WSOP would have been remembered for: Daniel Negreanu would have finally ended his seven-year drought to ship his seventh bracelet. Negreanu has been due for quite some time, and his hard work and dedication to winning bracelets was going to pay off for him.

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