25 Key Moments in WSOP History

WSOP Bracelets

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) have seen their fair share of exhilarating and shocking moments that have shaped this premier Poker competition over the course of its first 50 years of existence.

Vying for the multi-million dollar prize at the WSOP Main Event is not a small thing, and players have always given their best at Poker tables, which resulted in some of the best bluffs, comebacks, and Poker upsets in the history of the game.

Nothing calls for drama like the World Series of Poker — and even if legendary players like Amarillo Slim and Stu Ungar are no longer with us, we can always look back and enjoy the rich history of the World Series of Poker.

This list features the 25 key moments in the WSOP history that are placed in no particular order, but with the focus on their importance that continues to echo in the world of poker.

1. The First WSOP Winner

Most important moments in WSOP History

It seems only natural that this list should start with the early days of the WSOP. At that time, this was an invitation-only event that saw the top players at the time gather at the Binion's Horseshoe Casino — the first official venue of the WSOP.

The winner of the competition was elected by his peers, and the first player to ever receive this lofty title was Johnny Moss. Since we are talking about a time when poker looked nothing like it does now, Moss took home the title...along with a silver cup.

Too early to claim one of today's monster checks.

2. Poker Is Not a Man's World

The first and, so far, the only female to reach the final table at the WSOP Main Event was Barbara Enright in 1995. This magnificent achievement has paved the way for many women who are trying to secure their position at the WSOP final event, which is still considered a man's world.

Barbara Enright has won three WSOP bracelets — the most coveted non-monetary rewards for the winners of individual events.

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3. The Youngest WSOP Champion Ever

Another momentous occurrence at the WSOP was Phil Hellmuth's win against an acclaimed champion Johnny Chan in 1989.

If it weren't for that particular win that prevented Chan from reaching a three-peat, the poker world might not have known Phil Hellmuth who went on to win 12 bracelets and a nickname 'The Poker Brat.'

4. The Amateur Who Reached the Main Event

James McManus is an American writer, teacher, and poker player who entered the WSOP through a satellite tournament while covering the story of women at the WSOP in 2000 and the death of Ted Binion that he later put in a book called 'Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker.'

He was the first amateur player to reach the Main Event final table where he finished 5th and left with $250k in his pocket. This went on to show that anybody who can qualify can challenge even the professional players.

5. Johnny Chan vs. Erik Seidel in 1988 WSOP Finale

What can be considered one of the most iconic hands at the WSOP is the hand played by Chan against Eric Seidel in 1988.

This hand was so impressive that it has been included in the gambling movie 'Rounders' so that not only the poker hardcore fans could enjoy it.

The ruse that Chan used on Seidel to get him to go all in and eventually lose embodies everything poker has to offer and what poker, as a game, represents — pure excitement and skill.

6. Jack Strauss' Chip and Chair Story

Jack Strauss is the main protagonist of the 'A Chip and a Chair' story — one of the most famous stories at WSOP events.

Namely, Strauss thought he had been eliminated from the 1982 Main Event, having slid the entire stack into the middle of the table.

However, one chip was left behind under a napkin, and since he never made an all-in declaration, he was allowed to play on, which resulted in him winning the tournament and the birth of the 'Chip and Chair' legend.

7. The Amateur Who Won the WSOP

WSOP History

Hal Fowler was another poker enthusiast who managed to rock the world of poker by winning the 1979 WSOP. This incredible feat triggered a downpour of amateur players who were assured of a possible win, and the number of such players has been increasing ever since.

Fowler was in an unfortunate position throughout the final Main Event until he beat Bobby Hoff's Pocket Aces with his gutter-ball straight.

8. Chris Moneymaker Wins the WSOP through an Online Poker Site Qualification

Chris Moneymaker is a well-known name in the history of poker — he was the first player ever to win the WSOP having previously qualified through an online poker site.

His 2003 win revolutionised the game of poker and set in motion a sudden growth in interest of players, which resulted in coining the term 'Moneymaker Effect' for the rapid increase in popularity of things.

9. Protect Your Hands

One particular instance where the rules confirmed their importance occurred in 2009 with French player Estelle Denis. Denis went all in on the situation as mentioned above but failed to protect her hand, and the dealer mucked her cards.

She was flabbergasted, but the rules clearly state players need to protect their hand if the hand is still in play. The supervisors couldn't retrieve the cards she claimed to have had, and her hand was dead.

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10. Mike Matusow and Shawn Sheikhan

When you are playing for big money, you can bet a duel or two will eventually pop up. One such duel that could have resulted in a fist fight happened between Mike Matusow and Shawn Sheikhan when Shawn revealed his cards to the rest of the players when he folded while they were still in play.

This enraged Mike 'the Mouth' Matusow who cursed him, which further angered Sheikhan. The situation eventually calmed down, and both players received 10 min penalties and were removed from the table for the duration of the punishment.

11. Vanessa Selbst vs. Gaelle Baumann – the Ladies Duel

Vanessa Selbst WSOP History

Close calls and narrow defeats are ubiquitous at the WSOP, especially at the Main Event and with huge pots at stake.

One such duel that was a close call happened between former PokerStars pro Vanessa Selbst and France's and former Winamax pro Gaelle Baumann.

With a couple of aces in her hand and the rest of the cards in the pot, Selbst had a full house. However, Baumann used the remaining 7s from the pot to form a quad and kill off Selbst at the very last moment, which is described as one of the most intense moments in history, especially when two ladies are going at it.

12. Jack Straus' Best Bluff

Jack Straus was a player with the utmost disregard to safe play. His aggressive style led to one of the biggest bluffs in history.

With only a pair of twos, he ploughed on and raised every hand, kicking one player after the other from play. Strauss tricked the last remaining opponent by asking him to hand over a $25 chip if he wished to see one of his cards.

The opponent accepted gladly, but when he saw Straus had a two, he thought a full house was in the midst and folded, giving Straus who only had a pair of twos a huge pot.

13. Stu Ungar's Tragic Fall

As a 26-year-old player, Stu Ungar was the youngest ever WSOP winner in history. 'The Kid' defended the title the next year and secured a place in history. However, cocaine abuse took the best of him.

In 1997, he managed to upgrade his name to 'The Comeback Kid' after winning another WSOP, 16 years after the first one. Unfortunately, he slipped into the jaws of drugs and ended what could have been a truly glorious career.

14. Phil Hellmuth Wins 15 WSOP Bracelets

Phil Hellmuth WSOP History

As mentioned earlier, the WSOP gold bracelet is by far the most coveted non-monetary reward, and no player has won more of those than Phil Hellmuth..

'The Poker Brat' won his 13th bracelet at the WSOP Europe event in 2012, which brought him a total of over $18 million in WSOP wins.

15. Tom McEvoy Becomes the First Winner Coming from a Satellite Event

What Moneymaker did for the popularity of online poker qualifications and the WSOP was huge, but that was not the only major shift in the WSOP history. Two decades prior to Moneymaker, Tom McEvoy was the first player ever coming from satellite tournaments to win the Main Event, which allowed more players to join the tournaments and try to qualify for the main draw.

This happened in 1983, an important year because of the impressive amount of amateurs that decided to meet in Las Vegas to play the WSOP events.

16. The 12,000,000 Check

The biggest WSOP Main Event cash prize in history was in 2006 when a Hollywood agent Jamie Gold won 12 million dollars. His impressive win was not only important because of the money, but also because of the way in which he secured the win.

His uncanny abilities he had acquired during his career helped him out-talk his opponents and read their bluffs, which lead to him taking home this immense prize.

17. Amarillo Slim Becomes the First WSOP 'Ambassador'

Back in the seventies, the WSOP was only starting to build a reputation, and one of the people who has done the most for it was Amarillo Slim. He was the first player not named Johnny Moss to win the title, which he combined with his charming personality to promote the game and reach the general public.

He kindled their interest by appearing on various talk shows on TV where he presented the WSOP and made it mainstream.

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18. Johnny Chen's Back-to-Back Titles

The WSOP managed to become a global affair thanks to players such as Johnny Chen. He was the first foreign-born player to win the championship in 1987. Not only did he win the championship in 1987, but he also managed to win the following year as well, becoming the only player to win back-to-back titles.

The late Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr Jerry Buss promised him an NBA ring if he could win three in a row, but the 24-year-old Phil Hellmuth stopped him from winning a three-peat and the NBA championship ring.

19. Annette Obrestad Wins Inaugural WSOP Europe

In 2007, the inaugural WSOP Europe took place and we witnessed a momentous event. An 18-year-old poker sensation from Norway, Annette Obrestad, won the competition and became the first player under 21 to win a gold bracelet.

No one has managed to beat this record, and many doubt it will ever be broken. Annette also won more than a million dollars in rewards and a place in the WSOP history.

20. Jesper Hougaard as the First Player to Win WSOP Bracelets on Two Continents

The year of 2008 marked a glorious moment in the WSOP history when Jesper Hougaard from Denmark became the first player to win WSOP bracelets on two continents after defeating Fuad Serhan in the £1,500 No-Limit Hold'Em Event, three months after winning his first WSOP bracelet in Las Vegas.

21. Daniel Negreanu Becomes the First Player to Win Two WSOP Player of the Year Awards

Daniel Negreanu WSOP History

Having won against 80 world's best players in 2013, Daniel Negreanu from Canada not only saw his earning reach $3.2 million that year but also secured a second WSOP Player of the Year award ever since its inception in 2004.

22. Phil Hellmuth Wins Two Main Events on Two Continents

The most decorated player in the WSOP history, Phil Hellmuth, is also a proud winner of two Main WSOP Events on two different continents. In 2012, he won against Ukraine's Sergii Baranov and took home the WSOP Europe title, 23 years after his first WSOP title.

23. Chip Reese and the First $50,000 H.O.R.S.E Event

Chip Reese, a Poker Hall of Famer, won the inaugural $50,000 HORSE Event, earning more than $1.7 million at the event that had the largest buy-in in the WSOP history.

He played 286 hands against Andy Bloch over seven hours, which counts as the longest head-to-head battle.

24. Hollywood Actors Who Reached WSOP Main Events

It is no secret that famous actors and other celebrities enjoy the game of Poker, and some are better than the others. Exactly how good they can be was demonstrated by a famous actor and comedian Kevin Pollak in 2012 when he reached the WSOP Main Event.

Although his stint earned him the 134th place, these kinds of cameos show that A-Listers can truly play.

25. Joe Hachem Wins WSOP for Australia

The expanding markets of Asia, Europe, and Australia have taken the American game of poker and made it mainstream thanks to the charismatic players such as Joe Hachem. He is the first Aussie ever to win the WSOP title and the one who helped the growing popularity of poker, and the WSOP in general, in the Land Down Under.

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