Poker has undoubtedly evolved, going through many iterations to become the giant it is today. It’s gone from being a shady casino game frequented by criminals and card sharks to a global phenomenon. Nowadays, online poker has well over 100 million players worldwide, and you can find a poker table in nearly every casino.
As poker has grown, its competitive scene has done the same. The game has come a long way since the first World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1970, as poker tournaments are now broadcasted worldwide with million-dollar prize pools. They attract the best of the best to play on the world stage, each player hungry for fame and fortune.
Years of the best poker players duking it out have inevitably produced memorable moments. Today, we’ll cover a few of the most iconic hands in poker history. From genius plays to insane luck, these hands are truly unforgettable.
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Johnny Chan: The hand that inspired Rounders
First on the list is Johnny Chan’s beautiful trap against Erik “Seiborg” Seidel in the 1988 WSOP. Chan, nicknamed the Orient Express for how fast he beat his opponents, had previously won the 1987 WSOP. He breezed through the 1988 Main Event the same way, eventually going heads-up against Seidel in the final table.
Seidel is also an accomplished player, with nine WSOP bracelets and over 42 million dollars in tournament earnings. Still, this was his first tournament, so Chan’s strategy was to turn Seidel’s aggression against him.
With J9s, Chan flopped a straight on the Q-8-10 board. For many of us, getting such a strong hand so early would make it almost impossible to maintain your composure. That wasn’t the case for Johnny Chan. When he bet, Seidel raised him with Q7o – just top pair. Instead of 3-betting, Chan opted to call, feigning reluctance.
The turn brought a two, not improving either hand. Both players checked, with Chan continuing to lure Seidel in by masking his hand strength.
The commentator famously summarized the situation, “Erik Seidel cannot win this hand, and yet he doesn’t know it! Chan is trying to sucker him in!”
When the river brought a six and again did nothing for either hand, Seidel proceeded to go all-in. Chan made the easiest call of his life, becoming one of four players in history to win consecutive WSOP events.
This hand was already iconic on its own, but thanks to Hollywood, it became immortalized in the 1998 poker movie Rounders. Rounders was a cult classic, praised for accurately depicting the game’s strategy. In the film’s climax, Matt Damon traps John Malkovich, tricking him into going all-in and winning with a nut straight. Sound familiar?
Doyle Brunson: Lightning strikes twice
Doyle Brunson is another of the game’s most iconic players. He’s had an incredibly long-lived career of over 50 years. Brunson’s numerous contributions to the game include authoring Super/System, widely regarded as one of the most important poker strategy books ever.
Another of Brunson’s many accolades is a hand named after him, the 10-2. It takes a lot for a hand to be named after someone, but Brunson’s story certainly delivers.
In the 1976 WSOP, Brunson was heads-up against Jesse Alto. Alto was an amateur working as a car dealer. Because of this, Brunson tried to exploit Alto’s lack of composure under high pressure.
Alto held A-J to Brunson’s 10-2. Already, Brunson was at a massive disadvantage. The flop came A-J-10, leaving Alto with two pair to Brunson’s measly bottom pair. Things looked rough for Brunson, but he pressed forward with an all-in.
Alto called, and when things looked over for Brunson, the turn brought a two. This gave Brunson two pair, but Alto’s hand was still higher-ranked. Then, the river brought a two, giving Brunson his full house and Alto a horrendously bad beat.
The craziest part about the Doyle Brunson hand was that it happened twice. Defending his title heads-up against Gary Berland, Brunson again held his iconic 10-2. Berland had 8-5, and the flop came with 10-8-5.
This familiar scenario saw Brunson hold one pair to Berland’s two pair. Like before, a two came on the turn, putting Brunson in the lead. Somehow, Brunson received a 10 on the river, making another full house and winning back-to-back WSOP titles.
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Chris Moneymaker: The bluff to end all bluffs
Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP run may just be the single most impactful win in WSOP history. The accountant turned a $38 online satellite win into a $2.5 million WSOP Main Event title, winning the event despite being a total amateur. He changed the course of the game, kickstarting the online poker boom and showing the world that anybody can win if they have what it takes.
The highlight of Moneymaker’s legendary run has to be his heads-up match against Sammy Farha. Here, he pulled off what has now been coined the “Bluff of the Century.”
Moneymaker came into the final table with nearly double Farha’s chips. However, Farha was a seasoned pro, so he slowly closed the gap until they were almost equal. Then, in one hand, the flop gave both players a spade flush draw.
Moneymaker’s potential flush was stronger with K7, but Farha had top pair with Q9. The turn gave Moneymaker an additional straight draw, so he re-raised Farha’s 300,000 bet to 800,000. Farha called, and the river brought a non-flush three.
The three sealed Moneymaker’s fate, leaving both his draws incomplete. Somehow, he found the courage to go all-in, risking his entire tournament career on a massive bluff. Farha called it, saying, “You must have missed your flush draw, huh?”. Still, Farha folded, leaving Moneymaker with nearly four times his chips and guaranteeing Moneymaker’s win.
Which hand was your favorite?
So, there you have it. These are just a few of the most unforgettable hands in poker history. From Doyle Brunson’s fantastic luck to Chris Moneymaker’s audacious bluff, these moments make the game special. If you want to become a poker pro, remember it takes practice and dedication. Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, but understand the work it takes to achieve them.