The World Series of Poker (WSOP) has long been the most popular event in the poker world. The annual tournament draws in thousands of participants from all over the globe, each hungry to prove themselves in high-stakes competition. WSOP bracelets are a status symbol in the poker community, with a single one already signifying excellence.
The WSOP is over 50 years old. It’s seen a whole new generation of poker pros replace the old, and it has no shortage of unforgettable moments. From magnificent plays to absurd luck, the WSOP has it all. Today, we’ll cover some notable stories the community will remember for years.
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Doyle Brunson’s legendary hand
Doyle Brunson is one of the most notable members of poker’s old guard. Having played professionally for over 50 years, he was there even in the game’s earliest days. He was one of the seven pros invited by Benny Binion to the original World Series of Poker in 1970. Brunson’s numerous contributions to the game include writing Super/System, a critically acclaimed book considered one of the best poker strategy resources.
The most iconic moment of Brunson’s career has to be his back-to-back WSOP wins in 1976 and 1977. This is an outstanding feat, with only three other people ever winning the WSOP twice in a row. How Brunson won the two tournaments, however, is what makes this movement legendary.
In 1976, Brunson was heads-up against amateur player Jesse Alto. He held 10-2, a massive disadvantage compared to Alto’s AJ. The flop came A-J-10, making the game look doomed for Brunson with his bottom pair against Alto’s two pair. Brunson, for some reason, went all-in, and Alto snap-called. What followed became famous as one of the most insane bad beats in poker history. The turn and river both brought a two, giving Brunson an inexplicable full house to win the tournament.
This ridiculous stroke of luck is already hard to believe. However, in 1977, Brunson was heads-up against Gary “Bones” Berland. He held 10-2 again versus Berland’s 8-5. In the same fashion as last year, the flop came 10-8-5, putting Brunson at a disadvantage to Berland’s two pair. The turn was a two, this time putting Brunson ahead. Somehow, the river was a ten, giving the Brunson the win in the same manner as the previous year. These back-to-back wins gave the 10-2 hand the nickname “The Doyle Brunson”, which is certainly deserved.
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The Comeback Kid
Stu Ungar was one of the best Texas Holdem players and the best gin rummy player in the world. He was a genius, with an IQ rumored to be above 140 and a perfect memory. He used these skills to great success in poker and gambling, once banned from playing blackjack in just about every casino in the US for his card-counting skills. Nicknamed “The Kid” for his young appearance, he dominated poker tournaments in a way so few players have.
Ungar’s success at the WSOP reached heights almost no other player has matched. He won the event twice in 1980 and 1981, joining Doyle Brunson as one of four people to do so. He also has two more bracelets, one in 1987 2-7 Draw and the other from 1983 Seven Card Stud.
Despite Ungar’s fantastic skill, his story is filled with tragedy. Throughout his life, he struggled with drug and gambling addiction, often going broke due to wasting his earnings on cocaine and desperately trying to recoup through gambling. After a divorce in 1986 and dropping out of the 1990 WSOP Main Event due to an overdose, things looked bleak for Ungar.
While he went off the radar for seven years, Ungar returned to the WSOP in 1997. After last-minute staking from his friend Billy Baxter, Ungar joined the tournament and clawed his way up the ranks. He was driven by his daughter, who he kept a photo of throughout the tournament. In the end, he won, leading to his new title of “The Comeback Kid” after winning the tournament nearly 17 years after his last one in 1981.
The Bluff of the Century
Finally, this WSOP story is more recent than the other two and just as iconic. Chris Moneymaker – yes, that’s his real name – was an amateur accountant. He played poker as a hobby and was probably the last person you’d think of as a poker pro.
Moneymaker joined a $39 online satellite tournament, qualifying for a $600 one after winning. That tournament gave him a spot at the WSOP, leading to one of history’s most impressive runs. He showed the world that even amateurs could compete and was responsible for poker’s massive surge of popularity post-2003.
The highlight of Moneymaker’s insane run was when he was heads-up against Sammy Farha. Moneymaker started with twice Farha’s chips, but the difference slowly equalized over the first hour of play. With a flush and straight draw, Moneymaker went for an ambitious re-raise on the turn against Farha’s top pair. Sadly, neither draw was completed on the river, leaving Moneymaker dead in the water. However, Moneymaker didn’t let it show, going all-in directly on the river.
This bluff was insanity. Farha had top pair, and a decent hand that most players would never fold that deep in the pot. However, the idea that Moneymaker was bluffing just didn’t seem possible. An amateur, staking their whole tournament life on a massive all-in right after missing a draw? Farha folded, leaving him with a stack nearly a third of the size of Moneymaker’s. The bluff became crowned “The Bluff of the Century” and remains the single most daring bluff in WSOP history.
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Try watching the WSOP this year!
So, which story was your favorite? We hope these tales made you realize how amazing the WSOP is. It truly is the peak of pro poker, and we highly recommend tuning in to watch it if you’re interested in the competitive scene. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be playing in the tournament one day!