Poker is one of the world’s most popular casino card games. While its exact origins are debated, it has roots as early as the 16th century. Poker has since evolved and become famous in various cultures, spreading across the globe. Today, poker is played professionally and recreationally by people of all ages and backgrounds. There are even million-dollar poker tournaments broadcast all over the world. The popularity of poker is due to its simple rules, which you can learn quickly, and its strategic depth. Poker requires players to make decisions based on limited information, making it both exciting and challenging. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder that poker is one of the biggest games in the world.
Poker’s rich history and strategic depth give it a thriving competitive scene. Competitive poker has been an integral part of the game for decades, and nothing is more emblematic of competitive poker than the World Series of Poker (WSOP). This 52-year-old event is the longest-running and most prestigious poker tournament series. Every year, the best of the best compete in over a hundred poker-related events, covering different variants from the classic No Limit Texas Holdem to HORSE. Winning these events nets you the cash prize and the WSOP bracelet, a coveted symbol of poker greatness. The WSOP has been around for over half a century, so it is home to some of the greatest stories in poker. From daring bluffs to underdog victories to downright insane luck, the WSOP has it all. Here are just a few of the WSOP’s best stories.
The origin of the Doyle Brunson hand
If you’re into competitive poker, you probably already know who Doyle Brunson is. He’s a legendary figure in poker history, with one of the longest-running professional careers out of any pro at a staggering 50 years. He’s authored Super/System, considered one of poker’s most essential reading materials, and has made numerous other contributions to high-level poker strategy. What he is most well-known for, however, are his back-to-back WSOP main event wins in 1976 and 1977. Only four people in history have won the main event back-to-back, but how Brunson won remains one of poker’s most extraordinary stories ever.
In the 1976 WSOP final table, Brunson was heads-up against Jesse Alto. Alto had AJ while Brunson had 10-2, giving Alto a sizable advantage from the get-go. Still, Brunson called Alto’s bet and made it to the flop. The flop was A-J-10, giving Alto two-pair while Brunson only had bottom pair. Brunson decided to go all-in, and Alto gladly called. Things looked bleak, but to everyone’s surprise, the turn and river both gave twos, giving Brunson the backdoor full house and the 1976 main event title. While this win was already mind-blowing, the story gets elevated to legendary status because of Brunson’s win the following year. At the 1977 final table, he was dealt 10-2, the same hand as last year. Up against Gary Berland this time, the flop was 10-8-5. Again, this gave Brunson one pair compared to Berland’s two-pair with 8-5. The turn was, again, a two, and this time Brunson was already ahead. The river then brought a 10, giving Brunson another backdoor full house and winning the tournament in the same fashion as last year. Because of this ridiculous series of events, the “Doyle Brunson” or 10-2 is one of the few poker hands with a name.
A chip and a chair: The story of Jack Straus
A famous expression in poker is, “A chip and a chair” It means that, no matter what, your tournament life isn’t over until you lose all of your chips. You can still come back from a single chip and win the tournament. Now, many people might consider this a bit of a hyperbole. Well, for Jack Straus, it wasn’t. Jack “Treetop” Straus was a professional poker player in the 80s. He was adept at heads-up and known for his aggressive playstyle and willingness to bluff. Straus participated in the 1982 WSOP main event, but by day two, he was about to drop out after losing a big hand. Standing up from the table, he noticed a single 500-dollar chip underneath a napkin. He didn’t include it in his bet, nor did he say “all-in,” so he was allowed to continue playing. The next hand, everyone folded to his big blind. From there, he steadily increased his stack, having 90,000 chips by the end of day two. By day three, he had 341,500 chips, the most in the tournament. At the final table, Straus eliminated everyone until he was only against Dewey Tomko, who he then beat in a record ten minutes of heads-up gameplay.
The Moneymaker effect: From $39 to WSOP Win
Finally, no list of WSOP stories is complete without Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP run. This journey sparked the poker boom of 2003 – 2006 and increased the number of WSOP entrants more than tenfold, with 839 entrants in 2003 and 8773 in 2006. This meteoric rise in popularity has been termed “The Moneymaker Effect.” Moneymaker wasn’t a professional, far from it. He was an amateur poker player who worked as an accountant. He joined an online $39 satellite tournament, which qualified him for a $600 satellite tournament. Winning that one got him a seat at his first live tournament at the $10,000 WSOP main event. He made it to the final table, where he pulled off one of the most daring bluffs in poker history against Sammy Farha. He went all-in and caused Farha to fold the top pair. Moneymaker’s bluff was unprecedented, as nobody thought an amateur would risk their tournament life on a bluff against a seasoned poker pro. This bluff eventually won him the 2003 WSOP main event, proving to the entire world that anyone can win at poker if they have the skill and courage.
Which story was your favorite?
Those were just a few of the best stories from this legendary tournament series. There are many more not listed here, and we have no doubt that there will be even better stories in the future. Whether you liked Jack Straus’ miracle comeback, Chris Moneymaker’s courage and determination, or Doyle Brunson’s back-to-back miracles, the WSOP truly has something for everyone.