All In for Action and Adventure
World Series of Poker celebrates 10 years at the Rio
The World Series of Poker Main Event entered a new era more than a decade ago, almost entirely moving to the Rio from its former location at Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. This year, the 45th annual WSOP takes place after last September’s debut of its own online poker destination. With tournaments running online for as little as $1 and several hundred seats given out by the time the first hand was dealt at the May 27 Casino Employees’ No Limit Hold ’em event, there could be a substantial uptick in entrants from the online world. It’s safe to say WSOP.com has become the greatest extension of the WSOP brand in its history.
That’s not to say there will be a recognizable change in the way the games are played, or who will sit at the Final Table in November. More than 7,000 entrants will vie for those coveted nine seats, hoping to walk away with the millions in cash piled high nearby and the gold-and-diamond bracelet that forever brands them as one of the best poker champions that ever played the game. Former champions will try to repeat previous success, but the odds favor dark horses who don’t play at the featured tables during the course of the Main Event.
Of course, former champs come back to WSOP year after year to win more bracelets from the 65 events scheduled. They also can be seen at the Big One for One Drop charity event, where legends such as Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey and Bobby Baldwin play alongside Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté in an effort to raise awareness about water-related issues. But, ultimately, every entrant in WSOP would like to be among the November Nine, getting a shot at a $10 million pot and the ultimate poker glory that awaits the last nine winners who make it through the Main Event at the Rio.
A Decade of Main Event Winners
2005: Joe Hachem ($7,500,000)
Australia’s first Main Event champion, Joe Hachem, turned his 7-3 hole cards into a straight with the flop for the final hand, besting second placer Steve Dannenmann’s ace-on-the-turn pair. The river card was especially dramatic; a seven would keep the game alive for Dannenmann, but the four of clubs that came up next gave Hachem the win. The location of the Final Table contributed to the drama, as 2005 was the last year the Main Event would conclude at Binion’s. It was hardly Hachem’s last year though, as he’s remained a presence at WSOP as late as last year, candidly commenting about the health of the game and his peers.
2006: Jamie Gold ($12,000,000)
Jamie Gold outlasted 8,773 entrants in the 2006 Main Event to defeat Paul Wasicka with a pair of queens to Wasicka’s pair of 10s. The aggressive, stylistically unpredictable Gold had eliminated six of the nine Final Table players by the time he got to Wasicka, making his mentor Johnny Chan proud as he claimed the right to the $12 million stacked up close by. Gold, who had been a Hollywood agent before his poker career, would later have legal troubles after an associate claimed Gold had promised half the prize money to him, and would never come close to the heights of his championship year again.
2007: Jerry Yang ($8,250,000)
Jerry Yang seized the day, then hugged the dealer after making it his year at the 2007 Main Event. Yang and Tuan Lam faced off in the end at the Final Table—ringers Scotty Nguyen and Gus Hansen were expected to go head-to-head at but didn’t. Neither of the latter two even made it that far, but by the time the final nine sat down Lam and Yang had the second and eighth highest amount of chips, respectively. Yang won with hand No. 205, after Lam went all in for 22.2 million and wound up with a pair of queens against Yang’s nine-high straight.
2008: Peter Eastgate ($9,152,416)
Peter Eastgate walked away from the WSOP with $9.1 million, becoming the youngest player to win the Main Event since Phil Hellmuth set the record 19 years earlier and the first to win after Final Table play was moved to November. He’d place 78th the next year at the 40th annual WSOP, when Joe Cada broke Eastgate’s age-related record, but in 2008 the young Dane would deny Hellmuth his goal of making that year’s Main Event bracelet his 12th. Eastgate built 18,375,000 in starting chips into 120.4 million by the final hand, in which he turned an ace-high showing into a five-high straight against Ivan Demidov’s two pair. Eastgate took a hiatus in 2010 but was back at WSOP in 2012.
2009: Joe Cada ($8,547,044)
Joe Cada won the 2009 Main Event after 87 hands of play, besting Darvin Moon and becoming the youngest player to stand alone at the Final Table. Cada had the fifth-highest chip pile coming into the home stretch and ended Antoine Saout’s run before facing off against Moon. Cada’s pair of nines held forth against Moon’s diamond queen and jack, giving the 21-year-old the championship and the bracelet. Cada came back to the Main Event in 2010, but would be eliminated on Day 3. The online poker mainstay has been back to WSOP every year, and won more than $400,000 in a 2012 $1,500 buy-in No Limit Hold ’em event.
2010: Jonathan Duhamel ($8,944,310)
At the 2010 Final Table, Jonathan Duhamel became the first Canadian Main Event champion, taking home $8,944,310. Duhamel outlasted more than 7,000 entrants in what was then the second largest Main Event in history. The Final Table including eventual runner-up John Racener, No. 3 Joseph Cheong, No. 4 Filippo Candio and No. 5 Michael Mizrachi. Duhamel, 23, took the final pot after 42 hands with an ace-high, edging out Racener’s diamond-suited king-8 to earn the coveted bracelet. Duhamel has been back every year, playing in 13 WSOP tournaments, but has yet to take another bracelet back to Montreal.
2011: Pius Heinz ($8,715,638)
Hardly anyone was paying attention to Pius Heinz at the start of the 2011 Main Event. Perhaps only Heinz’s die-hard supporters watching him play halfway through the set had their eyes on him rather than Ben Lamb, who seemed to be the superstar from first deal to Final Table. All present were on the edge of their seats as the 22-year-old German battled Czech Republic’s Martin Staszko in a six-hour duel. Staszko tried for a straight flush, would have settled for a straight, but lost to Heinz’s ace-high, causing his jubilant crowd to break out into what must have been called “The Pius Heinz Song.”
2012: Greg Merson ($8,531,853)
Greg Merson’s story isn’t that different from your average Main Event winner’s—to a point. Merson won his first bracelet and $1,136,197 at the 2012 WSOP’s $10,000 Buy-In 6-max, and channeled his surging confidence into signing on as one of the 6,598 entrants in the Main Event. Seven days in, the cash game connoisseur arrived at the Final Table with nearly 30 million chips and walked away with $8,531,853 after the last hand. Merson remains active and offers his services as a coach, but is also respected for bringing the topic of drug dependence to the forefront of poker’s social media universe.
2013: Ryan Riess ($8,361,570)
Ryan Riess was among the November Nine at the 2013 Final Table, but JC Tran, David Benefield and Jay Farber were getting all of the attention. It had been 11 years since Chris Moneymaker was the first to turn online poker domination into a Main Event bracelet; now Riess would make magic at the Penn & Teller Theater. Tran was chip leader with 38 million, Benefield the short stack, but Farber would get to keep one of the last two chairs warm. Rookie Riess, 23, won the bracelet and $8,361,570 with an ace-high, and paid homage to Moneymaker by declaring that the 2003 victor inspired him to take up poker.
World Series of Poker, Rio, through July 7, times and buy-ins vary. wsop.com