World Series of Poker Main Event Champions of the Past
Even casual followers of championship poker are familiar with the World Series of Poker Main Event poker tournament. Originating in 1970, it is now the oldest, biggest, and highest-regarded gaming tournament in existence.
The poker main event has had its fair share of colorful poker champions, from Cowboy hat-clad Texans to wide-eyed, inexperienced amateurs.
The tournament has grown considerably over the course of its lifetime, from a single table of seven pros in 1970 to well over 6,000 entrants in 2015. Naturally, this has led to a massively inflated prizepool—with the first place prize growing from $30,000 in 1970 to a peak of $12,000,000 in 2006.
Let’s take a look at some of the most successful and interesting poker main event champions to date. Scroll down to see the complete list of main event champions!
Johnny Moss (1970, 1971, 1974)
Total poker main event winnings: $190,000
Moss is undoubtedly one of the greatest poker champions to have graced a felt table; however, from a financial perspective, he got involved in the poker main event at the wrong time, long before the prize money began to reach exorbitant amounts.
Though he is one of only two men to have won the poker main event three times, Moss’s winnings totals only $190,000. Granted, this amount of money would have gone quite far in the 1970s, but it does still pale in comparison to the massive prizes we see in today’s main event poker tournaments.
On the other hand, Moss’s legacy as a championship poker trailblazer is priceless.
Doyle Brunson (1976, 1977)
Total poker main event winnings: $560,000
Like Moss, Doyle Brunson is considered a champs poker trailblazer, but his heyday in the Main Event preceded huge tournament winnings. Brunson won back-to-back main event poker titles in 1976 and 1977, and has now been competing professionally for over 50 years.
The 82-year-old Texan is instantly recognizable by his signature cowboy hat and more recently his high powered electric scooter, the former of which led to his nickname of “Texas Dolly”.
Doyle has had one of the poker world’s longest and most illustrious careers, with 10 WSOP bracelets and one WPT title. His lifetime live earnings exceed $6,000,000, and his winnings in high stakes Vegas cash games only add to that number.
Phil Hellmuth (1989)
Total poker main event winnings: $755,000
Even though Hellmuth only has one poker main event title to his name, he’s enjoyed a long and successful poker career.
Hellmuth holds the all time record with 14 WSOP bracelets and his live tournament winnings exceed a mind blowing $19,300,000. Hellmuth has developed a reputation as a “poker brat,” racking up hilarious sound bit after hilarious sound bit for the last dozen or so years, “idiot from Northern Europe” comes to the minds of most.
In spite of his antics, Hellmuth is undoubtedly one of the most successful poker champions of all time.
Chris Moneymaker (2003)
Total poker main event winnings: $2,500,000
In addition to having one of the most memorable names in champs poker history, Chris Moneymaker also has one of the most interesting backstories.
In 2003, while working as an accountant, Moneymaker paid a paltry $86 to gain entry into an online poker tournament that ultimately led him to the WSOP final table.
Playing heads-up against seasoned pro Sam Farha in what was his first live tournament, Moneymaker ultimately won the main event of poker and a cool $2.5 million—a nice return on an $86 investment. Moneymaker significantly increased online poker’s popularity after his win, a phenomenon that has been deemed the “Moneymaker Effect”.
Martin Jacobsen (2014)
Total poker main event winnings: $10,000,000
Although Jacobsen, a Swedish championship poker player, only has one main event poker win to his name, he chose nearly the best time to win his WSOP main bracelet.
In 2014, the poker main event prizepool reached 8 figures for the first time in 8 years and only the second time in WSOP history. Jacobsen took home a ridiculous $10,000,000 grand prize for his efforts.
Though this is far and away his biggest win, Jacobsen has been no slouch in other tournaments, even winning an EPT main event. His live tournament winnings exceed $15,000,000 in total.
Stu Ungar (1980, 1981, 1997)
Total poker main event winnings: $1,760,000
Ungar is considered by some to be the greatest Texas hold ’em player to have ever lived, and given his impressive resume, one would be hard-pressed to disagree.
He is one of only two poker champions to have won the poker main event three times. For his 1980 and 1981 poker main event wins, Ungar brought home $385,000 and $375,000 respectively, chump change compared to what winners make today.
In 1997, however, his winnings increased considerably—Ungar hauled in a cool $1 million for this poker main event and was declared the “Comeback Kid”.
Unfortunately, Ungar struggled with addiction his entire lifetime, and died less than a year after his last poker main event win in 1998, completely broke. However, he will forever be regarded as one of the greatest poker champions to have ever played the game.
Full List of Poker Main Event Champions
|Player Name||Winning Hand||First Place Prize|
|Johnny Moss||6x 6x||$30,000|
|1972||Thomas Preston||Kx Jx|
|Walter Pearson||A♠ 7♠||$130,000|
|Johnny Moss||3♥ 3♠|
|1975||Brian Roberts||J♠ J♥|
|Doyle Brunson||10♠ 2♠||$220,000|
|1977||Doyle Brunson||10♠ 2♥|
|Bobby Baldwin||Q♦ Q♣||$210,000|
|1979||Hal Fowler||7♠ 6♦|
|Stu Ungar||5♠ 4♠||$385,000|
|1981||Stu Ungar||A♥ Q♥|
|Jack Straus||A♥ 10♠||$520,000|
|1983||Tom McEvoy||Q♦ Q♠|
|Jack Keller||10♥ 10♠||$660,000|
|1985||Bill Smith||3♠ 3♥|
|Berry Johnston||A♠ 10♥||$570,000|
|1987||Johnny Chan||A♠ 9♣|
|Johnny Chan||J♣ 9♣||$700,000|
|1989||Phil Hellmuth||9♠ 9♣|
|Mansour Matloubi||6♥ 6♠||$895,000|
|1991||Brad Daugherty||K♠ J♠|
|Hamid Dastmalchi||8♥ 4♣||$1,000,000|
|1993||Jim Bechtel||J♠ 6♠|
|Russ Hamilton||K♠ 8♥||$1,000,000|
|1995||Dan Harrington||9♦ 8♦|
|Huck Seed||9♦ 8♦||$1,000,000|
|1997||Stu Ungar||A♥ 4♣|
|Scotty Nguyen||J♦ 9♣||$1,000,000|
|1999||Noel Furlong||5♣ 5♦|
|Chris Ferguson||A♠ 9♣||$1,500,000|
|Carlos Mortensen||K♣ Q♣|
|2002||Robert Varkonyi||Q♦ 10♠|
|Chris Moneymaker||5♦ 4♠||$2,500,000|
|2004||Greg Raymer||8♠ 8♦|
|Joe Hachem||7♣ 3♠||$7,500,000|
|2006||Jamie Gold||Q♠ 9♣|
|Jerry Yang||8♦ 8♣|
|Joe Cada||9♦ 9♣||$8,574,649|
|Jonathan Duhamel||A♠ J♥|
|2011||Pius Heinz||A♠ K♣|
|2012||Greg Merson||K♦ 5♦|
|2015||Joe McKeehen||A♥ 10♦|
|2016||Qui Nguyen||K♣ 10♣|
Who is your favorite main event champion? Let us know in the comments!