The Best And Worst World Series of Poker Main Event Winners of All Time

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
World Series of Poker

Looking back at the long line of World Series of Poker main event winners, some have become today’s most colorful characters (Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson) while others have become notorious (Russ Hamilton and – depending on who you ask - "Amarillo Slim" Preston).

In recent years, we’ve had our fair share of “forgettables” such as Jerry Yang, and dare we say, Joe Cada.

In the case of Cada, he has the potential to become a young superstar on the poker circuit.  Since his big 2009 World Series of Poker win, he’s only cashed at the NAPT Caribbean Poker Adventure PokerStars EPT/ Season 6 LAPT/ Season 3 and had nothing to show for at this year’s WSOP. 

Jamie Gold was probably the most controversial winner ever and – to date – the biggest.

From Wikipedia:

Just prior to the 2006 WSOP, Entertainment and Gold entered into a business relationship when Gold agreed to find celebrities willing to play in the main event under the Bodog banner in exchange for a paid entry into the main event. Gold partnered with Crispin Leyser to help with this task in exchange for half of Gold's winnings, according to Leyser. After Gold won, Leyser says that Gold reneged on the deal and had decided to keep the entire $12 million prize. Leyser sued Gold on August 22, 2006 which resulted in Chief U.S. District Court Judge Kathy Hardcastle issuing a restraining order which prevented Gold from collecting $6 million of his winnings from Rio Hotel and Casino before the first hearing of the lawsuit on December 1, 2006.  At the December court hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Roger L. Hunt rejected a motion by Gold's lawyers to lift the restraining order on the $6 million and ordered the frozen funds be moved into an interest-bearing account, saying that the "likelihood to prevail" lay with Leyser. Gold did a radio interview on Rounders the Poker Show.  Following his Main Event win where he mentioned his deal with Leyser. It was later entered into evidence for the lawsuit. On February 6, 2007, Leyser and Gold released a joint statement stating they had settled the matter outside of court. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. On January 25, 2007, Bodog ended their business relationship with Gold, citing their decision to cease all offline marketing initiatives in the U.S., and instead refocus their efforts on growing their entertainment brand in Europe and Asia. Despite that reason for ending their business relationship, Bodog still retained David Williams, Josh Arieh, and Evelyn Ng as Team Bodog members.

Gold has not had a single first place finish in live poker tournament action, but there is no disputing they hype that surrounded his World Series of Poker success and the name brand that came as a result.

The same goes for Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 World Series of Poker winner who soon became a household name and brought the World Series of Poker to another level, demonstrating that any Tom, Dick and Harry can win the main event when a $39 online entry into a WSOP satellite event changed his life.  His win is at least partially responsible for the online poker revolution that soon followed, which in turn resulted in thousands more people taking part in the World Series of Poker main event.    

Russ Hamilton’s 1994 WSOP win may have been forgotten if not for the fact that he was the focal point of an online poker cheating scandal nearly two years ago that ended up on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes.

The second person to ever win a World Series of Poker main event bracelet, Amarillo Slim (real name Thomas Preston Jr.), was indicted in Randall County, Texas on charges of indecency with a 12-year-old child. The charges were reduced to misdemeanor assault in a plea bargain and on February 10, 2004, Preston plead "no contest" to the reduced charges, "to protect his family". Preston received a $4,000 fine, two years probation and was ordered to undergo counseling.

Since that time, Amarillo Slim has been the victim of three separate armed robberies, one at his home and another while attempting to collect a gambling debt.

It should be noted that Preston won the event against only 7 other entries.  Compare that with the 7319 playing this year. 

Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth, Jr. are all big name pros today that won the World Series of Poker main event post-1990.  Stu Ungar is another popular name in the world of poker that won three times.  He passed away in 1998 and is considered the greatest Texas hold 'em and gin rummy player of all time.

We would be remiss in not acknowledging the excitement brought on by 2007 World Series of Poker Europe winner Annette Obrestad.  Not only was she the youngest WSOP main event winner, she was also the first female.  And she remains one of the most exciting and outspoken players on the circuit today. 

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