The History of Poker

The Ten Greatest Poker Moments in History

Posted by Ross Jarvis, October 28, 2014

From classic WSOP triumphs to the greatest poker hand ever, we go back in time to reveal the ten greatest poker moments in history.

The history of the game of poker is littered with great moments, from incredible tournament wins to crazy high-stakes cash games and brilliant bluffs. Narrowing it down to just the ten greatest moments in poker history was a near-impossible task, and it meant leaving out some iconic moments you might have expected to see here. That means there’s no room for Scotty Nguyen’s “You call, it’s all over baby!” speech, Jamie Gold’s $12m WSOP Main Event win or Victoria Coren Mitchell’s double EPT victory. We couldn’t even find space for Howard Lederer getting humiliated by Tom Dwan on High Stakes Poker, try as we did…

Poker history and the greatest poker moments


No doubt you will agree with some of our picks, and outright hate others, but please join us as we count down the top ten greatest poker moments in the history of the game.


10. Daniel Negreanu wins second WSOP Player of the Year title, 2013

Daniel Negreanu has always been one of the most recognisable poker players in the world but, after a barren five years at the World Series of Poker, many were starting to doubt if he had still had the game to back up his celebrity. The doubters were all proved wrong in 2013 when Negreanu went on one of the greatest streaks of his career.

It started in Melbourne, Australia when Negreanu beat out 405 players to win the WSOP Asia-Pacific main event for over $1m. It was Kid Poker’s first WSOP bracelet since 2008 but he wasn’t content to stop there. He cashed six times at the summer WSOP in Vegas before heading to France for the World Series of Poker Europe, knowing that only a second bracelet win would snatch the coveted title of WSOP Player of the Year away from the UK’s Matt Ashton.

As usual where Negreanu is concerned, the chase was filled with drama. It came down to the final event, the €25,000 High Roller, and only victory would secure Player of the Year for Negreanu - he finished the job in style to win €725,000 and become the first player ever to be crowned WSOP Player of the Year twice. Ten years passed between his first POTY win in 2004 and the encore in 2014, proving that Negreanu is not only one of the most loved players in poker history – he’s one of the absolute best too.


9. Rounders is released, 1998

There have been many movies made about poker but one film stands head and shoulders above the rest: Rounders. It was only a modest success at the box office when released in 1998, but became a cult hit years later when every aspiring poker pro owned a well-worn copy of the DVD in the early 2000s. The film is credited with bringing many top pros into the game, including Brian Rast, Gavin Griffin and Vanessa Rousso.

Sixteen years after its release, just go to any card room in the world and you’ll hear players say, ‘Don’t splash the pot’, ‘Pay that man his money’ (in a comical Russian accent obviously) and – if you’re lucky – see them grind an Oreo cookie together when they are bluffing.

Rounders unveiled the underground poker scene to the world long before it became mainstream, and showed the skill, heart and tenacity it took to be a poker player. At a time when the word ‘poker’ conjured up visions of old cowboys duking it out for pennies around the kitchen table, Rounders made poker cool. There’s never been a film like it before, and there may never be another great poker movie again – unless the heavily rumoured Rounders 2 is ever made, of course…


8. Chip Reese cements his legacy, 2006

The 2006 WSOP was the biggest of all time, with an incredible 8,773 players in the Main Event that Jamie Gold won for a huge $12m. However, the indelible image from that summer isn’t of Gold – it’s of Chip Reese lifting the inaugural $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. trophy just one year before his tragic death.

To combat the growing field sizes, and scores of unknown players winning bracelets, WSOP organisers wanted an event that would truly determine who is the best poker player in the world. After consulting top pros the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament was born. In a radical change from the No Limit Hold’em-dominated landscape this would incorporate Limit Hold’em (H), Omaha Hi/Lo (O), Razz (R), Seven-Card Stud (S) and Seven-Card Stud Eight-or-Better (E). (As it was going to be televised by ESPN a concession was made that the final table would be played out under NLHE rules to attract the widest possible audience.)

While $50,000 may not sound like a huge buy-in now, before the days of Super High Rollers and the Big One for One Drop, a buy-in like this had never been seen before. Only the 143 biggest cash game players in the world could afford the buy-in and every table was packed with famous faces. Yet, after Phil Ivey departed in third place and Andy Bloch was finally defeated after a seven-hour heads-up match, it was David ‘Chip’ Reese who was the victor. He may not have been the most famous name but his fellow pros from poker’s Big Game knew that he was the best all-round player in the world - and finally he had been able to prove it.

Tragically, Reese passed away in his sleep at the age of 56 just one year later. In a fitting tribute the WSOP introduced the “David ‘Chip’ Reese Memorial Trophy” in 2007, awarded to the winner of the $50k H.O.R.S.E. event each year. To many, Reese is the greatest cash game player that ever lived, but it was due to one brilliant tournament performance that his skills were showcased to the world.


7. Best versus the best, 2009

Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey. For a period of time these two were the best players in the world, regularly battling for huge stakes against each other live and online. Dwan was the young hotshot, completely fearless and prepared to bluff for millions of dollars at any time. Ivey was the established superstar who wasn’t ready to leave his throne at the top of the poker world just yet.

It was a level of poker that had never been seen before, with neither player willing to budge an inch no matter what sums were on the line. Every poker fan had their favourite too; online pros worshipped Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan and felt he was unbeatable, while others thought he had a long way to go to match up to the battle-tested Ivey.

Whenever the two of them collided on TV it made for compulsive viewing, and some of the most memorable poker hands of all time. After incredible bluffs by both players in the past it all culminated in a hand worth over $1.1m in 2009. Still the biggest televised pot of all time, it’s remarkable both for the sheer amount of money in the middle and for Phil Ivey’s reaction to losing what equates to a large family home in one hand. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Now that’s cool.


6. The $1m Game, 2012

When Cirque Du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberte announced his intentions to hold a $1m buy-in poker tournament, it sounded like an idea from the pages of a James Bond novel. However, at the 2012 WSOP the dream became a reality as 48 players and businessmen snatched, swapped and sold their way to the $1m needed. The biggest names – such as Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu – were all there at the Rio Casino in Vegas for the most anticipated poker tournament in modern history.

The action lived up to the hype too, with the most memorable hand coming on the final table when the UK’s Sam Trickett rivered quads to eliminate Brian Rast, who had the nut flush. Trickett would make it all the way to heads-up but he couldn’t get past ‘The Magician’ Antonio Esfandiari, who took the event down for the biggest payday in poker history: $18,346,673.

After a one year hiatus the Big One for One Drop returned in 2014 to much fanfare. This time 42 players entered and it was Daniel Colman beating out Daniel Negreanu heads-up for a $15.3m top prize. After two memorable events – and over $11.8m raised for the clean water charity One Drop - it appears that the $1m tournament will be here to stay.


5. Andy Beal vs The Corporation, 2001-2006

High stakes poker players dream of the day a billionaire businessman walks into Vegas and asks to play the highest stakes possible. However, in the early 2000s they stumbled across the one businessman that gave them the shock of their lives, Andy Beal. The Texas banking giant came to Vegas in 2001 but wasn’t there just to gamble – he had been practising heads-up limit Hold’em for months at home before he felt ready to test himself against the best in the world. While he lacked experience, Beal had one thing in his favour that even the top pros didn’t have; an unlimited bankroll. He asked to play such high stakes (starting at $2,000/$4,000 and eventually moving up to $100,000/$200,000 blinds!) that the top pros all had to combine their bankrolls together just to be able to play him. So it was that ‘The Corporation’ of Doyle Brunson, Jen Harman, Chip Reese and many others combined forces to battle it out with Beal in the biggest games that Las Vegas had ever seen.

Beal had tremendous success at first, with Harman recounting that he won $5m from the group, nearly wiping them out in the process. After a last-ditch effort The Corporation eventually got even and Beal left town – for now.

The final act of the story came in 2006 when Beal arrived for one final showdown against The Corporation at the highest stakes yet, $200,000/$400,000. He got off to a hot start, initially winning an incredible $13.6m. One week later The Corporation decided to give the game a final shot but this time they had a secret weapon, Phil Ivey. Over the course of three days Ivey completely dismantled Beal, winning $16.6m to recoup all of the team’s losses and more. It was a display that announced Ivey to the world and sent Beal packing. While he has been spotted from time to time in Vegas Beal has not since returned to the table – leaving the world to talk about the time when Ivey crushed the biggest poker game ever played.


4. Don’t call it a comeback, 1997

Stu Ungar may have been the most naturally gifted card player of all time. He was a genius at games like Gin Rummy and took that incredible talent into No Limit Hold’em when he discovered the game in the late 1970s. He became the youngest world champion ever at the age of 27 when he won the WSOP Main Event in 1980, and did the impossible one year later when he won it again!

Unfortunately for Ungar, distractions away from the table – namely drugs and a compulsive horse betting habit – left him broke and in terrible health. It was a completely different Ungar that showed up for the 1997 WSOP. The youthful, energetic kid had been replaced by a grizzled veteran, deep in debt, who showed the physical damage of his drug abuse. However, his friends in poker knew that if Ungar was clean and mentally prepared he could still beat anyone in the world at the poker table. Veteran pro Billy Baxter put up the $10,000 for his Main Event entry and Ungar was back in action.

The fairytale story came true as Ungar made it to the final table and then, as they played outdoors on Vegas’s famous Fremont Street, finished the job to collect $1m and a record-breaking third WSOP Main Event bracelet. It was the greatest comeback that the poker world has seen but it didn’t have a happy ending. Ungar quickly returned to his drug-taking ways and lost all his winnings betting on sports. He failed to show up and defend his title in 1998 and eventually passed away of a heart attack in November of that year.


3. Who is Isildur1?, 2009

In September 2009 a mysterious player known only as Isildur1 started taking online cash games by storm. He jumped into the biggest cash games available online, and started multi-tabling against the best players in the world – Ivey, Dwan and Patrik Antonius – and on one infamous night he even played against all three at the same time!

By November of that year Isildur1 was over $6m in profit, most of it coming from the pockets of Dwan. It was the most action online poker had ever seen, and thousands of railbirds flocked to watch the hyper-aggressive player whenever he logged on. But who was he? Was he a famous live pro under a different name? Or a complete unknown? Nobody knew, and it only increased the intrigue surrounding Isildur1.

After tumultuous swings, that included losing the biggest pot in online poker history of $1.35m, the bottom fell out for Isildur1 when he came up against Brian Hastings in December. The two played for five hours and at the end Hastings had managed to win $4.2m, eradicating all of Isildur1’s previous winnings. And just like that, he was gone.

For three months Isildur1 captivated the poker world with his willingness to play anyone for any stakes and with a level of aggression that had not been seen since the days of Stu Ungar. In 2010 Isildur1 finally unveiled his identity to be Viktor Blom – a 20-year-old Swede who looked like he was in an emo-rock band. Blom still battles online today but he’ll forever be remembered for the three month period in 2009 when he set the poker world alight.


2. Hellmuth hits gold, 2007

If there is one man that symbolises the WSOP it’s Phil Hellmuth. In 1989 he became the youngest WSOP Main Event champion at the age of 24 and he’s gone on to accrue more bracelets than anyone else in WSOP history with 13.

Hellmuth’s crowning moment came in 2007 when he was tied for ten bracelets with poker legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. That year Hellmuth beat out 2,628 players to win the $1,500 NLHE event for $637k and, crucially, his eleventh WSOP bracelet. It put daylight between him and the contenders, with Chan, Brunson and a resurgent Phil Ivey currently three bracelets behind Hellmuth.

Hellmuth has contributed to many of the WSOP’s greatest moments, sometimes not intentionally. His collection of blow-ups – “He called a raise with a Queen-Ten honey, idiot player!” – have been watched by millions and he’s hated by just as many people as he’s loved. Yet when you look at the facts it’s clear that Phil Hellmuth is the greatest player in WSOP history, and his 2007 bracelet win solidified it.


1. The poker boom kicks off with a big bluff, 2003

Before Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003 poker wasn’t mainstream. Online poker was in its embryonic stages and the average demographic of a live player was retired, over 60 and from Texas. But when Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker turned a $39 satellite win into a $2.5m WSOP Main Event victory, it made people believe that this lottery ticket could be theirs too. Add in a preposterous name that just couldn’t be real to the mix and ‘The Moneymaker Effect’ was born. Participation in poker, both live and online, instantly skyrocketed. From 839 players in 2003 the WSOP Main Event had an incredible 2,574 entrants the very next year, and poker became the cool thing around the world.

Yet the poker boom might not have happened if Chris Moneymaker hadn’t pulled off one of the best bluffs ever seen when heads-up versus seasoned pro Sammy Farha. Moneymaker had the chip lead when he saw a 9s-2d-6s flop with Ks-7h. Farha had Qs-9h for top pair. Both players checked and the turn was 8s, giving both a flush draw. Farha bet 300,000 and Moneymaker made it 800,000 to go. Farha called and the river was 3h. Farha checked and Moneymaker, calmly, announced, ‘I’m all-in.’ It was an audacious move that could have cost Moneymaker the tournament if he was called, but Farha laid it down. It was over just a few hands later and poker had its most unlikely world champion ever – and the game would never be the same again.

Ross JarvisRoss Jarvis is a 29-year-old professional poker player and journalist living in London, England. He has worked for numerous poker magazines and also presents a live poker TV show on Sky television. Jarvis specialises in playing online cash games at any stakes up to $5/$10 and is a regular on the UK poker circuit. He also enjoys drinking craft beer and watching grown men beat each other up in the UFC.


History of the Game of Poker

The game of poker has evolved into the game we know today over a period of nearly 1,000 years and across a wide spectrum of civilizations. Some attribute the origins of the game to the Sung Dynasty of 10th century China, while others mark its beginnings with a Persian game called "As Nas" dating back to the 16th century. Throughout its history, the game has varied considerably, however the basic concepts of psychological strategy and card ranking have always featured along the course of its evolution.

Doyle Brunson at the 1976 World Series of Poker (photo credit: University of Nevada at Las Vegas Special Collections on the World Series of Poker, used according to the GNU Free Documentation License.)

The version of the game that is most closely linked to its contemporary form is Poque, which hails from 17th century France. The game made its way across the Atlantic with a group of French settlers who eventually founded the city of New Orleans. From there, it spread up the length of the Mississippi River during the 18th century. The game flourished in the United States during the 19th century when the country began its westward expansion. For this reason, the history of poker is commonly associated with America's "Wild West".

Originally, the most prominent version of the game was Stud Poker, but other versions were developed and became popular, including: 5 Card Stud and 7 Card Stud , Texas Hold'em, Omaha and Omaha Hi-Low. Texas Hold'em began its rise to cult status during the 1970s when it appeared as the featured game in the World Series of Poker. Today it is by far the most popular of all and is regularly played in leading online poker rooms, as well as in land-based casinos throughout the world.


The World Series of Poker

The history of poker would never be the same without the rise of the World Series of Poker, the game's most distinguished annual competitive tournament, attracting professional players from around the world. Johnny Moss was the first to win the title of Poker World Champion in 1970, when the game was held at Binion's Horseshoe. In 2003, Harrah's Casino bought the rights to become the exclusive host for the tournament, which is now held annually at the Rio Hotel and Casino. The World Series of Poker has expanded beyond Las Vegas to venues across the United States and in late 2007 the first-ever World Series of Poker Europe was held. With over $100,000,000 in prize money and fifty five gold-bracelet events, the World Series of Poker has reached epic proportions and is continuing to make poker history.

The history of the World Series of Poker is a colorful story of the game's dramatic development.


Poker Legends

Doyle Brunson: (AKA - Texas Dolly) Brunson was the first-ever million dollar poker tournament winner. During the course of his professional career, he has collected nine WSOP bracelets. Brunson also published one of the most authoritative poker tutorial books on the game, called Doyle Brunson's Super System.

Stu Ungar: (AKA - The Kid) One of the game's child prodigies, Stu Ungar earned his reputation as a champion player by the age of fourteen. Considered a "natural talent", Ungar's poker skills won him five WSOP bracelets and an estimated $30,000,000 over the span of his career. Sadly, most of these earnings were squandered away to support an abusive drug problem and bad poker habits, which led to his premature death at the age of 45.

Johnny Moss: (AKA - Grand Old Man) From the days of youth when he was hired to monitor games at a local saloon in his hometown of Odessas, Texas, Moss was a fair-play fanatic. So much so that he threatened to shoot (and eventually wounded) a man whom he caught spying on his cards during a game. Moss won eight bracelets in the 25 consecutive WSOP events that he participated in, between the years 1970 to 1995.

Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. (AKA - Amarillo Slim) Controversial both at and away from the poker tables, Preston's life story includes remarkable adventures, notorious slips of the tongue and a moderately successful career in show-business. He has won four WSOP bracelets and is listed in the Poker Hall of Fame.

Benny Binion: (AKA - The Cowboy) As founder of the World Series of Poker, Binion revolutionized the game and played a key role in bringing it to the masses. His pioneering vision propelled Las Vegas into a world-class gambling resort and he is considered to be one of the most influential figures in the city's history.

The history of poker will undoubtedly continue, and other rising stars will one day become recognized as poker legends. 

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