There’s a reason the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is the most prestigious name in the game – because of its history.
For more than three decades before the “Poker Boom” years of the mid-2000s, the WSOP was the place to go for poker players. The idea for the WSOP was planted in 1969 when Tom Moore and Vic Vickrey invited the best players in the world to the Holiday Casino in Reno, Nevada for the Texas Gamblers Reunion.
At the time, only cash games were played, and as Benny Binion, owner of Binion’s Horseshoe, observed the action, he had an idea – to hold an annual event at his joint in Las Vegas. After confirming with Moore and Vickery that they didn’t plan to hold another reunion, Binion got their blessing to take the show south.
In 1970, the WSOP as the world knows it was born, well sort of. That first year, Binion invited seven of the best players in the world to compete – Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Sailor Roberts, Crandell Addington, Carl Cannon, Puggy Pearson, and “Amarillo” Slim Preston. Once again, they just played cash games, and in the end, they were asked to vote on who they thought was the best player.
Not surprisingly, everyone voted for themselves. Binion then called for a second vote with the caveat they had to vote for another player. Moss received the most votes and became the winner of the first annual WSOP, receiving a silver cup as an award.
It was after that first gathering a reporter suggest Binion spice it up by making the players compete in something with a beginning, middle, and end. Cash games really didn’t fit that bill, but a freezeout tournament did. So, in 1971 a half a dozen players ponied up $5,000 to buy into the first WSOP tournament (it would increase to $10,000 the following year and has remained the buy-in ever since). Amazingly, Moss won again to the tune of $30,000.
From there, the WSOP grew year by year. Before long, additional tournaments were added to the schedule, and in 1976 the silver cup was done way with in favor of the now coveted bracelet (though anyone who won a WSOP tournament from 1970-75 is still considered to have “won a bracelet”).
For more than 50 years, winning the WSOP Main Event (AKA “The Big One”) has been the dream of every poker player. Two players have won it three times in Moss and Stu Ungar, while Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan have won it twice. All four of them did it in back-to-back years.
WSOP Main Event Winners
Here’s a look at all those who’ve etched their name in poker history by winning the WSOP Main Event:
1970 & 1971 – Johnny Moss
The 1970 WSOP was decided by player vote with Moss being determined the champion. The following year, he bested a seven-player field to win the tournament for $30,000.
Winning Hand (1971): Pocket sixes
1972 – Amarillo Slim Preston
A dozen players were slated to play in 1972, but lucrative cash games kept four of them away. As such, only Jimmy Casella, Roger Van Ausdall, Johnny Moss, Jack Straus, Crandall Addington, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, and Amarillo Slim Preston put up an increased buy-in of $10,000 to compete. In the end, Amarillo Slim beat Puggy in heads-up play to win the title for $80,000.
Winning Hand: K♥J♦
1973 – Walter “Puggy” Pearson
After finishing runner-up the year before, Walter “Puggy” Pearson got his revenge in 1973 when he topped a 13-player field to win the tournament for $130,000. He did so by besting Johnny Moss heads up. It marked Pearson’s third bracelet win that year after capturing both the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em and $4,000 7-Card Stud titles earlier in the series.
Winning Hand: A♠7♠
1974 – Johnny Moss
The Grand Old Man of Poker completed the hattrick in 1974 besting a 16-player field to claim a $160,000 prize in the winner-take-all tournament. He beat out future Poker Hall of Famer Crandell Addington heads up to do it.
Winning Hand: 3♠3♥
1975 – Brian “Sailor” Roberts
That year’s Main Event increased to 21 players, but remained a winner-take-all format, meaning Brian “Sailor” Roberts, a longtime Texas Road Gambler companion to Doyle Brunson, won $210,000 after beating out Bob Hooks in heads up play. However, before his death in 2016, Hooks revealed that the two old friends chopped it unbeknownst to Benny Binion.
Winning Hand: J♠J♥
1976 & 1977 – Doyle Brunson
In 1976, Doyle Brunson won the $5,000 2-7 Draw event for $80,250 and a bracelet. However, he’s more known for defeating a field of 22 players, including Jesse Alto heads-up, to win the 1976 WSOP Main Event for $220,000.
He then returned the following year to win the $1,000 7-Card Stud Split event and successfully defend his title by beating a 34-player field. He downed Gary “Bones” Berland in heads-up play to get the job done.
Winning Hand: “The Brunson” Ten-Deuce (10♠2♠ in 1976; 10♠2♥ in 1977)
1978 – Bobby Baldwin
This marked the first year that the WSOP Main Event was not a winner-take-all format. As such, the $420,000 prize pool generated from the 42 players that competed was paid out to the top five finishers. Once again, Crandell Addington had to settle for second place, this time for $84,000 in prize money, while Bobby “The Owl” Baldwin won the tournament for $210,000.
Winning Hand: Q♦Q♣
1979 – Hal Fowler
For the first time, the WSOP Main Event eclipsed the 50-player mark in 1979. With 54 competitors, a $540,000 prize pool was reserved for the top five finishers. Hal Fowler made poker history by becoming the first amateur player to win the title. He earned $270,000 for beating seasoned pro Bobby Hoff heads up. Fowler faded away from poker after his victory before passing away years later, which was documented in Des Wilson’s book Ghosts at the Table.
Winning Hand: 7♠6♦
1980 & 1981 – Stu Ungar
Widely regarded to have been the greatest Texas hold’em and gin player of all time, Stuey “The Kid” Ungar took the poker world by storm headed into the WSOP’s second decade. In 1980 Main Event (73 players), Ungar denied Doyle Brunson a third championship by besting the legend in heads-up play. Ungar won $365,000 for his victory.
The following year, Ungar returned and successfully defended his title in a 75-player field, good for a $375,000 payday after beating Perry Green heads-up. Ungar also won that ear’s $10,000 2-7 Draw tournament for $95,000 and a bracelet.
Winning Hand: 5♠4♠ in 1980 and A♥Q♥ in 1981
1982 – Jack Straus
Standing a towering 6’6”, Jack Straus was nicknamed “Treetop” and is the man responsible for the saying “A chip and a chair.” That’s because in the 1982 WSOP Main Event, he was one of 104 players (it was the first time the tournament crossed into triple digits) to compete, and somehow, he came back after being down to a single 500 chip.
Straus prevailed at a tough final table that included Dewey Tomko (2nd – $208,000), Berry Johnston (3rd – $104,000), and Doyle Brunson (4th – $53,000). He earned $520,000 and the second bracelet of his career for the victory.
Straus passed away in 1988 at the age of 58 while playing high-stakes poker at the Bicycle Casino in L.A. He was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame that same year.
Winning Hand: A♥10♠
1983 – Tom McEvoy
Attendance for the 1983 WSOP Main Event increased to 108 players, and once again Doyle Brunson went deep. He ultimately fell in third place for $108,000 and left two satellite qualifiers, Tom McEvoy and Rod Peate, to battle heads-up. It wound up being the longest heads-up match in Main Event history at the time coming in at over seven hours (a record that would hold until the 2006 Main Event). McEvoy wound up the victor to win $540,000 and become the first satellite qualifier to win the Main Event.
It’s also worth noting that Ireland’s Donnacha O’Dea, who finished sixth for $43,200, was the first foreign player to even make the money in the WSOP Main Event.
Winning Hand: Q♦Q♠
1984 – Jack Keller
During the 1984 WSOP preliminary events “Gentleman” Jack Keller won the $5,000 Seven Card Stud tournament for $137,500. He closed things out by topping a 132-player field to also win the Main Event for $660,000 after beating Byron “Cowboy” Wolford heads-up. Keller, who would capture a third bracelet in 1993 and be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1994, passed away in 2003.
The 1984 WSOP Main Event also marked the first of three consecutive final tables for Jesse Alto, who finished third for $132,000.
Winning Hand: 10♥10♠
1985 – Bill Smith
The 1985 WSOP Main Event attracted 141 players, and it proved to be a precursor of sorts as Berry Johnston and Hamid Dastmalchi, who finished third and fifth respectively, would go on to win future WSOP Main Events. Jesse Alto, who finished third the year before, was back at the final table and placed sixth for $42,000. In the end, Bill Smith beat TJ Cloutier heads-up to win the bracelet and $700,000 first-place prize.
Winning Hand: 3♠3♥
1986 – Berry Johnston
After finishing third in the 1985 WSOP, returned the following year and topped a 141-player field to win it for $570,000. The defending champ, Bill Smith, made a deep run finishing in fifth place for $51,300, while Jesse Alto was at the Main Event final table for the third year in a row, ultimately finishing in fourth place for $62,700. By finishing in 25th place for $10,000, Wendeen Eolis became the first woman to finish in the money in the WSOP Main Event.
Winning Hand: A♠10♥
1987 & 1988 – Johnny Chan
Johnny Chan, known as “The Orient Express,” had arguably the greatest streak in WSOP Main Event history. First, he topped a 152-player field to win the 1987 WSOP for $625,000, and the following year he successfully defended his title in a 167-player field, good for $700,000. To accomplish the latter, he had to defeat a young Erik Seidel heads-up and did so in a scene that was immortalized in the film Rounders.
Chan, who was the last player to win the WSOP Main Event two years in a row, nearly made it three in a row in 1989, but had to settle for runner-up to one Phil Hellmuth.
Winning Hand: A♠9♣ in 1987 and J♣9♣
1989 – Phil Hellmuth Jr
The 1989 WSOP Main Event drew 178 players and all eyes were on Johnny Chan, who had won the previous two years. Amazingly he went deep again and looked as if he’d accomplish the three-peat. However, 24-year-old upstart Phil Hellmuth Jr played spoilsport. Hellmuth, who would become “The Poker Brat” and go on to become the WSOP’s all-time bracelet winner, denied Chan a third title, eliminating him in second place for $302,000. Hellmuth, who became the youngest player to ever win the tournament (he supplanted Stu Ungar’s 1980 victory) won $755,000 in prize money and the first of many gold bracelets.
Winning Hand: 9♣9♠
1990 – Mansour Matloubi
In a field of 194 players, Stu Ungar had amassed such a huge chip lead after Day 2, that when he missed the rest of the tournament due to a drug overdose, he still finished in ninth place for $25,050 after being blinded out orbit by orbit. Ultimately, it was Iranian-British player Mansour Matloubi beating Hans “Tuna” Lund heads-up to win the tournament for $835,000. Mansour became the first non-American to win the WSOP Main Event.
Winning Hand: 6♥6♠
1991 – Brad Daugherty
The 1991 WSOP Main Event crossed over 200 runners for the first time as 215 players competed. That year, Binion’s promised a $1,000,000 first-place prize, which made it fairly top heavy (second place was $402,500). Brad Daugherty, originally from Missouri, wound up being awarded the first-ever million-dollar first-place prize in WSOP history.
Winning Hand: K♠J♠
1992 – Hamid Dastmalchi
The WSOP Main Event experienced a rare drop in attendance in 1992 as the 201 players was 14 less than the year before. Even so, a $1 million top prize was guaranteed for the second year in a row. Iranian-born Hamid Dastmalchi captured the seven-figure prize and left runner-up Tom Jacobs with a $353,500 consolation prize. Dastmalchi wound up winning four WSOP gold bracelets in his career before disappearing from the game after 2004.
Winning Hand: 8♥4♣
1993 – Jim Bechtel
The 1993 WSOP Main Event had 231 players compete, including Mansour Matloubi, who had won the tournament three years earlier. Matloubi made another deep run, but wound up busting in fourth place for $120,000. Ultimately, it was Arizona cotton farmer Jim Bechtel defeating Glenn Cozen to win the tournament for $1,000,000. It was a bit of redemption for Bechtel, who had finished sixth in the 1988 WSOP Main Event.
Bechtel, who had played poker recreationally for decades, became just the second amateur to win the WSOP Main Event since Hal Fowler in 1979. In 2019, Bechtel a second bracelet, which made the 26 years between bracelet wins the longest span in WSOP history.
Winning Hand: J♠6♠
1994 – Russ Hamilton
The 25th Anniversary (AKA silver anniversary) of the Main Event was a special one as not only would the winner receive a $1 million first-place prize, they would also win their weight in silver. The tournament drew 268 players, including the 330-pound Russ Hamilton, who received 43 bars of silver valued at $28,000 after winning the tournament.
Hamilton went on to become one of the most infamous players in poker history for his involvement in the Ultimate Bet scandal in which he was largely responsible for cheating players out of over $6 million.
Winning Hand: K♠8♥
1995 – Dan Harrington
The 1995 WSOP was a good one for Dan Harrington. First, he won the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em event for $249,000 and a bracelet, and then he added another by topping a 273-player field in the Main Event, good for $1,000,000. Barbara Enright became the first (and thus far only) female to make the WSOP Main Event final table by finishing fifth for $114,180. Doing one spot better was 1992 WSOP champ Hamid Dastmalchi, who took fourth for $173,000.
“Action Dan” would late author the game-changing Harrington on Hold’em books and make the final tables of both the 2003 and 2004 WSOP Main Events.
Winning Hand: 9♦8♦
1996 – Huck Seed
The 1996 WSOP Main Event, one of the few not to be recorded for television broadcast, saw 295 players compete, and it was the young Huck Seed beating out Dr. Bruce Van Horn to win the title for $1,000,000 and his second bracelet. Seed has captured four WSOP gold bracelets and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2020.
Winning Hand: 9♦8♦
1997 – Stu Ungar
After winning the WSOP Main Event in back-to-back years in 1980 and 1981, Stu Ungar fell from grace due largely to his uninhibited drug addiction. In 1997, Ungar seemed to be on the right track and was one of 312 players to compete in that year’s WSOP Main Event. When he made the final table, which for the first and only time was held outdoors on Fremont Street, holding more than a third of the chips in play, it seemed like destiny.
Indeed, Ungar closed it out to the tune of $1 million and his third Main Event title. Donning a pair of round sunglasses, Ungar dedicated the win to his daughter Stefanie. Unfortunately, Ungar’s demons got the best of him and he passed away from an overdose on November 22, 1998.
Winning Hand: A♥4♣
1998 – Scotty Nguyen
For the first and only time in WSOP history, the 1998 Main Event (350 players) final table began with just five players. Vietnamese-born Scotty Nguyen began as the chip leader with Kevin McBride in second. Fittingly, the title came down to the two of them, and on a board that showed three eights and two nines for a full house, Nguyen moved all in and uttered the immortal words, “You call, it’s gonna be all over, baby!”
McBride did call, and just like that Nguyen became world champ for $1 million and his second bracelet. Since then, he has captured a total of five gold bracelets and become a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.
Winning Hand: J♦9♣
1999 – Noel Furlong
At the 1999 WSOP Main Event, a tournament that drew 393 players, 1996 champ Huck Seed was looking to win it for the second time. His run came up short in sixth place for $167,700, while 1988 runner-up Erik Seidel did a bit better placing fourth for $279,500.
After Padraig Parkinson bowed out in third place, the title came down to Alan Goehring and Ireland’s Noel Furlong. The Irishman, already a millionaire from his carpet manufacturing business, wound up the victor to win a $1 million top prize.
Winning Hand: 5♣5♦
2000 – Chris Ferguson
The new millennium saw the WSOP Main Event experience a huge jump in attendance from 393 in 1999 to 512 in 2000. As a result, the first-place prize was kicked up to $1.5 million and was won by Chris “Jesus” Fergsuon, who got lucky to beat TJ Cloutier heads-up. The latter got the last of his chips all in preflop with ace-queen against the former’s ace-nine, but a nine on the river dealed it for Ferguson.
Ferguson, who has won six gold bracelets and was the 2017 WSOP Player of the Year, has experienced negative blowback for his part in Full Tilt Poker not paying players back after the events of Black Friday.
Winning Hand: A♠9♣
2001 – Carlos Mortensen
With 613 players, the 2001 WSOP Main Event was the largest-ever live poker tournament at that time. It was the first time two players were awarded seven-figure prizes, and is largely regarded as one of the toughest Main Event final tables in history with the likes of Mike Matusow (6th – $239,765), Phil Hellmuth (5th – $303,705), and Phil Gordon (4th – $399,610), just to name a few.
Spain’s Carlos Mortensen wound up beating Dewey Tomko heads-up to win the title for $1.5 million. He did so by making a straight with king-queen suited to crack pocket aces. Tomko earned nearly $1.1 million for finishing in second place.
Winning Hand: K♣Q♣
2002 – Robert Varkonyi
The 2002 WSOP Main Event, which attracted 631 players, marked the first time pocket cams (AKA hole card cams) were utilized. Amateur Robert Varkonyi defeated Julian Gardner to win the title and $2 million first-place prize.
Earlier at the final table, Phil Hellmuth was doing commentary when he said that, if Varkonyi were to win, he would shave his head. True to his word, Hellmuth had his hair buzzed off in front of ESPN cameras.
Winning Hand: Q♦10♠
2003 – Chris Moneymaker
Little did anyone know at the time, but the 2003 WSOP would change the course of poker history forever. That’s because previously unknown Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker, who had won his way in via a $86 online satellite, topped a 839-player field to win the tournament for $2.5 million. By defeating season poker pro Sammy Farha in heads-up play, Moneymaker showed the masses that even the little guy could win at poker.
His victory was one of the primary sparks that helped ignite the “Poker Boom,” which was evidenced by the following years’ unprecedented expansion.
1995 Main Event champ Dan Harrington ended up finishing third in the tournament for $650.000.
Winning Hand: 5♦4♠
2004 – Greg Raymer
Thanks to Chris Moneymaker winning the year before, the 2004 WSOP Main Event experienced an attendance explosion as 2,576 players packed Binion’s Horseshoe. That was more than three times that of the previous year! One of the reasons for the big turnout was the sheer number of online qualifiers, including eventual champ Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, who captured a $5 million first-place prize.
For the second year in a row, Harrington was at the final table, this time finishing in fourth place for $1.5 million. Harrington’s back-to-back final tables in the “boom” years helped make him an early favorite among poker fans.
Winning Hand: 8♠8♦
2005 – Joe Hachem
Binion’s Horseshoe, including the WSOP brand, had been sold to Caesars, so it was no surprise to see them solve their space issues by moving the series to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. That year’s Main Event more than doubled in attendance to 5,619, and incredibly the defending champ, Greg Raymer, made a deep run ultimately finishing in 25th place.
Mike “The Mouth” Matusow was that year’s first final table casualty, while the jovial Steve Dannenmann and Australian Joe Hachem made their way to heads-up play. Hachem would finish as the last player standing and earn $7.5 million for his performance.
“Aussie. Aussie. Aussie. Oi, Oi, Oi!”
The final two days of the 2005 WSOP Main Event were played at Binion’s Horseshoe, the last time any WSOP tournament would be played at the downtown venue.
Winning Hand: 7♣3♠
2006 – Jamie Gold
The “Poker Boom” was in full effect headed into the 2006 WSOP Main Event, a tournament that would draw a staggering 8,773 players. To date, that is the largest Main Event in WSOP history with a $82,512,162 prize pool. Unfortunately, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 would soon stymie growth as online operators were forced out of the US market, thus cutting off the flow on online qualifiers.
That year’s Main Event, which was offered to watch live via Pay-Per-View, marked the first time a 100K chip was introduced into play. Hollywood agent Jamie Gold began the final table with a big chip lead, and he rode it all the way to victory to claim a $12 million top prize, still the largest first-place prize ever awarded in the WSOP Main Event.
Winning Hand: Q♠9♣
2007 – Jerry Yang
Attendance for the 2007 WSOP Main Event dropped to “only” 6,358 players, which was the first time since 1992 that the Main Event experienced a reduction in participants. Jerry Yang began that final table as the second-shortest stack, but he proceeded to knock out seven of his eight competitors on his way to victory. Yang, who won a $225 live satellite at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, turned his small investment into a $8.25 million payday. Yang donated 10 percent of his winnings to various charities.
Winning Hand: 8♦8♣
2008 – Peter Eastgate
The 2008 WSOP Main Event was the first time the “November Nine” concept was instituted. Instead of playing straight through to a winner, play stopped when the final table of nine players was reached. Those players then went on hiatus until November, at which time they returned to play to a winner. The idea was a three-month break would allow opportunities to promote the match, generate anticipation, and give players a chance to seek sponsorship opportunities.
That year’s tournament drew 6,844 players saw Denmark’s Peter Eastgate, 22, win the tournament for $9,152,416. By doing so, he surpassed Phil Hellmuth (24) as the youngest player to ever win the WSOP Main Event. However, his record would be broken the very next year.
Eastgate returned in 2009 to attempt a title defense. He made Day 6 but fell in 78th place. After 2010, Eastgate largely disappeared from the poker world. That same year, he auctioned off his championship bracelet on eBay with a starting bid of $16,000. It sold for $147,500, which was donated to the UNICEF charity.
Winning Hand: A♦5♠
2009 – Joe Cada
The 2009 WSOP Main Event attracted 6,494 players and once again used the “November Nine” concept. Darvin Moon went into the hiatus as the chip leader and he would go on to face off against young 21-year-old online player Joe Cada in heads-up play. That year’s final table lasted 364 hands, including 88 hands of heads-up play, and eventually Moon was eliminated by Cada, who claimed the title and $8,547,042 first-place prize.
Cada would nearly win the Main Event again nine years later when he finished fifth out of a 7,874-player field in the 2018 WSOP Main Event, good for $2.15 million. Cada became the first former champ to make another final table since Dan Harrington.
Winning Hand: 9♦9♣
2010 – Jonathan Duhamel
The 2010 WSOP Main Event experienced a nice attendance bump as 7,319 players created a $68,798,600 prize pool. Canada’s Jonathan Duhamel began the November Nine final table as the chip leader, and he rode it all the way to victory to claim a $8,944,310 first-place prize after beating John Racener in heads-up play. Duhamel became the first Canadian player to win the WSOP Main Event title.
Winning Hand: A♠J♥
2011 – Pius Heinz
The 2011 WSOP Main Event drew 6,865 players and offered up a $64,531,000 prize pool. The November Nine final table last 301 hands, including 119 hands of heads-up play between Germany’s Pius Heinz and Czech Republic’s Martin Staszko. Heinz, who had experience playing online, wound up the winner for $8,715,638 and to become the first German player to ever win the title.
Winning Hand: A♠K♣
2012 – Greg Merson
The 2012 WSOP Main Event, which attracted 6,598 players and awarded $62,021,200 in prize money, moved up from the “November Nine” to October due to that year’s presidential election. The tournament also switched from offering four starting flights to just three (which would remain until the 2021 WSOP Main Event reverted to four).
That year, two women nearly made the final table, but Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann wound up busting in 11th and 10th place respectively. Jesse Sylvia began the final table as the chip leader, but he eventually fell to Greg Merson in heads-up play. The win helped Marson, who earned $8,531,853 in prize money, finished as the 2012 WSOP Player of the Year thanks to also winning the $10,000 NLHE Six-Handed for $1,136,187.
Winning Hand: K♦5♦
2013 – Ryan Riess
The 2013 WSOP Main Event had 6,352 players who generated a $59,708,800 prize pool. Carlos Mortensen, the 2001 champ, nearly made the final table but busted in 10th place. Mark Newhouse was eliminated from the final table in ninth place, the same spot he’d finish a year later.
In the end, it was Michigan’s Ryan Riess, who had cut his chops on the WSOP Circuit, beating Jay Farber heads-up to win the tournament for $8,361,570.
Winning Hand: A♥K♥
2014 – Martin Jacobson
For the 2014 WSOP Main Event, tournament officials guaranteed a first-place prize of $10 million, which made the tournament somewhat top heavy. With 6,683 players creating a $62,820,200 prize pool, the runner-up was slated to take home $5,147,911. Mark Newhouse became the first player to make the November Nine twice, and after finishing ninth in 2013, he finished in the same spot in 2014.
Sweden’s Martin Jacobson began the November Nine final table as the second-shortest stack, but he put on a clinic on his way to claiming the bracelet and seven-figure first-place prize. At the time, it was the fifth-largest single payout in tournament poker history. Jacobson’s win is largely considered one of the most impressive in the history of the Main Event.
Winning Hand: 10♦10♥
2015 – Joe McKeehen
The 2015 WSOP Main Event attracted 6,420 players who created a $60,348,000 prize pool. GGPoker Ambassador Daniel Negreanu nearly made the November Nine final table but fell in 11th place for $526,778.
Joe McKeehen began the final table with a big chip lead – more than double that of his next closest competitor – and he had a relatively smooth road to victory going wire to wire. McKeehen continues to crush tournament poker and even added two more bracelets to his poker resumé, one in 2017 and more recently in 2020.
Winning Hand: A♥10♦
2016 – Qui Nguyen
The 2016 WSOP Main Event drew 6,737 players and offered up a $63,327,800 prize pool. A player by the name of John Cynn finished 11th in that tournament for $650,000., while well-known poker veteran Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy made the November nine as chip leader. Hot on his heels was Vietnamese-American poker player Qui Nguyen.
Nguyen played an aggressive and offensive game at the final table, and before long he held a big chip lead. After Josephy bowed out in third place, Nguyen battled Gordan Vayo in a lengthy 181-hand heads-up match. Nguyen eventually sealed the deal to win the tournament for $8,005,310. Nguyen would go on to release a biography, From Vietnam to Vegas! How I Won the World Series of Poker Main Event by D&B Publishing.
Winning Hand: K♣10♣
2017 – Scott Blumstein
After nearly a decade of the November Nine, the WSOP returned to playing out the Main Event without a hiatus. The tournament drew 7,221 players, the largest since 2010, and offered up a $67,877,400 prize pool. Antoine Saout and Ben Lamb, who finished third in the 2009 and 2011 WSOP Main Event respectively, were both back at the final table. The former fell in fifth place for $2 million while the latter finished in ninth for $1 million. In between, Argentina’s Damian Salas, who would go on to win the 2020 WSOP, placed seventh for $1,425,000.
The title came down to New Jersey’s Scott Blumstein, who began the final table as chip leader, and Dan Ott. On the 65th hand of heads-up play, and 246th of the final table, Blumstein emerged victorious to win the $8.15 million first-place prize.
Winning Hand: A♥2♦
2018 – John Cynn
In 2016, John Cynn experienced heartbreak when he busted the WSOP Main Event in 11th for $650,000, just missing out on the final table. Two years later, he found redemption by topping a 7,874-player field (the second-largest field in history up to that point), to win the bracelet and $8.8 million top prize.
The final table lasted a length 442 hands, which included 199 grueling heads-up hands against runner-up Tony Miles.
2009 WSOP champ Joe Cada was at the final table, but fell short of a second title finishing in fifth place for $2.15 million.
Winning Hand: K♣J♣
2019 – Hossein Ensan
The 2019 WSOP Main Event became the second-largest in history with 8,569 players (only behind 2006) and offered up a $80,548,600 prize pool. Hossein Ensan began the final table as chip leader, and he took it down for a $10 million first-place prize. At the age of 55, Ensan was the oldest Main Event champ since Noel Furlong in 1999. He also became the second German player to win the Main Event after Pius Heinz did so in 2011.
Winning Hand: K♥K♣
2020 – Damian Salas
The traditional summer World Series of Poker in Las Vegas was interrupted due to the global pandemic, but officials found a unique way to continue Main Event tradition by offering an online-live hybrid. Players in the United States competed on WSOP.com (705 players) and played down to a final table of nine, while international players did the same on GGPoker (674 players).
The final tables from each then played down to a winner live (the domestic final table at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and the international one at King’s Casino in the Czech Republic). Joseph Hebert took down the WSOP.com domestic portion for $1,553,256 and Damian Salas the international GGPoker portion for $1,550,969, and then the duo squared off in a heads-up match for an additional $1 million and the bracelet.
Salas, who had final tabled the 2017 WSOP, ended up the victor to officially become the 2020 WSOP Main Event champ.
Winning Hand: K♦J♠
2021 – Koray Aldemir
The WSOP Main Event returned to its traditional all-live format in 2021, though instead of being in the usual summer slot in Las Vegas, it was moved to an 8-week span later in the year. In order to cater to international players allowed to visit the United States after travel ban restrictions were eased, officials added Day 1E and 1F flights. Over the course of six starting flights, the tournament attracted 6,650 players, who generated an impressive $62,011,250 prize pool.
German professional poker player Koray Aldemir, an accomplished regular on the high roller circuit, emerged victorious over Atlanta-based recreational player George “Home Game” Holmes to claim his first bracelet and the $8 million first-place prize.
Aldemir will go down in history as the last Main Event champion at the Rio as the WSOP is slated to move locations in 2022.
Winning Hand: 10♦7♦