Year by year, we have reached the final part of this series on WSOP Main Event winners. Part 3 finished with the World Series of 2002 won by Robert Varkonyi, as after that year the series started gaining enormous popularity, greatly thanks to the events that took part during the next year.
The festival of poker in 2003 gathered the greatest number of player thus far, with 839 entries. The prize pool ensured first place $2.5 million, a number that can make a lot of dreams come true. And the one whose dreams would be fulfilled when it was all said and done was Chris Moneymaker. The unknown accountant who won his seat via an online satellite tournament for $39 won the heads-up match against the famous and popular Sammy Farha – a victory that was soon to ensure him the status of poker legend. Moneymaker has become a role model, a story about how dreams can come true. Turning forty bucks into two and a half million as an amateur player who was playing his first live tournament, he showed to everyone watching WSOP coverage from their homes that they could do it as well. His win started what was later named the ‘Moneymaker Effect.’ It was probably the best thing that could happen for the popularity of poker, and the fact that his surname was actually Moneymaker created some great marketing material.
His win and the television coverage yielded results that were instantly visible, as no previous series had ever experienced such a jump in the number of players. The Main Event of 2004 gathered 2,576 players, many of whom were amateurs chasing their dreams of fame and money. If Moneymaker could do it – why couldn’t they? But they couldn’t, as the first place is, by its very nature, reserved for one person only, and this time it was Greg ‘Fossilman’ Raymer, who earned his nickname because of the small fossil he uses as a card protector. Raymer got double the money Moneymaker did; after defeating David Williams heads-up, he went home $5,000,000 richer. Spending most of his time battling law-battles, Raymer was mostly a recreational player before his Main Event victory, which granted him a ticket to poker stardom. His total live tournament cashes to date are in the vicinity of $7.5 million.
Nothing could stop the crazy growth of the World Series anymore. Everybody who was a poker fan wanted their piece of the cake and with numerous live and online satellites, people had their chance to qualify for ridiculously small amounts. This created a player pool of 5,619 in 2005, together with $7.5 million guaranteed for the last man standing. It was the first time the Main Event bracelet went all the way to Australia, as it was Joe Hachem who seized the day. Hachem started taking poker seriously in the year 2000 when he became more involved in Melbourne-based tournaments. Still, at the time he won the title, Joe was a fairly unknown player. After his victory that has clearly changed and he became one of the poker ambassadors and played his role in helping the growth of poker’s popularity. He’s also managed to do quite well for himself on the tournament circuit, as Hendon Mob lists his total winnings at around $11.9 million.
Next came the WSOP of 2006, and it managed to, once again, break all records, creating 12 millionaires and awarding the first place finisher $12,000,000. It took a total of 8,773 entries to make this possible and they all gathered to create the biggest field the WSOP Main Event has ever seen and would ever see to date. And the biggest ever first prize went to none other than Jamie Gold. Gold has always shown an interest for poker since a very young age, but poker was nothing else but his hobby. In fact, apart from his Main Event cash, Gold has only about $250,000 in other tournament winnings. But 2006 was clearly a good year for him and a good run of cards brought him all the way to the victory. But there was something about his play and the way he engaged his opponents that certainly helped him get there.
Everyone expected that the WSOP would continue its upward trend and that the next year could, possibly, break the 10,000 player ceiling. That, however, didn’t happen, as changes in the legal sphere restricted casinos from accepting online qualifiers from the sites who offered their services to US citizens. Thus, the Main Event of 2007 only had 6,358 participants – still a big number, but a considerable decrease in relation to the last year. First place prize money of $8,250,000 went to Jerry Yang, who made it into the Main Even through a live satellite. Yang had only started playing poker in 2005 and his victory probably came as a surprise to him as well. Those who followed the TV coverage of the events probably still remember the highly entertaining show Yang created during his final table performance, which included praising God and invoking cards. It clearly worked for him, as he knocked out seven out of eight other players at the table. Things did not work out as well later in his career, as Hendon Mob lists his total tournament winnings, including the WSOP, at $8,426,000.
The number of players for 2008 grew slightly (6,844), but still not coming close to repeating the success of ’06. This was the first series where the concept of ‘November 9’ was introduced for the Main Event final table. The final nine players were to return and play the final table in November to enable ESPN to air the action only a couple days later and keep the audience more interested, as it was easier to keep the suspense and not find out about the results for those who wanted to fully enjoy the final clash. When the last nine returned in November, they were playing for the first place prize of $9,152,416. After a long and grueling battle, the prize and the most coveted bracelet went to Peter Eastgate. Eastgate, who qualified for the WSOP online, was 22 at the time of his victory, and has thus become the youngest Main Event winner in history, surpassing Phil Hellmuth’s record.
The year 2009 saw the 40th World Series of Poker take place in Las Vegas. The number of entrants remained pretty consistent, but it decreased a bit in relation to last year – 6,494 total players. The first place prize of $8,547,000 was awarded to the winner in November, as the concept of ‘November 9’ was kept. This time it was Joe Cada who took the title, and with his victory, the record for the youngest ever winner was once again surpassed, as Cada was only 21 at the time. He started accumulating his experience online when he was only 16 and has had some decent success, but nothing closely compared to his 2009 victory. According to Hendon Mob, his live winnings to date stand at $9.6 million.
The following Series once again saw an increase in the number of players, as the Main Event gathered 7,319 players. Beating the other 7,318 this year was Jonathan Duhamel, who got to take home the $8,944,310 first place money. The Canadian young gun discovered poker during his time at university and decided to take a year off to pursue his newly-found passion. The path of self-discovery worked out quite well for him, as his total live tournament winnings stand at over $12 million.
One series after another, the territory certainly becomes more familiar and the names of winners ring more familiar in the heads of poker fans across the globe. The Main Event of 2011 saw 6,865 players paying the $10,000 buy-in to battle it out on the green felt. When it was all said and done, Pius Heinz walked away the winner, $8,715,638 richer. Heinz is the first German player to win the Main Event title. Born in 1989, he decided to put his studies on hold in 2011 in order to pursue poker. He had some success online prior to this, but his live career certainly had a very nice start.
In the year 2012, the final table was moved from November to the end of October due to the US presidential elections. With 6,598 entrants, it was decided that 666 players would be making money – a number that was a cause of some quality fun, as it is known as the ‘devil’s number.’ It certainly did not bother Greg Merson, who defeated Jessie Sylvia in the heads-up battle, winning $8,531,853. Like many others, Merson started playing during his college days and online poker is much more his domain. However, with the Main Event title and a total of nearly $11 million in cashes, he has demonstrated that he can very well hold his own in the live arena as well.
One event at a time, we have reached the end of this series on WSOP Main Event champions. There is just one more remaining, and that is the most recent winner from the year 2013 – reigning champion of the sort. His name is Ryan Riess, who won $8,361,570 for his win after defeating Jay Farber heads-up. The young American was born in 1990 and has already made what could easily be the biggest cash of his life, as these big prize pools are hard to come by – unless he manages to defend his title somehow, of course, which would be quite an achievement in the modern-day poker world.
The World Series of Poker 2014 is quickly approaching and, before we know it, we will be crowning the new World Champion in Las Vegas. Who will it be this time? Will one of the big names finally make the breakthrough and take the throne, or yet another amateur will take the poker world by surprise? All these questions will soon be answered, as this year’s WSOP is a month away and the Main Event starts on July 5th. Players and fans alike are on their toes in anticipation of the biggest poker festival in the world!