The World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event has transformed from a curiosity to the world’s premier poker tournament since its humble beginnings in 1971 at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. The inaugural Main Event saw only six poker pros in the field, each competing for $5,000. The customary $10,000 Main Event buy-in surfaced the following year.
The WSOP will celebrate its 50th installment this year—the series began in 1970, a year prior to the Main Event’s introduction. Taking over Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Vegas from May 28 – May 29, the 2019 WSOP promises to be one of the most spectacular to-date.
We thought it would be fitting to take a look back at a few of the WSOP’s biggest winners through history.
Most Main Event Wins – Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar
Johnny Moss could be considered the grandfather of the Main Event. He won the first official Main Event 1971, a year after winning an equivalency at the first ever WSOP in 1970. Moss again returned to the winner’s circle in 1974 with a third Main Event first place finish.
Stu “The Kid” Ungar is the only player to win three Main Events in the freeze-out format. His titles came in 1980, 1981, and 1987.
Largest Single Main Event Winner -Jamie Gold
The 2006 WSOP culminated in the Main Event with a staggering prize pool worth more than $82.5 million, a record prize pool in the history of poker that stands to this day.
When the dust of the $10,000 buy-in tournament finally settled, American Jamie Gold was the last man standing from the field of 8,773 entrants. His payout was a WSOP record $12 million as the first-place finisher.
The top 10 finishers behind Gold also became millionaires thanks to the Main Event.
All-Time WSOP Money Leader – Antonio Esfandiari
Take a look at the all-time WSOP money list and there’s Antonio Esfandiari sitting all alone at the very top. However, it’s difficult to feel sorry for Esfandiari; the man has racked up more than $22 million in career earnings at WSOP events. He’s also added three bracelets and a ring to his jewelry collection over the course of his WSOP run.
Esfandiari’s biggest moment on the WSOP stage came in 2012 when he won the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop tournament. His first-place prize? Just a measly $18,346,673!
Most Career Bracelets – Phill Hellmuth
The winner of each event at the WSOP is awarded a bracelet. The tradition began in 1976, and a WSOP bracelet is considered the most coveted non-monetary prize at the series.
So who has the most of ‘em? The answer is Phil Hellmuth, felt top legend and member of the WSOP Poker Hall of Fame. The Poker Brat has 15 bracelets in his collection, including one for his victory at the 1989 Main Event.
With so many bracelets, it’s rightful to assume that Hellmuth is often in the money. He ranks fourth in WSOP career cashes with 138.
Biggest Cultural Impact – Chris Moneymaker
A list of big winners at the WSOP would be incomplete without a mention of Chris Moneymaker. Moneymaker, an amateur from Tennessee, pulled out a stunning victory over Sam Farha and Dan Harrington at the 2003 Main Event.
Moneymaker’s win coincided with increased television coverage by ESPN in the form of seven one-hour weekly episodes. This unlikely success story of a David taking down Goliaths as the world watched on was rightfully coined the “Moneymaker Effect” and led to the modern Texas hold’em boom.
Winning any event at the WSOP is no small feat. The players on our list of WSOP legends all possess a tournament winning mindset, a masterful command of poker strategy and different styles of play with the ability to “change gears” by alternating techniques.
The opportunity for more all-time great performances opens once again with the 2019 WSOP kicking off in just a few short months. Will there be any Moneymaker or Hellmuth moments or Esfandiari-sized prize winnings in Las Vegas this year?