In the thirty five year history of the World Series of Poker, there have been many a memorable moment. It is the spot where history is made in our great sport. 2005 has a tremendous amount of promise in adding to that history, so I thought it might be time to look back at what have been some of the greatest moments of all time.
While some might notch up Phil Hellmuth's youngest ever win, the onslaught of the young players in 2004 or the effect of women in the same year (all great choices), these are the ones that I came up with. They are in no particular order, and I would be interested in hearing what some others might think are the greatest moments in World Series history!
1. Dan Harrington 2003-2004
In 2003, the Internet had its first sizeable impact on the game as over 800 players competed on the felt for the Main Event championship. While many would look at Chris Moneymaker's win as important, 1995 World Champion Dan Harrington hung in with the new generation to take down a very nice third place.
Run the clock forward to 2004. The size of the field has reached a massive 2,576 players. No one gives any of the professionals a shot at even getting close to the Final Table and compete for the World Championship. Even with the sizeable odds, which former World Champion made the Final Table? Yes, Dan Harrington.
The back to back years of plowing through over 3,300 players to have the chance to win the Main Event has to be one of the great achievements in the history of the World Series, and "Action" Dan Harrington is the only man to have achieved it.
2. Johnny Chan - Back to Back to...
In the history of the World Series, only four men have won the tournament in back to back years. Johnny Moss was "voted" the World Champion in the first year, but came back in the second year to win it outright. Doyle Brunson and Stu Ungar also captured back to back championships before Johnny "The Orient Express" Chan pulled off the feat in 1987 and 1988.
What some do not remember, though, is that Johnny came oh-so-close to a first ever "three-peat". In 1989, Chan steamrolled his way to the Final Table and ran into a 24 year old Phil Hellmuth. Hellmuth vanquished the defending champion in becoming the youngest player to ever win the event and also prevented the only ever "three-peat" by the legendary Johnny Chan.
We will probably never see a repeat champion again, so it is vital that we remember those who were able to achieve that feat. Chan could have cemented his history in the game (like there is a question of that) by being the ONLY player to ever capture three in a row!
3. Stu Ungar - A Blast From The Past
While there are three men who have won the World Series twice, only one man won three WSOP Main Event Championships. The late Stu Ungar was one of four to capture back to back championships, then fell from that pinnacle of success.
Stu wandered in the wilderness for more than a decade, battling demons that everyone who has ever read anything about him is familiar with. But in 1997, more than sixteen years after his second championship, Stu was once again at the top of the mountain as he captured his third World Championship. No one else has ever, or probably ever will, achieved that feat.
Stu died the next year; one has to wonder how many he would have captured after 1997 and what he would think of the game today...
4. Doyle Brunson - 2004
While he is still one of the major forces in the game, even Doyle might admit that he isn't the player he used to be. One of only four men to win back to back titles, time and the younger generation had crept up on him.
Still, the legend continues to play. He continued to take on all comers during the 2004 Main Event, personally knocking out many, most notably Howard Lederer. He drove on, through the pain that was evident from the crutches he carried with him and through the long days and nights that the World Series Main Event demands of a player.
He battled to a 53rd place finish in the huge field, but what was most memorable was the standing ovation for the man who has made poker his life upon his elimination. With a tip of his hat, Doyle shuffled off to another game. It is with great anticipation that we see the Godfather of Poker put his stamp on the World Series many more times!
5. Barbara Enright - A Queen Among The Kings
No woman has ever won the World Series Main Event. In fact, Amarillo Slim has said he would commit an unnatural act upon himself if one ever did. It nearly came to pass in 1995.
Dan Harrington won the World Championship that year, but more noise was made by Barbara Enright, who persevered and finished in fifth place. No woman has ever finished better in the Main Event than her. She has continued on since that time to demonstrate that she is one of the best players to play the game, not just one of the best female players ever.
Enright gives much hope to the multitude of women that have and continue to come. Kathy Liebert, Cyndi Violette and Annie Duke all captured bracelets in 2004 and, along with other notable female players such as Jennifer Harman, Mimi Tran and others, could we see a breakthrough in 2005?
So what do you think? It is great to look back at the history of the game as we get ready for the thrill ride that will last forty five days in this summer of 2005. The World Series of Poker is HERE!
Ed Note: The last two champs have won their seats via Poker Stars, are you next?