When you’ve already won poker’s biggest prize and you get a chance to play against nine other players who’ve won the same title, the most important thing in the world is on the line: pride. 1983 Main Event champion Tom McEvoy picked up a shiny new 1970 Corvette Stingray, the inaugural Binion Cup, and a big helping of bragging rights when he beat Robert Varkonyi heads up for the first-ever WSOP Champions Invitational. McEvoy outlasted a field of 19 of poker’s biggest winners to claim the title in the made-for-TV event.
1989 champion Phil Hellmuth returned for Day 2 almost literally with just a chip and a chair. Hellmuth put his last few chips in the middle on the very first hand, calling a raise from Carlos Mortensen with . Mortensen held a slight edge with pocket deuces, and his ducks held up on the board of to send Hellmuth quietly home.
2008 Main Event winner Peter Eastgate three-bet all in with , and Dan Harrington made the easy call with pocket aces, but the flop gave Eastgate a pair and a straight draw to make things interesting. The on the turn was no help for the young champ, and when the hit the river, Eastgate became the second casualty within the first three hands.
Doyle Brunson won the Main Event in 1976 and 1977, not quite a decade before Peter Eastgate was born. The living legend of poker made it all the way to eighth place in the Champions Invitational before eventual winner Tom McEvoy sent him to the rail amid much applause. Brunson, McEvoy, and Dan Harrington all saw the flop of , and Brunson led out. McEvoy raised, and Harrington got out of the way. Brunson moved all in over the top with for the nut flush draw, and McEvoy made the call with pocket jacks for an overpair. McEvoy faded the hearts and three remaining aces, and Brunson headed to the rail.
Berry Johnston became the next casualty of a big draw that didn’t come in when his didn’t improve on the board of . Carlos Mortensen’s held up, and the 1986 champion was finished. Mortensen then took out 1996 champ Huck Seed when his held up against Seed’s . It looked like it was all over on the flop, but Seed hit the on the turn to give him a little hope. The river was the , though, and Seed was busted.
2001 champ Carlos Mortensen was en fuego for most of Day 1, and started Day 2 as the chip leader. He then lost some chips early and ran afoul of Jim Bechtel to exit in fifth place. All the money went in on the flop, and Mortensen’s had lost a huge coinflip to Bechtel’s . The on the turn left Mortensen drawing dead, and the sent The Matador packing.
Bechtel moved into contention with the elimination of Mortensen, but one big confrontation with Tom McEvoy was all it took to send the 1993 champ to the rail. Robert Varkonyi raised preflop, and started a cavalcade of action as McEvoy reraised and Bechtel four-bet from the big blind. Varkonyi got out of the way, and McEvoy moved all in over the top with . Bechtel quickly called with , and the first card off the deck was the to crack Bechtel’s kings. The final board ran out , and Bechtel headed home in fourth place.
With a dominant chip lead, McEvoy then took out Dan Harrington in third place when he out-flopped the 1995 champ’s . McEvoy called a preflop reraise from Harrington with and made a pair of queens on the flop. Harrington moved all in on the flop, McEvoy called after a long moment of consideration, and his queens held up to bust Harrington and commence heads-up play.
Robert Varkonyi made a strong showing once heads-up play began, picking up several pots right off the bat, but eventually the big stack of Tom McEvoy proved too much to overcome. On the final hand, both players limped in to see the flop of . Varkonyi put out a small bet, and McEvoy just called. The came on the turn and Varkonyi led out again. McEvoy min-raised, and Varkonyi moved all in over the top. McEvoy quickly called and showed for the nut straight with a flush redraw, and Varkonyi tabled for a straight flush draw. The was Varkonyi’s only out, since the would make a higher straight flush for McEvoy, and when the river brought the , 2002 Main Event winner Varkonyi was eliminated in second place.
After besting a field of 20 former world champions, Tom McEvoy laid claim to his shiny red Corvette and the inaugural Binion Cup, presented by Jack Binion in honor of his father Benny Binion, the founder of the WSOP and Binion’s Horseshoe, the longtime home of the World Series.
Here's McEvoy on his win: