Is Chris Moneymaker's Win STILL the Biggest WSOP Upset Ever?
The FIFA World Cup may only be a couple of days old, but that hasn't stopped one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history taking place. Saudi Arabia — the second-lowest ranked country in the competition — stunned Argentina 2-1 in their group stage fixture.
Argentina had come into the tournament as strong favorites, and had taken the lead thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty. But La Albiceleste were undone thanks to two second-half goals from Saleh Al Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari to secure the most unlikeliest of victories for Saudi Arabia.
The poker world is no stranger to upsets, and although it's been nearly 20 years there probably hasn't been a bigger upset than Chris Moneymaker's 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event victory.
Setting the Scene
During the late 1990s, the WSOP Main Event hovered between 300-400 entries, as the likes of Stu Ungar, Huck Seed, Scotty Nguyen and Dan Harrington — more on him later — won poker's biggest prize.
By 2003, the field had more than doubled to 839 players, with $2,500,000 awaiting the winner. That year poker legends such as Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu and Johnny Chan had all picked up bracelets to add to their collection — Phil Hellmuth had even won two!
All of this is to say that the WSOP Main Event was still expected to be won by a big name and once the money bubble burst, there were still plenty of players who looked able to take down the title.
Ivey, Ivey, Ivey
But one by one, they were sent to the rail. First Hellmuth, then Men "The Master" Nguyen. Meanwhile, Scotty Nguyen would have no repeat of his 1998 victory, and with ten players left all eyes were on a certain Phil Ivey.
By this point, Ivey had already won four bracelets, including three in 2002. That year he also finished 23rd in the WSOP Main Event and was widely considered as one of the greatest poker players of the time.
However, there wouldn't be a place at the final table for Ivey as he was eliminated in spectacular fashion by Moneymaker himself. As chip leader, he flopped trip queens against Ivey, only for Ivey to turn a full house with pocket nines.
"An incredible knockout blow for probably the best player left in the tournament"
Ivey shoved with Moneymaker snap-calling. Ivey was an 83% favorite to hold and double through his opponent. However, the ace on the river saw Moneymaker send Ivey to the rail.
"An incredible knockout blow for probably the best player left in the tournament," said commentator Norman Chad.
"Remaining players thrilled to be at the final table but happy and relieved that the great Phil Ivey will be absent," added Lon McEachran.
Final Table Action
The final table began with Moneymaker holding more than a quarter of the chips in play.
As the players were whittled down, Moneymaker eliminated Tomer Benvenisti and Jason Lesterin fifth and fourth place respectively but still had two strong opponents remaining, including Dan Harrington who had the most bracelets (2) and career earnings of any player heading into the 2003 WSOP Main Event final table.
The former Main Event champ was at his third WSOP Main Event final table — he would go on to final table again the following year — but he too was eliminated by Moneymaker. Harrington had flopped a pair and a flush draw against Moneymaker who held just top pair, but Moneymaker's pair was good enough to eliminate Harrington.
That brought him heads-up against Sam Farha, another strong competitor. An early bluff with king-high showed the world that Moneymaker wasn't prepared to get pushed around.
On a board, the two had checked the flop with Moneymaker raising Farha's bet on the turn.
"You sense it's gonna be over soon," said Farha before the river was dealt. Farha checked and Moneymaker shoved with just king-high.
"I could make a crazy call on you, could be the best hand," continued Farha, before ultimately folding.
The final hand saw Farha flop top pair, only for Moneymaker to flop two pair. Moneymaker check-raised and called a shove from Farha.
His hand held up and saw him shock the world in one of poker greatest-ever upsets.
Check out this video from PokerGO on exactly how Moneymaker won the Main Event and be sure to head to their YouTube channel for more WSOP video content!
Will Shillibier is based in the United Kingdom. He graduated from the University of Kent in 2017 with a B.A. in German, and then studied for a NCTJ Diploma in Sports Journalism at Sportsbeat in Manchester. He previously worked as a freelance live reporter, and video presenter for the World Poker Tour.