World Series of Poker Champions – The 1990's
With a couple of exceptions, the decade of the 1990’s tends to be the “forgotten decade” for most fans of the World Series of Poker. Several of today’s big name pro’s got their Main Event title during this decade as well as a couple forgotten champions and one all time great that gave us one more memorable performance.
1990 – Mansour Matloubi: Mansour Matloubi was one of the most dominant tournament poker players in the early to mid 1990’s. He had tremendous success at the WSOP, including 9 WSOP final tables. The 1990 Main Event was his crowning achievement. At a final table that included John Bonetti, Berry Johnston, Al Krux, and Hans Lund, Matloubi emerged as the winner of the event. This event was mildly overshadowed by the fact that on Day 2, Stu Ungar did not show up to play. He was a dominant chip leader over the field. Upon further investigation, it was discovered he had a drug overdose. Ungar’s lead was so massive that he still made the final table just by being blinded out. After the 1990’s Matloubi primarily plays poker in Europe and rarely plays in events in the US.
1991 – Brad Daugherty: The 1991 World Series of Poker was the first time that the Main Event Champion would take home $1 Million for first place. Daugherty was a player with some mild success at the poker tables but nothing that would truly prepare him for the Main Event. Huck Seed took a chance on Daugherty and backed him into the Main Event. This would pay off for Seed as Daugherty would make the final table, although he was one of the short stacks. This was one of the weaker final tables in WSOP history and Daugherty was able to stay in contention mainly due to this reason. He was able to pick up a few key pots to build his stack and eventually make heads-up play with Don Holt. Daugherty would state later that he thought that Holt was fatigued and that was a big reason for his victory. Regardless of the reason, Daugherty would emerge as the 1991 Main Event champion and become the first champion to take home $1 Million.
1992 – Hamid Dastmalchi: From the late 80’s to early 90’s Hamid Dastmalchi was a regular at the WSOP with great success. He took his first bracelet in 1986 and would cash in the Main Event in 1987 and 1991. In 1992 he would make the WSOP Main Event final table that would include Johnny Chan, Jack Keller, and Hans Lund. The only real competition came from Lund, who finished in 3rd place. Dastmalchi would then go heads-up with Tom Jacobs and finish him off when his 8-4 outran Jacobs J-7. Dastmalchi would take home the Championship Bracelet and $1 Million in cash. Dastmalchi would win his third and final bracelet in 1993. He would then cash in the Main Event in 1994, where he finished in 4th place. Afterwards, he became primarily a cash game player. A dispute between Dastmalchi and Binion’s Horseshoe would emerge in 1995 when they refused to cash in chips he had won at the casino. He had to go to court in order to force them to pay. After this incident, he has primarily disappeared from the tournament scene.
1993 – Jim Bechtel: The 1993 Main Event is probably known just as much for John Bonetti’s implosion as for Jim Bechtel’s win. Play was three handed between chip leader Jim Bechtel, John Bonetti, and super-short stack Glenn Cozen. Bonnetti and Bechtel went to the flop. Bonetti was holding A-K and flopped top pair. Bechtel held pocket sixes and flopped a set. Bonetti went all-in on the turn drawing dead and Bechtel called. Bonetti’s sudden elimination allowed Cozen to move up in prize money, but left him at a 100 to 1 chip disadvantage. Heads-up play lasted three hands and Bechtel became the 1993 champion.
1994 – Russ Hamilton: The 1994 WSOP was the 25th Anniversary of the WSOP and Binion’s announced that the winner of the Main Event would receive their weight in silver. The final table of the Main Event included Robert Turner, Vince Burgio, Al Krux, John Sapdavecchia, and Russ Hamilton. Eventually, the heads-up match was between Hamilton and Hugh Vincent. Jack Binion asked the weight of the two men before the match started. When he found out that Hamilton weighed 330 lbs, he went to root for Vincent. In the end, Hamilton would come out on top and he would receive $1 Million and his weight in silver. Hamilton would later sell the silver back to Binion’s due to the cost of storing the metal.
1995 – Dan Harrington: A member of the famed Mayfair Club in New York, Dan Harrington made the final table of the 1995 Main Event that included “Captain” Tom Franklin, Barbara Enright, Hamid Dastmalchi, and Chuck Thompson. This final table would be historic as Barbara Enright was the first woman to ever make the final table of the WSOP Main Event. In the end, Harrington would make heads-up play with Howard Goldfarb and Harrington would take down the bracelet and the $1 Million top prize. While this was officially his greatest achievement, Harrington’s Main Event runs in 2003 and 2004 are considered by many as his greatest accomplishments. In 2003, Harrington finished 3rd in the Main Event out of a field of 839 players. He would then make the final table of the 2004 Main Event, finishing 4th out of a field of 2,576 players. Both fields were the largest fields for the Main Event at that time. Those back-to-back final tables are considered by many to be the greatest feat in WSOP Main Event history.
1996 – Huck Seed: A few years after backing the Main Event winner, Huck Seed would make his own run at the WSOP Main Event. The final table of the 1996 Main Event included John Bonetti, Men “The Master” Nguyen, and An Tran. Seed would wind up heads-up with Bruce Van Horn and eventually eliminating him for the WSOP Main Event title and $1 Million. This was Seed’s second bracelet. He would then go on to win two more bracelets in 2000 and 2003 in Razz. He would also finish 73rd in the 2007 Main Event. (The 2007 Main Event had 6,358 participants.)
1997 – Stu Ungar: The story of Stu Ungar could make a great Hollywood movie. He exploded onto the poker scene in the early 80’s, but drug abuse would eventually make him a shell of his former self. He had to be staked into the 1997 Main Event by friend Billy Baxter. Ungar was playing the event for his daughter, whom he was trying to make proud. It is said of professional boxers that when they get older, they always have one more good fight left in them. While Ungar was only in his 30’s, his drug abuse had left him in a state to where people wondered if he would live to see his 40’s. Ungar would proceed to put on a poker clinic and then made the final table that included Ron Stanley and Mel Judah. Ungar would make heads-up play and defeat John Strzemp to become only the 2nd three-time Main Event winner in history. Ungar also holds the distinction of being the only player to win three Main Event tournaments. The 1970 Champion was determined by vote, so while Johnny Moss has three Championships, only two of those were won at the tables. Sadly, Ungar would not return to defend his Main Event title. He continued using drugs and he told Billy Baxter that he was in no shape to play. As feared by many of his friends, Ungar was found dead in the Oasis Motel on November 22nd, 1998, the victim of an apparent drug overdose. While his life may have ended tragically, he still went down in the history books as one of the greatest tournament players to have ever played the game.
1998 – Scotty Nguyen: The 1998 WSOP Main Event was guaranteed a new champion due to the fact that Stu Ungar chose not to defend his title. What ensued was the birth of another poker legend. Scotty Nguyen was already a bracelet winner, having won an Omaha 8 or Better bracelet in 1997. He then set his sights on a World Championship. The final table saw Scotty Nguyen get three handed with T.J. Cloutier and Kevin McBride. Cloutier would again fall short of winning the Main Event and finish in third place. During heads-up play, one of the most memorable lines in poker history was born. At the river of the final hand, the board showed 9-9-8-8-8. Kevin McBride held Q-10 and Nguyen held J-9. Nguyen moved all-in and while McBride contemplated a call, he said, “You call this one, and it’s all over baby.” Finally, McBride said, “I call. I play the board.” Nguyen showed his better full house and he became the new World Champion of Poker. After his Main Event win, Nguyen would go on to win three more bracelets, including the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. World Championship in 2008.
1999 – Noel Furlong: Noel Furlong is the true definition of the recreational player. He is a carpet manufacturing business owner who occasionally plays poker. Furlong would enter the 1999 World Series of Poker and would eventually make the final table that included Alan Goehring, Padraig Parkinson, Huck Seed, and Erik Seidel. He would eventually take down the event when his pocket fives flopped a full house on the final hand of the event to knock out Alan Goehring and give Furlong the unlikely win. When asked about his win, he stated, “I worked hard, but it was 99 percent luck.” After his win at the WSOP, Furlong continued to run his carpet business and never turned professional. He primarily only plays poker in Ireland and has a few respectable cashes and wins, but nothing close to his success in the Main Event in 1999.