When the WSOP first started, it was entered and played by wealthy high stakes gamblers, who enjoyed the game and could afford to lose. The type of player the tournament attracted were all from a similar demographic – and were seen by the world as something one would imagine from a movie. Leathery skinned, cigar-puffing tycoons, playing for the big money in lavish surroundings.
The concept of an amateur entering and winning the tournament was relatively unheard of when the tournament began, as although there wasn’t a wide a field in which to play in those days, the competition was vicious, and amateurs were generally considered to be shark fodder in the main event.
- Hal Fowler – The First Amateur World Champion
In 1979, a low and middle stakes amateur player, Hal Fowler entered the competition. Hal was an advertising executive so was not a particularly wealthy man, and had to be staked in order to enter the main event. Legend has it that Benny Binion himself put up the $10000 buy in to the main event, so that Fowler could play.
Fowler faced WSOP champion Johnny Moss at the final table as well as other seasoned professionals like Chip Reese, George Huber, Sam Moon, and Bobby Hoff at the final table. At the end of the game to everyone’s utter astonishment Fowler played the winning cards to beat Bobby “the Wizard” Hoff in what would be one of the greatest upsets in poker history.
- Stu “The Kid” Ungar
Stu Ungar was predominantly a gin rummy player but struggled to find high stake games in Vegas, so decided to try his hand at poker, where there was much more action. He would have done well to check out a site like Gaming Club NZ too, as there are plenty of high stakes games available online. This prompted him to enter the WSOP 1980. He was a relative newcomer to the game when he entered the WSOP, but given his affinity for cards he picked it up quickly, with poker veteran and legend Doyle Brunson commenting that he had never before witnessed a player Improve their skills during an actual tournament.
Brunson and Unger faced off at the final table, with the poker community fully expecting Brunson to win, but the shock of the day came when Unger emerged the victor! Unger was the youngest person to date (in 1980) to win the WSOP main event, and would go on to be the only player in history to win the main event competition 3 times, but the biggest upset came with that first win, when the kid beat the teacher, and rates among one of the biggest shocks in poker tournament history.
- Chris Moneymaker
Thanks to PokerStars online satellite tournament, Chris Moneymaker, an unknown and unheard of accountant from Tennessee sparked what is now a worldwide revolution in professional poker. In one of the most significant upsets in poker history, the 27-year old amateur purchased a $39 buy-in on the now famous PokerStars satellite tournament in 2003, and won, to earn himself a spot in the WSOP.
These spots were usually reserved for players with deep pockets, who could afford the large price tags on the buy-ins for the main event. Chris, wit his incredible skill and insight into casino games went on to win the main event that year, taking home $2.5million – a mind blowing return on his initial $39 investment. His winning made the dream of winning big a reality to the man on the street and re-ignited the popularity of the sport, and in particular the WSOP.