The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is poker’s longest-running and most prestigious tournament. For decades, it’s been the symbol of competitive poker. WSOP tournaments have million-dollar prize pools; for some, their iconic bracelets are worth even more.
Throughout the WSOP’s five-decade history, there have been many incredible moments and records. Today, we’ll look at one accomplishment only four poker pros in history have achieved: Back-to-back Main Event wins. We’ll cover each of the pros in-depth, looking at their back-to-back wins and other career highlights.
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Johnny Moss, “The Grand Old Man of Poker”
Johnny Moss has a record of being a trailblazer in the world of poker. He was the first player ever to win the WSOP, winning it all the way back in 1970 when it was just a private competition between seven pros.
After playing a few hours of cash games, Benny Binion, casino owner and the inventory of the WSOP, asked the gathered pros to vote on who they thought was the best player. Unsurprisingly, they all voted for themselves. After being asked to vote for the second-best player, Moss was crowned the champion, receiving not the iconic bracelet, but a silver cup instead.
The 1971 WSOP was the first to adopt the classic freezeout tournament format it has today. After a reporter proposed a more exciting format with a clear beginning, middle, and end, the freezeout was adopted, giving players a set amount of chips and eliminating them when the chips ran out. Moss defended his title, making him the first-ever back-to-back WSOP Main Event champion.
As if that was not enough, Moss claimed a third Main Event title in 1974, solidifying him as one of poker’s all-time greats. Fun fact: The only other player with three Main Event titles is also on this list!
Doyle Brunson, “Texas Dolly”
Doyle Brunson is one of poker’s oldest and most accomplished pros. Having played poker for over 50 years, he’s had numerous contributions to the scene like authoring Super/System, a poker strategy book that’s considered one of the game’s essential texts.
The other big thing Brunson is known for is his back-to-back streak of WSOP Main Event wins in 1976 and 1977. While this is already an achievement, how he accomplished them is so insane that he had a hand named after him.
In the 1976 Main Event, Brunson found himself heads-up against Jesse Alto. He had 10-2 versus Alto’s AJ, putting him at a sizable disadvantage from the get-go. This was further compounded by a flop of A-J-10, giving Alto a two pair compared to Brunson’s bottom pair. In one of the craziest bad beats in the history of pro poker, the turn and river both gave a two, giving Brunson the backdoor full house to turn the game around.
This may already be enough for you to consider the 10-2 as the “Doyle Brunson” hand. However, the craziest part about all this is that it happened twice. In the 1977 Main Event, Brunson was again heads-up, this time against Gary “Bones” Berland. He held the same 10-2 as last year, again getting the perfect cards on the turn and river to complete his full house.
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Stu Ungar, “The Comeback Kid”
Stu Ungar was a poker genius, widely considered one of the best Texas Holdem players and the single best gin rummy player of all time. He used his IQ of over 140 and perfect memory to amazing effect in betting games, getting banned from playing blackjack in nearly every casino due to his card-counting skills.
If you still aren’t convinced about his skill, Ungar won the 1980 WSOP Main Event against Doyle Brunson despite it being his second poker tournament ever. He beat Perry Green again in 1981 to defend his title. He was almost unable to do this, as he was banned from Binion’s casino for spitting in a dealer’s face. Jack Binion, Benny Binion’s son, convinced his father to let Ungar play at the last minute due to the publicity the pro would bring to the tournament.
While he was initially nicknamed “The Kid” for his youthful appearance, the moniker would evolve to “The Comeback Kid” after Ungar’s third WSOP Main Event win in 1997, 16 years after his back-to-back titles.
Johnny Chan, “The Orient Express”
Finally, the last player on our list is Johnny Chan. This Chinese-born American pro is known for his success in multiple fields of poker, having won tournaments in not just Texas Holdem but also Omaha and Draw poker. He’s so good that he starred in the 1998 poker film Rounders, which has become a cult classic within the poker community.
Chan was the first-ever player to win 10 WSOP bracelets, tied with Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson for the second most bracelets of all time. His nickname of “The Orient Express” was given by casino owner and poker player Bob Stupak, after he watched Chan eliminate 13 out of 16 players in just 30 minutes at the 1982 America’s Cup of Poker.
Chan’s first Main Event win came in 1987, giving him the bracelet and $625,000. While this seems a bit small compared to today’s standards, back then, this was massive. He defended the title in 1988 and came incredibly close to winning three in a row in 1999. He lost heads-up to a young Phil Hellmuth, who would later go on to make a name for himself as one of the best players of all time.
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Feeling inspired by these pros?
If any of these legendary pros inspired you, feel free to give poker a try! If you can, you should play poker online for a few reasons. It gives you access to poker tracking software and exclusive promotional offers, and it’s faster-paced, so you can learn more quickly. The biggest thing about online is that it allows you to play games for incredibly low stakes, allowing you to learn the game without worrying about money. `