Is Chris Moneymaker’s victory still the most surprising in WSOP history?

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OKBET Poker Chris Moneymaker

It’s only been a few days, but already the 2018 FIFA World Cup has produced one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. Saudi Arabia, the competition’s second-worst ranked team, upset Argentina 2-1 in a group round matchup.

Even though it’s been over 20 years since Chris Moneymaker’s triumph in the Industry Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2003, the poker world is no stranger to shocks.

Argentina, the tournament’s presumptive favorites, took the lead on a penalty kick from Lionel Messi. But Saudi Arabia came from behind to beat La Albiceleste with goals from Saleh Al Shehri and Salem Al Dawsari in the second half.

Positioning the Action

In the late 1990s, when players like Stu Ungar, Huck Seed, Scotty Nguyen, and Dan Harrington (more on him later) were taking home the greatest prize in poker, the number of entrants to the World Series of Poker Main Event seldom dipped below 300.

In 2003, there were 839 participants and a prize pool of $2,500,000. In that year, poker greats including Doyle Brunson, Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, and Johnny Chan added bracelets to their collections; Phil Hellmuth won two.

After the money bubble popped, there were still a large number of players that looked like they might win the WSOP Main Event, therefore it was still widely believed that a famous player would emerge victorious.


One by one, though, they were led to the rail. Hellmuth came first, then Men “The Master” Nguyen. With 10 players remaining, Nguyen knew he had little chance of repeating his 1998 win, and all eyes were on a particular Phil Ivey.

Ivey had won four bracelets at this point, including three in 2002 alone. In the same year, he also placed 23rd in the World Series of Poker Main Event, cementing his reputation as one of the game’s all-time greats.

Unfortunately for Ivey, he was knocked out of the tournament by Moneymaker in a particularly spectacular manner, therefore he wouldn’t be joining the final table. His trip queens were flipped against Ivey’s pocket nines, but Ivey turned a complete house to remain chip leader.

Ivey pushed at Moneymaker, who called out of the blue. At the time, oddsmakers gave Ivey an 83% chance of holding and double through his opponent. Ivey was still in the game until Moneymaker hit an ace on the river and eliminated him.

An amazing knockout hit for the greatest player still in the competition, according to commentator Norman Chad.

“Remaining players excited to be at the final table but happy and relieved that the great Phil Ivey would be absent,” commented Lon McEachran.

Final Table Measures

At the beginning of the final table, Moneymaker had more than a quarter of all of the chips that were in play.

As the field was narrowed down, Moneymaker was able to eliminate Tomer Benvenisti and Jason Lester in fifth and fourth place respectively. However, he still had two formidable opponents left, including Dan Harrington, who had the most bracelets (2) and career earnings of any player heading into the final table of the 2003 WSOP Main Event.

The past champion of the Main Event was at his third WSOP Main Event final table; he would go on the final table again the following year; however, Moneymaker was able to remove him as well. Even though Harrington had flipped a pair and a flush draw against Moneymaker, who had just top pair, Moneymaker was able to remove Harrington by virtue of the fact that he already had top pair.

past champion of wsop moneymaker

Playing Heads-Up

This pitted him against Sam Farha, another formidable opponent. Moneymaker’s early bluff with king-high demonstrated to the world that he wasn’t about to be pushed around.

The two had checked the flop on a 9-Spades2-Diamonds6-Spades8-Spades3-Hearts board, with Moneymaker increasing Farha’s bet on the turn.

Before the river was dealt, Farha remarked, “You know it’s going to be over soon.” After Farha checked, Moneymaker pushed all in with with a king high hand.

Before folding, Farha said, “I could make a wild call on you, may be the greatest hand.”

Farha had a pair on the river, but Moneymaker flopped a better hand. Moneymaker called a raise from Farha and got shoved in the process.

His hand held, and he pulled off one of poker’s biggest upsets in history.

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