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The World Series of Poker (WSOP) has long been the golden standard for poker tournaments. It’s the most prestigious and longest-running tournament series in poker, with WSOP bracelets being automatic status symbols within the poker community. The WSOP is widely considered the foundation for poker’s competitive scene.  Being over 50 years old, it has its fair share of legendary players and unforgettable moments. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the WSOP’s most iconic storylines and moments over the years, from Jack Straus’ miracle comeback to Doyle Brunson’s named hand. Let’s get started!

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The 1970 WSOP

Back then, the first WSOP wasn’t even a tournament. It didn’t have the freezeout elimination style it uses today or the trademark bracelets. The first WSOP was hosted in 1970 by Benny Binion, a renowned casino owner and gambler. He invited the seven best poker players in America to play cash games at Binion’s Horseshoe, his casino. 

The group included household names like Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, and Puggy Pearson, all of which we know today as members of poker’s old guard. After the cash games, the players were asked to vote for who they believed to be the best player. Surprising absolutely nobody, everyone voted for themselves. It was only after another vote where they were asked to list the second-best player that Johnny Moss won, receiving a silver cup. While the very first WSOP doesn’t bear much resemblance to the giant it is today, it’s still an important moment in poker history. 

The Doyle Brunson hand

Having a poker hand named after you is one of the highest honors a player can receive. The iconic “dead man’s hand” was coined after “Wild Bill” Hickok got shot at the table, so it can be hard to imagine what it would take for the Doyle Brunson hand to be named after him.  Brunson’s story, thankfully, does not involve death, but the circumstances surrounding it are almost as absurd. 

In the 1976 WSOP Main Event, Brunson was at the final table, heads-up against opponent Jesse Alto. Brunson knew Alto was an amateur, so he was looking to exploit his lack of experience in staying calm. With Brunson holding 10-2  against Alto’s A-J, Alto was heavily favored to win the hand. Things only got worse for Brunson, as the flop brought A-J-10, giving Alto an incredibly strong two-pair to Brunson’s weak single pair. Brunson went all-in, and Alto quickly called. Somehow, in one of poker’s most legendary displays of luck, the turn and river both gave a two. This completed Brunson’s full house, making poker history. 

That moment alone is already a legendary poker story. Nobody could have seen it coming, and yet, the universe was not done. The following year, Brunson found himself in an identical position to 1976. He was in the final table, heads-up, holding 10-2. This time around, Brunson was against Gary “Bones” Berland, who held 8-5. The flop came 8-5-10, again giving his opponent the two pair while Brunson had only one. The turn gave Brunson a two, giving him the stronger two pair. This time, it was Berland going all-in, which Brunson happily called. Somehow, Brunson caught another two on the river, again completing his full house with the exact same hand as last year. After that insane series of events, it’s clear why the 10-2 is known as “The Doyle Brunson.”

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A chip and a chair

This WSOP story is the origin of one of poker’s most memorable phrases. Jack Straus was a poker player known for his aggressive style and nicknamed “Treetop” for his massive 6’6 frame. He was a formidable heads-up player, traveling the country in search of a good game. He made it to the 1982 WSOP Main Event, but by day two, it looked like his tournament run was over. 

Straus had just lost a particularly big hand, but as he was standing up from his chair, he noticed a single $500 chip tucked under a napkin. Since he hadn’t actually said “all-in,” he was allowed to continue playing. This chip was immediately blinded off, but his opponents folded to it. Before long, Straus built his chip stack back up. He became the chip leader by day three and single-handedly eliminated almost every player from the final table until only he and Dewey Tomko remained. Straus demolished Tomko in a heads-up battle lasting just ten minutes.

Moneymaker wins it all

Finally, one of the more modern WSOP moments was Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP run. This caused a storm in the poker community for a few reasons. The biggest was that Moneymaker appeared out of nowhere. He was an amateur, with the WSOP being his first live tournament. 

The second was how he made it there. He joined a $39 online satellite tournament, which qualified him for a $600 satellite, which sent him to the WSOP for free. This meant he technically made 2.5 million dollars from 39. Lastly, it’s what happened after that really got people going. Moneymaker was one of the catalysts for the poker boom, which was the widespread increase in poker’s popularity, particularly online. Players worldwide wanted to be like Moneymaker, resulting in a whole new generation of modern-day poker pros. 

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Which moment was your favorite?

To conclude, the WSOP has quite a few unforgettable moments. As seen through events like Doyle Brunson’s back-to-back wins and Chris Moneymaker’s shocking amateur victory, each story carries its unique light – creating an unparalleled experience for players and viewers alike. Poker brings together people from all walks of life with iconic stories forever remembered by the community.

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