40 years of the WSOP: The new millenium

Chris Moneymaker
The Moneymaker effect.

With the World Series of Poker approaching its 40th anniversary in just days, PokerListings has been looking back in a series of articles at how the event has evolved. This fifth and final part looks at the new millenium.

Back in 1991, Jack Binion was asked to look into the future and see where the WSOP might go.

Jack had no way of knowing how the WSOP would explode in popularity, bringing thousands to his casino in search of fame and fortune and said he expected a slow, steady 10 to 15 percent growth rate.

The last winner of the twentieth century was Jesus himself, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson.

He took home $1.5 million after outlasting 512 other players in the 2000 Main Event.

Poker author and fifth place finisher Jim McManus chronicled the final table in his book Positively Fifth Street.

The final battle between Ferguson and T.J. Cloutier was epic, with T.J. overcoming Ferguson's huge chip lead only to lose when his A-Q was out-flopped by Fergusons' A-9.

In the preliminary events, Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey and Howard Lederer each won their first bracelet and Ferguson won another in 7-card stud.

Carlos Mortenson won the title in 2001 playing at the first final table with nine players, including poker standouts Mike Matusow, Phil Gordon, Phil Hellmuth and Dewey Tomko.

An unknown patent attorney Greg Raymer came in 12th in the $1,500 Omaha Hi/Lo event that year.

2002 saw a whopping 39 preliminary events, three of which were won by Phil Ivey.

Robert Varkonyi
The forgotten man.

Robert Varkonyi was the Main Event champion, besting 631 hopefuls on his way to winning a then-record $2 million in his first ever WSOP event.

"I won my buy-in in my first ever single-table satellite," Varkonyi told PokerListings.

"I was extremely surprised to make the final table, it was completely unexpected. I was totally pumped with adrenaline, not nervous, just totally out of control excited to be there."

The fact that Varkonyi was a recreational - not professional - poker player caused some to doubt his chances, including Phil Hellmuth, who Varkonyi had doubled through earlier with Q-10 against his A-K.

During the televised final table, Hellmuth memorably promised to shave his head if Varkonyi were to pull out a win.

Eventually Hellmuth was forced to get a trim, but the name Robert Varkonyi was really lost in the shuffle with what happened next.

There is no poker aficionado who does not remember every moment of the 2003 Main Event.

The final nine, outlasting the record 839 who started, included Sammy Farha, Dan Harrington, Jason Lester, Amir Vahedi, David Grey, and David Singer.

But in their midst was a mild-mannered accountant who had dreamed of playing the Main Event since he saw the movie Rounders years earlier.

Sam Farha
It could have been different.

When Chris Moneymaker turned his online-qualifying win into $2.5 million, poker would never be the same.

Somewhat forgotten was the fact that Layne Flack had his second consecutive two-bracelet WSOP that year or that Ferguson, Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Men "the Master" Nguyen and John Juanda each won two bracelets as well.

Women poker players did well in 2004 with Kathy Liebert, Cyndy Violette and Annie Duke each winning bracelets in open-field events.

But the story that year was the phenomenal increase in Main Event participants due in no small part to Moneymaker's historic win.

A total of 2,576 played and of course Greg Raymer won the $5 million dollar prize. Just like Moneymaker, Raymer had won his seat through an online satellite at PokerStars.

The 2005 WSOP was held outside of Binions for the first time, though the final two days of the Main Event took place in the old haunt.

Aussie Joe Hachem came out on top of the 5,619 person field, taking home $7.5 million.

His supporters' cheers are now legendary as was the final table that had a wide array of talent from the recently paroled Mike Matusow to the loveable everyman Steve Dannenmann.

The final table was also the site of the memorable meltdown from Ireland's Andy Black.

Raymer made a believer of everyone by coming close to repeating, finishing 25th in the big show.

Another qualifier.

Jennifer Tilly became the first celebrity player to win a bracelet and Doyle and Todd Brunson became the first father/son combo to win bracelets the same year.

If it were not for Jamie Gold, the 2006 WSOP would be remembered for its Player of the Year, Jeff Madsen.

Madsen became the youngest bracelet winner in history taking down the $2,000 NLHE, then won his second bracelet in Short-Handed NLHE six days later.

He also had two third place finishes - one in Omaha 8 and another in Stud Hi/Lo, an astounding feat at any age.

But Gold's $12 million win, outlasting the largest Main Event field ever at 8,773, is the story of 2006 as much for Gold's brash and controversial style as for the legal dustup that his win caused when another player claimed Gold had promised him half.

As if preordained, 2007 Main Event winner Jerry Yang was the anti-Gold. Quiet, pious, unassuming, Yang won $8.25 million with an aggressive, steam-roller approach to the final table that his co-finalists could not match.

With 6,358 players entering, there were 2,415 fewer than the previous year, only the second time in WSOP history that the number of entrants to the Main Event decreased.

Steve Billirakis was crowned the new-youngest bracelet winner in history, breaking Madsen's record from the previous year. Hellmuth won his record 11th bracelet and had a then-record 63 WSOP cashes.

Last year's WSOP set records for attendance (58,720), countries represented (118), and prize pool ($180,676,248).

It also saw the introduction of the November Nine, which ratcheted up the interest in and attention to the final table.

For poker purists who had been decrying the lack of "professional" winners of the Main Event, this final table had many players for whom poker was not just a hobby.

Runner-up Ivan Demidov went on to place third at the WSOP-Europe, David "Chino" Rheem is a respected pro, and eventual $9.1 million winner, the taciturn Dane Peter Eastgate, has proved himself a worthy title-holder.

2008 had a rash of memorable bracelet winners in preliminary events from the brothers Hinkle (Grant and Blair) to first-time bracelet-winners Erick Lindgren, David Singer, Kenny Tran, Nenad Medic, David Benyamine, JC Tran, and John Phan all breaking their "one of the best to never win a bracelet" record - now currently held by Andy Bloch.

Peter Eastgate
A star is born.

So what is in store for 2009?  What records will be set, which will be broken?  Who will be the big story, the one talked about another forty years from now?

Will a big name take the big title, or will another "relative" unknown take poker's biggest prize?

For those answers and a whole lot more, follow PokerListings' Live Reporting from the Rio throughout the 2009 WSOP.

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