Forgotten World Series of Poker Champions Part 1

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For over four decades the World Series of Poker Main Event has been the most high-profile, superstar-making event in professional poker.

The winner is crowned the ostensible "World Champion of Poker," and a lot of those champions have gone on to long and storied careers in the game.

Some of those World Champions, though, have faded into the background rather than risen back up to the marquee. Guest poster James Guill takes a look at a few of those champs who have slipped through the cracks of the poker world.

Berry Johnston

Anyone with close ties to the game knows Berry Johnston well, but most casual poker fans have likely never heard the name before.

Berry Johnston
Just another guy in the Senior's event or five-time bracelet winner?

For decades prior to the poker boom Johnston was one of the most consistent winners in tournament poker, amassing well over $3 million in career earnings.

Going into the 1986 WSOP Main Event Johnston had only a single bracelet to his credit though, a $2,500 Match Play title in 1983. 

In 1986 Johnston navigated a field of 141 players to make a final table that included Tom Jacobs, Roger Moore, five-time bracelet winner Gary "Bones" Berland and defending champion Bill Smith.

By the time play was heads-up Johnston had two-thirds of the chips and decided to three-bet shove with As-10h. Mike Harthcock called with Ad-8d and the board blanked both players to make Johnston a quiet champion.

Nowadays the 77-year-old Poker Hall of Famer and five-time bracelet winner is still highly competitive and plays numerous events at the WSOP each year.

Those that don't know him likely view him as the quiet old guy at the table - that is until he sends them to the rail.

Hamid Dastmalchi

Hamid Dastmalchi could be atop most any list of forgotten WSOP champs.

hamid dastamalchi
Hamid Dastmalchi

The high-stakes poker player and three-time WSOP bracelet winner happened to win his title in the only year other than 2007 that saw a drop in overall attendance in the Main Event.

Dastmalchi navigated through a field of 201 players in the 1993 WSOP Main Event and was the chip leader with seven players, including two-time champion Johnny Chan, left.

Dastmalchi showed some uncanny instincts in a hand against Mike Alsaadi when he folded pocket kings pre-flop and was shown pocket aces by his opponent. This fold would allow him to save chips that would ultimately lead him to victory.

Just two years later Dastmalchi made the final table of the Main Event again, finishing fourth, and many thought that the high-stakes pro would be on his way to tournament greatness.

However Dastmalchi would be involved in a legal dispute with Binion's Horseshoe in 1999 when new management refused to cash over $800,000 in chips he'd won at the casino.

Although he received a favorable ruling in regards to the chips, Dastmalchi significantly cut down his playing schedule and has only two pro cashes since that time with his last being in 2002.

Hal Fowler

Hal Fowler easily pulled off what is considered by many to be the greatest upset victory in the history of the WSOP Main Event.

hal fowler
First amateur world champ.

Fowler was a complete amateur that entered the 1979 WSOP Main Event against a stacked field of 54 players, mostly professional.

The unlikely amateur surprised everyone and made the final table to face off against greats such as Johnny Moss, Chip Reese, Bobby Hoff and Sam Moon.

At one point, Fowler is said to have been down to just 2,000 in chips before making a remarkable comeback. 

When play reached heads-up, Fowler had a significant chip deficit to Bobby Hoff and most everyone expected Hoff to be the '79 champion. Fowler then went on an incredible streak of luck that saw him hit a three-outer to double-up and then hit runner-runner flush to take the chip lead.

The final hand was indicative of just how lucky Fowler had been in the event. On a flop of Js-5h-3c, Fowler called an overbet of the pot to chase a gutshot straight draw.

He hit that draw when the 4s came on the turn. Hoff shoved with pocket aces and discovered how unlucky he was once Fowler called.

Fowler's unlikely victory made him the first amateur champion in the history of the Main Event.

He would largely disappear from poker after his win and is barely more than a footnote in a long line of WSOP champions.

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