For over four decades the WSOP in Las Vegas has culminated with the crowning of poker's "World Champion" at the end of the $10,000 buy-in Main Event.
Over the years the event has produced champions from all walks of life and from all over the world.
Guest columnist James Guill continues his look at WSOP champs who have faded from the collective poker consciousness in Part 3 of our Forgotten Champs series.
Forgotten WSOP Champions
Bill Smith was the poster child for "how not to play" poker but he still managed some impressive scores in the Main Event during the 1980s. By all accounts Smith was an alcoholic and who only played great poker when he was "half-drunk."
Smith made his second career WSOP Main Event final table in 1985 and faced a murderers row of players that included Johnny Moss, TJ Cloutier, Hamid Dastmalchi and Berry Johnston.
Early at the final table Smith was said to have just sat at the table and played super-tight. Once he started drinking he turned on the aggression and built his stack.
Cloutier and Smith reached heads-up play with Cloutier holding the chip lead. However, Cloutier ran pocket nines into the pocket kings of Smith and was left virtually crippled. A bit later he hastily shoved all-in after looking down at just a single ace.
Smith made the call holding pocket threes. Cloutier then discovered he was drawing to three outs as his other card was also a three. The board failed to produce an ace and Bill Smith took down the 1985 Main Event and $700,000.
Smith's only other WSOP cash was a final-table appearance in the 1986 Main Event where he finished 5th. In fact 1986 was Smith's last big year in the game as his game dropped off considerably after 1986, likely due to his alcohol use.
Note: Footage below is from the 1981 final table where Smith finished fifth.
While many consider Robert Varkonyi and Hal Fowler two of the more unlikely Main Event winners many people forget Ireland's Noel Furlong when talking about amateurs who won it all.
Furlong is the owner of a carpet cleaning company in Ireland and was known to play in major poker events recreationally. He made the 1989 WSOP Main Event final table but had not even cashed in a major event prior to making the final table again in 1999.
The 1999 Main Event final featured Huck Seed, Erik Seidel, fellow Irishman Padraig Parkinson and Alan Goehring. Many people considered Furlong fortunate to get deep in the event and fortune continued to smile on him as he took the chip lead into heads-up play with Goehring.
The championship hand was the epitome of Furlong's run at the final table. After Furlong limped in with pocket fives Goehring did the same with pocket sixes.
Furlong flopped a monster when Q♠ Q♣ 5♠ hit the board. After both players checked the flop Furlong bet 150,000 when the 2♠ hit the turn. Goehring made a min-raise which was followed by a shove from Furlong.
Goehring reasoned Furlong was not likely to have a queen and was correct. He just failed to guess that Furlong had flopped a full house. The river fell a harmless 8♠ and Furlong became Ireland's all-time money leader at the time.
Furlong still plays poker recreationally and is heavily involved in the Irish Open. Most of his cashes since his million-dollar win in 1999 have come at the Irish Open.
Prior to 1990 all WSOP Main Event champions had come from the United States. Mansour Matloubi was an Iranian poker pro that was at his first World Series and looking to win poker's richest prize against some of the game's best players.
The 1990 Main Event included names such as John Bonetti, Rod Peate, Al Krux, Berry Johnston, Hans Lund and, technically, Stu Ungar.
We say technically because Ungar failed to show up for the second day of the Main Event after apparently overdosing on drugs. However, Ungar finished Day 1 as the chip leader and had so many chips that he still made the final table of the event despite being blinded off all of Day 2.
When heads-up play was reached the unknown Matloubi was facing a player that was also unknown at the time in Lund.
The turning point of the match is also the most famous hand of the 1990 final table. Lund called a pre-flop raise from Matloubi with A-9 and the pair saw a flop of 9-4-2. Lund proceeded to check-raise Matloubi on the flop. Matloubi then moved all-in. Lund called and saw he was behind to pocket tens.
Needing a nine or ace to take the lead, his miracle card came on the turn when an ace fell. Matloubi prepared to leave the table knowing that he was drawing to two outs. Just as quickly as Lund took the lead in the hand he lost the lead in the tournament when the river fell a ten to give Matloubi an overpowering chip lead.
A few hands later Lund moved all-in with pocket fours and ran into Matloubi's pocket sixes. The sixes held and Matloubi became the first player from outside of the United States to win the Main Event.
Matloubi remained a prominent player in the poker world through the 1990s but chose to largely step away from the game once the poker boom hit in 2003.
It''s hard to believe that a member of the Poker Hall of Fame would be a forgotten WSOP Champion but most people nowadays know Bobby Baldwin more as a casino executive than a poker player.
Prior to becoming a suit Baldwin was one of the most dominant poker players in the world. After winning his first two career WSOP bracelets in 1977, he was looking to become the youngest player in history to win the WSOP Main Event in 1978.
First, though, he had to survive a final table that included Ken Smith, Jesse Alto and the legendary Crandell Addington.
Baldwin eventually made it to heads-up play against Addington but Addington held the chip lead. A well-timed bluff with 10-9 would give Baldwin a slight lead and he would proceed to grind down Addington until he had a 7-1 chip lead.
With just 50k in chips, Addington shoved with pocket nines and Baldwin woke up with pocket queens. Addington jumped when the dealer turned over the flop and saw the first card was a nine.
However, once the flop was fully spread he saw that Baldwin had also hit a queen to give both men a set. The board failed to produce another nine and Baldwin became the youngest Main Event champion at the time at just 28 years of age.
Baldwin focuses more on the business side of poker now than the actual game but he still has enjoyed great success. He has an impressive 10 cashes in the Main Event over the years and just this past year he made the final table of the Big One for One Drop Event where he was considered a "businessman entrant."
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