This is the second article in a 10-part series taking a look at the World Series of Poker champions from the very first to the most recent and at what they've done since in the world of poker.
After 37 years of events staged under the World Series of Poker rubric, 32 men have been named poker's world champion.
Some have grown in legendary status over the years, while others seem to have faded away after wearing the crown.
The first part of this series took a look at four of the eight champions who have died after attaining what could be considered the pinnacle of a poker career.
WSOP Champs No Longer With Us
Stu Ungar (1980, 1981, 1997)
Known as "The Kid," Stu Ungar made his way to Las Vegas in 1978 to play high-stakes gin rummy.
He would play anyone for any stakes, and his skill in the game was unmatched.
In 1980, he turned that skill toward poker, and met with just as much success in that realm. That year he won the WSOP Main Event for the first time.
He matched that feat again the following year to become the second person to win the championship back to back, the first being Doyle Brunson.
What set him apart from the rest of the legendary No-Limit Hold'em players, however, was his third Main Event win in 1997.
Along with that he has two other bracelet wins, and looking at his tournament resume, it appears that when he cashed in a tournament it was rare for him to cash outside of the final table.
These days it's a commonplace for the great players of the game to have $1 million or more in tournament winnings, because of the explosion in poker's popularity and the increased opportunities to win big money.
Stu Ungar managed to rack up nearly $3.5 million during his tournament career, all before the poker boom and the creation of the World Poker Tour.
He was one of the best No-Limit Texas Hold'em players of his time, and probably the best gin player, but he couldn't conquer his drug addiction, which was ultimately the cause of his death Nov. 22, 1998.
Jack Straus (1982)
When Jack Straus won the 1982 Main Event, he not only strapped on the champion title for the following year, but he may have also been the source of one of poker's most well-known adages - all you need to win is a chip and a chair.
There are many explanations as to how that saying originated, but they all center around the same basic story:
At one point during the 1982 WSOP Main Event, Straus had pushed all-in and lost the hand. As he got up to leave the table, he discovered he actually had one chip left under a napkin.
With that one $500 chip he worked his way back up and into the winner's seat.
By the time he'd won the Main Event, Straus already had one previous WSOP bracelet win to his name and three other final-table finishes, including fifth in the 1972 Main Event. His Main Event win, however, capped off his WSOP legacy.
He had several other cashes after his win, but none in the WSOP again before his death in August 1988.
Jack Keller (1984)
Jack Keller's impact on the tournament world pretty much began at the very start of his career.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Keller turned to professional poker playing. He recorded his first tournament wins in 1984, both of them at the World Series of Poker, with his Main Event win constituting the second.
After those victories, he racked up cashes and wins all over the tournament circuit, including at Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl of Poker and the Malta European Championship of Poker.
Those wins, as well as ones at various WSOP events through the years, resulted in total tournament winnings of more than $3.6 million.
In 1993 he added another WSOP bracelet to his collection, taking down the $1,500 Limit Omaha event. His final cash in a WSOP event came in 2001. Kellar died in December 2003.
Also part of the poker legacy he leaves behind is his daughter, Kathy Keller Kohlberg, who is a professional poker player in her own right.
Bill Smith (1985)
Bill Smith's mark on the poker world was mainly made in cash games.
Born in Texas, his poker history reads similarly to those of many legends of the game, as he traveled the underground cash-game circuit in Texas and Oklahoma to earn his cash.
Some reports say Smith holds the record for most illegal poker game arrests in one day. The story goes that he was playing in a game that was busted.
The players were released from jail that afternoon and he went straight back to the game.
The game was promptly busted again and Smith landed right back in jail. When he was released he headed for another poker game, and was busted for a third time that day.
In the '80s, however, he proved to be a hard player to bust. He made three final tables of the World Series of Poker Main Event during that decade, and won the event in 1985.
He also had three other wins plus three other final-table finishes in smaller-buy-in tournaments during the '80s.
Between his first cash in 1981 and his final one in 1984, Smith had accumulated more than $1 million in tournament winnings.
He died in 1997.
While these players' poker careers have ended, there are plenty of WSOP champions still alive and, in many cases, making a mark on today's poker world.
Tune in next week to learn about some of the Series' earliest winners and what they're up to today.
- WSOP Champions: Where Are They Now, Part 1
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 3
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 4
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 5
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 6
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 7
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 9
- WSOP Champions: Where are they now, Part 10