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Everything is magnified when a World Series of Poker bracelet is on the line.
With millions of dollars changing hands on the drop of a card, some of the craziest hands from the WSOP Main Event and Big One for One Drop will live on in poker lore forever. For the viewer and the player alike, these are the spots that define what the WSOP is all about.
Since becoming a major televised event in 2003, we’ve had the opportunity to witness some unfathomable things from the WSOP. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most memorable hands from the WSOP over the past 16 years.
#10: 2005 Main Event: Jennifer Harman vs Corey Zeidman
Jennifer Harman can barely hide her disgust after this hand, having endured a one-out bad beat, a post-hand speech and a request for applause from the rest of the table from opponent Corey Zeidman.
Harman is looking like a lock to take down the pot, holding the Q♦Q♣ for a full house against Zeidman’s 9♦8♦ on a board of T♠J♦Q♥T♦. Then comes the 7♦, and what looked like a sure win for Harman turns into a double-up plus victory speech from Zeidman.
Harman left the table for a few hands after this played out, understandably tilted:
#9: 2014 Big One For One Drop: Connor Drinan vs Cary Katz
Being on the losing end of AA vs AA might very well be the most brutal of bad beats in poker, and it hurts just that much more when it happens in a $1 million buy-in tournament.
Connor Drinan and Cary Katz get all the money in preflop, both holding pocket aces and each having a two percent chance of hitting four flush cards and scooping the pot. That goes up to 20 percent when a third heart appears on the 2♦K♥5♥4♥ board, and even watching at home you start to feel a little bit sick to your stomach.
Lon McEachern comments that this might be the worst beat in the history of tournament poker, and he might be right.
#8: 2012 Big One For One Drop: Mikhail Smirnov Folds Quads
We don’t have video evidence of this one, but this hand history from PokerNews documents a hand that Phil Galfond tweeted was the craziest he’d ever seen.
In the $1 million buy-in version of the Big One for One Drop, Mikhail Smirnov folds his 8♦8♥ to a river all-in re-raise from John Morgan on a board of J♠8♣7♠8♠K♠. He later told Card Player that he put Morgan on T♠9♠ and that it was “a very easy fold.:
#7: 2017 Main Event: Vanessa Selbst vs Gaelle Baumann
What a brutal way to exit the Main Event for Vanessa Selbst. On Day 1, Level 1, Selbst picks up A♠A♦, gets a couple of callers and the flop comes A♣7♣5♣. It’s looking good for Selbst as Gaelle Bauman holds 7♦7♥ and Selbst is ahead in a set-over-set situation.
Disaster strikes for Selbst when the 7♠ comes on the turn, and despite having aces full of sevens, Selbst knows she’s in trouble when Baumann raises all-in on the river 4♦. Selbst tanks for a couple of minutes and makes the crying call, immediately asking Baumann if she’s holding quads.
Unfortunately for Selbst, she’s correct, and her 2017 Main Event is over just one hour into the first day.
#6: 2008 Main Event: Motoyuki Mabuchi vs Justin Phillips (Quad Aces vs Royal Flush)
Motoyuki Mabuchi literally stumbles away from the table after suffering what may very well be the worst cooler in the history of the WSOP.
ESPN joins this hand already in progress with the board reading A♥9♣Q♦T♦A♦ and the dressed-to-impress Phillips raising Mabuchi’s river bet. Ray Romano looks on at the table as Mabuchi goes all in, shoveling his chips into the middle and yelling GAMBLE! in an apparent effort to make Phillips think he had a marginal hand.
Motoyuki is actually holding A♣A♠ and has rivered quad aces. Unfortunately for him, Phillips is holding K♦J♦ for a royal flush, and sends Mabuchi to the rail in a stupor.
Fortunately, for us, ESPN caught up to this action just soon enough to record it and give us visual record of one of the all-time craziest WSOP hands.
#5: 2016 Main Event: James Obst vs Michael Ruanne
It’s tough to fold a full boat, especially when you’ve already invested 13 million chips into the pot. James Obst finds himself contemplating just such a decision with the 2016 Main Event down to 27 players.
Holding 7♦7♥, Obst rivers the full house on the Q♠7♣J♣T♣ T♦ board and leads out for a 4.7 million value bet. Ruanne re-raises all in for 12.48 million and Obst suspects he’s up against a straight flush and goes into the tank.
Is Obst correct, and can he make this fold in this spot?
#4: 2003 Main Event: Chris Moneymaker vs Sammy Farha
Chris Moneymaker’s heads-up bluff against Sammy Farha is a timeless classic that has to be included on a list like this, no matter how many years go by at the WSOP.
The 2003 WSOP launched televised poker into the mainstream, and Moneymaker’s run to the Main Event bracelet captured the imagination of an entire generation of poker fans. The Moneymaker vs. Farha matchup was the perfect finale for ESPN’s revamped WSOP coverage, featuring the everyman Moneymaker vs. the seasoned pro Farha.
Moneymaker pulls off the bluff with his missed K-high flush draw, even though Farha correctly assesses the situation and suspects Moneymaker is jamming with exactly that. Norman Chad calls it the “bluff of the century”, Moneymaker takes down the tournament on the very next hand, and the poker boom begins.
#3: 2018 Big One for One Drop: Fedor Holz vs Rick Salomon vs Byron Kaverman
This hand from the 2018 Big One for One Drop gave us a little bit of everything. High rollers, millions of dollars on the line, possible angle shooting, an exposed card, the floor being called, a dramatic runout, a double knockout and Fedor Holz-level run good; all of those things occur in just this one hand.
The money bubble had just burst in the highest-stakes tournament on the poker calendar, with pay jumps going from $2 million for 5th, $2.84 million for 4th and $4 million for 3rd. With that in mind, short stack Bryon Kaverman pushes his last 13BB in with A♣5♣.
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Salomon decides to shove his stack, also around 50BB, with A♥K♥ but there’s a problem: before making his move Salomon briefly turns the A♥ face up. It happens so quickly that the commentators, and probably most of the viewing audience, doesn’t even notice it.
Players at the table see the ace, however, and the floor rules that the card has to be turned face up. The exposed A♥ makes the decision to call even tougher for Holz, and he goes into deep think mode for a couple of minutes before deciding to call.
The flop comes A♦K♠2♣ and the turn is the Q♣, making Salomon a 71 percent favorite going into the river. We won’t give away the ending so take a look at this clip if you’ve never seen it, and ask yourself – what exactly is Salomon up to in this hand?
#2: 2018 Main Event: AA vs KK vs KK on the Final Table Bubble
Is this the sickest WSOP hand of all time? It’s hard to imagine anything topping this one, as the sheer magnitude of money implications, and the timing for a mathematically unfathomable preflop deal come together to give us a hand for the ages.
The air was already thick with tension as the 2018 Main Event had played down to the unofficial final table, with 10 players remaining.
Nick Manion has around 70BB left and looks down at A♠A♥ UTG, raises 2.5x and gets flat called by Antoine Labat, who’s holding K♦K♣ in the lojack with an 85BB stack. Perhaps Labat just went for a call because of the situation, one spot away from making the official final nine at the Main Event.
There will be no getting away from this one, however, as one seat over Yueqi Zhu also wakes up with K♠K♥ and not surprisingly goes all in for his last 40BB. Manion breaks into a subtle but noticeable smile as Zhu’s chips go in the middle, but he doesn’t even yet know just how good his situation is.
Manion takes about five seconds to re-raise all in when the action folds back to him, and it’s incredible to contemplate what the correct decision is for Labat in his particular spot.
Final table bubble at the Main Event and two all-ins before you; can you really fold kings here? Doug Polk gives us his analysis in this video.
Zhu goes out in 10th in the most brutal way imaginable, Labat goes from being the third biggest stack to crippled going into the final table, and Manion becomes the chip leader and ends up finishing 4th for $2,825,000.
On another note, Michael Dyer’s reaction to all of this is the hidden gem of this video.
#1: 2010 Main Event: Matt Affleck vs Jonathan Duhamel
Matt Affleck walks us through the experience of taking the worst bad beat of his life in the following clip from the Hand Histories series on PokerGO. The biggest hand of the 2010 Main Event is even more intense to watch in this format, with Affleck narrating every excruciating moment.
The tournament was down to 15 players, and Affleck and Jonathan Duhamel were the two biggest stacks remaining and seated next to each other. A spot in the November Nine seemed like a certainty for both players, and the only thing that could really go wrong for Affleck would be getting in bad against Duhamel, the only player in the room that could stack him.
Sitting on the button, Affleck is facing a raise first in from Duhamel in the cutoff and has A♣A♠. Affleck 3-bets and Duhamel responds with a 4-bet, and this hand is shaping up to be the kind of situation poker players dream of for Affleck.
Affleck elects to flat the 4-bet, and all of the chips eventually go in on the turn with the board reading T♦9♣7♥Q♦. Affleck is one card away from taking a massive chip lead and having the inside track to the $8.9 million first prize.
The ending and aftermath of this hand have to be seen to be believed, and remains one of the sickest WSOP hands we’ve ever witnessed.