Game of skill – the best repeat tournament performances [Friday Editorial]

Game of skill – the best repeat tournament performances [Friday Editorial]

Friday, 15 April 2011

Vanessa Selbst pulled off an amazing double this week by defending her crown at the PokerStars NAPT Mohegan Sun Main Event, defeating a field of 387 players a year after doing the same to a field of 716. When the hubbub from this had died down, all eyes were on Jason Mercier, the 2010 NAPT Mohegan Sun Bounty Shootout champion. He was going to bed, having railed Selbst to a victory and now needing to sleep before his own repeat final table.

Well he only went and did it. For Selbst to go consecutive NAPT Mohegan Suns is incredible but to have both of the biggest events keep the same champion for two years is just out and out ridiculous. Mercier and Selbst have made $1.931m between them in the Main Event and Bounty Shootout for this title defence and it’s just a staggering example of skill coupled with running hot.

This is probably the most remarkable back-to-back tournament performance in poker history when taking into account both champions retaining titles. However, a few others spring to mind and they’re just as impressive despite perhaps being a little less remarkably coincidental.

JP Kelly final tables the 2009 and 2010 £1,000 NLHE at the WSOP Europe

This one occurred less than a year ago and I had the fortune to be present at Leicester Square’s Empire Casino for it. The room was abuzz about the £1,000 NL event which is unusual but it turned out that defending champion J.P. Kelly (who beat 608 players for £132k in 2009) was at the final table of this event with just nine of 582 players remaining.

Kelly eventually finished runner-up in 2010, failing to secure himself a third big-field Hold ‘em bracelet but making his way onto this list by beating out a tough field in a pro-filled tournament (even if it is only a four-figure buy-in) not once but twice. Losing heads-up we can let him off, it’s probably just variance. He’ll win it in Cannes this year.

Johnny Chan wins, wins, comes second in the 1987, ’88 and ’89 WSOP Main Events

It’s only because the total fields of the 1987, 1988 and 1989 World Series of Poker Main Events don’t even make up half of an opening flight in today’s multi-thousand player field that Chan’s triple final table isn’t topping this list. In 1987 the Orient Express steamrolled the competition to win $625,000 and his first Main Event title. The next year, Chan was back at the final table and sure enough he beat Erik Seidel heads-up in a hand you may have seen once or twice in Rounders, taking his second title on the trot.

Now, year three. Amazingly, Chan has once again managed to reach the final table of the event despite the field size increasing year by year to the record heights of 172 entrants. Amazingly, Chan reaches the heads-up stages of the tournament and the only person in his way is a bratty little 24-year-old upstart named Phil Hellmuth, Jr.
Well, you know the rest.

Dan Harrington makes post-poker boom consecutive final tables at the WSOP

This, for me, is the crowning achievement of back-to-back poker tournament performances even though no victories were involved. Despite this, the prize money involved tops both of Johnny Chan’s Main Event wins as Dan Harrington picked up $2.1m plus for his 3rd and 4th place finish in the Main Event.

In 2003, you may be aware that someone named Chris Moneymaker won the event. You may also be aware that this was the driving force behind the skyrocketing popularity of poker so when Dan Harrington had already made it to third place in a record field of 839, he must have seen the 2,576-strong field in 2004 and thought “well, bugger doing that again.”

He did, though. Making his way through a field three times larger than last year’s record breaker, Harrington came damn close to matching his third place spot after busting out in fourth leaving Greg Raymer to ship the title. However, Harrington’s doubles came as his Harrington on Hold ‘em series was hitting shelves and garnering rave reviews as the best tournament poker book ever written.

Not bad for a self-confessed recreational player.

Tags: Vanessa Selbst, Jason Mercier, JP Kelly, Johnny Chan, Dan Harrington