The best heads-up matches in WSOP Main Event history [Monday Editorial]

The best heads-up matches in WSOP Main Event history [Monday Editorial]

Monday, 11 April 2011

Last week, the World Series of Poker and ESPN announced that a series of rematches would take place at the 2011 WSOP with famed finalists going heads-up, headlined by 2003 champion Chris Moneymaker and runner-up Sam Farha replaying their match multiple times. Johnny Chan takes on Phil Hellmuth in a replay of their 1989 confrontation and the third match will be decided by fans.

The heads-up match between Farha and Moneymaker was an historic occasion in the World Series of Poker. Moneymaker was the rank amateur who had fought his way through a field of poker's elite to get heads-up while Farha with his suit and unlit cigarette was the quintessential gambler. Moneymaker turned it around with a big bluff before winning the title and sparking the poker boom that is likely the reason you're reading these words.

The third match after Hellmuth takes on Chan will be voted by fans via the World Series of Poker Facebook fan page. The fans have four options and it looks likely that Chan will be playing two games given that Erik Seidel is the hottest face on the live tournament circuit right now:

1988 WSOP - Johnny Chan v. Erik Seidel
2004 WSOP - Greg Raymer v. David Williams
2006 WSOP - Jamie Gold v. Paul Wasicka
2010 WSOP - Jonathan Duhamel v. John Racener

My pick becomes obvious as this piece goes on, because the new rematches got me thinking about the heads-up matches we've had at the World Series of Poker and I think I've compiled my top three. It's like thinking of your favourite song, though - I'll definitely think of another after I've written the list.

#3 - Stu Ungar v. Perry Green, 1981 WSOP

Ungar had moved to Las Vegas eighteen months previously and had already managed to effectively eradicate tournament Gin - when players saw he was signed up to compete they simply wouldn't bother wasting their money on a tournament they would never do better than runner-up in. In 1980 he had stopped poker legend Doyle Brunson, by leaps and bounds the best No Limit Hold 'em player in the world at this point, taking his third Main Event title over a record field of 73.

In 1981 that field had swollen to the dizzying heights of 75 players - almost nine full tables - with a first prize of $375,000. Ungar again ploughed through the field by being one of the only players raising more than 20% of hands and stealing the huge antes to lead the chips from Day 1. When he defeated Green to claim his second consecutive Main Event title the Kid had truly arrived. He then left to spend it all on cocaine.

#2 - Chris Ferguson v. T.J. Cloutier, 2000 WSOP

The quintessential battle that we see daily on our TV screens across the felt today first came to the poker world's attention in 2000 Chris Ferguson was an online pro before online pros existed, discussing poker on ancient chat rooms and forums as well as running game theory simulations on Windows 98. Cloutier was a gambler through and through, to his detriment at the craps pit but his glory at the poker tables. This was new school versus old school three years before Moneymaker.

Ferguson defeated Cloutier, albiet via a three-outer, after a swingy heads-up match that saw him lose a 10-1 chip lead and battle the old school pro for hours. He took home only the ninth seven-figure score in World Series history with a $1.5m win and a foreshadowing of the future of the game.

#1 - Matt Perry v. Phil Ivey, 2011 WSOP

This match was so one-sided in its nature that Ivey was a broken man afterwards, stating that he was quitting poker after running into a player as fearless and ingenius as he. Perry's Main Event win netted him $10m in prize money as well as tens of millions more in endorsements. Naturally his enigmatic handsomeness and winning smile - not to mention washboard abs - made him an international sex symbol and eventually king of the world. It's going to happen, I damn well guarantee it.

Tags: WSOP, Chris Moneymaker, Sammy Farha, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Stu Ungar, TJ Cloutier, Chris Ferguson