Two-Time Champs: A Bygone Era of the WSOP

The 44th Annual World Series of Poker Main Event is underway at the Rio right now, having started with a field that’s off 3.9% from last year but still a healthy 6,352 runners strong. And, as happens every year, the reigning Main Event Champion – this year that distinction goes to Greg Merson – steps back into the limelight and begins the quest for a second consecutive championship with the poker media and legions of fans watching at every step. Mentioned less often though, is the reality that at this point the media circus is at best symbolic.

This wasn’t always the case. In fact decades ago, multiple or even back-to-back Main Event wins was a seemingly realistic goal the best in the game could set for themselves. After all, Johnny Moss managed this feat in 1970 & 1971, Doyle Brunson won in 1976 & 1977, Johnny Chan reigned supreme in 1987 & 1988 (not to mention a runner-up finish to a then-unknown Phil Hellmuth in 1989), and Stu Ungar won in 1980, 1981 & again in 1997. So why not now? The simple answer is numbers.

The combined field size from the Main Events mentioned in the last paragraph amount to a lean 848 entrants. To put that in perspective, Day 1C of the 2013 Main Event – one of three starting flights for this year’s tournament – attracted a field of 3,467 players. To be fair, there have been two notable instances where reigning champions made a truly deep run in the Main Event the year after winning it in the post-Moneymaker era. Greg “Fossilman” Raymer managed a 25th place finish in 2005 after winning in 2004, and 2008 champion Peter Eastgate took 78th place in his sophomore effort. The difference between these runs and the feats of past multiple winners is striking though. 25th and 78th place finishes in the Main Event are truly impressive today – back in the days of repeat champions they often outnumbered the entire field size.

It’s unfair to say that there will never be another repeat champion in the Main Event again – it’s possible, just not very likely. That doesn’t mean that the best and brightest in the game aren’t as good as they once used to be though. In fact, the more accurate qualifier is to say that the Main Event is simply no longer a barometer against which to measure poker’s elite. That job has fallen to other bracelet events such as the aptly named $50,000 Player’s Championship. The Main Event now stands apart as, well, the Main Event – the most epic tournament poker experience in the world. Enough said.

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