The World Series of Poker returns to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino for its 10th year in just a week. Before things gear up with 65 brand new bracelet events, including the return of the Big One for One Drop and a Main Event where the winner is assured to take home $10 million, we wanted to reflect on the WSOP's current home by looking back at the Rio Main Event Champions.
All nine of them are deserving winners, but none of them have managed to follow up their World Championship title with a bracelet. The WSOP Media Staff ranked the chances these champs have to return to the winner's circle, taking into consideration past performance, volume of play, poker skill set, and our own impressions from watching these guys in action. You might be surprised to see how these players stack up:
9. Peter Eastgate – It might seem surprising that the 2008 Champ is last on our list, especially considering his two cashes since his big win are pretty impressive. He final tabled a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event in 2012, but his real claim to fame on this list is that he has come the closest of any of these guys to making it back to the Main Event final table. In 2009, Eastgate took 78th of 6,494 players—the best finish in this bunch.
Even with those credentials though, considering the Dane rarely plays, it seems unlikely that the rare tournament the semi-retired player does take part in will be one where he hits the top payday.
8. Jamie Gold – The 2006 champ earned the biggest payday in Main Event history when he collected $12 million, but he isn’t high on prognosticator’s list to take this year’s $10 million payday. Ini the eight years since his victory, Gold hasn’t posted better than a 35th place finish, and, like Eastgate, rarely plays WSOP events these days. We all know it takes time at the tables and hours of practice to stay at the top of your game, so Gold is unlikely to be picking up much WSOP gold in the future.
7. Jerry Yang – It may have been divine intervention in 2007 when the amateur Yang triumphed over the final table, but he has come up empty-handed in every Main Event since. He has a couple of cashes, but tax troubles limit the money Yang has to play with these days. Nonetheless, he does get the edge over Gold, as Yang occasionally pops up on the WSOP Circuit, making it possible he could qualify into the WSOP National Championship, which is a bracelet event.
6. Pius Heinz – When he made the final table in 2011, there was a lot of chatter that this German pro was one of the more skilled players at the table. However, it appears since winning poker’s biggest prize, Heinz’s priorities have shifted. He disappeared from the spotlight, only plays tournaments on rare occasions. Since winning the Main Event, Heinz has notched three small WSOP cashes, totaling just over $20,000.
5. Ryan Riess – It is hard to judge how the reigning champ will fare given that we haven’t awarded any bracelets since he won his last November. However, the Michigan native seems committed to logging time at the tables this summer. He’ll be in the field for the WSOP National Championship in Atlantic City next week, plus he plans to play 15-20 events this summer. One event he is contemplating hopping into? The $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop. Considering in his first year of WSOP play, he racked up ten Circuit cashes and a quartet of cashes at the WSOP, so far Riess’s track record suggests that he is certainly consistent.
4. Joe Hachem – The 2005 Champ has had more time than everyone else to win a bracelet and, while he has come close, he still hasn’t returned to the winner’s circle. In fact, his best shots actually came just one year after his big win. In 2006, he posted runner-up and fourth place finishes in bracelet events, but failed to return to the WSOP final table again until 2012 at WSOP Europe. Hachem has cashed in a WSOP event every year since winning the first-ever Main Event held at the Rio, including a run in the 2009 Main Event where he took 103rd place. One thing also working in this Aussie’s favor? We’re heading to his backyard in Melbourne this fall, where Hachem will have ten chances to win a bracelet at WSOP Asia-Pacific.
3. Joe Cada – “The Kid” gets a bad rap as a one-hit Main Event wonder, but in actuality, he has made as many final tables at the WSOP as Hachem. Last year was a huge one for Cada, who made two final tables, finishing fourth both times. In 2012, Cada got even closer, taking second to Carter Phillips in a $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event. With over $700,000 in WSOP earnings besides the Main Event win in ’09, Cada has certainly proven his worth, but given that he only plays No Limit Hold’em, it does limit his options to pick up more hardware.
2. Greg Merson – Merson has something no one else on this list has—a second bracelet, won in the $10,000 Six-Handed No Limit Event, held just days before the 2012 Main Event. While that bracelet, and the seven-figure score that accompanied it, are incredibly impressive, it still doesn’t break the “curse” of Main Event winners being unable to make it back to the winner’s circle. In fact, while Merson had a huge 2012, winning WSOP Player of the Year thanks to the two bracelets and two other cashes, he cashed only once last year, opting to skip a chunk of the series and play only a handful of events. That cash was a memorable one though, as he made a run in the Main Event, ultimately finishing in 167th place.
Merson looks like he will be playing more events this summer than 2013, including potentially buying into the Big One for One Drop.
1. Jonathan Duhamel -The 2010 Champ is the player who stands out the most in the minds of the WSOP staff. He may not have the most final tables or the most post-WSOP earnings, but he does have several results others on this list don't, most notably a final table appearance last year in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. Being able to play a variety of games besides No Limit Hold'em drastically increases any pro's chances, but add in that Duhamel has traveled to both Europe and Australia, where he finished fourth in the Accumulator event last year, and Duhamel has volume on his side too. With a rock-solid work ethic and a sharp skill set, it feels like it is only a matter of time before the young Canadian is in the hunt for a bracelet again. Plus, if his home country's record bracelet year in 2013 is any indication, the Northerners are the new group to watch on the poker circuit.
The race to see which of these winners breaks the dry spell of Main Event Champions begins Thursday when Riess and Merson take to the felt for the 2014 WSOP National Championship at Bally's in Atlantic City. Then the action moves to Vegas and the summer begins on May 27th--just one week from today.
Don't agree with how our rankings of the Main Event champs stacked up? Vote for which player you think will be picking up a bracelet: