1980s Poker Festivals Wrapup


[SS] “A handful of 1980s poker festivals that had a $5,000+ event were only held once or twice”, Stan the Stat continued.

[RR] “It always seems like such a great idea to host a poker tournament until they realize how much work it is”, Roderick the Rock noted knowingly.

[LL] “Rod, we definitely appreciate you running these tournaments, but I think most of these poker festivals died for financial reasons”, Leroy the Lion amended. “The marketing guys tout how many paying customers the tournaments will bring in to the casino, but when all the numbers are tallied at the end, the people in accounting aren’t happy.”

[SS] “They were just ahead of their time. No television revenue and not much ad-sponsorship.”

[FF] “How could there be? PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky didn’t exist yet!” Figaro the Fish joked.

[SS] “Actually, the dried meat company was born in the mid-80s. But the company grew steadily without any real advertising for the better part of a decade. Sort of like poker.

Leroy is right though. Only the World Series could justify its existence solely from the money it made. Despite being loved by the players, none of the following festivals survived to a third year.1

Other 1980s Poker Festivals

Festival Dates Events Main Event Winner Notes
Jack Straus World Match Play Championship November 30 to December 14, 1983 14 Stu Ungar ($64,500) Mickey Appleman ($38,700) finished second, while Gary Lundgren ($19,350) came in third. Ungar ($80,000) also won the highest buyin event, the $10,000 2-7 Lowball, ahead of Sam Nassi ($48,000), Jack Straus ($24,000), and Gabe Kaplan ($8,000).
Jack Straus World Match Play Championship November 28 to December 14, 1984 16 Seymour Leibowitz ($42,000) Gary Lundgren ($9,250) came through the loser’s bracket and won a match against Leibowitz in the finals before falling in the deciding heads up contest. The highest buyin event was the $10,000 2-7 Lowball event, where Doyle Brunson ($57,500) beat out Billy Baxter ($34,500) and Chip Reese ($23,000). Rose Cales won the $500 7-Card Stud for $13,000.
Triple Crown of Poker Classic August 20 to 29, 19852 12 Amarillo Slim Preston ($56,250) Billy Walters ($22,500) finished second in the Championship Event, which had a $2,500 buyin. The highest buyin event was actually the $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw.3
Knights of the Round Table July 12 to 27, 1987 13 Gabe Kaplan ($108,000) David Baxter ($67,500) was the runner-up, while Berry Johnston ($27,000) finished third and Stu Ungar ($18,900) fourth. Tom McEvoy ($24,000) won the $500 7-Card Stud and T.J. Cloutier ($26,400) the $500 No-limit Hold ‘Em.

Notes:

  • Jack Straus failed to win an event at his namesake festival, settling for two third place finishes and a fourth.
  • At the 1985 Triple Crown of Poker Classic, which replaced the Jack Straus at the Frontier, John “Austin Squatty” Jenkins won the Triple Crown Award for “outstanding play”, which included the tournaments and the side games.
  • The Knights of the Round Table in Atlantic City included a $200 buyin golf tournament with a $20,000 overlay. Golfers were required to play in at least one poker event to enter.

1980s Main Event MVP

I hereby crown Stu Ungar the King of 1980s Big Buyin Main Events. He won seven of them: the World Series of Poker (1980 and 1981), Jack Straus World Match Play Championship (1983)4 Super Bowl of Poker (1984, 1988, and 1989); and America’s Cup of Poker (1987).

Johnny Chan did pretty well too, as he won five Main Events in the decade: the America’s Cup (1983), WSOP (1987 and 1988), and Hall of Fame Poker Classic (1988 and 1989). He also finished second in the 1989 WSOP.

Four other players won two titles: Gabe Kaplan (1980 Super Bowl and 1987 Knights of the Round Table plus a third place), Jack Keller (1984 WSOP and 1987 Super Bowl plus two seconds and two thirds), Phil Hellmuth (1988 Diamond Jim Brady and 1989 WSOP plus a second and a third), and Roger Moore (1986 and 1989 America’s Cup).

Other players with several top-three finishes include Berry Johnston (one first and four thirds), Dewey Tomko (one first and four seconds), and Perry Green (three seconds and a third).”

[LL] “Wow, you have some great evidence there that poker is mostly a game of skill, not chance. All these players who I know from their success at the World Series of Poker also did well at the other festivals.”

[RR] “And that certainly isn’t just a coincidence.”

[SS] “Yet another reason to be thankful for the 1980s poker boom. If the winners were completely random, who’d want to become a poker pro?”

Footnotes:

  1. The Jack Straus came the closest, as the 1985 festival was first rescheduled from December to the summer before being canceled.
  2. The Triple Crown of Poker Classic was also held in 1986, but the largest buyin events were only $2,500, below the cutoff for this list. Johnny Chan won the $2,500 Championship Event for $90,000.

    There have been a couple of other unrelated festivals called the Triple Crown of Poker: The Maxim Hotel and Casino held one in late 1994 with buyins ranging from $100 to $500, and the Canterbury Park Card Club in Shakopee, Minnesota held an even smaller one from 2001 to 2004.

  3. Unfortunately, all of the results except the Championship Event winner and runner-up have eluded me.
  4. This last event, the Jack Straus World Match Play Championship, only had only a $3,000 buyin, but you could use a $3,000 minimum Main Event buyin instead, losing only the 1985 Triple Crown of Poker from this list of 1980s poker festivals.

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