Stan’s Lists – Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker

[RR] “Are you guys going to a Super Bowl Party on Sunday?” Roderick the Rock polled.

[SS] “Yep”, Stan the Stat acknowledged.

[FF] “Sure”, Figaro the Fish responded. “I always do.”

[LL] “Kind of”, Leroy the Lion wavered. “I always go to a Super Bowl Commercial Party. We watch the game, but the stars of the night are the commercials, which we vote on to determine a favorite.”

[RR] “You know what I hate the most about Super Bowl Sunday?” Roderick asked rhetorically.

[RR] “When the game’s over, I know there won’t be another meaningful NFL game for seven months!”

[SS] “Maybe so, but did you guys know that there was once another Super Bowl just a few weeks after the Super Bowl?”

[RR] “What, the Bud Bowl?”

[FF] “The Lingerie Bowl?”

[LL] “The Puppy Bowl?”

[SS] “No, those all took place during the Super Bowl, and none of them are called a Super Bowl anyway.”

[FF] “The Canadian Football League’s Super Bowl?”

[SS] “It’s called the Grey Cup, and it’s in November.”

[LL] “Arena Football League?”

[SS] “ArenaBowl in August.”

[FF] “NFL Europe?”

[SS] “World Bowl in June.”

[LL] “XFL?”

[SS] “Million Dollar Game in April…1

No, I’m talking about the Super Bowl of Poker!”

{ Multiple groans. }

[SS] “Hey, I never said anything it had anything to do with football. Anyway in 1979, Amarillo Slim Preston thought the poker world was big enough to support a second large festival besides the World Series of Poker, so he created the Super Bowl of Poker. Just a few weeks after the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII, the Hilton in Las Vegas hosted the inaugural event. Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker lasted until 1991 in Nevada, then reappeared once in Los Angeles in 1996.

So this year is not only the fiftieth Super Bowl but also the 20th anniversary of the last Super Bowl of Poker (the 25th if you don’t count L.A.).”

[FF] “What happened to it?”

[SS] “Preston’s idea was probably sound, but it lacked continuity, jumping around to seven different casinos2 in four cities in just a dozen years. The last consecutive event, in 1991, was at the Flamingo in Laughlin, Nevada, a full 125 miles from Las Vegas, and only a dozen players entered its Main Event.

The other problem was that the event didn’t attracted many non-pros, so attendance never grew much. The Main Event had 30 players in 1979 but only reached 55 at its highest, while the World Series of Poker was growing every year even before online poker took off.3

Here’s the complete list of Main Event winners and runners-up:4

Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker Main Event

Year Winner Prize Entrants5 Cashed Runner-Up
1979 George Huber $150,000 30 7 Robert Bone
1980 Gabe Kaplan $190,000 25 2 Perry Green
1981 Junior Whited $130,000 26 3 Perry Green
1982 Ed Stevens $195,000 51 4 Tony Salinas
1983 Hans Lund $275,000 55 7 Jack Straus
1984 Stu Ungar $275,000 55 6 Ralph Morton
1985 Mickey Appleman $205,000 41 7 Dewey Tomko
1986 Billy Walter $175,000 36 9 Richard Klamian
1987 Jack Keller $220,000 44 7 Chip Reese
1988 Stu Ungar $210,000 42 7 Jack Keller
1989 Stu Ungar $205,000 41 7 Len Miller
1990 T.J. Cloutier $240,000 48 7 Jack Keller
1991 Jack Keller $52,250 12 3 Berry Johnston
1996 Johnny Chan $27,600 11 3 Russ Hamilton


  • First place always included a special prize. In 1979 Huber got custom-made, $3,000 cowboy boots. In 1980, Kaplan got a 3-foot loving cup, which became a regular prize. In 1983, Lund got a Super Bowl of Poker ring worth about $20,000. Other bonus prizes included a 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster, a Jeep, and a Coleman trailer.6
  • Stu Ungar was the only player to win the Main Event three times, and the only player to win back-to-back.
  • Jack Keller was the only other player to win twice.
  • Jack Keller had the most Main Event cashes (two 1sts, two 2nds, and a 5th), one more than Ungar (three 1sts and a 3rd), Green (two 2nds, a 4th, and a 5th), and Chip Reese (a 2nd, a 4th, a 6th, and a 9th).
  • The 1996 event was actually a “Tournament of Champions” (the three players who cashed were all WSOP Main Event winners, but that’s probably a coincidence). Somewhat fittingly, Amarillo Slim himself was the last player paid, placing third, albeit for just $4,600.7


  1. The XFL played only one season, 2001.
  2. The venues were: 1979 Hilton Las Vegas, 1980-81 Sahara Reno, 1982-84 Sahara Lake Tahoe, 1985 High Sierra Lake Tahoe, 1986 Caesars Lake Tahoe, 1987-90 Caesars Las Vegas, 1991 Flamingo Laughlin, and 1996 Bicycle Los Angeles.
  3. The WSOP Main Event had 54 players in 1979, 215 in 1991, and 295 in 1996.
  4. Despite significant research on this, I was only able to find five of the final hands:
    • 1983: Lund’s 95 vs. Straus’s T9 offsuit got it all in on the turn on a 25987 board.
    • 1984: Ungar’s QQ vs. Morton’s 99 on a Q♦K♣2♣ flop with blanks on the turn and river.
    • 1985: Appleman’s 8♣8♠ held up against Tomko’s A2.
    • 1986: Walter’s 9♠8♣ called a pre-flop all-in from Klamian’s K♦5♦, flopped a straight with 6♦T♦7♣, and faded the flush outs.
    • 1987: Keller’s 5♠2♠ checked behind after Reese’s Q♦J♥ limped and flopped a major draw with Q♠3♦4♠. Keller check-raised and called Reese’s shove. The 2♦ turn didn’t help enough but the river 6♣ gave Keller the winning straight.

    And I could only identify four of the bubble boys: Tony Salinas (1979, 8th), Roger Van Ausdall (1981, 4th), Al Ethier (1982, 5th), and Gabe Kaplan (1985, 8th). Kaplan had the misfortune of bubbling three events that year.

  5. The number of players isn’t completely certain for 1980 and 1982.
  6. Source: From the Poker Vaults: Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker, Part I. Story continued in Part II.
  7. The Main Event buyin was $10,000. In 1996, the Tournament of Champions buyin was $5,000 or less (probably a freeroll), as the prize pool was only $46,000 for 11 players.



[SS] “Do you guys know the counterfeit coins puzzle?” Stan the Stat surveyed the table.

[LL] “Do you mean the 9 coin puzzle with two weighings or the 12 coin puzzle with three weighings?” Leroy the Lion countered.

[SS] “Good, then you’re ready for my new, poker-themed puzzle.”

[LL] “Fire away.”

[SS] “Okay. At a tournament, there was a problem with these very poker chips in front of us. Some immoral rodent snuck a counterfeit chip into circulation. Fortunately, we know the fake is one of these 14 chips (don’t ask how), and we were able to determine (ditto) that the fake chip weighed a different amount than the real chips. Unfortunately, our bathroom scale isn’t accurate enough to weigh the chips, but we dug out this old swing arm balance for you. Because we don’t have time for you to weigh each chip against every other one because I spent all our time laying out the puzzle, you only get three weighings to find the counterfeit chip. Can you do it?”

[LL] “That’s impossible. It took three weighings just to find the fake among a dozen; how can we find one among fourteen?”

[SS] “I assure you that it can be done. Maybe Figaro can help you out?”

[LL] “Need to think outside the box?”

[SS] “Perhaps.”

[FF] “Well, how do you solve the nine coin problem?” Figaro inquired.

[LL] “Not much of a challenge. In that puzzle you know that the fake coin is light. You just weigh any three against any other three. If they match, the fake is in the three you didn’t weigh; otherwise it’s one of the light three. Weigh any two of those three against each other, and you have your answer.”

[FF] “And the twelve coin problem?”

[LL] “That’s a bit harder, partly because you don’t know if the odd coin is lighter or heavier. I don’t remember the exact sequence, but you start by weighing any four against any other four.”

[FF] “So you eliminate eight of the twelve coins on the first weighing.”

[LL] “Right. The next step involves reusing some of the coins that you know are real, but I’d have to figure out the different cases.”

[RR] “What if Leroy pointed you to Figaro not because he’s an independent thinker, although that’s certainly true, but because he was playing with these other, presumably genuine, chips?” Roderick the Rock enjoined. “What if we add a known real poker chip to the mix and start by weighing five against five?”

{ highlight the following spoiler to read it }

[LL] “That’s it! If they balance, it’s easy. You can weigh three of the remaining chips against three that balanced. If those balance, you weigh either of the remaining chips. If they don’t, you know which way the pans tilted and you’ve narrowed it down to three chip, and you have the second half of the 9 coin problem.

If the first weighing doesn’t balance, weigh two from the light side (whichever the original real chip wasn’t on, that is) and one from the heavy side against two from the light side and one from the heavy side. If those match, you have two potential heavy chips and one potential light chip left, and you weigh one heavy and one light against two real chips. If those don’t match, then you’re down to the heavy chip on the heavy side and the two light chips on the lighter side, and you have a similar case.”1

[SS] “Very well done! Do you guys remember a couple years ago when a cheater tried to dispose of some fake poker chips in the toilet and got caught?”

[LL] “It wasn’t even the casino he was stealing from!”

[SS] “Right. That and three other recent incidents caught my attention for the combination of greed and idiocy:

  • In June 2013, Rear Admiral Timothy M. Giardina was caught using fake $500 poker chips at a Nebraska casino. Apparently the Navy officer, who had previously been banned from other casinos in Iowa and Kansas, was addicted to not only gambling but nicotine; he was caught on surveillance video taking cigarette butts out of an ash tray and smoking them. The Navy stripped him of a star, but no criminal charges were pressed.
  • In January 2014, Christian Lusardi introduced some fake poker chips at a Borgata poker tournament but got caught when he tried to flush $2.7 million worth of chips down the toilet at the nearby Harrah’s Resort and Casino and clogged the plumbing. The North Carolinian was sentenced to five years in prison.
  • Later in the same month, Rosa A. Nguyen and Vuong Q. Truong used fake $100 poker chips in the Maryland Live Casino then tried to dispose of unused fakes in Lake Accotink near their home in Springfield, Virginia. Only problem: the chips floated.
  • In December 2015, Sajid Rashid and Qamar Hussain were sentenced to 30 months in jail in Monte Carlo for marking up €10 chips up as &euro1,000 chips and collecting almost £s;3 million playing roulette. Their accomplice Zahidul Haque Khan got 10 months for accepting their loot. The British trio had made many visits to Monaco and had even been comped by the casino for their high rolling ways. Rashid had already served 14 months in jail and had been banned for life from British casinos.”

[LL] “I’d think that counterfeit poker chips are becoming less of a problem as casinos have begun using RFID2 technology, especially in larger denomination chips.”

[SS] “But even as casinos step up their security measures, you can never be safe from counterfeiting any time you play Hold ‘Em!”

[RR] “Ha ha. You mean like when your hole cards are counterfeited?”

[SS] “Indeed. “There’s no real consensus on what constitutes counterfeiting and what doesn’t, so I break things into three categories: Definitely, Borderline, and Not Counterfeiting:

Definitely Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥T♠T♣ 3♦ Q♠ Pocket pair counterfeited by higher two pairs on board (making 3 pairs)
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ 7♠ Full house on flop counterfeited for half pot on river
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠T♣ Q♦ T♥ Full house on turn counterfeited for half pot
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ Q♣ Full house on flop counterfeited for full pot when pocket pair becomes bad kicker
K♣Q♦ A♣K♦ J♥T♠9♣ Q♦ Straight counterfeited by turn giving opponent a higher straight
K♣Q♦ K♦2♣ J♥T♠9♣ Q♦ Straight counterfeited for half the pot
9♣8♦ any K♥K♠8♥ 8♣ K♦ River makes bigger full house on board, costing half a pot to most hands and losing to pocket Nines and higher
9♣8♦ any K♥K♠8♥ K♦ 8♣ Same as above but perhaps more painfully (but always behind pocket Nines in this case)
9♣8♦ T♣T♦ 9♥8♠2♣ 2♠ Two pairs counterfeited by pair on board, giving opponent a higher two pairs
9♣8♦ 9♥2♠ Q♥J♠8♣ J♥ 9♠ River improved hand to better two pairs yet cost half a pot (the dreaded 3 pairs again)
9♣8♦ A♣K♦ Q♣Q♦Q♥ 9♦ Q♠ Full house counterfeited for full pot when board makes four of a kind

Borderline Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
A♣K♦ 9♣8♦ Q♥T♠T♣ Q♦ Q♣ As of the turn, the Ace kicker was beating the Nine kicker, but the boat on the river removed the kicker from the picture
9♣8♣ A♣K♦ J♣5♣2♣ Q♣ Lower suited hole cards needing only three of the suit on the board can lose to a fourth suited card on the turn or river
9♣8♦ A♣9♦ J♠8♥5♠ J♥ 9♠ The Nine on the turn didn’t counterfeit the 98 because it was still ahead then! The 98 then improved on the river but lost.
7♣7♦ K♦2♣ 9♥8♠7♥ 6♣ 5♦ The set of Sevens was ahead until the straight on the board chopped the pot on the river; a flush on the board is even less likely to be considered counterfeiting (could have been behind on the flop or turn)

Not Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
9♣8♦ J♥T♥ T♠9♥8♥ J♠ It’s not counterfeiting if an opponent’s hand simply improves to beat you (like a Heart, Queen, Jack, Ten, or Seven on the turn here)
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ K♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ K♣ A Queen on the river is more obviously counterfeiting, but a King is just a bad beat

[LL] “That’s a lot of counterfeiting!”

[SS] “And that’s not even counting my kitchen renovation…”


  1. Original puzzle posed by Biotop on the Straight Dope message board on June 9, 2010.
  2. RFID is short for “radio frequency identification”, which in this case allows a reader to identify the value and location of every poker chip at the table.


Daily Fantasy Sports vs. Online Poker

[RR] “What do you guys think of DFS?” Roderick the Rock polled.

[LL] “I assume you aren’t talking about Distributed File Systems?” Leroy the Lion joked.

[RR] “Daily Fantasy Sports, of course.”

[FF] “It’s just like online poker,” Figaro the Fish opined. “I keep losing all my money there, too.”

[YY] “It’s just like online poker,” Yuri the Young Gun agreed. “I keep making a nice little profit off people like Figaro, who treat the game more like a lottery than an exercise in analysis.”

[RR] “Have you stopped playing online poker then?”

[YY] “Pretty much. I missed the early days of online poker because I was too young, but I got in early enough this time.”

[LL] “Early enough to make some money before government regulation kills it?”

[YY] “And early enough that most people have no idea how to play well. Although there are too many sharks for me to make a lot of money, at least I can get my money safely in and out when I want to.”

[RR] “More than a few of those sharks are former poker pros, like Aaron Jones, Andy Frankenberger, Assani Fisher, Dan Smith, Matt Smith, Max Steinberg, Mike Leah, Ray Coburn, Steven Silverman, Tom Crowley, and Tony Dunst.”

[LL] “Dan Bilzerian and Jason Somerville advertise for DraftKings, and Jonathan Aguiar works there.”

[RR] “Brett Richey and Eric Liu created BlitzPick to sell fantasy data to mobile DFS players.”

[LL] “And even Phil Ivey is throwing his hat into the ring. PhilIveyDFS is supposed to launch next month.”

[YY] “Not surprising at all. The similarities between online poker and DFS are all over the place:

  • You play against other players, not the house, which happily collects its rake.
  • Large player pools turn relatively small buyins into big prizes.1
  • The buyins range from freerolls to entry fees of thousands of dollars.
  • The variety of events is very similar, including big tournaments, sit and gos, 50/50 games, head-to-head contests,2 and qualifiers.3
  • Guaranteed prize pools in some events can backfire, causing an overlay if not enough people enter.4
  • A large luck component means that anyone can win any given tournament.
  • A large skill component means the best players will win the most in the long run, and most players will be losers.
  • Knowing the odds is very important even if many players just go with their gut feel.
  • Both industries boomed with the help of amateurs winning big prizes.
  • Both survived scandals,5 at least for a while.
  • Both were unregulated at first, but once they became big enough, the government jumped in.”6

[LL] “And there are two dominant companies in the U.S.; New York-based FanDuel and Boston-based DraftKings are like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. On the other hand,

  • In DFS, you do all your work before an event begins; once lineups are locked, all you can do is root for your athletes to do well. In poker, you have to select your table properly, but every hand presents new challenges for you to solve. A tournament continues for you as long as you still have chips.
  • Poker has a large social component. Even online poker has chat boxes to communicate with other players. Of course, it makes more sense to talk to players while you can still affect a game.
  • It helps to know your opponents, but in very different ways. In poker, if you can figure out how your opponents are playing, you can adjust on the fly to take advantage. In DFS, you score big by picking the undervalued players that others haven’t found (at least, you need more of them in your lineup than anyone else).
  • In online poker, better players and worse players generally don’t play in the same tournaments (separated by buyin amount). In DFS, the pros might enter every contest they can.7
  • At a U.S. federal level, fantasy sports is defined and exempted by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which ultimately doomed online poker.8

[RR] “I’d still say they’re more similar than different, at least in terms of how the government should deal with them.”

[YY] “I’d rather play online poker than DFS, but I’d also rather have just DFS than neither!”

[LL] “It’s time for someone to create a poker DFS site. ESPN has, or at least had, a Fantasy WSOP Draft since 2006. There’s no reason it can’t be done on a weekly basis.”

[RR] “Just because it can be, doesn’t mean it should. Let’s just bring online poker back legally!”


  1. A $1 million first prize was briefly the Holy Grail, but Aaron Jones just won $5 million in the DraftKings Fantasy Football World Championship.
  2. 50/50 and heads-up events are the grind-it-out-cash-games of DFS.
  3. The prizes in qualifiers are entries into a higher buyin tournament.
  4. Ed Miller analyzed some DFS baseball and found that 1.3% of the players won 91% of the prizes, while 85+% of players lost money.
  5. A DraftKings employee, Ethan Haskell, prematurely released percentage-used statistics the day he won $350,000 in a FanDuel contest.
  6. Black Friday shut down the three biggest internet poker sites in the U.S. on April 15, 2011, while states began banning DFS in 2015 (Nevada on October 15, New York on November 10 [granted a stay on appeal though], Illinois on December 23, and Texas on January 20, 2016).
  7. Both DraftKings and FanDuel have begun to create separate tournaments for beginners only, but so far there haven’t been any beginner-only tournaments with big prizes.
  8. Andy Frankenberger summed up the irony, “It’s a joke that between online poker and daily fantasy, poker is the one that’s widely prohibited in this country. Anyone who thinks poker is not a game of skill probably hasn’t played much poker.”

Stan’s Lists – Poker MVP, 1970 to 1996

[SS] “Since Card Player’s award only goes back to 1997, I thought it would be fun to name winners going all the way back to 1970″, Stan the Stat continued. “But instead of simply crunching numbers based on wins and money, I made mine an MVP award.”

[RR] “That makes no sense at all”, Roderick the Rock countered. “Poker isn’t a team sport.”

[SS] “That doesn’t mean there can’t be an MVP! I just tried to answer, ‘Who was the Most Valuable Player for poker in general?'”

[LL] “You mean like the criteria for the Poker Hall of Fame, the person who ‘contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker'”, Leroy the Lion expounded.

[SS] “Sure, but for a year instead of a career. Some are obvious, like Amarillo Slim Preston in 1972, while others are quite debatable.

Here’s my list:

Unofficial Poker MVPs – 1970 to 1996

Year MVP Explanation
1970 Benny Binion The owner of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas invited seven poker pros and created the World Series of Poker.
1971 Johnny Moss The Grand Old Man of Poker won the first World Series of Poker Main Event after having been voted the best player the previous year; also won the $1,000 Limit Ace to 5 Draw to become the first to win two WSOP events in a year.
1972 Amarillo Slim Preston The WSOP Main Event champion popularized poker with numerous appearances on The Tonight Show and other TV shows.
1973 Puggy Pearson The Kentuckian won the $4,000 Limit Seven Card Stud, $1,000 No Limit Hold’em, and the $10,000 WSOP Main Event for three of his four career bracelets and a quarter of his tournament earnings.
1974 Johnny Moss The oldest WSOP Main Event champ at 66 years captured his record third title and also finished 2nd in the $10,000 Limit 7 Card Stud.
1975 Sailor Roberts The Korean War veteran took down the WSOP Main Event for his second bracelet in two years.
1976 Doyle Brunson Texas Dolly won the $5,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw and the Main Event at the WSOP.
1977 Doyle Brunson The Texan won his second straight Main Event as well as the $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split at the WSOP.
1978 Bobby Baldwin The Oklahoman became the youngest WSOP Main Event champion at 28, his third bracelet in two years.
1979 Hal Fowler The Vermont native was the first amateur to win the WSOP Main Event, coming back from being the short stack at the final table.
1980 Gabe Kaplan The comedian-turned-actor gave hope to amateurs everywhere by winning Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker and placing sixth in the WSOP Main Event.
1981 Stu Ungar The Kid won his second consecutive WSOP Main Event and added a bracelet in the $10,000 Deuce to Seven Draw tourney.
1982 Jack Straus Treetop’s comeback from a poker single chip hidden under a napkin to become WSOP Main Event champion led to the eternally optimistic phrase, “a chip and a chair”.
1983 Eric Drache Tournament Director created the first satellite tournaments to get into the WSOP Main Event.
1984 Jack Keller Gentleman Jack won the $5,000 Seven-Card Stud and the Main Event at the WSOP.
1985 Dewey Tomko The 1982 and 2001 WSOP Main Event runner up had his best year, reaching seven final tables, including a first and two seconds in Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker and two firsts and a second in the Grand Prix of Poker.
1986 Berry Johnston The Oklahoman followed up two third place finishes in three years with a victory in the WSOP Main Event and ten top-seven finishes.
1987 Johnny Chan The Orient Express made seven final tables during the year, including capturing the $200 Pot Limit Omaha event at Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker and the WSOP Main Event.
1988 Johnny Chan The last back-to-back WSOP Main Event champion’s victory was immortalized in a clip in Rounders.
1989 Phil Hellmuth, Jr. The Poker Brat burst onto the scene, derailing Johnny Chan’s bid for three straight Main Events while becoming the youngest winner not only of the Main Event but of any WSOP bracelet at age 24.
1990 John Bonetti The Texan won six titles, including the WSOP $5,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw, and finished eighth in the WSOP Main Event.
1991 Brent Carter The Illinoian cashed 21 times, including six times at the WSOP, with four final tables and a bracelet in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em.
1992 Hamid Dastmalchi The Iranian-American captured the WSOP Main Event for $1,000,000, the second of his three career bracelets, and final tabled the $2,500 Limit Hold’em.
1993 Phil Hellmuth, Jr. The Wisconsin native took down three events at the WSOP to become just the fifth player with five bracelets.
1994 Henry Orenstein The inventor submitted his patent application for the hole cam, which would soon make televised poker vastly more entertaining.
1995 Dan Harrington The Massachusetts native won the $2,500 No Limit Hold’em and the Main Event at the WSOP.
1996 Men Nguyen The Vietnamese-American final tabled four events at the WSOP, including a win in the $2,500 Omaha 8 or Better and a fourth place in the Main Event among his 26 cashes for the year.

Since I thought naming co-MVPs was a copout, some players whose accomplishments could easily have won in other years deserve honorable mention:

  • 1978: Doyle Brunson self-published his classic tome, Super System.
  • 1979: George Huber won the Super Bowl of Poker and finished third in the WSOP Main Event.
  • 1983: Tom McEvoy won the $1,000 Limit Hold’em and the Main Event at the WSOP; he also has a claim for 1998 when he successfully campaigned for smoke-free tournaments.
  • 1990: Mansour Matloubi became the first foreigner to win the WSOP Main Event.1
  • 1993: Ted Forrest also won three WSOP bracelets.

I also thought there were four recent years where the MVP should differ from both Card Player’s and the WSOP’s picks:

  • 1998: Rounders, the movie,2 brought poker to the public, even if the film wasn’t an immediate box office hit.
  • 2003: Chris Moneymaker helped spawn the poker explosion by qualifying for the WSOP Main Event online and converting $863 into $2.5 million.
  • 2004: Dan Harrington released Harrington on Hold’em: Strategic Play, the most comprehensive book on Texas Hold ‘Em up to then.
  • 2012: Antonio Esfandiari, already one of the most recognizable faces in poker, won the $1,000,000 buy-in Big One for One Drop to catapult into first place on the all-time money list.”


  1. Johnny Chan had immigrated to the U.S. almost two decades before his first Main Event title in 1987.
  2. If a non-person can win Time magazine’s Person of the Year (e.g., The Computer in 1982 and The Endangered Earth in 1988), a movie can win here.
  3. Short-Stacked Shamus explains the correction from $39 to $86.

Related Links:


Stan’s Lists – Card Player Player of the Year

[LL] “Stan, who won the WSOP Player of the Year award this year?” Leroy the Lion inquired.

[SS] “Mike Gorodinsky. He had eight cashes in Las Vegas and Berlin, including 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 9th place finishes.”

[RR] “Wow, that’s pretty impressive. Did he also sweep all the Player of the Year awards?”

[SS] “On the contrary, he didn’t even finish in the top 50 for Card Player Player of Year!”1

[RR] “How is that possible?”

[SS] “Well, he didn’t accumulate any points outside of the WSOP, and that only fills up a couple months of the year. Also, only three of his WSOP cashes netted him any Card Player points.”

[LL] “So who did the numbers say had the best year?”

[SS] “Anthony Zinno collected 6,632 points, the sixth highest ever, to hold off Joe Kuether and Nick Petrangelo, who also had historically great years. Zinno’s year-high five titles were only one fewer than the record held by John Hoang, Men Nguyen, and Dan Smith.

Card Player Player of the Year – 1997 to 2003

Year Winner
1997 Men Nguyen
1998 T.J. Cloutier
1999 Tony Ma
2000 David Pham
2001 Men Nguyen
2002 T.J. Cloutier
2003 Men Nguyen

Card Player Player of the Year – 2004 to Present

Year Winner Points Runner-Up Points Margin
2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 David Pham 7,068 19.4%
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 John Phan 4,428 14.9%
2006 Michael Mizrachi 5,989 Nam Le 5,215 12.9%
2007 David Pham 6,562 J.C. Tran 5,748 12.4%
2008 John Phan 6,704 David Pham 6,022 10.2%
2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 Cornel Cimpan 5,934 15.2%
2010 Tom Marchese 6,738 Dwyte Pilgrim 5,576 17.2%
2011 Ben Lamb 6,036 Chris Moorman 5,875 2.7%
2012 Greg Merson 5,100 Dan Smith 5,040 1.2%
2013 Daniel Negreanu 5,140 Paul Volpe 4,298 16.4%
2014 Daniel Colman 5,498 Ami Barer 5,042 8.3%
2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 Joe Kuether 6,070 8.5%


  • Men Nguyen won the award a record four times (1997, 2001, 2003, and 2005).
  • T.J. Cloutier (1998 and 2002), David Pham (2000 and 2007), and Daniel Negreanu (2004 and 2013) have won twice each.
  • Negreanu outpoint second place by the largest (2004) and third largest (2013) margins. Merson (2012) eked by with the smallest margin.

Here are the all-time records for Points, Titles, and Final Tables with data going back to the rule changes of 2004.

Most Player of the Year Points

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 4 11 $4,420,221
2 2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268
3 2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 4 17 $1,494,494
4 2010 Tom Marchese 6,738 2 11 $2,068,658
5 2008 John Phan 6,704 3 8 $2,075,323
6 2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 5 11 $3,442,769
7 2004 John Juanda 6,596 2 15 $1,204,389
8 2007 David Pham 6,562 4 11 $1,764,143
9 2015 Joe Kuether 6,070 3 13 $2,084,691
10 2011 Ben Lamb 6,036 1 4 $5,351,467


  • John Pham is the only player to finish in the Top 10 three times. Joseph Cheong, John Hoang, John Juanda, Michael Mizrachi, Daniel Negreanu, Steve O’Dwyer, John Phan, Ole Schemion, Vanessa Selbst, and J.C. Tran have each done it twice.
  • Erick Lindgren, Negreanu, John Pham, Erik Seidel, and Tran are the only players to finish in the Top 25 four times. Allen Cunningham, Juanda, Phan, Mizrachi, Men Nguyen, O’Dwyer, and Selbst have each done it three times.

Most Titles

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2005 John Hoang 3,267 6 17 $492,817
2008 Men Nguyen 3,662 6 10 $776,832
2012 Dan Smith 5,040 6 9 $3,673,806
4 2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 5 17 $1,004,718
2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268
2010 Dwyte Pilgrim 5,576 5 13 $1,074,997
2004 Can Kim Hua 4,495 5 12 $785,779
2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 5 11 $3,442,769
2014 Joseph Mckeehen 3,266 5 11 $1,223,852
2004 John Phan 3,080 5 10 $677,045
2009 Jason Mercier 4,130 5 9 $1,245,876

Most Final Tables

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2004 Gioi Luong 5,006 4 22 $504,004
2 2004 John Cernuto 3,631 3 19 $460,789
3 2005 John Hoang 3,267 6 17 $492,817
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 5 17 $1,004,718
2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 4 17 $1,494,494
6 2010 Sorel Mizzi 4,851 4 16 $1,524,371
7 2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268
2015 Byron Kaverman 5,342 4 15 $3,008,957
2004 John Juanda 6,596 2 15 $1,204,389
2005 Max Pescatori 3,381 1 15 $410,109


  • Luong tops this list but is hardly a household name. The Californian has never won a WSOP bracelet, and his biggest cash was $290,792 for a runner-up finish in a WSOP circuit event in 2007.
  • While it seems obvious to have another list with the top ten in Winnings, it’s a rather uninteresting list topped by the 2014 and 2012 One Drop winners followed by eight WSOP Main Event champs.


  1. Gorodinsky’s 2,436 points were only good for 57th place. Zinno, Kuether, Petrangelo, and fourth place finisher Byron Kaverman all more than doubled his total.

Related Links:


Happy Pokerful New Year!

[HH] “What a great idea!” Harriet the Hazy beamed. “A New Year’s poker celebration!”

[AA] “With players from both the home and pub games”, Al the Almost added in affirmation.

[PP] “I appreciate being invited anywhere there’s alcohol…” Patrick the Pickled rejoiced.

[PP] “… I mean, anywhere people are in good spirits”, he reconsideredly voiced.

[YY] “I’ll take poker over pints any day”, Yuri the Young Gun averred.

[NN] “Cards over cocktails”, Nate the Natural concurred.

[EE] “Hold ‘Em over hard liquor”, Elias the Eagle agreed.

[WW] “I say we have both!” William the Whale decreed.

[YY] “If drinking loosens you up, continue to put your glass to your lips…”

[EE] “… While us teetotalers gladly take all of your chips.”

[AA] “As long as we all can have a good time together”, Al recommended.

[RR] “Cheers to everyone for a pokerful new year!” Roderick the Rock ended.


MIT Poker Course

{ Figaro the Fish glances over at Leroy the Lion’s iPhone. }

[FF] “I didn’t know you were playing online poker again”, Figaro commented.

[LL] “Huh? What makes you say that?” Leroy wondered.

[FF] “You’re looking at multi-table tournament advice right now, aren’t you?”

[LL] “Well, for starters, MTTs aren’t just online. This tournament we’re about to play in is an MTT, even if nobody here calls it that.”

[FF] “True enough.”

[LL] “But that doesn’t actually say M-tee-T on the screen, it’s M-eye-T.”

[FF] “As in the university down the road from Harvard?”

[LL] “Yes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

[FF] “Your older son is thinking about going there?”

[LL] “No…, well not yet anyway. I’m looking at a poker course that’s been taught there during IAP since 2012.”

[FF] “So MIT has an iPhone app where you can buy courses from them?”

[LL] “No, IAP doesn’t mean In-App Purchases here; it stands for Independent Activities Period, a four-week mini-term at the start of each calendar year where MIT students take very short courses. This one is called How to Win at Texas Hold’em Poker.”1

[FF] “Ah. It’s a course you can take online?”

[LL] “Not exactly. But videos and slides from last year’s course are available. The first couple lectures are for beginners. But there’s some good stuff starting with the third one, Basic Strategy. I’d also recommend lectures 4 (Pre-flop Analysis), 5 (Tournaments), and 8 (Decision Making).”

[FF] “Sounds like a good way to spend some quality screen time over the holidays!”

[LL] “You can even watch the YouTube playlist of the course on your new Apple TV. Sure beats watching your umpteenth bowl game…”


  1. Kevin Desmond taught MIT 15.S50 last year with guest lecturers like Bill Chen and Matt Hawrilenko. Wei “Will” Ma, a poker pro who won the 2007 Grand Prix De Paris Championship Event for over half a million dollars, will teach next month’s course with help from Paul F. Mende, who was formerly the head of the MMT (Money Management and Trading) group at Cambridge Technology Partners and an analyst at MDT Advisers. The course was Ma’s brainchild.

Poker Themed Holiday Gifts

[JJ] “Rod, I need your help!” implored Joey the Juvenile.

[RR] “How may I be of service?” Roderick the Rock responded.

[JJ] “Well, as usual, I put off buying Christmas gifts too long, and I have no idea what to get my Dad.”

[RR] “Ah, you’ve come to the right person. Benny’s almost a regular here, so anything poker related should make him happy.”

{Roderick types away on his iPhone.}

Card Protectors

[RR] “Okay, how about a card protector? Your Dad doesn’t use one, but he probably should after almost getting his cards accidentally mucked during last month’s tournament:

[JJ] “Not bad, but I think of a card protector as a very personal choice. He might use it because I gave it to him, but he should probably pick out his own.”

Poker Art

[RR] “Okay, how about something for your house?

[JJ] “Those would both be great except that we don’t have a man cave.”

Poker Office Toys

[RR] “Or his office?

[JJ] “Those would probably be better as Secret Santa gifts, I think.”

Plastic Playing Cards

[RR] “Okay then, how about something practical like playing cards:

Poker Chips

or poker chips:

[JJ] “Those would be great if we ever hosted a poker game, but we haven’t done that yet. Maybe in the future.”

Poker Books

[RR] Well, since you can browse his poker library, you can get him any good poker book that he doesn’t already own:

[JJ] “That’s perfect. I’ll find a book that I’d want to borrow, so it could even be a gift that pays for itself. Thanks, Rod!”

Related Links:

  • How to Gift an iPhone App. Of course, we think THETA Poker Pro would make an ideal, if terribly cheap, gift. As a universal purchase, the app will run on every Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch the person owns (tvOS 9.0 or iOS 5.1.1 or higher only).

Poker Word Search

[LL] “I figured out the first word ladder; wasn’t too hard”, Leroy the Lion claimed.


[RR] “Good. You can also use BOLD, BOLL, and BALL or MOLD, MOLL, and MALL. Depending on what dictionary you use, you can even do one better with COLD and COLL, an obscure word meaning embrace.

What about the other two?” Roderick the Rock inquired.

[LL] “Just too long. I didn’t even know what direction I was heading halfway through.”

[RR] “Oh well. Here’s one answer for each:”




Or using uncommon words:




The final puzzle was a word search. But unlike most of these types of puzzles, this one had no word list, just the instructions, ‘Find as many poker words as you can in this grid of letters in ten minutes.’

E  E  R  H  T  B  E  D  M  A  N  I  A  C  U  C  Y  Z  R  P  O  H  C  S

B  N  S  U  I  T  N  H  B  V  D  R  A  O  B  H  V  P  I  P  E  B  N  S

J  V  S  P  A  F  R  H  S  J  W  A  L  K  U  E  P  O  A  I  C  U  O  E

K  F  E  L  F  F  U  H  S  U  F  F  O  T  U  C  D  L  P  H  N  Y  T  V

Q  C  O  Z  K  T  R  W  S  P  L  H  G  I  H  K  Y  F  R  C  A  I  T  E

G  S  U  C  T  I  G  H  T  A  B  F  E  V  I  F  L  A  E  R  L  N  U  N

I  U  A  L  V  N  E  M  W  I  C  T  R  A  E  H  I  S  V  A  A  H  B  K

E  T  T  E  I  Z  Q  W  J  N  D  G  N  P  V  N  H  V  O  I  B  T  U  T

S  Q  R  S  E  M  N  O  I  T  I  S  O  P  B  A  Y  F  E  S  O  O  L  D

U  C  U  E  H  N  I  O  K  D  P  T  E  O  R  G  S  R  R  E  Z  I  R  P

O  P  U  I  R  O  W  T  L  A  Y  C  W  K  M  A  J  B  E  J  T  K  S  B

H  Q  T  U  T  T  T  E  D  P  U  E  M  N  E  E  U  Q  L  O  E  C  E  E

S  P  T  E  D  Y  A  E  J  E  M  L  K  N  B  B  L  B  O  K  V  A  K  T

L  R  S  S  L  K  C  P  D  T  S  I  W  N  B  L  U  I  O  E  I  J  A  E

I  U  P  P  O  L  S  R  B  H  S  O  L  L  O  S  U  E  C  R  T  I  R  I

X  N  L  I  F  Y  E  L  O  L  D  W  E  R  T  D  D  F  C  E  C  H  O  G

P  N  A  R  P  K  E  V  O  W  J  B  E  G  S  A  R  L  F  K  A  E  W  H

R  E  S  T  O  C  E  W  O  W  O  E  F  E  F  T  W  H  E  E  L  Y  J  T

E  R  H  P  A  I  P  H  L  R  R  K  R  L  S  T  R  A  I  G  H  T  B  C

B  L  I  N  D  L  S  X  P  F  O  O  I  A  O  M  T  A  E  S  Y  B  I  I

U  O  M  N  A  B  A  N  K  R  O  L  L  C  I  A  Q  G  D  M  O  N  E  Y

Y  N  U  Y  E  I  O  K  N  A  L  B  L  L  K  L  T  Q  M  D  A  N  T  E

R  I  N  G  A  T  E  Y  Y  E  R  T  A  B  L  E  S  B  T  I  L  P  S  D

P  A  S  S  I  V  E  N  U  T  K  N  A  V  E  H  R  H  E  R  O  E  E  C

And this scoring chart:

  • 30 words or fewer: Donkey
  • 31 to 55 words: Regular
  • 56 to 80 words: Shark
  • 81+ words: Pro”

{Complete list of words can be found in this footnote4.}


  1. Twa is Scottish for two.
  2. Awa is Scottish for away.
  3. Mairs is Scottish for more. Just a coincidence that all three of these obscure words are Scottish!
  4. The 122 poker words that were intentionally hidden in the grid were: ace active ante balance bankroll beat bet blank blind bluff board boat bubble burn bust button buyin call cash check chip chop club cooler cutoff deuce donkey draw edge eight equity fade five flip float flop flush fold four freeroll gutshot hand heart hero high hijack hole house isolate jack jam joker kicker king knave lead leak limit limp loose luck maniac money muck nine nit nut open overpair paint pair passive poker position post pot prize probe quad queen rag rail rainbow raise rake read rebuy ring river runner seat set seven shark shove showdown shuffle slowplay slowroll spade splash split squeeze stack steal straddle straight suit table tell ten three tight tilt trey trips turn two value walk weak wheel.

Poker Word Ladders

[LL] “So there was actually a wait for the dentist at midnight?” Leroy the Lion wondered.

[RR] “Yep, poor guy’s tilted opponent got so mad that he flung a poker chip right at his face and knocked out part of his tooth.”

[LL] “A chip from a chip?”

[RR] “Better than a chip from a chair, I suppose.”

[LL] “This took me longer than I’ll admit, but I think this is the answer to the crossword puzzle:”


[RR] “Correct! The next section had these three poker word ladders:

  1. FOLD -> CALL (4 steps)
  2. TWO -> ACE (9 steps)
  3. PAIRS -> QUADS (11 steps)

Change exactly one letter on each rung to get from the first word to the second.”

[LL] “Oh, I know how these work. It was one of the puzzle types in the Page-A-Day Bananagrams calendar I got for Christmas a few years ago. What dictionary were they using?”

[RR] “I don’t know, but you only need to use common words, so it doesn’t matter.”1

{Answers next week…}


  1. Shorter answers are possible for #2 and #3 if you break out your Scrabble-Fu.