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.

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