WSOP Main Event Last Former Champion Standing

[SS] “In the past decade or so,” Stan the Stat began, “the poker press has made a big deal of the Last Woman Standing at the World Series of Poker Main Event and, more recently, the Last Celebrity Standing, but before either of these, event reports would often mention the last former champion remaining in the field.

Johnny Moss (1970 and 1971) and Doyle Brunson (1976 and 1977) both won back-to-back Main Events, becoming the first two to earn the title, but Last Champ Standing didn’t really mean much until 1978 when the Main Event stopped being winner-take-all. That year, none of the five former champs cashed, but in 1979 Moss eked into the money, placing fifth to take the first real crown. Since then, at least one former Main Event champ has cashed every year except 1984, 2000, 2002, and 2014.”1

[LL] “And it’s become even more meaningful every year since Stu Ungar won his third title in 1987”, Leroy the Lion noted. “This year will mark three full decades without a repeat winner. That’s almost as long as we waited for a horse to win the Triple Crown. But with the huge fields, it’s entirely possible nobody else will ever win multiple WSOP Main Events, while the next thoroughbred Triple Crown could easily be next year.”

Last Former Champion Standing at the World Series of Poker Main Event

Year Player Place2 Notes
1971 Johnny Moss 1 Moss repeats as champ.
1972 Johnny Moss DNC Moss (6th place), the only former champ, gets this spot by default.
1973 Johnny Moss DNC Moss (2nd place) barely misses his third title.
1974 Johnny Moss 1 Moss wins his record third Main Event.
1975 unknown DNC Moss, Preston, and Pearson don’t cash (only winner paid).
1976 unknown DNC Moss, Preston, and Roberts don’t cash (only winner paid).
1977 Doyle Brunson 1 Brunson becomes the second repeat champ.
1978 unknown DNC No former champ cashes (5 paid for the first time).
1979 Johnny Moss 5 Moss continues to dominate the top of this list. Bobby Baldwin 8th.
1980 Doyle Brunson 2 Brunson narrowly misses becoming a three-time champ. Moss 4th.
1981 Stu Ungar 1 Ungar repeats. Baldwin 7th and Brunson 11th.
1982 Doyle Brunson 4 Brunson final tables for the fifth time. Sailor Roberts 8th.
1983 Doyle Brunson 3 Brunson final tables for the sixth time.
1984 unknown DNC No former champ cashes (9 paid).
1985 Johnny Moss 7 Moss bubbles the six-player final table.
1986 Bill Smith 5 Defending champ reaches final table. Baldwin 16th and Moss 26th.
1987 Jack Keller 9 Keller outlasts Puggy Pearson (17th), Baldwin (21st), Moss (26th), and Berry Johnston (31st).
1988 Johnny Chan 1 Chan repeats as champ. Keller 31st.
1989 Johnny Chan 2 Chan barely misses third straight title. Johnston 29th and Pearson 35th.
1990 Berry Johnston 5 Johnston makes his fourth final table. Ungar 9th.
1991 Billy Baldwin 29 Baldwin’s eighth best finish is the only time he makes this list.
1992 Johnny Chan 7 Chan reaches his fourth final table in six years, edging Keller (8th).
1993 Mansour Matloubi 4 Matloubi returns to the final table three years after winning. Brad Daugherty 9th.
1994 Mansour Matloubi 16 Matloubi becomes the fourth repeat last champ standing. Baldwin 24th.
1995 Hamid Dastmalchi 4 Dastmalchi also returns to the final table three years after winning. Johnston 21st and Keller 28th.
1996 Berry Johnston 16 Johnston barely outsurvives Dan Harrington (17th).
1997 Stu Ungar 1 Ungar wins his record-tying third Main Event. Brunson 16th and Hellmuth 21st.
1998 Jack Keller 22 Keller is the only former champ to cash.
1999 Huck Seed 6 Seed returns to the final table three years later and is the only former champ to cash.
2000 Phil Hellmuth DNC Hellmuth (64th place) misses the money by 19 places.
2001 Phil Hellmuth 5 Hellmuth returns to the final table a dozen years later. Jim Bechtel 23rd.
2002 Phil Hellmuth DNC Hellmuth (somewhere between 60th and 77th place) misses the money by at least 15 spots.
2003 Dan Harrington 3 Harrington returns to final table eight years later. Scotty Nguyen 18th.
2004 Dan Harrington 4 Harrington repeats as final tablist. Chris Ferguson 26th.
2005 Greg Raymer 25 Defending champ easily outdistances Russ Hamilton (59th).
2006 Joe Hachem 238 Defending champ hangs in long after Tom McEvoy exits in 371st.
2007 Scotty Nguyen 11 Nguyen almost reaches the final table, which is far better than Seed (73rd).
2008 Phil Hellmuth 45 Hellmuth far surpasses Chan (329th).
2009 Peter Eastgate 78 Eastgate becomes the last defending champ on this list. A record six former champs cash.
2010 Johnny Chan 156 Chan outlasts Nguyen (209th) for the crown.
2011 Robert Varkonyi 514 Varkonyi is the only former champ to cash (693 paid).
2012 Johnny Chan 353 Chan exits on the same day but long after Seed (527th place).
2013 Carlos Mortensen 10 Mortensen bubbles the final table. Merson 167th and Brunson 409th.
2014 Huck Seed DNC Seed (~740th place) doesn’t cash but is the only former champ to reach Day 4.
2015 Jim Bechtel 121 Bechtel is the best of the record-tying six cashing former champs.
2016 Greg Raymer 122 Raymer takes his second crown ahead of Chan (180th).
2017 Scotty Nguyen 549 Nguyen became the 11th multiple champ, lasting far longer than Joe Cada (948th) and Carlos Mortensen (984th).

[SS] “If you only count times when the player cashed, Johnny Chan is the all-time Last Former Champ Standing leader with five titles. If you count all finishes, Johnny Moss jumps ahead with six, including twice when it wasn’t a cash (one of which he earned just by showing up). Doyle Brunson has four titles (all cashes). Phil Hellmuth has two real titles and was the last standing but out of the money twice.”

Multiple Last Champ Standing Titles

Official Titles Player Did Not Cash Titles
5 Johnny Chan 0
4 Johnny Moss 2
4 Doyle Brunson 0
2 Stu Ungar 0
2 Phil Hellmuth 2
2 Berry Johnston 0
2 Dan Harrington 0
2 Greg Raymer 0
2 Jack Keller 0
2 Mansour Matloubi 0
2 Scotty Nguyen 0
1 Huck Seed 1

Footnotes:

  1. 2014 was by far the worst showing for the former champs, with a then-record 30 former Main Event champs still living. There are currently 32 ex-champs still alive, so that dubious record can be broken this year.
  2. Players whose place is “DNC” (“did not cash”) aren’t officially recognized as “Last Champ Standing”.

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