Luxe Life Blog
Grudge Matches relive poker history for the ‘what if’ WSOP legends
What if Chris Moneymaker hadn’t won $2.5 million in his first World Series of Poker tournament? What if his high-stakes rival Sammy Farha had beaten him in the final table of two? That was in 2003. What if unstoppable Johnny Chan in 1989 had pulled off a three-peat at the WSOP to cement his legacy instead of falling to the then-youngest-ever Main Event champion Phil Hellmuth Jr.?
Starting today, we might learn the answers to those questions in a battle that marks the first week of the 2011 WSOP, which began Tuesday at the Rio. Although ESPN is covering all the matches, today’s Grudge Matches will be streamed live (on a 5-minute delay, no hole cards) from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. on ESPN.com, with action reports on @ESPN_Poker on Twitter.
The inaugural WSOP Grudge Matches will relive history by bringing players from past WSOP Main Events together to replay some of the most famous heads-up duels in the event’s 42-year history. Lon McEachern and David Tuchman will split play-by-play duties with a rotation of analysts, and ESPN will televise a 2-hour special, with back-to-back episodes July 26 consisting of all three rematches.
The telecast will include footage from the original matchups and interviews with the participants discussing their original matches. The regular weekend warriors of the 42nd annual WSOP resume play tomorrow in the $25,000 Heads-Up No Limit Hold’em Championship on ESPN.
Go back to 2003 for a moment. Hall of Fame poker star Henry Orenstein invented the hole-card camera for the first time, and it gave fans the opportunity to see poker and play the game in a new way on television and online. Poker exploded, and since then attendance has grown ten-fold -- and the astronomical first-place prize nears $10-million, one of the richest in the sports world.
That 33rd annual WSOP event brought in an influx of fresh players who wanted to experience live tournament poker for the first time. Thanks to winning his $10,000 entry fee after qualifying for $39 on his home computer, Chris Moneymaker, a 27-year-old Tennessee accountant, competed with a then record 838 other players to chase first place and a gold bracelet. He busted out Phil Ivey to make the final table to take on Sammy Farha.
It was a fairy-tale story for everybody except Sammy! Today, the men face each other again for the first time in eight years to see if it’s a different outcome. They commence play with the same starting chips -- Chris with 5,490,0000 and Sammy with 2,900,000. Those stacks will be reversed in a second match, and if there’s a necessary third match, they will play with even starting stacks.
Johnny and Phil’s rematch will be a one-time re-creation of the 1989 Main Event with the players starting with even stacks. Fans voted via Facebook to decide the third Grudge matchup between Johnny again and Erik Seidel, who met in the 1988 Main Event. They also start with even stacks for the one-match, fan-choice game.
It all proves that some moments are worth reliving. Some moments deserve a redux. Some moments are so indelibly affixed to the consciousness of every poker player that many wonder what would happen if the match were to be replayed. What if?
Said Chris: “It was a life-altering moment when I won. Even though I’ve agreed to rerun it again against Sammy, I have been assured they won’t take away my title!”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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