The biggest names in sport do not just occur over night; they develop legacies and build their history over a number of years. You can get a flash in the pan which burns brightly and the fades away and these should be remembered but when it comes to being regarded as a true leader in any sport or activity, it takes a sense of history. This is what separates legends from pretenders.
The World Poker Tour may only date back to 2002 but in that time it has managed to pack a lot in with some of the most exciting games in poker coming under its auspices. Each poker game tells its own story but when you combine these stories together, you start to piece together a history that is worth talking about. This is exactly what the World Poker Tour has managed to do so far and one of the best things about this situation is that the story has only just begun and there are likely to be many more years of success to come with the World Poker Tour. However, like all good stories, let’s begin at the beginning…
WPT Season 1
The World Poker Tour got off to an exciting start in the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas with the Five Diamond World Poker Classic. The event ran from the 27th of May 2002 to June 1, 2002 and the total prize pool was $1,416,200. With 146 entrants and 18 payouts in total, Gus Hansen was the first notable winner on the World Poker Tour taking home $556,460 from the final table. The first ever winning hand at the final table for a World Poker Tour event was K-K.
The first tournament in the World Poker Tour was deemed to be a huge success and set the tone for an exciting first season. All in all, including the WPT Championship, there were 11 events, including one played out in Paris, in the auspicious Aviation Club de France.
The tour returned to the Bellagio for the WPT Championship when the dates of April 14 to 18 2003 brought Season 1 of the WPT to an end. Over $2.5m was included in the prize pool for the event and the big winner of the championship was Alan Goehring who won $1,011,886.
WPT Season 2
Season 2 kicked off in France, returning to the Aviation Club de France, with the Grand Prix de Paris taking place between 10th and 13 July 2003. There were a total of 96 entrants and with 9 payouts, David Benyamine was the big winner at the final table with $410,886.
The tour then travelled through Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Aruba, Connecticut, Las Vegas, Tunica, Las Vega, San Jose, Reno before returning to the Bellagio for the second WPT Championship. There were 343 entries for this event with 50 payouts in total for participants. The prize pool of $8,342,000 was not the biggest of the season (the opening event of the season managed to top it) but it did dwarf the vast majority of prize pools that were contested over the second season of the WPT.
Martin De Knijff was triumphant at the final table, taking home $2,728,356, which was a record breaking sum of the time. The prize was indicative of the growing strength and popularity of the WPT at this point and De Knijff, who goes by the nickname of The Knife and hails from Stockholm, was a major celebrity on the poker scene at the time. There was a growing interest in poker and the big winners were being feted and looked out for. Poker was getting bigger and the big stars were becoming big names.
WPT Season 3
Just like Season 2, Season 3 kicked off in the Aviation Club de Paris with 205 players being involved in the season opener, the Grand Prix de Paris. The prize pool for the opening event of the season was just short of $2m and the final table winner was Surinder Sunar who walked away with $828,956 after overcoming Tony G. This prize was the third lowest prize for the final table winner in all of the events in Season 3, with the vast majority of winners winning at least $1,000,000.
April 18th to 24th was the date for the WPT Championship, again played out in the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The event enticed over 450 players to get involved and with 100 payouts, a lot of players went home happy and with something for their troubles. However, none were happier than Tuan Le, who on the final table played a K-J winning hand to defeat Paul Maxfield. Tuan Le won $2,856,150 for triumphing in the final table of Season 3, his second major win at a WPT event.
WPT Season 4
Season 4 returned to starting off in America, although the second event of the season was held in Paris. The opening event, the Mirage Poker Showdown was held from May 23rd to 26th 2005 and had over 300 entrants at The Mirage Casino in Las Vegas. A Q-Q winning hand was enough to ensure that Gavin Smith was the winner at the final table, walking away with $1,153,778.
Excluding the WPT Championship, there were three events where the final table winner won over $2m, which again indicated the growth in success and popularity of the World Poker Tour. The number of entrants was increasing and the prize pool was growing accordingly. Nick Schulman, Rehne Pedersen and Alan Goehring all won over $2m at events but it was the WPT Championship winner, Joe Bartholdi, who claimed the biggest individual prize of the season. $3,760,165 was the winners’ cheque for the final table on April 24 2005 and a winning hand of 9-5 was enough to secure it. It wasn’t the best winning hand in the history of the WPT but Bartholdi wasn’t complaining as he triumphed over Davidson Matthew.
WPT Season 5
The Mirage in Las Vegas was once again the setting for the Season 5 opener and as the event kicked off on May 14th, less than a month after the previous season had ended, it was hard to deny that the WPT was amongst the top gaming draws in the world. Just fewer than 4000 entrants were battling out for a share of the $3,724,800 prize pool and the final table game was hotly contested.
Stanley Weiss held his nerve with a K-5 and triumphed to take $1,320,255 on the 17th of May 2005.
As well as the traditional Paris event, there were two events in Canada, the Canadian Open Championship and the North American Poker Championship, which further emphasised the international nature of the event. Some people had been critical of a World Poker Tour which only really ventured to Paris and back but there were signs that the WPT were looking to take poker tournaments and events all around the world.
Carlos Mortensen was the big winner in Season 5, triumphing at the final table of the WPT Championship. A hand of K-J (both hearts) enabled Mortensen to win $3,970,415 on April 17th at the Bellagio. What was notable about the final table of this season was the top three players all took away over $1m.
Runner up Kirk Morrison pocketed $2,011,135 and third placed finalist Paul Lee was rewarded with $1,082,920. The cheque handed to Paul Lee for finishing third was larger than the cheque presented to season 1 winner Alan Goehring. You didn’t have to look far to find indicators of growth and success in the WPT but this was a clear one.
WPT Season 6
May 19th at The Mirage in Las Vegas was the setting for the opening day of the 6th season of the WPT and even though there was barely more than a month since the final table of Season 5, no one was complaining. The climax to the end of Season 5 had been thrilling and there was a desire to see what would unfold in the new season. The first three events of the season were all held in Las Vegas, reducing the need for travelling and emphasising what was the true home of casinos around the world!
Jonathan Little was the victor over 309 entrants at the Mirage Poker Showdown where his winning hands of A-2 (both spades) was enough to earn him just over $1m.
A new name was added to the World Poker Tour with the Spanish Championship being held in Barcelona in October 2007. This probably pleased the previous season’s big winner Carlos Mortensen a great deal although the Madrid resident may have preferred his city to be the setting for the Spanish Championship as opposed to the heart of Catalonia. Either way, Barcelona provided a perfect backdrop for poker and was a welcome addition to the WPT events.
The season climaxed on the 26th of April 2008 in its traditional way, with the final table of the WPT Championship being played out to much excitement. David Chiu overcame 545 entrants to claim the top prize of $3,389,140 when he defeated Gus Hansen. The prize pool for the Season 6 main event wasn’t as grand as it had been the year before but there were no complaints from Chiu in scooping the grand prize.
WPT Season 7
The 7th season of the WPT kicked off in Barcelona, returning to Catalonia for the second time on 23rd May 2008. The switch to Spain saw the opening day figures down a little on previous opening events but there were still over 250 entrants competing for a prize pool of $1,993,702. A large proportion of this was claimed by Casper Hansen who netted $662,592 with his final table triumph over Stefan Mattson.
Season 7 was a quieter affair than in previous years but Yevgeniy Timoshenko still managed to pick up $2,143,655 from the final table at the WPT Championship. The 25th of April 2009 was the date when Timoshenko bested Ran Azor, who also picked up over $1m for his efforts in the tournament. Only two events in the entire season saw winners of the final table win less than $1m for their efforts.
WPT Season 8
There was another change of venue for the start of the 8th season of WPT and this time, there were two European tour dates to get things started. The season kicked off on the 6th of May 2009 in Venice with the WPT Venice event and then continued with the WPT Spanish Championship, again held in Barcelona. The prize pool for the two European events was notably lower than many of the American equivalent but it still highlighted a growing movement of the game into European territories.
The 8th season of the WPT was the first really international tournament because in addition to the Italian and Spanish legs of the tour, there were tournaments in Slovakia, Cyprus and Morocco, in addition to the traditional American events. Given the name, it was good to see the World Poker Tour becoming just that, a poker tour that travelled the world.
The WPT Championship was held between April 17th and 24th in its usual home of Nevada and David Williams triumphed in the final table. His prize of $1,530,537 was notably lower than it had been in recent years but the prestige of winning the event was just as exciting and important for Williams.
With the 9th season of WPT action returning to Paris for its opening event, the global nature of the tour continues to spread. The main focus for poker events will always fall on the United States and that is important to identify but with online gaming becoming so important, poker players are emerging from everywhere and it is good that events go around the world and give people the chance to see events and players close up.
The history of the WPT continues to write itself into the record books and there are surely many more great names and triumphs to record in the years to come.
WPT Season 9
The 9th season of the WPT Championship kicked off back in May of 2010 in Paris where Theo Jorgensson of Denmark was the winner in the season opener.
There were a number of major events in the 9th WPT season with the L.A. Poker classic being a notable event. This took place between February 25th and March 3rd with a total prize pool of over $6.5m, a phenomenal amount of money being up for grabs. There were a total of 64 prize payouts in total for the event with the biggest winner walking away with over $1.6m!
Gregory Brooks has been a big winner
The lucky poker player in Los Angeles was Gregory Brooks who managed to collect $1,654,120 in total, making him the biggest winner of any individual event this season. Vivek Rajkumar in second place took home just less than $1m, with a total prize of $908,730.This is a great amount of money by any standards but as you would expect, it paled into comparison by the time the final few events of the season took place. Brooks was the first of four players who took home over $1m for one event in the 9th WPT Season.
Following Brooks was Alan Sternberg, who picked up $1,039,000 at the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star event in San Jose in March 2011. Taylor von Kriegenbergh was the third player to scoop over $1m in a single event when he grabbed $1,122,340 at the penultimate event of the season, the Seminole Hard Rock Showdown. This was the perfect build up to the WPT World Championship, which took place once again at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There was over $5m in the prize pool but the last two men standing took over half this amount between them. Scott Seiver took his career winnings to over $4.5m with a cheque for $1,618,344, the prize for being the best of the best. The pain of coming second was diminished for Farzad Bonyadi with the fact that he walked away from the table with $1,061,900 for his efforts.