Very occasionally a group of poker players will assemble to compete without any money on the line. At such events you’ll usually find a serious amount of prestige on offer, and so it was for the recently completed World Series of Poker Champion’s Invitational. Twenty former winners of the WSOP Main Event convened to battle it out for some substantial bragging rights. This event is just one of a number created especially to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the WSOP.
Also on offer for the victor was the newly created Binion Cup, designed to commemorate the founder of the World Series – Benny Binion. The winner would not completely miss out on material gains, a full restored 1970 Corvette Stingray would also be gifted to the champion’s champion.
Taking their seats at the tables were: Peter Eastgate, Jerry Yang, Jamie Gold, Joe Hachem, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Robert Varkonyi, Carlos Mortensen, Chris Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen, Huck Seed, Dan Harrington, Jim Bechtel, Brad Daugherty, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Berry Johnston, Tom McEvoy, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim.
The first person ejected from this prestigious event was the recipient of the main event’s largest prize. Jamie Gold was booted out by Carlos Mortensen in the early stages. Poker boom icon Chris Moneymaker followed shortly after, with 2007 champ Jerry Yang not far behind him.
Last year’s victor Peter Eastgate was faring a little better, eliminating the oldest surviving main event winner Amarillo Slim after his Q-Q held up against the old-hand’s A-9 suited. Greg Raymer was too busy fighting it out in the final three of the $40,000 event to take his seat in the Champion’s Invitational, but he did return just in time to dump his few remaining chips to Carlos Mortensen.
Tom McEvoy then made short work of the “Poker Prince” Scotty Nguyen, pocket Jacks ahead of pocket tens. 2000 champion Chris Ferguson then bowed out after running into Mortensen’s pocket Aces. Carlos’ late run gave him in the chip lead heading into Day 2.
Winning the 1989 main event and holding a record 11 bracelets was not enough to keep Phil Hellmuth’s tiny stack alive after play resumed on Day 2. Phil’s elimination was followed by Eastgate’s exit, after the Dane unwisely fired some aggressive bets at Dan Harrington’s A-A. Two time main event winner and poker legend Doyle Brunson was next to leave the final table, at the hands of 1983 victor Tom McEvoy.
Carlos Mortensen had entered the day with the chip lead, and despite taking some early hits, roared back with a vengeance midway through the final table. First he tangled with Berry Johnston, sending him home in 7th place before dumping 2009 NBC Heads-Up Poker Champion Huck Seed out of the event. His run, however, could not continue forever and he was eventually caught out by Jim Betchel. On a flop of A-3-4 the pair moved all in, with Mortensen’s A-Q in trouble against Betchel’s 3-3. No cards arrived to save the 2001 champ and he was out in 5th.
Betchel followed shortly after, with McEvoy hitting that all important Ace to put his A-K ahead of his opponent’s K-K. McEvoy put himself firmly into the chip lead by knocking out double bracelet holder Dan Harrington in 3rd.
McEvoy began heads up play against Robert Varkonyi with a 2-1 chip lead, but aggressive play from the 2002 champ restored the chip stacks to almost even. The final hand came when, on a board of 7c-5s-8c-6c, Varkonyi pushed all in with a Jd-5c middle pair straight flush draw. McEvoy could not believe his luck, insta-calling and flipping up 10c-9d for the nut straight, leaving Varkonyi drawing to one out which did not come.
Tom McEvoy was notably delighted with his victory. The presentation was made by Jack Binion, son of the late Benny, with McEvoy quipping that “this is the first time he’s handed me a trophy instead of money.” He later revealed that he had gone all out to win the event in an effort to restore his credibility. McEvoy won the last of his 4 bracelets in 1992 and commented that he was determined “to prove to myself that I could still do it.” His triumph against such an elite field certainly confirms his status as a worthy World Series of Poker Champion.