It takes luck to win any individual tournament. If you are an amateur player, you need a lot more luck to do it. It’s fairly easy for an amateur player to win a small entry field tournament in his local casino, but most major tournaments across the world attract the best players. Not surprisingly, most winners in these tournaments turn out to be professionals, but sometimes, amateurs do make it through. Let’s take a look at ten of the biggest one-hit wonders in poker history.
10. Hal Fowler
Hal Fowler can be considered the original one-hit wonder. Working as an advertising executive, Fowler came to Vegas in 1979 and decided to take a shot at the WSOP Main Event. If not knowing much about poker wasn’t enough, Fowler was also using a lot of drugs during the Main Event.
When the final table was set, Fowler was the only amateur at a table full of pros, including Bobby Hoff, Johnny Moss and Bobby Baldwin. Despite being an enormous underdog and making crazy plays throughout the tournament, Fowler was able to get lucky each time it mattered. His streak took him all the way to heads up play, where in a fitting end, his 76 offsuit cracked Bobby Hoff’s aces, giving him the 1979 Main Event title and $270,000.
Like a true amateur gambler, Fowler lost most of his winnings in the pits soon after his win. This was the last the poker world has heard from him.
9. Saro Getzoyan
It’s unclear why Saro Getzoyan, a software engineer from Massachusetts, entered the 2007 WSOP $5,000 Limit Hold’em Event in the first place. He was definitely not planning on winning it since he had to be at work on the day of the final table.
Of course, as luck had it, Saro went on to win the whole thing, though the thought of getting back to work and explaining his absence to his boss is what really mattered to him at the time. Since his improbable win, Saro Getzoyan has yet to return to the felt to try out his luck again.
8. Alex Kahaner
Alex Kahaner entered the WPT Legends of Poker Main Event having never played in a major tournament before, so you probably couldn’t find someone to bet on him even reaching the final table.
Eventually, the construction company owner from California did manage to make the final table, despite being seriously outclassed by his competition. Kahaner eventually made it to heads up play, where he was up against Kenna James. In a hand that is one of the most widely remembered in WPT history, Kahaner called an all in preflop with JT offsuit. The stunned Kenna James was ahead with A4, but it was not meant to be, as Kahaner turned a straight, giving him the title and $1.1 million.
This remains Alex Kahaner’s only recorded tournament cash.
7. Soren Turkewitsch
Soren Turkewitsch is the hero of one of the most improbable tournament victories in poker. While working three jobs to make ends meet in 2006, Soren took a shot at a $90 satellite and won a seat to a larger satellite. The next one awarded a $10,000 seat to the WPT North American Poker Championship. Soren managed to win this satellite too, receiving his seat in the event.
Fortunately for Soren, his lucky streak rolled over from the satellites and led him all the way to first place and a $1.2 million in cash. After winning the tournament, Soren quit his jobs, but did not play tournaments again for several years. He returned to poker in 2010 with a few small cashes since, but nothing near the massive score he achieved in 2006.
6. Constant Rijkenberg
Constant Rijkenberg is a rare case of a one-hit wonder and a scam gone wrong at the same time. Rijkenberg sold pieces to the 2009 EPT San Remo, but oversold himself, which was not a careless mistake as his backers would later find out.
After he managed to oversell himself, he guaranteed himself a profit and all that was left to do was to lose the tournament, but for some reason, Rijkenberg cashed and continued to play on. Eventually he won the tournament for $1.5 million, which meant that he now owed more than that to his backers.
It was reported that Rijkenberg paid back some of his backers, but many have never received their money, which mostly confirms that overselling himself was his plan all along. Rijkenberg hasn’t recorded any significant tournament cashes since.
5. Poorya Nazari
While Poorya Nazari is a successful online pro, he can still be considered a live tournament one-hit wonder. The 2009 PCA Main Event was the biggest ever with 1,347 entrants, each putting up $10,000. After days of play, it was Nazari who came out on top, winning a cool $3 million.
Nazari continues to play online with pretty good results, including winning the Sunday 2nd Chance twice, but since his win at the PCA, he has stopped playing live tournaments completely, so that remains his only significant tournament cash.
4. Robert Varkonyi
In 2002, when the poker boom was taking off, an MIT-educated amateur named Robert Varkonyi decided to enter the WSOP Main Event to take a shot at the record $2 million first place prize.
Varkonyi never thought he would actually win, and neither did Phil Hellmuth, who was knocked out by Varkonyi on day 3 and stated that if Varkonyi would go on to win the Main Event, he would shave his head. Unfortunately for Phil, Varkonyi did go on to win it, receiving a bonus of shaving Phil’s head along with the $2 million.
While Varkonyi continues to play to this day, he has never come close to matching his Main Event win, with his second biggest result coming in 2010 when he won a $500 Deep Stack tournament at the Venetian for $65,000.
3. Jamie Gold
The prize pool of the 2006 Main Event was the largest in WSOP history. Among the 8,773 entrants was a television producer from LA – Jamie Gold. However, winning the tournament or even running deep was not his main priority. Gold had his buy-in paid for by Bodod and was there to get celebrities to play in the Main Event. To do that, he asked Crispin Leyser for help, promising him half of anything he won in the Main Event.
After Gold took down the biggest Main Event in history, he attempted to withdraw from the deal, but Leyser was having none of it and took him to court. The proceeding ended with an undisclosed agreement between the two, but the entire story did not add much to Gold’s reputation. Since then, Gold has been largely absent from the poker world and even though he continues to play tournaments, he has not managed to record any significant cashes since.
2. Jerry Yang
Jerry Yang is probably not the first amateur poker player to pray for flopped sets, but he is surely the most successful at it. It was hard to imagine that someone as ‘amateur-ish’ as Jamie Gold could ever win the WSOP Main Event again, but just a year later, Jerry Yang proved everyone wrong.
When the final table was set, Yang was obviously the biggest amateur at the table and being eighth in chips meant the needed a lot of luck to make it all the way to the end. In spite of everything, Yang’s luck was not to be denied as he quickly accumulated the chip lead and went on to win the entire thing for $8.2 million, knocking out 7 of the 8 other players at the final table.
1. Chris Moneymaker
It’s hard to imagine the poker boom starting with a professional poker player winning the WSOP Main Event. On the other hand, an accountant who qualified through several online satellites and is now holding up $2 million while Norman Chad is screaming that this is ‘beyond fairytale’ was just what poker needed.
While Chris Moneymaker may not be a complete amateur anymore and he does have a few significant tournament scores since his 2003 Main Event victory, he can still be viewed as the most important one-hit wonder in the history of poker.