Many players have been very close or even to the WSOP Main Event final table, at times virtually holding the bracelet in the palm of their hand only to make a move or a series of plays that would undo everything they had done to get to that point.
With the 2014 WSOP Main Event fast approaching, let’s look back at the top 10 most memorable meltdowns in Main Event history.
10. Dmitri Nobles’ 2006 Main Event Meltdown
On day four of the 2006 Main Event, all the cameras were focused on Dmitri Nobles who had come from nowhere and was sitting on 1.2 million chips, crushing everyone who got in his way. However, after viewers saw what happened in the next few hours, it became clear that Nobles would likely not even last through the day despite starting it as one of the chip leaders.
Nobles’ playing style was beyond loose. He was playing virtually anything and soon it became clear that he didn’t have much of a clue about what he was doing. During the course of day four, his stack fluctuated several times, going down to just a few hundred thousand chips and up to more than a million until he finally went on a steady downward spiral courtesy of genius calls like the hand starting at 6:10 in this video:
And this one:
Eventually, Nobles’ luck ran out as he once again shoved pre-flop against Ken Jacobs. Jacobs snap called him with Td Tc and was well ahead against Nobles’ As 7d. Ironically, Nobles survived an all-in with these exact same hands just a few hours earlier, hitting an ace on the flop, but this time the board brought him no help and Nobles was finally gone.
9. Scott Lazar’s 2005 Main Event Meltdown
With six players left in the 2005 Main Event, Scott Lazar wasn’t the favorite to win the tournament. In fact, he was in fifth chip position with just over six million in chips while the chip leader had 17 million. However, it was the way that Lazar parted with his remaining chips that became the topic of so many conversations nine years ago.
Lazar wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary at first. Then he folded Ah 5d to a raise and a call pre-flop which didn’t seem like much. That is, it wasn’t a big deal until he saw the board bring the remaining three aces which would have given him quads. At this point, something in Lazar snapped and his remaining chips were donked off very quickly.
Just a few hands later, Lazar opened the action pre-flop with Ks 9s and got showed on by a then short stacked Joe Hachem. Lazar snap called Hachem for almost half of his stack and was up against AsQs, saying “Gamble, gamble” as he turned over his hand. The board did not bring Lazar any help and he became the short stack. Soon after that, a similar situation occurred when Lazar opened QsTd and got showed on by Andy Black. Just like the first hand, Lazar made a snap call and was up against Js Jc. The board did not comply with his willingness to gamble again and, just like that, Scott Lazar was out in 6th place.
8. Andy Black’s 2005 Main Event Meltdown
After Scott Lazar blew up with six players left in the 2005 Main Event, the next meltdown occurred sooner than anyone would have expected. With five players remaining, Andy Black held almost a third of the chips in play and was definitely one of the top contenders for the bracelet. All was going well for Black until he made a move that cost him half of his stack.
Black opened the action to 550,000. The camera glimpsed the Ah in his hand, but his other card remained unseen. Aaron Kanter woke up with Ks Kc behind him and re-raised to 1.5 million. Black made the call. The flop virtually sealed the hand for Kanter as 5h 3s Kd rolled out, prompting him to bet one million into Black. Surprisingly, Black came over the top with a raise and Kanter smooth called his top set. The turn brought a 3h which completed Kanter’s boat and both players checked. The 8c did not change anything on the river and Kanter bet another 2 million. Black called and mucked his hand upon seeing Kanter’s boat, costing him almost half of his chips. The way Black played his hand, the most likely hands that he might have been holding are AK, A8 or A5. The way the hand was played, it’s hard to imagine him holding aces. Either way, he played the hand very poorly.
However, unlike other meltdown sufferers on this list, Black did not get the rest of his stack in later as an underdog. In fact, he got most of it in good against Steve Dannenman, but Steve sucked out on the river leaving Black in very bad shape. A few hands later, Steve finished off Black by winning a coin flip against him for his tournament life. While Black may have played well in his last hand, the Ah X hand surely came back to haunt him as he had way less chips to work with after losing that huge pot.
7. Joseph Cheong’s 2010 Main Event Meltdown
One of the best examples of overplaying a hand came in the 2010 Main Event when Joseph Cheong was the chip leader with three players remaining and holding 43% of the chips in play. The eventual winner, Jonathan Duhamel, was just a few million short of him, holding 40% of the chips. You would think that these two would take it easy until John Racener, who was in 3rd place with far fewer chips was eliminated, but Cheong thought that he could bully Duhamel and take a commanding lead in the tournament. Unfortunately, everything went horribly wrong for him in a single hand.
Action started off with Cheong raising As 7h from the small blind. Duhamel woke up with Qd Qc in the big blind and put in a 3-bet. Cheong was not going anywhere and put in a substantial 4-bet. Obviously, Duhamel was not going anywhere either, especially holding queens in a three-handed game. He opted for a small sized 5-bet and Cheong just couldn’t help himself and went all-in at the worst possible time. Duhamel quickly called and Cheong instantly realized the gravity of his mistake. The board did not bring him any help, he was down to just five big blinds and, soon after, was eliminated in third place.
6. John Shipley’s 2002 Main Event Meltdown
Englishman, John Shipley, arrived at the final table of the 2002 Main Event final table holding half the chips in play and looked like a promising contender to take down the tournament or at least reach the top three. His night went south, however, when he couldn’t catch a break early on as a few short stacks doubled up through him. And then came the really big blow delivered by Robert Varkonyi.
Vakronyi was probably the tightest player at the table when he opened the action to 60,000. Shipley, sitting to his immediate left, re-raised to 150,000 and Varkonyi moved all-in for 750,000. For reasons unknown to anyone but him, Shipley called him off with As Jd. Varkonyi had Js Jc which is probably the worst hand he could have had there. The jacks held though and Shipley was sitting on a short stack as a result.
As it happened many times before, the player who dealt the biggest blow to the victim of a meltdown also took him out. This time it also happened pretty quickly afterward when Varkonyi opened for 50,000 with Ah Tc and Shipley shoved his last 300,000 with 7c 7s. Varkonyi called off the former chip leader and sent him packing in seventh place with an ace on the turn.
5. Phil Ivey’s 2005 Main Event Meltdown
The 2005 Main Event was the year of the meltdowns and one of the most spectacular, though not much talked about, belongs to none other than the greatest player in the world himself, Phil Ivey.
Ivey finished 23rd in the 2002 Main Event, became the final table bubble boy in the famous 2003 Main Event in which he finished 10th and was sitting on the second biggest stack with 24 players left two years later, looking good to finally win the event that, frankly, no one deserves to win more than he does.
At that point, however, Ivey’s luck turned as he was trying to assert himself as the table bully. After multiple failed plays where he got shoved on after 3-bets and 4-bets and had to lay down hand after hand, Ivey, unlike many players, realized that he should just ride it out for a while, especially since he had a big stack.
Unfortunately, the cold streak lasted for a while and Ivey was just sitting there getting blinded out until he finally got Jd Js. This, however, was to be his last hand as he finally took a stand and ran into the Ks Kc of Kanter. Kanter was one of the few players at the table who had Ivey covered. You can see Ivey’s final hand starting at the 6:40 mark of this video.
Having come so close three times in the Main Event, Ivey is still one of the most successful players in the world and we can be sure that one day we will see him finally reach that elusive Main Event final table and probably even win it all.
4. Scotty Nguyen’s 2007 Main Event Meltdown
With just a few players to go until the final table, Scotty Nguyen was sitting on more than 10 million in chips and glowing with confidence. It seemed that nothing could stop him from making the final table. However, Scotty’s most fierce opponent, just like many times before and after this tournament, was Scotty himself.
With two tables left, Scotty started playing a super aggressive style, getting involved in way more than his fair share of hands. This eventually led to him get involved in a huge pot with Danish pro, Phillip Hilm. Scotty opened the action from the small blind with Ah Qd and was called by Hilm from the big blind holding 5s 5c. The flop was Qc 5d 6h which was terrible for Scotty. Surely a pro of his caliber would be able to at least minimize his losses even in this situation, right? Wrong! Scotty led the flop and Hilm just called. The turn was the Kd which in theory should have helped Scotty get away from the hand, but he decided to check-raise Hilm all-in on the turn which cost him a total of 8 million chips.
Soon after that, Hilm delivered Scotty the knockout punch when he opened pre-flop with KsQc and got called by Scotty in the big blind with Tc9c. Hilm flopped top pair and Scotty flopped a flush draw. At this point, there was no reason to think Scotty was ever getting away from this flop…and he didn’t. Both players got it in on the flop and Scotty came up short, leaving the Main Event in 11th place.
3. Anton Morgenstern’s 2013 Main Event Meltdown
One of the most recent Main Event meltdowns happened last year courtesy of German pro, Anton Morgenstern. Prior to the Main Event, Anton had a small resume of cashes in WSOP events and on the European circuit, but nothing really outstanding.
With 24 players left in the Main Event, Anton amassed more than 30 million chips and was comfortably leading the field to the final table. Thirty million chips would have been quite a significant stack even at the final table, but Anton was stuck in high gear and it cost him dearly.
Anton made a series of overly aggressive moves like 5-bet-folding 87 pre-flop. He later lost a few coin flips, taking serious blows to his stack from all sides. When Anton was down to 15 million chips, he got extremely unlucky against Mark Newhouse who held 10 million chips at that point. Anton opened the action to 325,000 and got called by Newhouse on the button. Anton bet 425,000 on a 2s As Ah flop and Newhouse just called. The turn was the 3h and things got nasty fast. After a series of raises and re-raises, both players went all-in with Morgenstern holding Ac Jc. However, he was stunned to see that Newhouse had flopped a boat with 2h 2d and had him drawing to 7 outs. The river did not bring any help and Anton was down to just 5 million chips.
Anton later went on to lose half of his remaining chip stack to Fabian Ortiz on a bad bluff and eventually ended up shoving Ad Js pre-flop on the next hand. Unfortunately, Ortiz woke up with aces and Morgenstern was out in 20th place, completing another one of the biggest meltdowns in Main Event history.
2. Billy Kopp’s 2009 Main Event Meltdown
With 12 players left at the 2009 Main Event, Billy Kopp was sitting with 22 million chips which gave him one of the biggest stacks. With 80 big blinds, it was hard to imagine Kopp not reaching the final table, but he found a stunning way to do just that by losing it all in a single hand against amateur, Darwin Moon, who was running over everyone up until that point.
Kopp opened the action for 600,000 from early position and was called by Darvin Moon in the small blind. On a flop of Kd 9d 2d, Moon checked, Kopp bet 750,000 and Moon called. The turn brought the 2h, pairing the board. Moon checked again and Kopp fired another 2 million. Moon proceeded to check-raise Kopp to 6 million. Kopp thought about this for a while and eventually moved all-in for 16 million chips. Moon didn’t look too comfortable with his hand but called anyway and turned over Qd Jd for the second nut flush. Kopp was stunned as he turned over 5d 3d for a smaller flopped flush.
It seemed like there were so many ways Kopp could have avoided his elimination, beginning with not being involved in a hand with 5d 3d in the first place and ending with the horrible jam on the turn. Considering the size of the stacks, this was a major blunder on his part which cost him a seat at the Main Event final table and left Darwin Moon with a massive chip lead that he would take all the way to heads-up at the final table where he would fall short to Joe Cada.
1. Philip Hilm’s 2007 Main Event Meltdown
Scotty Nguyen’s meltdown wasn’t the last one the 2007 Main Event would see. Even more unexpectedly, the other one came from the man who dealt Scotty his blows, Philip Hilm. After eliminating Scotty, Hilm came to the final table as the chip leader with over 20 million chips. Perhaps no one could have predicted that he would be the first one to leave the final table. Hilm’s elimination came at the courtesy of Jerry Yang, the eventual winner of the 2007 Main Event, and was simply bizarre for a tournament of this caliber.
Hilm’s first blow came when Jerry opened the action pre-flop with 8h 8c to 10x’s the pot and Hilm called with Kh Qs. It seemed like the 8s Td Ah flop would allow Hilm to easily get away from the hand, especially when Yang bet another 3 million, but for some reason Hilm called. The turn brought the 3d and Yang moved all-in, probably saving Hilm some chips by cutting him off from any more reckless moves.
That didn’t stop Hilm for long, though, as soon after he got involved in another hand with Yang where he opened the action to 1 million with AdKs and Hilm called with 8d5d. Hilm’s odds looked pretty good on the flop when it came Kd Jd 5c, but at this point he treaded lightly, just calling a 2 million chip bet from Yang. The turn was the 2h which brought no help to anyone and Yang bet another 4 million. Hilm picked the worst time and the worst opponent to bluff against, but did it anyway, moving all-in for 16 million chips. Yang called him and the 6c on the river was the end of Phillip Hilm.