A History of the WPT Championship

Alan Goehring

When the World Poker Tour launched the WPT Championship with a $25,000 buy-in the poker world was shocked. The buy-in was steep. Since then, the poker world has grown and high-roller events are the norm, but the first 10 years of the WPT Championship have produced some of the most memorable moments in poker.

As poker’s best get ready to go back to the Bellagio for Season XI’s WPT Championship, we look back at the history of the most prestigious World Poker Tour event.

Season I

Entrants: 111
Prize Pool: $2,691,750
Winner: Alan Goehring for $1,011,886

The inaugural season of the World Poker Tour saw the tour host 11 events beginning and ending at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The season-ending tournament saw an unfathomable (for the time) price tag of $25,000 and still managed to pull in more than 100 players in the pre-Moneymaker era.

The $25,000 WPT Championship Main Event saw Alan Goehring take home $1,011,886 for his first-place finish in the event. He outlasted Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Ted Forrest and Chau Giang alone at the final table.

Goehring defeated Kirill Gerasimov heads up after a heads-up battle that swung back and forth but ultimately saw Goehring’s rivered full house best Gerasimov’s turned straight. Brunson and Forrest were eliminated on the same hand with Brunson earning the higher place with a larger chip count before the hand.

The modern era of tournament payouts had not yet taken hold and the event attracted 111 players and paid out 28 places — with no one turning a profit until Martin De Knijff finished in 15th place for $26,664. Thirteen players cashed in the event with Casey Kastle and Steve Zolotow splitting $15,999 for a min-cash.

Goehring was no stranger to success in big-time events finishing runner-up to Noel Furlong in the 1999 WSOP Main Event. He has 13 WPT cashes to his credit and amassed $5,135,133 in career tournament earnings.

Season II

Entrants: 343
Prize Pool: $8,342,000
Winner: Martin De Knijff for $2,728,356

The second incarnation of the highlight event saw the entrants more than triple when 343 players turned up to play. The prize pool swelled to more than $8.3 million as the tour was riding the wave of the Moneymaker boom.  When the dust settled Martin De Knijff claimed the title along with $2,728,356 — which was larger than the entire prize pool for the 2003 affair. He battled against Hasan Habib with both players scoring seven-figure cashes.

De Knijff finished in the last two tables in 2003 affair and was tasked with defeating Matt Matros, Steve Brecher and T.J. Cloutier at the final table. The WPT saw a chance to improve upon its payout structure with a min-cash worth $33,266 and paid out the top 50 finishers.

Season III

Entrants: 452
Prize Pool: $10,961,000
Winner: Tuan Le for $2,856,150

The 2004 World Poker Tour continued its astronomical growth and by the time its Championship rolled around, the 452 players forked over the hefty entrance fee. One of the few not to do that was Tuan Le. Le qualified for his seat after winning the 2004 World Poker Finals Main Event for his first seven-figure score.

His momentum carried over six months later when Le defeated another loaded final table that featured the previous runner-up Habib finishing in third with John Phan, Phil Ivey and Chris Ferguson all making the final table. Le walked away with $4,405,738 on the season courtesy of the World Poker Tour which accounts for the bulk is career earnings.

Season IV

Entrants: 606
Prize Pool: $14,642,680
Winner: Joe Bartholdi for $3,760,165

The upward growth of the World Poker Tour was on display again in 2006 when 606 players turned out to play the event. The prize pool swelled to more than $14 million and paid out the top 100 players with a min-cash worth $43,935. Collecting the largest payout was Joe Bartholdi with $3,760,165 after he defeated David Matthew for the title.

The final table was made for TV with Matthew winning his way into the tournament through a $25 online satellite and parlayed that investment to just under $2 million. James Van Alstyne entered the final table with the chip lead but was forced to settle for a fifth-place finish after seeing too many flops and folding.

The newest crop of TV stars emerging for poker at the time were on hand and made deep runs for some serious TV time; including: Roland De Wolfe, Vanessa Rousso, Paul Wasicka and Patrick Antonius. De Wolfe’s third-place finish netted him a million dollar payday and remains his largest cash to date.

Season V

Entrants: 639
Prize Pool: $15,495,750
Winner: Carlos Mortensen for $3,970,415

By the time the WPT Championship rolled around in 2007, the poker economy appeared to be at its absolute peak. A jaw-dropping 639 players turned out for the event pushing the prize pool to $15,495,750 — the largest sum ever outside the World Series of Poker at the time and still qualifies as the 12th largest in history. The top three places alone paid out more than $7 million and a spot at the six-handed TV final table was worth $300,000 at the minimum.

Taking home the lion’s share of the prize pool was 2001 WSOP Main Event Champion Carlos Mortensen. The Matador squared off against Tommy Vu, Scott Fischman and one of the biggest whales poker had ever seen in Guy Laliberte. Ultimately, Mortensen faced off against Kirk Morrison for the title after Morrison returned from a self-imposed exile from poker.

Season VI

Entrants: 545
Prize Pool: $13,216,249
Winner: David Chiu for $3,389,140

The 2008 affair saw the numbers dip slightly but 545 entrants creating a $13,216,249 prize pool was nothing to be disappointed about. David Chiu walked away with the title and bragging rights after he defeated fan favorite Gus Hansen heads up for the title.

Chiu began the final table in the middle of the pack third in chips with just more than 6,000,000 with Hansen leading the final table with more than 8.5 million.

Though more than $5 million was awarded to Chiu and Hansen, some of poker’s breakthrough stars made deep runs in the event including Tom Dwan, Kenny Tran, Bryan Devonshire and Steve Billirakis.

Though Dwan had made untold millions online, this event was only his sixth live cash. He burst onto the live tournament scene just six months prior at the World Poker Finals at the Foxwoods where he finished fourth for $324,244. The late Amir Vahedi made his last final table appearance of his career with his seventh-place finish.

Season VII

Entrants: 338
Prize Pool: $8,196,500
Winner: Yevgeniy Timoshenko for $2,149,960

The seventh season of the World Poker Tour would unknowingly introduce some of world’s best and brightest players on their biggest stage. The number of entrants slid a little more this year with 338 players combining to build an $8,196,500 prize pool. Yevgeniy Timoshenko defeated Ran Azor in one of the longest heads-up matches for a title in WPT history.

The final table took 63 hands to whittle down to the heads up match and Timoshenko and Azor played 81 hands by themselves. Timoshenko earned his largest tournament cash to date after pocketing $2,149,906 for the win and was the second youngest WPT champ at the time — second to Nick Schulman by a couple months.

Christian Harder and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier were eliminated on the same hand the eccentric Frenchman collecting third place over Harder’s fourth place. Shannon Shorr, Brian Rast, Justin Young and Eugene Katchalov rounded out the final table with the third WSOP Main Event champ to final table the event was Scotty Nguyen with his sixth-place finish.

Season VIII

Entrants: 195
Prize Pool: $4,727,859
Winner: David Williams for $1,530,537

For the first time the prize pool slipped to under $5 million mark since the inaugural event. The event still attracted 195 of the best players in the world and David Williams would walk away as the winner with $1,530,537 to pad his pockets.

Williams finally shed the reputation as being snake-bit at major final tables. He had three prior final tables at WPT events and famously finished runner-up to Greg Raymer at the 2004 WSOP Main Event. While Williams is considered one of the world’s best players now, the WPT Championship was a crowning moment in his career and shortly after ascended to a PokerStars Team Pro.

The final table served as new guard vs. old guard standoff as Williams, Eric Baldwin and Shawn Buchanan finished in the top three while David Benyamine, Billy Baxter, Phil Hellmuth and Scotty Nguyen rounded out the final table.

Season IX

Entrants: 220
Prize Pool: $5,335,000
Winner: Scott Seiver for $1,618,344

Though the poker world suffered its largest blow since the UIGEA, the Championship event saw its numbers actually go up in the immediate after Black Friday. An even 220 contestants showed up to play and pushed the prize pool back over the $5,000,000 mark.

Scott Seiver walked away the winner for $1,618,344 after holding off Shannon Shorr and Justin Young, who were at the final table for a second time. Seiver beat runner-up Farzad “Freddy” Bonyadi and third-place Galen Hall. When heads-up play began, Seiver had a three-to-one chip lead over Bonyadi and held the advantage for most of the 41 hands they played. Bonyadi doubled up once but Seiver held his patience and finished off Bonyadi holding [Js] [9d] for a straight when Bonyadi turned two pair.

Seiver had already put together an accomplished list of results; winning his WSOP bracelet in 2008, winning his first WPT title at the 2009 Five Diamond World Poker Classic and a 2010 LAPC High Roller event.

Season X

Entrants: 152
Prize Pool: $3,686,000
Winner: Marvin Rettenmaier

Black Friday’s reach extended deep into the Season X WPT Championship with the lowest turnout since the first year it was held. The Bellagio hosted 152 players which culminated in a $3,686,000 prize pool to pay the final 18 tables. The last player standing was Marvin Rettenmaier after defeating Philippe Ktorza for the seven-figure payday.

The “Mad “ German owned all that was poker in 2012 including winning the WPT’s highlight event and winning the 2012 BLUFF Player of the Year crown in the closing days of the year. Rettenmaier was joined at the final table by Michael Mizrachi, Nick Schulman, Stephen O’Dwyer and Trevor Pope for one of the most exciting WPT Championship final table broadcasts.

Rettenmaier defended his WPT Championship title by becoming the first back-to-back WPT champion when he won the WPT Cyprus Classic. Those two wins alone accounted for nearly 40 percent of Rettenmaier’s Player of Year points total.

May 2013