Upsets are bound to happen in the world of professional sports, and often do. In fact, many argue that it is the unexpected results that keep professional games interesting and entertaining. After all, what is more enthralling than seeing an underdog come out on top, against all odds, crushing a far more likely to win opponent in the process?
Professional poker is no different, and there have been a number of cases where an unexpected result has slapped everyone in the face. The only real difference between poker and other spectator activities is that in poker, when an upset occurs it generally means that the losing party is having to watch millions slip through their fingers.
Here are some of the most memorable upsets that have occurred in the world of professional poker playing.
Hal Fowler – 1979
Today poker is a much broader, and more commonly played game, thanks to the recent surge in online poker popularity. But, back in 1979 poker was seen as a far more elite and specialised game. That’s why when Hal Fowler, an unknown amateur, entered into the World Series of Poker, no one really expected him to go very far.
Little did anyone know that Hal was on fire, and blazed his way through professional game after professional game, cleaning up as he went. When it finally came down to the finals, and he was set to face off against a table of poker legends, most assumed his luck had finally run out.
But that wasn’t the case. Hal Fowler won the World Series of Poker, and is still remembered as the amateur who blew a raspberry in the faces of much more experienced players. It just goes to show; in a game like poker, nothing is certain.
Vera Richmond – 1982
Vera Richmond was a name that many choose to forget, even after she won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1982. The lady was a controversial figure in her time, mostly because she was one of very few women that played poker on a professional level. The game had largely been a “boys only” club at the time, and so her presence on the poker scene ruffled many feathers.
Upon Vera finally winning a World Series of Poker bracelet, many were forced to admit that she was a poker great, and many hated having to do so. As such, many ignored her incredible victory, and some even chose to pretend it never happened. Regardless; Vera had the last laugh, and is still seen as one of pokers greatest players.
Robert Varkonyi – 2002
Robert Varkonyi is well known the professional poker world, but strangely not because he won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 2002, but because of the events that occurred around it. Varkonyi was seen as an amateur player that lacked basic skill, but somehow managed to forge his way to the top regardless. Upon eliminating Phil Hellmuth, a player many considered to be far more skilled, Hellmuth made the statement that he would shave his head if Varkonyi managed to win the main event.
Of course, Varkonyi won the main event, against all odds, and Hellmuth shaved his head. The upset is still spoken about to this day, and many still scratch their heads about Varkonyi managing to claim an overall victory. In the year that followed Varkonyi was eliminated on the first day, further deepening the mystery surrounding his uncanny victory.
Stu Ungar – 1980
Stu Ungar is today a celebrated player, but back in 1980 he was all but unknown in the professional poker world. In fact, his real talent at the time had been in playing Gin Rummy, with almost no experience in poker at all. Regardless, he decided to take on the World Series of Poker, mostly because it had become difficult for him to find casinos that would allow him to play Gin Rummy.
Stu struggled his way through the tournament, scraping by and managing to land victories, even if narrow victories that were hardly anything to write home about. Spectators watched him with fascination, noting that he was still learning to play the game properly; even as he managed to beat players many times better than he was. Still, most assumed that the man’s luck would run out, and that he would eventually be forced out of the tournament. Stu defied the odds, and kept on winning.
Upon finally winning the World Series of Poker bracelet, many could hardly believe what they were seeing. A man who could hardly play the game had won, defeating immense odds and coming out on top a champion. Stu became the youngest person to win the World Series of Poker, and later claimed two more bracelets to go with his first. Of all the poker upsets on this list Stu can proudly say that his is the most outrageous of all.