WSOP Tournament of Champions, an Overview

Notwithstanding the fact that the contentious Tournament of Champions continued to evolve in an effort to placate its detractors, it has, since 2007, been shoved to the sidelines of the poker player’s psyche, and is effectively a ‘no go’.

The Inaugural Event – 2004

The inaugural event in 2004 was an invites only, freeroll tournament and all the big names of the poker fraternity made the trip to Binion’s Horseshoe Casino to take part in this celebrity show piece. Winners would not be acknowledged with the coveted and celebrated WSOP bracelet, but would, instead, be awarded a trophy in the shape of the official WSOP logo and a pretty hefty sum in prize money.

The one glaring difference at the final table of the primary Tournament of Champions was only the last man, or woman, left standing would be in the money – no-one else would be paid a penny!

Annie Duke put paid to the hopes and dreams of ten other poker pros, including her brother, Howard Lederer, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and  Phil Hellmuth, when she outplayed them all to claim a stunning $2 million in cash! The Duchess of Poker went on to win her first WSOP bracelet at the Omaha Hi/Lo event and was one of three women to win at the 35th annual WSOP.

Controversial 2005 at Caesar’s Palace

The WSOP changed hands in 2005 when Harrah’s purchased Binion’s Horseshoe Casino together with the rights to the event. The new organisers duly rubber stamped a whole range of changes to the format of the Tournament of Champions, the most important being that players had to qualify for entry by either reaching the final table of the main event of the WSOP, or by winning any two WSOP circuit events.

All looked good until the major sponsor insisted that Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan be admitted to the tournament whether they qualified or not. This, of course, caused a public outcry as Harrah’s had billed the event as a qualifying tournament.

 WSOP commissioner, Jeffrey Pollack intervened and allowed the three to play. Chan and Brunson didn’t even make it to the final table – a bit of poetic justice perhaps – but Hellmuth proved his prowess all over again and finished third. As of 2006 Harrah’s reserved the right to allow up to six players to contest the event via sponsor’s exemptions.

Unlike 2004, when only the champion was in the money, all final table contestants were rewarded with cash. Herewith the top five finishes:

  1. Mike Matusow – $1 million
  2. Hoyt Corkins – $325 000
  3. Phil Hellmuth – $250 000
  4. Tony Bloom – $150 000
  5. Steve Dannenmann – $100 000

The Final Tournament of Champions – 2006

In 2006 twenty-seven players contested the final Tournament of Champions and they had either qualified via circuit events or had made it to the final table of the WSOP main event.

The sponsors stuck to their guns though and five players were allowed to take their seats without qualifying – Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen, Phil Hellmuth, Mike O’Malley and Sarah Strom. None of these players even made it to the final table.

At the end of the tournament Harrah’s announced that the Tournament of Champions was on hold indefinitely!

Top Five

  1. Mike Sexton – $1million
  2. Daniel Negreanu – $325 000
  3. Mike Matusow – $250 000
  4. Chris Reslock – $150 000
  5. Andrew Black – $100 000