Making your way through the World Series of Poker No Limit Texas Hold’em tournament is no easy task. You have to out last hundreds, if not thousands to gain a seat at the Final Table. Once there, you need to play against the world’s best players in order to win the prize.
With 40 years of history behind it, the World Series of Poker No Limit Texas Hold’em Final Table has seen some of the best players of all time. Out of all of those games, which ones would have been the hardest to win?

  • Amarillo Slim Wins in 1972

Players: Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Doyle Brunson, Crandall Addington, Jack Straus, Johnny Moss, Roger Van Ausdall, Jimmy Casella

The first ever World Series of Poker was held in 1971. The main event had only six contestants (far from the thousands of the past few years) and had only a $5,000 buy-in.

The game expanded in 1972 with a slightly altered format. Eight players now competed on a $5,000 buy-in (which was matched by Benny Binion for a total of $10,000 per player).

What gets this tournament onto the list of top Final Tables of all time was the cast of characters taking part. Five of the players went on to win the WSOP No Limit Texas Hold’em Tournament at some point, and six of them were inducted into the poker hall of fame. This Final Table makes the list based on pedigree, because only the best of the best could even gain a seat at this table.

  • Juan Carlos Mortensen Makes Dewey Tomko a 2-time runner-up in 2001

Players: Juan Carlos Mortensen, Dewey Tomko, Stan Schrier, Phil Gordon, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Henry Nowakowski, Steve Riehle, John Inashima

As the World Series of Poker has expanded, gaining an elusive seat at the Final Table of the No Limit Texas Hold’Em tournament has gotten harder and harder. The 2001 tournament is a perfect example of the amount of skill the game takes, as Dewey Tomko and Phil Hellmuth both made their second trips to the Final Table.

Only one tournament since has had two returning players compete at the Final Table, but the skill on display pales in comparion to Tomko and Hellmuth, who both hold places in the Poker Hall of Fame. If that wasn’t enough, both Tomko and Hellmuth ended up losing the tournament to Juan Carlos Mortensen. Even with great skill and pedigree, this table was not going to be easy to win for anyone.

  • Bill Smith Drinks His Way to Victory in 1985

Players: Bill Smith, T. J. Cloutier, Berry Johnston, Scott Mayfield, Hamid Dastmalchi, Jesse Alto

Like the 1972 tournament, the 1985 World Series of Poker Main Event saw the who’s who of the poker world compete for the title of World Champion. The 1985 is more notable for the fact that 140 players competed at the tournament, and the six men left standing were almost all legends of the sport.

According to T. J. Cloutier, 1985 tournament winner Bill Smith needed to have a healthy dose of alcohol in his system to play well. With so many big name players, winning would not be easy, but Bill Smith seems to have hit that drunken sweet spot in order to take home the prize.

  • Phil Hellmuth Prevents a Three-Peat in 1989

Players: Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Don Zewin, Steve Lott, Lyle Berman, Noel Furlong

Most of the tournaments on this list are here because of an impressive laundry list of players. This one is a little different.

Coming off of two consecutive WSOP No Limit Texas Hold’em championships in 1987 and 1988, Johnny Chan looked like he could be the first player to ever win three tournaments in a row when he reached the Final Table. No other players still playing had reached that level before.

When it came down to only two men left (those being Johnny Chan and the 24-year-old Phil Hellmuth) the odds seemed to favor Chan. In a shocking upset Phil Hellmuth managed to eliminate Johnny Chan from the tournament, becoming the youngest winner in the history of the World Series of Poker.

  • A Chip and a Chair

Players: Jack Straus, Dewey Tomko, Berry Johnston, Doyle Brunson, A. J. Myers, Dody Roach

Like most of the early World Series of Poker tournaments, the 1982 edition saw mostly poker legends reach the Final Table for a contest of unparalleled skill. The 1982 tournament was the best Final Table of all time for only one man, though: Jack Straus.

Jack Straus was already a notable name in the poker world long before this tournament, having previously reached the 1972 WSOP No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Final Table. For the 1982 tournament, however, Straus was there on pure luck after being left with only a single chip (accidentally, it would seem).

Against all odds, Jack Straus fought back and eventually defeated Dewey Tomko in heads up play to take home the championship. That miraculous comeback gave rise to the poker wisdom that if you have “a chip and a chair” then you have a chance to win.