It was an event that may not be seen again for many years. The gathering of past World Series of Poker main event champions for a unique tournament to commemorate the 40th annual WSOP was an opportunity to bring all living and willing members of this elite club together for a poker game. Not only did the participants seem to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to play with those who share the main event championship experience but a chance for fans to see them all in one place and in the fall months on ESPN, as the tournament was taped for a future broadcast.
The players who honored the invitation to compete were: Peter Eastgate, Jerry Yang, Jamie Gold, Joe Hachem, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Robert Varkonyi, Carlos Mortensen, Chris Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen, Huck Seed, Dan Harrington, Jim Bechtel, Brad Daugherty, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Berry Johnston, Tom McEvoy, Doyle Brunson, and Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston.
On the first day of the invitational tournament, the 20 participants gathered and chatted, paused for a group photo, and took part in a formal introduction to the crowds at the Rio. They then sat down to play the poker tournament that was to culminate in the awarding of the first ever Binion Cup and a vintage 1970 red Corvette Stingray.
Day 1 found the field cut in half, with Gold being the first player eliminated and Joe Hachem being the last of the evening, taking 11th place at the hands of Brunson. With the following chip counts, the players remaining were set to return on Monday, June 1, to play for the win.
Carlos Mortensen 42,375
Tom McEvoy 31,000
Jim Bechtel 30,475
Doyle Brunson 20,250
Dan Harrington 19,975
Peter Eastgate 18,425
Huck Seed 15,400
Robert Varkonyi 13,450
Berry Johnston 7,625
Phil Hellmuth 1,125
Day 2 of the event began with another photo opportunity and a stage surrounded by packed stands and rails. The cameras were in full usage during the introductions, and Doyle Brunson received a long, heartfelt, and standing ovation from the crowd.
When play started, Phil Hellmuth looked down at his very small chip stack and pushed it all-in on the first hand of the afternoon with . Carlos Mortensen called with pocket deuces, and the board blanked with . That left Hellmuth to say his goodbyes and leave in tenth place.
Two hands later, Peter Eastgate made a bold all-in preflop move with , but Dan Harrington had no problem making the call with pocket aces. The board started off well for Eastgate with , but the turn and river ended it for Eastgate in ninth place.
The next significant pot began with Brunson, McEvoy, and Harrington looking to see the flop that came down . Brunson made the initial bet, but McEvoy raised. When Harrington folded, Brunson came over the top with an all-in move with . McEvoy was along for the ride with pocket jacks. The flush never came with a on the turn and on the river, sending Doyle Brunson out of the event in eighth place.
Berry Johnston was the next to go after he pushed all-in with on a flop and was called by Mortensen with pocket sixes. The dealer gave them the on the turn and on the river to send Johnston packing in seventh place.
Huck Seed then made his move with , but it was Mortensen calling again, this time with a dominating . The board produced to end Seed’s tournament with a sixth place finish.
Jim Bechtel then went on a run by doubling through Mortensen. The two tangled again after seeing a flop. Mortensen was all-in with , and Bechtel was there with pocket threes. The turn and river sent Carlos Mortensen to the packed rail in fifth place.
But Bechtel found himself on the wrong side of the chip leader when he tangled with McEvoy. It was the latter who made the all-in move preflop with and Bechtel who put his tournament life on the line with pocket kings. But the board came to eliminate Jim Bechtel
from the tournament in fourth place.
No one could have predicted that three-handed play would continue for three hours. Some of the initial action between the three involved Varkonyi doubling through Harrington, after which the remaining players went to dinner with McEvoy still in the lead with 87,600 chips, following by Harrington and his 68,400 stack and the 44,000 of Varkonyi.
After the meal, Varkonyi doubled through Harrington, and then Harrington doubled back through Varknoyi. But Harrington couldn’t seem to keep his momentum going, and despite some very cautious play, McEvoy and Varkonyi continued to do well. Finally, Harrington pushed all-in with pocket nines, and McEvoy called with . The board came down in his favor with , and Dan Harrington found himself gone in third place.
Heads-up action began with the following counts:
Tom McEvoy 145,600
Robert Varkonyi 54,500
Robert Varkonyi made a valiant effort by coming out of the gate aggressively and taking down several small pots to chip up. But it soon got more aggressive. The two limped to see a flop, and a bet and call led to the on the turn. That was when Varkonyi bet out, McEvoy raised, and Varkonyi moved all-in with for bottom pair and a flush draw. McEvoy called and showed for the straight and flush draw. The brought the flush, but McEvoy’s was the better one, and Robert Varkonyi had to settle for second place.
Tom McEvoy became the champion of the Champions Invitational, after which the 1983 WSOP main event winner was awarded the coveted Binion Cup and the 1970 Corvette Stingray to commemorate the occasion.
(Thanks to PokerNews for live tournament reporting information used to compile this recap.)