5 Famous and Improbable Hands of Poker
Poker is a game of odds, daring and lies, but sometimes it is also a game that comes down to pure luck as the cards turn. The best hands are a mix of big personalities, smart cards, lots of chips and a bit of bluffing to make sure your opponents cannot read your strategy.
Everyone has their favorite famous poker hands or a favorite style of play, and that guides any selection of amazing hands. We stuck with upsets and that no one saw coming, or at least not those with losing hands, and think these are among the most amazing poker hands in modern memory. Many of these come to World Series of Poker tournaments because of the following the series has built and the sheer number of amazing hands that have been played at WSOP tables. The great thing about these tournaments is you have top-tier players with a variety of styles that make you cheer them on or secretly wish they go down in flames.
Every good tournament needs its saints and its devils, and our list is full of players fitting both molds and hands that show the true mettle of world class poker players feeling the pressure under the bright tournament lights.
The Biggest Pot Around
One of the most famous hands of poker did not come in the final throw-down of cards by an underdog who walked away a hero with a royal flush, like the movies often tell us, but instead came as John Racener secured himself the second spot in the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event.
Leading up to the largest pot in Main Event history to that point, Racener was largely playing third wheel to a showdown by Jonathan Duhamel and Joseph Cheong. Racener had roughly 10 percent of the chips and was staying quiet as the table grew very heated over more and more bets before each flop.
Roughly mid-way through, Choeng was leading in chips and pushed all-in with an A-7 on his sixth bet before that hand's flop. Duhamel called, holding pocket queens, and the pot sat at 185 million chips – likely still the biggest pot in Main Event history. The flop proved worthless for Choeng and Duhamel took hold of the lead. The poor bluff cost Choeng his confidence, and he was quickly out.
Racener was easily dispatched in the heads-up play, but few can forget that playing it cool netted him a second-place finish when just about every bit of coverage had destined him for third. A nice bonus to that bit of luck was Racener's payday moving up from $4.1 million to $5.5 million as he jumped to second.
Royal Flush Vs. Quad Aces
Sometimes, however, a table can play out like a movie or TV show with stars of its own.
In the 2008 World Series of Poker championship, Ray Romano was settling into his first hand at a new table and got a bit of attention from announcers and fans. While he ended up being out of the hand, Justin Phillips and Motoyuki Mabuchi at Romano's table were about to play out one of the most improbable hands in Main Event history.
On day 1A, Mabuchi drew a pair of pocket aces, while Phillips had a suited K-J, diamonds. Mabuchi raised to $850 and Phillips called, so they saw the flop: ace-hearts, nine-clubs and queen-diamonds. Both checked and the dealer showed a 10 of diamonds. Mabuchi and Phillips each put in $1,600 to see the river: the ace of diamonds.
Mabuchi saw his quad aces and bet $2,500 in an attempt to lull Phillips to bet. Phillips raised to $8,500 and Mabuchi went all-in to meet.
Phillips showed his royal flush, which led to utter surprise by the table and audience. However, that was dwarfed by the gasps and sounds that came from the table when Mabuchi showed his aces. This was, and is, in terms of sheer cards, the most surprising hand of the tournament.
According to ESPN announcer Lon McEachern, the odds of this hand playing out are 2.7 billion to 1.
When Does a 10-4 Beak A-K?
Sometimes a famous poker hand is more about the players than the cards. That was the case at the 2008 World Series of Poker table featuring Cristian Dragomir and Phil Hellmuth, where one man was about to get his comeuppance.
Dragomir had a 10-4 diamonds, while Hellmuth held an A-K. Dragomir raised pre-flop and Phil Hellmuth re-raised, but started his trash talking game assuming Dragomir had Aces. Dragomir called with just a 37 percent chance to win it, and the pot reached $573,000.
The flop came 10-high, with a 9 and 7 following. A check by Hellmuth came with a small tirade, but Dragomir raised $300,000, and Hellmuth lost his cool. Hellmuth spent the next few minutes calling Dragomir an "idiot," trying to work up the nerve to call or fold. Hellmuth folds and shows the A-K, prompting Dragomir to throw down the 10-4 and take in a very large pot.
The crowd, and everyone at the table, erupted into cheers and laughter because Hellmuth had been playing a very ill-mannered tournament and had been given a pass on the rules against bad-mouthing other players at the table. Hellmuth comes back with another tirade, losing his cool over the loss.
Dragomir turns to Hellmuth, stone-faced, and says "Yes, but I'm an idiot with a stack. You don't have a stack." That brief moment turned Dragomir into a small hero and earned him a place of honor against anyone who has had to go up against Phil Hellmuth.
That was actually the second time Dragomir successfully converted a 10-4 at that World Series of Poker table. Dragomir ended up placing 29th in the 2008 No Limit Hold'em Championship, besting Hellmuth, who placed 45th.
Emotion Trumps All
The World Series of Poker is usually about the most-stoic sporting event around. The 2010 Main Event, on day eight, would be one of the biggest breaks in that trend. It was a moment of great victory and defeat.
Jonathan Duhamel, who was hiding in his hoodie for much of the match, picked up pocket jacks in a hand a bit in the day's game. He stayed in through the hand, just meeting the bets made by Matt Affleck, who had a decent stack and was using it viciously in bets and raises. Affleck had pocket aces and went all-in when the community cards showed a 10-9-7-Queen. Duhamel called, and both showed their hands to the table.
One of Duhamel's only 10 outs arrived on the river: an 8, giving him a straight.
Affleck said little, but his eyes went wide as his Main Event hopes were dashed. He marched into the hallway and sobbed, caught on camera and earning a lot of respect and hushed silence. Even with a 15th place finish, at roughly $500,000 that tournament, Affleck was devastated.
Jonathan Duhamel retreated further into his hoodie and flashed one of the biggest smiles that cameras have caught, though he quickly tried to hide it. Duhamel went on to become the first Canadian to win the Main Event, earning $8.9 million as he walked away in first place.
Miracle Number 9
You have to reach back before poker was on TV all the time for our last hand that has earned its mythical status as a miracle on the river.
Chris Ferguson picked up the nickname "Jesus" thanks to his long hair and deep, thoughtful playing. In the 2000 Main Event championship, Ferguson ended up going head-to-head with T.J. Cloutier, one of the best of his day. Cloutier was on a hot streak, slowly beating down Ferguson's stack and reaching roughly an even setting.
After a long back-and-forth, T.J. picked up an ace-diamonds and queen-clubs. He was rallying and thought he had Ferguson against the wall, so he went all-in before the flop. Ferguson spent a long time in his head and eventually called as he muttered the now famous: "I'll gamble with you."
At this point, Cloutier had a 3:1 advantage with the odds.
The flop was a 2-hearts, king-clubs and 4-hearts, with the turn coming has a king-hearts. Anyone betting in the audience would expect Cloutier to pick up a win, or at least split the pot.
The miracle 9-hearts flipped on the river, giving Ferguson his pair and winning the Main Event championship. This move cemented his Jesus nickname and launched Jesus into a career that continually built up throughout the coming years.