The Early Nineties

With the recent passing of Benny Binion and with his son Jack now in full control, the beginning of the 1990s saw the WSOP transformed into a much more organized and professionally run event. Jack was certainly not new to the business, as he had served as the president of the Horseshoe since 1964, and was there at his father’s side every step of the way, from the tournament’s beginnings in 1970. He was also the main force behind it for almost a decade throughout the 80s. However, it was now his show completely, which allowed him to further make his mark on the grand event.

So the first thing he did is to bring in two respected veterans of the poker business, Jim Albrecht and Jack McLelland, to provide leadership to the tournament. Albrecht had been the poker room manager over at the Mint Casino, who the Horseshoe had bought out a couple of years earlier. He took over as tournament director of the WSOP and was widely well respected in this role, and also became a regular commentator on the annual ESPN broadcasts of the highlights of the event. McLelland also contributed his poker tournament expertise, and between the two of them, the tournament continued to see increased success as the years went on, and in particular, had its prominence broaden internationally to the extent where it become much more worthy of calling itself the World Championship rather than just one focused on the United States.

1990 also saw the event won by a non-American resident for the first time, with Iranian born and British resident Mansour Matloubi taking the title in the main event. Johnny Chan was actually the first winner not born in the United States to win, but he was a Las Vegas resident at the time. Now players were traveling to the WSOP from other countries and winning, which was a big step forward in asserting the tournament was truly a world championship. Matloubi faced off against longtime WSOP competitor Hans “Tuna” Lund, who won his first bracelet back in 1978.

In the decisive hand, with Lund having a slight lead, he hit top pair with A9 on a 942 flop. Matloubi led out with a bet, and the Tuna proceeded to raise enough to get Matloubi all in. He called with pocket 10s, and flashed the grin of a soon to be champion. All Mansour need to do was to avoid seeing an ace or 9 with the final two cards and the title would be his.

However, an ace hit on the turn, and now Lund had that winning grin, taking Mansour from being a huge favorite to win to almost completely dashing all hope. There were still 2 10s in the deck which he could hit on the river, but that made him a 22:1 underdog. The final card was dealt, and both players jaws hung open as they peered at a 10, which snatched the title away from the Tuna and in a way righted the suck-out he had put on Mansour on the previous card, and certainly was one of the most exciting hands in WSOP history.

1991 saw two major milestones reached, with the amount of entries breaking the 200 mark for the first time with 215, and the winner’s share of the main event prize money finally reaching one million dollars. The final 2 came down to relative unknown Brad Daugherty against Don Holt. Holt already overcame the challenge of beating poker expert David Sklansky heads up in the 7 Card Stud event a couple of years before. Slkansky is widely considered to be the finest poker thinker of all time, and is especially tough heads up, so after this Holt had to be pretty confident of his chances.

Daugherty emerged victorious nonetheless, and took home the bracelet. Perhaps sadly, Daugherty was to put the bracelet up for auction on eBay twenty years later, which is perhaps more of a sign of the current times where pretty much anything can be had for a price, as opposed to the old days where people would never sell such a coveted item.

The 1992World Series of Pokerwas the first time that the event had fewer players than the year before, not counting the second year where the participants dropped from 7 to 6. The top 25 did have several top names in it, including recent runner up Hans Lund, Johnny Chan, Jack Keller, Bobby Baldwin, Berry Johnson, Barry Greenstein, Mike Sexton, and others. The list also included Doyle Brunson’s then 22 year old son Todd, along with actor Telly Savalas, who did amazingly well and finished 21st.

The final table came down to Lund, Hamid Dastmalchi, and 4 virtually unknown players, but once again luck wasn’t really on Lund’s side and he bowed out in third. Dastmalchi ended up on top, making him the second player of Iranian descent in 3 years to capture the world championship of poker. Once again, first prize was a cool million dollars.

1993’s championship came down to three men, experienced WSOP participant John Bonetti, unknown Glenn Cozen, and cotton farmer Jim Bechtel. On the decisive hand, Cozen just had a few chips left and the other 2 players were virtually assured of making it in the top 2. Bonetti had squandered a big chip lead a little earlier and was still solidly in second. Cozen was about to go out, and would have to go all in and win several times to even have any shot, so he was basically just waiting to die.

Bonetti held AK pre-flop, Bechtel raised to 30K, and Bonetti and Cozen both called. Commentators have criticized Bonetti for not re-raising here, but just calling was the correct play given the situation. With the middle stack in play against a big stack and an extremely small one, going out ahead of Cozen was unthinkable.

The flop came K64, Bonetti bet his top pair, Cozen folded, and Bechtel raised. This put Bonetti in a tough spot, betting here was in fact a mistake in the first place, but now he was in danger of being pot committed. So he shoved, Bechtel called instantly, and showed him pocket 6’s for a set. So Bonetti busted out, and some consider the way he played this hand to be the worst mistake inthe history of the WSOP, and it very well may have been. Cozen outlasted him and happlly accepted this gift of an extra $210,000 for finishing in second rather than third. Bechtel became the second amateur ever to win the title.