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Top-10 poker tournament results for the good guys

4 March 2013

By Aaron Todd

Last week, I wrote a column about the worst tournament poker results that I could think of. This week's column will be much more fun to write, as I examine the opposite side of the coin.

Nice guys don't always finish last. Sometimes, they win five, six or seven figures. Here are 10 poker tournament finishes for the good guys.

10. Erik Seidel wins first WSOP bracelet in 1992
The man who became famous for finishing second to Johnny Chan in the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event actually didn't have to wait that long to win his first WSOP bracelet. After another runner-up finish in 1991, Seidel won his first bracelet in a $2,500 Limit Hold'em event in 1992. That win was the first in a three-year bracelet run for the laid-back poker pro. Seidel ranks fifth on the all-time bracelet list and has one of the best records in high-roller events on tour over the past three years.

9. David Einhorn's 18th-place finish in the 2006 WSOP Main Event
The largest WSOP Main Event to date also had one of the most unfortunate winners we've had in some time. Jamie Gold's win was tarnished by a scandal, as it was unclear whether he would pay a backer (Gold finally did settle up), and David Einhorn's story offered the perfect foil. Einhorn, who busted in 18th place, donated his entire $659,730 prize to Parkinson's disease research.

8. Barry Greenstein wins 2004 Jack Binion World Poker Open
Dubbed the Robin Hood of Poker by Mike Sexton during World Poker Tour broadcasts, Barry Greenstein took down the 2004 World Poker Open in Tunica to win more than $1.2 million, and donated every last cent to charity. While Greenstein no longer donates all of his tournament winnings to charity, his philanthropy early on in the poker boom helped put a positive light on the game.

7. Chris Moneymaker's win in the 2003 WSOP Main Event
Moneymaker's historic win in 2003 was the moment that launched the poker boom, but more importantly in the life of Chris Moneymaker, it was the moment he got out of hot water with his father. As chronicled in All In: The Poker Movie, Moneymaker had lost the entire $60,000 sports betting bankroll he and his father had shared. Winning $2.5 million allowed him to pay his father back and then some. Moneymaker seems like a real, genuine, humble person. It's nice to see guys like that get out of the hole.

6. Gary Kostiuk's 2010 WSOP Main Event run
When I’m covering the WSOP, I make it a policy not to root for or against players. I made an exception for Gary Kostiuk. A 49-year-old optometrist from Grand Prairie, Alberta, Kostiuk won his way into the WSOP in a $350 home game satellite. He ended up finishing 85th to cash for $79,806, which is remarkable for nearly any home game hero. But what makes Kostiuk's story unique is that he did the whole thing while suffering from multiple sclerosis. He was confined to a wheelchair and suffered from fatigue throughout the event, but still managed to advance all the way to Day 7.

His son Ryan's presence at the tournament made it even more special, and Ryan played a very big role in his father's success. It was the most heartwarming story I've come across in the five years that I've covered the WSOP.

5. Phil Hellmuth's 2012 WSOP Razz win
I'm not sure if anyone wants to win World Series of Poker bracelets more than Phil Hellmuth. And while he had been alone in front with 11 bracelets since 2007, he had a heartbreaking year in 2011, finishing second three times. Phil Ivey, who owns eight WSOP bracelets, had won three bracelets from 2009-10 and already had two final tables in 2012. Hellmuth's record was starting to look vulnerable until he snapped a five-year streak and took his 12th WSOP title in the $2,500 razz event. He added to the total later that year, winning the WSOP Europe Main Event, and is now a full five bracelets ahead of all the players who have a reasonable chance of catching him. (Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan both own 10, but neither has won a bracelet since 2005 or made a final table since 2009.)

4. Greg Raymer's win in the 2004 WSOP Main Event
Moneymaker's win in 2003 was certainly more important for the poker boom, but Raymer's win is more important on this list because of his work with the Poker Players Alliance and all he's done to advance poker as a game of skill. If Raymer had finished second to David Williams, he wouldn't have had the clout to convince politicians and regular Americans that poker is a game of skill. He's been an eloquent ambassador for the game, and poker is lucky that he won the Main Event in 2004.

3. Guy Laliberte's fifth-place finish in the Big One for One Drop
It takes some stones to say you can find 48 people to play in a $1 million poker tournament. And when you actually pull it off and raise more than $5.3 million for charity, well, then you're reaching legendary status.

But when you do all that and play in the event and finish fifth to win more than $1.8 million, then you end up as number three on this list.

2. Dan Shak and Brandon Moran share first place in 2007 Ante Up for Africa
The way this tournament ended may be my all-time favorite poker tournament conclusion. The Ante Up for Africa tournament was a $5,000 poker tournament where winners were asked (but not required) to give a share of their winnings to aid Darfur. When Dan Shak and Brandon Moran were heads up in 2007, Shak told Moran that everything he won would be donated to the charity. Moran said he had the same plan, and the two stood up, shook hands and ended the tournament as co-champions, giving a combined total of $386,738 to the cause. As someone who used to work with an Ivy League athletic department, it drove me nuts that the league allowed co-champions. This is the one case where I felt like sharing a title was truly justified.

1. Chip Reese wins first $50,000 H.O.R.S.E tournament
It's hard to find anyone who can say something negative about Chip Reese. He was driving through Las Vegas in the 1970s after graduating from Dartmouth and never ended up leaving after he discovered he had a knack for poker and the games were beatable. Despite living in a culture replete with degeneracy, lying, stealing and angle shooting, Reese was the consummate pro. He always paid his debts and never broke his word. So when the WSOP held its first $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament (later named the $50,000 Poker Players Championship), it was fitting that Reese, who had eschewed tournament poker for years, was the inaugural winner.

Reese passed away in late 2007, and appropriately, the winner of the $50,000 Poker Players Championship now wins the David "Chip" Reese Memorial trophy.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and (his personal favorite) Badeuci.

Since graduating from St. Lawrence University, Aaron has worked as a journalist covering the gambling industry and as a communications specialist in college athletic departments.

A native of a small town in New York just south of Ottawa, Aaron lives in Needham, Mass., with his wife and three children. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com, and follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.