poker hand showing a royal flush with stacks of chips

Poker is a unique casino game that combines strategy, skill, and chance. From its inception, it has captivated participants and spectators alike with wins that defy rhyme or reason. Many poker players earn a good living playing high stakes poker games emphasizing their showmanship, both online and in-person, as they compete in high-stakes tournaments that are broadcast to poker aficionados around the world.

Over time, some unbelievable stories – some involving well-known poker players and others involving amateurs – have become the stuff of poker legends.

Andrew Badecker

Andrew Badecker was always up for a friendly game of poker but after he started to win on a fairly consistent basis, he decided to play online, on a full-time basis, in high stakes poker games. At first, he lost more than he won but after a lucky night where he won $7000, he gave up his studies and his part-time job and focused on poker as a full-time career.

Within a few years Badecker had won almost $70,000 in one year of play and a few years later, his winnings topped $800,000. This is quite astounding, considering that Badecker was self-taught and simply learned from his own mistakes as he moved further up the ladder of success.  His winnings to date totally millions of dollars.

Chris Moneymaker

Chris Moneymaker, an unknown accountant and amateur poker player from Tennessee, United States, qualified for the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event through an online satellite tournament.

Once he started to play, he outlasted 838 other players and won, collecting $2.5 million and earning the title World Champion. His win revolutionized poker because he was the first person to become a world champion after qualifying online. The press dubbed this the “Moneymaker Effect".

Moneymaker went on to serve as celebrity spokesman for Harrah’s Entertainment, the Series owner, and for the PokerStars online poker room.  He started Moneymaker Gaming and has gone on to play in larger and more numerous buy-in tournaments. But he’s mostly remembered for pushing amateurs to chase their dreams by demonstrating how online poker democratizes the world of pro poker.

Annette Obrestad

Annette is a bit of an anomaly in the poker world because she’s one of the few women to succeed in breaking into, what has been until recently, a man’s world.

Obrestad started to play poker at a young age and she honed her skills in freeroll tournaments and online poker rooms where she played under the pseudonym ‘Annette_15’. Playing online, she won a total of $836,000 in a period of 5 months from Sept 2006 to February 2007.

The more she won, the more her confidence grew and in July 2007, she won in a 180-person, a $4 buy-in competition. She claimed that she looked at her cards once but succeeded in winning by paying attention to other players at the table and playing her position well.

Just a few months later she won the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event which netted her £1,000,000, the highest-ever recorded pay-out to a female player. That was the day before her 19th birthday so she became the youngest person ever to win a World Series of Poker bracelet.

Tom Dwan

Tom Dwan has made a name for himself as a successful amateur-to-pro poker player thanks to his focus on studying the game.

His first game, at age 17, was played with only a $50 bankroll but he soon dropped out of his college studies to become a full-time poker player. He built his career  and over the course of 4 years won $5.4 million. His name quickly became known in the world of high-stakes poker thanks to his ability to see losses within the bigger picture.

Before the 2007 World Poker Championships, Dwan said that he lost $2 million but he recovered within months and continued to move forward. His ‘Million Dollar Challenge’ highlights his willingness to take risks and to that end, he has an open challenge to any online poker player that after 50,000 games, he will be leading.

If this occurs, his opponent has to pay $500,000 but if Dwan is lagging, he will pay $1.5 million. Today that challenge takes the form of the ‘Durrr (Dwan’s online username) Million Dollar Challenge’ a 500-hand live heads-up tournament.  Talk about a set of high stakes poker games!

Jack Strauss

Jack "Treetop" Strauss will be remembered in poker folklore because he managed one of the most legendary comebacks in the history of the World Series Of Poker.

Playing the 1982 Main Event, Strauss found himself holding one single chip early in the tournament. His confidence never wavered and through a combination of skill, audacious bluffs and endless patience he was able to mount a stunning comeback.

By the tournament’s end he was able to claim the championship bracelet and a nice-sized purse. The phrase “a chip and a chair” was coined to describe Strauss's improbable victory to describe poker’s never-say-die spirit.

Marat Sharafutdinov

Marat Sharafutdinov skyrocketed from the status of an amateur poker player to a tournament winner within the space of one tournament.

The cab driver bought into the WCOOP Main Event with 40 Frequent Player Points (FPPs) and then went on to take First Prize, defeating 1825 other players (many of whom are considered “elite”) to win $1,000,907.26.  Sharafutdinov started in a satellite with a buy-in of less than half a dollar. In terms of ROI, this has to be the most profitable tournament win in history.

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