5 of Poker’s Most Exciting Moments

It’s one of the most iconic, pre-packaged intros’ in television history. If you were a child of the of the sixties, seventies or eighties, you likely won’t remember the entire voice over, but surely two of its catch phrases have been forever lodged in your memory. The opening narration was provided by the late Jim McKay, a legendary sportscaster best known for hosting ABC’s Wide World of Sports for close to four decades. The show kicked off with a montage of athletic heroes, their most unforgettable sporting moments, and McKay’s dulcet tones, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

It’s not hard to relate to the ski jumper featured in the video. Tucked in the ready position, and gaining speed down the snowy launchpad, he lost his balance and fell just meters before take-off and toppled over the edge to his demise in spectacularly horrifying fashion. The thrill of victory? The agony of defeat? You feel it in all sports, and cards is no exception. Team Maple has been ‘spanning the globe” to bring you some of poker’s most electrifying moments all over the world.

Thrill of Victory

The Magician’s Tricks

He is one of the most likeable guys in the game. Known for his elaborate chip tricks, Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari has also got a knack for pulling bunnies out of his hat at the poker table, figuratively speaking of course. In 2012, he performed his greatest trick yet in winning the World Series of Poker’s Big One for One Drop for a whopping $18,346,673. The event featured 48 of the best poker players and top business executives who all anted up the $1 million buy-in. When the final card was dealt, and Esfandiari realized he had just eliminated Sam Trickett in second place, pandemonium ensued.

“I dedicate this bracelet to my father,” he said, in the post-match interview only minutes later, and just a few feet from the table. He was draped arm-and-arm by his brother and father. When asked how it felt to win such an enormous haul? “It’s better than sex,” he replied. Definitely one of poker’s most exciting moments.

The Prince of Poker

Reverse psychology at its finest. Heads-up with Kevin McBride for the 1998 world championship, Scotty Nyugen uttered one of the most famous lines in poker history. The five community cards were showing a full house (8 9 9 8 8), but the five-time bracelet winner was holding a very deceptive nine in his hand. Nguyen stood up, took a big swig of his beer and said, “you call, it’s gonna be all over, baby!”

After a few seconds of deliberation, McBride responded with, “I call, I play the board.” And like that, it was all over.

Introducing Phil Hellmuth

The world recognizes him now as the brash, fast-talking, ill-tempered Poker Brat. A guy who’s won more bracelets (15) than anyone else and isn’t afraid to let people know about it. His outbursts at the table have become legendary, if not polarizing. They have become some of poker’s most dramatic moments. He’s become famous for his books, his branding and his much talked about tirades. Not to mention his now infamous one-liners. “If luck weren’t involved, I’d win everytime,” and “this guy can’t even spell poker,” are two of his most notable quotes.

It was a different story back in 1989. Hellmuth was just 24, a pale faced kid, but he was about to introduce himself to the world spectacularly. How? By beating Johnny Chan heads-up for the world title and denying the ‘Orient Express’ his third straight championship crown.

The Agony of Defeat

Cry Me a River

Oh, how fortunes can change with one turn of a card. Matt Affleck found this out the hard way in the 2010 WSOP main event. With only 15 players remaining, and with nearly $9 million ($8,944,310) sitting up top just awaiting the winner, the Washington native locked horns with Jonathan Duhamel in a monster pot that would help define the championship. Holding pocket aces, and with one card to come, Affleck was a massive 79% favourite to win the hand and cripple the Canadian. He would have had a huge chip lead.

As fate would have it, though, the Quebecer made his straight to survive. Affleck’s facial expression changed instantly. His smile became heartbreak and dejection. As he left the playing area, wearing his Seattle Mariners jersey, the ESPN cameras followed him out of the playing area, and it was gut-wrenching to watch. Affleck threw his water bottle, punched the exit doors and then continued down the empty, lonely hallways of the Rio. At one point he stopped, leaned up against the wall, with his head on his forearm as if to hide, and began to cry. It was pure poker pain to the nth degree.

Yes, he pocketed more than $500,000 for his 15th place result, but some professionals estimate he lost up to $3 million in equity. Ouch.

“The Guy Can’t Even Spell Poker!”

As we have already eluded to here, Phil Hellmuth is quite accustomed to throwing temper tantrums at the poker table. But his volatility was never more on display than at the 2005 World Series of Poker. He was in hand against fireman Jim Pittman. It played out in the main event, and it was a spectacle. Following a raise and then a re-raise, Pittman moved all-in with a king and jack of hearts. Hellmuth snap-called, almost beating him into the pot, and quickly turned over his ace and king. He had his recreational opponent crushed. He was a huge favourite to win, until a miracle jack fell on the river.

“This donkey stuck 15,000 in with king jack,” Hellmuth blurted out incredulously. He was standing now as he launched into his rant.

The guy can’t even spell poker. Some of the worst players in the world, I can’t believe this is the World Series of Poker. If I ever get caught sticking all my chips in with king jack, but of course that’ll never happen.

Pittman, sitting their uncomfortably directly beside him, countered with, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen worse,”. The poker legend quickly snapped, “Not by me buddy!”

Hellmuth’s diatribe only lasted seconds, but the sheer drama of the situation has lasted a lifetime, especially for the fireman.

Skip to 8:22 to see one of poker’s most popular moments in action.

Spanning the globe for the human drama of poker competition, Team Maple has you covered when it comes to poker’s most exciting moments. Stay tuned for part 2 next week.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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