Guest poster Bill Phillips takes us for a walk down WSOP memory lane and ranks the Champions – Greg Merson entered the final three of this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event with a big chip lead and managed to hold on and win. He attributed his interest in poker to Chris Moneymaker’s Cinderella Main Event win nine years ago.

Merson is just the latest of the Moneymaker effect pros that have taken over the game. Interestingly enough, all three final tablists said Moneymaker’s win drew them in to the game. Third place Jacob Balsinger was only 13 when Moneymaker won, so it’s entirely possible in the not so far future champions will come to the game for reasons having nothing to do with Chris Moneymaker.

In honor of Moneymaker’s impact on the game let’s take a look back at the champions since he won and rank them compared to Moneymaker. Greg Merson is too fresh a champion to rank, but his story is compelling enough he wouldn’t be last on this list. This ranking takes into account not only their skill, but for the interest their wins created in the mainstream media, how they won their impact on the game, and their influence over it.

1. Chris Moneymaker – 2003

If it were purely based on skill these rankings would be totally different. That’s not meant to slight Moneymaker, but even he would understand this ranking is all about the Moneymaker effect. This guy with the magic name brought poker to the masses and his run couldn’t have been scripted any better. He’s also a class act at the tables and a pretty humble guy to boot. Nobody’s win ever had an impact as profound as his, and likely nobody’s win in the future will be such a boon to the industry. He won about $2.5 million in the World Series win and about $500k since then.

2. Greg Raymer – 2004

Thanks to a pair of holographic glasses, images of Raymer were everywhere during the World Series even in mainstream media. His win following-up Moneymaker’s epic victory had some great moments, particularly with Mike Matusow, and was an entertaining sequel. Afterwards, he’s been a serious and staunch advocate for poker. He even considered a Vice Presidential run in 2008. Few have logged the hours Raymer has to grow the game and his class act demeanor won poker a lot of fans. He’s won about $2.2 million in addition to the $5 million he won in ’04.

3. Jaime Gold – 2006

Anybody familiar with the scripting of professional wrestling and any good drama understands the villain is often times more important than the hero. Sometimes the villain wins and it’s riveting entertainment. Everything about Gold’s title in 2006 was compelling.

He brash table manner, the nebulous agreement he made just to get into the Main Event, the ensuing law suit and his precipitous fall since have drawn in viewers to the spectacle. Nobody’s won more in a single Main Event, $12 million, and while anti-heroes like Phil Hellmuth, Tony G, or Mike Matusow are polarizing, Gold seemingly evokes only derision. He’s good for the game because in many ways he’s so bad for the game. A Jaime Gold comeback would be good for poker entertainment.

4. Joe Hachem – 2005

Hachem’s influence on Australian poker is similar to Moneymakers in the United States. In fact, all of the foreign champions on this list probably have had just as much of impact in their countries since they won as Hachem. Hachem’s final table win, like Moneymaker’s felt scripted. Only, in his script the everyman type, played by Steve Danneman, came up just short to the foreign pro.

Truth is Hachem was probably as much an underdog, and certainly as the short stack for most of the final table, maybe even moreso. This is one of the better final tables played for sheer drama and intrigue. There were a ton of big emotional moments, which created a compelling and well woven storyline. Hachem’s impact after the win, while not quite as big as Moneymaker’s, or Greg Raymer’s as an ambassador, is still pretty good in comparison to the other champions on the list. He’s also won almost three million on the felt in addition to the $7.9 million he won at the WSOP Main Event.

5. Pius Heinz – 2011

Pius is probably one of the better players on this list. The poker played last year was in many ways jaw-dropping. The featured television tables showed bold, brash players that played with nerve throughout the latter stages of the tournament. Pius sniffed out weakness and let his chips do the assaulting.
The German born pro, has had a profound influence on poker in his massive home country, and his white hoodie was everywhere this year. Considering how many well-known pros wear hoodies, the fact Pius has kind off taken it over as his look says something about the impact the young pro has had on the game. The real time drama his win supplied to viewers made the WSOP move to a 15 minute delay look genius.

6. Jonathan Duhamel – 2010

Duhamel would certainly be in the discussion for the best player to win a title in the last ten years. He highlighted a final table that also had a lot of drama, including an appearance by Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi. Joe Cheong contributed to the action in the supporting cast, and Duhamel was propelled to the final table by a gross suck-out against Matt Affleck.

Duhamel’s win has been a positive to the already thriving Canadian market. Duhamel has won about 2 million since he bagged 8.9 million at the WSOP two years ago. Following a mugging of Greg Raymer, Duhamel is the second recent Main Event champion to be robbed. Though his was a bloody home invasion masterminded by an ex-girlfriend.

7. Joe Cada – 2009

Cada won the title and declared he was going to assume the mantle of poker ambassador. He began a whirlwind tour of mainstream media appearances (including Time Magazine and the David Letterman Show) and things looked great for a moment there, but since then he’s kind of gone the way of the Dodo. Not for a lack of trying though, as Cada is earnest in his love of poker, opening up a poker room and sports grill in his hometown. Cada has had some deep runs in live and online poker tournaments too, but still gets overlooked as player.

Probably part of his fame problem was the amount of times he got it in bad as a short stacked at his final table and got there. He also won the year Phil Ivey or upstart Darvin Moon was supposed to win, and despite his efforts to the contrary has remained a bit of an afterthought. A+ for effort.

8.Peter Eastgate – 2008

The Danish pro, who became an English pro for tax reasons, became the youngest player to ever win the World Series. Eclipsing Phil Hellmuth for the record before Joe Cada bested him a year later. Eastgate has won just under $2 million in poker not counting the 9.1 million he won as Main Event Champion.
Eastgate has since retired and come back to poker. He’s auctioned off his championship bracelet for charity and been a bit of enigma. Seems like a nice guy but it feels like poker has always been on the backburner to him.

9. Jerry Yang – 2007

The Shadow gets little respect. Coming off a four year run of compelling final tables Jerry was literally the Yang to Jaime Gold’s Ying. His victory was underwhelming. Asking God for help in a poker tournament and being poker’s Holy Roller did not endear him to the god fearing poker haters or to most of the Poker Gods fearing players. The guy also nicknamed himself–people that nickname themselves rarely do well in popularity contests.

Yang for the most part has disappeared from the poker scene and actually living up to his nickname the shadow. Other than admiration for his generosity, charity work and clean living Yang has few fans for his involvement in the game. Nobody can suggest Yang isn’t a great person, but great for poker is another thing entirely, and for that he’s definitely last on the list.

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