Tiger-like comebacks in poker

April 18, 2019inPoker

Tiger is back! Many thought it would never happen, but after a long drought Tiger Woods has won another major.

Fittingly, Woods had to stage a fourth-round comeback to win the Masters last Sunday — the first time in his career he’s won a major without carrying a lead into the final round.

Tiger Woods won his first major championship in 1997, capturing the title in that year’s Masters Tournament at the age of 21. Not only was he the youngest player ever to win the Masters, he set records for the lowest four-day score (an 18-under 270) as well as for margin of victory (12 strokes).

Over the next 11 years he would collect a total of 14 titles in majors (Masters, PGA, British Open, U.S. Open), causing many to speculate that he might break the all-time mark of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus. Few expected at the time that it would take another 11 years for Woods to win his 15th major at age 43.

Poker has produced similar stories of players going long stretches between successes, particularly during the tournament era. Here’s a quick look at a few examples a players who like Tiger went a long time between winning “majors.”

World Series of Poker

World Series of Poker bracelets continue to enjoy a special status in the poker world, even if the WSOP will be awarding a record-number of 89 of them this summer (!).

This will mark the 50th time the WSOP has played out, and during nearly a half-century of events there have been many examples of players going many years between bracelet wins.

When in 2006 the late David “Chip” Reese won the inaugural $50,000 mixed game event later renamed the Poker Players Championship, the tournament concluded with Reese and Andy Bloch playing a memorably long heads-up battle lasting more than seven hours.

Speaking of something taking a long time, Reese’s win came 24 years after he had won his previous WSOP bracelet in 1982. The Poker Hall of Famer was a prominent and successful cash game player throughout that period, so it wasn’t as though he experienced a “drought” as such. Even so, that represents the longest time any player has gone between bracelet wins at the WSOP.

Last year Bill Bennet finished fifth in the Seniors Event. If he had won, he would have broken Reese’s record, since Bennet won his last (and only) bracelet way back in 1984.

There have been some notable Main Event “comebacks” at the WSOP as well. After winning the big one in 1995, Dan Harrington notably outlasted thousands to make final tables in both 2003 (when he finished third) and 2004 (taking fourth).

Joe Cada performed a comparable feat last year, finishing fifth out of 7,874 in the Main Event won by John Cynn. Nine years before Cada topped a field of 6,494 to win the 2009 Main Event, like Tiger at the ’97 Masters doing so at age 21 and also setting a record as the youngest ever to win the Main.

Joe Cada: another comeback kid

Of course, the closest WSOP Main Event analogue has to be Stu Ungar, who after winning back-to-back titles in 1980 and 1981, remarkably returned to win the 1997 WSOP Main Event.

World Poker Tour

The World Poker Tour has been around since 2002, now having reached its 17th season. Over that period there have been a number of players to win multiple Main Events, with Darren Elias currently the all-time leader having won four of them (two in 2014, one in 2017, and one in 2018).

Gus Hansen, Carlos Mortensen, Anthony Zinno, and David “Chino” Rheem have all won three WPT titles, each doing so in fairly short order (i.e., within at least six-year spans).

Among the many other players who have won two WPT Main Event titles, just over seven years passed between J.C. Tran’s titles, the first coming in 2007 and the other in 2014. Antonio Esfandiari took almost that long between his two titles, earning his first in early 2004 and second in late 2010.

JC Tran: Trophy collector

Also worth mentioning is Hoyt Corkins, who won a WPT title in November 2003 and then a second in January 2010. Corkins also has two WSOP bracelets, and also had a significant 15-year gap between capturing them (one in 1992, the other in 2007).

European Poker Tour

Finally, the European Poker Tour has been around nearly as long as the WPT, having staged its first series in Barcelona in 2004.

It was in Barcelona a few years ago that Howard Swains was inspired to investigate this same subject of long stretches between scores when Peter Eichhardt, who made a final table way back in Season 1 (in 2005), was on the precipice of doing so again more than a decade later.

Alas for Eichhardt, he came up just short of that final table, taking 10th and having to watch with the rest of us John Juanda go on to take the EPT12 Barcelona Main Event title. Thus did he fail to join a handful of other players including Luca Pagano, Jan Sjavic, Johnny Lodden, Mike McDonald, and Isaac Baron who had gone more than 2,000 days between EPT final tables.

Last year Patrik Antonius joined that list — and most certainly set a new standard — when he reached the final table of the EPT Monte Carlo Main Event where he finished sixth. It had been 13 years since Antonius had previously made an EPT Main Event final table, making a couple of them in 2005 during Season 2 including winning EPT2 Baden.

Of course, in the history of the EPT only one player has won two Main Event titles, and indeed there was quite a gap between those two wins.

Vicky Coren Mitchell won her first EPT Main Event in London back in 2006 (Season 3), becoming the first woman to win an EPT Main Event. Then eight years later Coren became the first and only double-winner when she won at EPT Sanremo (Season 10). In fact, this weekend marks the fifth anniversary of Coren’s triumph in Sanremo.

Vicky Coren Mitchell: Returned to the top


Lead photos: “Tiger Woods at the 2018 US Open,” Peetlesnumber1, CC BY-SA 4.0.


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