5 Times We Wanted the Underdog to Win a Poker Tournament

Man’s hands holding a pair of aces over a laptop on a green casino table, with piles of casino chips.

While live poker is slowly getting back up to speed, and the poker community is sorely missing a good live poker tournament, we open up the vault on some of the most entertaining poker tournaments and the underdogs that took over the final tables. 

If you’re just getting into online poker, trying to revise your poker tournament strategy, or love a good underdog story, then keep reading to find out how these unknowns burned through their professional competition to cash out at some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world. 

John Hesp

It’d be hard, particularly among the sea of pros at the WSOP (World Series of Poker) Main Event in 2017, to pick out 64-year-old John Hesp as a major contender for the final table. The semi-retired and self-proclaimed recreational poker player from the UK carved his name into poker history when he – and his flower-power Hawaiian shirts – cashed $2.6 million by placing fourth at the biggest poker tournament in the world. 

Having been credited with bringing fun back to poker, Hesp’s flowery shirts and Panama hat were the life of the tournament all the way to the final table. He continued to brighten up poker halls for the next few years and went on to play many more tourneys after his big splash in 2017. 

Darvin Moon

Darvin Moon’s second-place finish at the 2009 WSOP tournament was one of the most memorable and impressive runs by an amateur in the game’s history. Born in Maryland in the USA, Moon was a logger by trade. The completely self-taught recreational poker player fought through a field of almost 6,500 players to end up across the table and heads-up with Joe Cada. 

While Moon admitted he was short on skill compared to the field at the WSOP tables, he made up for that in spades and earned the respect of the entire poker community with his humility, integrity, and grace at the tables. Moon didn’t beat Cada, but he still cashed a tidy $5.2 million and is one of the few people who can say that they took out poker legend Phil Ivey at the final table at the biggest tournament in the world. 

Sebastian Malec

Man with sunglasses with the lenses reflecting playing cards he is holding in his hands.

If you thought you’d seen some heavy mind-gaming and cheeky banter in online poker rooms or at online poker tournaments, you’ll love Sebastian Malec’s line he fed Uri Reichenstein before he took first prize at the final table of the EPT (European Poker Tour). “Just fold and I can go to the bathroom,” were the words from the Polish amateur, a play (we think) on Scotty Nguyen’s famous “You call now and it’s all over, baby!” that enticed the call from Reichenstein. 

Sebastian is a self-proclaimed EPT fanboy and couldn’t wait for his shot at the tables of one of the world’s most prestigious poker tournaments. After playing and winning an online poker qualifier, he managed to turn a $32 buy-in at an online poker tournament into a $6,000 buy-in at the EPT Main Event in Barcelona. If the experience of playing with his poker idols wasn’t enough, he managed to take the win and cashed in more than $1.3 million on his first try.  

John Dibella

If you were told that the next time you go on holiday, you’d be mixing it up at the tables with some of the world’s biggest poker professionals, dominating them, and cashing a cool $1.7 million, you’d probably think you were being scammed. Well, this is exactly what happened to John Dibella on his Caribbean holiday in 201 – and it was no scam. 

Dibella, a stockbroker at the time, took his family for a poker-fuelled vacation to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure 2012 and ended up making an incredibly deep run; it was so deep that he won the Main Event and more than paid for his holiday with the $1.7 million he cashed as a result! You might think him lucky, but Dibella’s final table featured the likes of Xuan Liu, Kyle Julius, and Faraz Jaka, so it wasn’t a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination, and Dibella played the game of his life. 

He is now an ace poker player who flexes his skills at low-stakes tables and tournaments. 

Chris Moneymaker

A royal flush of spades on a casino table with poker chips and the dealer in the background.

If we’re going to be talking about poker underdogs, particularly those who scored buy-ins to tournaments far above their pay grades, then we have to talk about the poker sensation that is Chris Moneymaker. The then accountant, now respected poker pro, entered a satellite (a relatively low-level online poker tournament) for no more than $85 and won a seat at the 2013 WSOP Main Event and a chance to play with some of the biggest names the game has ever known. 

Once he arrived in Vegas, Moneymaker went on the run of a lifetime. There are many highlights from Moneymaker’s performance throughout the tournament, and it’s doubtful that he ever played a game like that in his online poker career leading up to it. Some of the moments he’ll surely never forget include shipping a massive pot against Phil Ivey (yep, him again) just before the final table and then winning heads-up against Sam Farha – another one of poker’s strongest players – to win the event and cash in the tidy $2.5 million first prize. 

Moneymaker’s performance drove online poker tournaments and satellites to become incredibly popular among amateurs who were looking for a shot at the pros, and this legendary underdog continues to inspire up-and-coming players today. 

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Whether you think you have what it takes to rub elbows with the pros, or you’re a new player looking for a good place to go from free poker games to playing some real poker online, then you’ve come to the right place. 

BetMGM features a wide variety of online poker games and tournaments and has tables with varying stakes, so there’s a seat suitable for everyone. Register with us to get access to some of the best games available, as well as slots, live dealer table games, and a wide selection of other online casino games