By Kevin Taylor
The WPT Legends of Poker is one of just three events that have been a part of the World Poker Tour every year since its inception in 2002. Although the buy-in has changed throughout the years, the prestige of the event has not. Some of the biggest names in poker have taken down this title, and below you will see the top five moments in WPT Legends of Poker history.
Will this year provide another top moment in WPT history?
5. Chris Karagulleyan Wins First-Ever WPT Legends of Poker Main Event
The WPT Legends of Poker event takes place at the beginning of the World Poker Tour season. In its inaugural season in 2002, it was the second event on the schedule, following the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic, which is now run in December in Las Vegas.
In August of 2002, 134 hopefuls ponied up the $5,080 buy-in to play in the second-ever World Poker Tour event. When the dust settled, it was Chris Karagulleyan who took home the title.
Karagulleyan defeated a tough field and final table that included Phil Hellmuth (8th), Paul Darden (7th), Kathy Liebert (6th), CK Hua (5th), and Mark Seif (4th).
Karagulleyan enjoyed a successful poker career in the years that followed, with over $1.6 million in live tournament earnings. Since 2013, though, Karagulleyan’s cashes have come exclusively in Cyprus, where he won over $100,000 in two finishes earlier this year.
4. Comeback for the Ages for Harry Arutyunyan
The Season XIII WPT Legends of Poker Main Event was one for the locals, as two regulars from the Bicycle Hotel & Casino ended up going heads up for the title and the glory.
It looked like tournament grinder Massoud Eskandari would be claiming his first televised title, as he came into the final table with a massive chip lead. Eskandari would carry that lead all the way to heads-up play, where he held more than 15 million in chips to Harry Arutyunyan’s 3.8 million. However, Arutyunyan would score a double up on just the second hand of heads-up play, and the comeback was on.
That would be the start of a four-hour heads-up battle that eventually saw Arutyunyan get the best of Eskandari. Arutyunyan won more than $575,000 for his efforts, and he has seen several more big tournament results since, as has Eskandari. Both of these players will surely be playing in this year’s WPT Legends of Poker Main Event.
3. Dan Harrington Wins Biggest Legends of Poker Ever
During the poker boom, there were few faces more familiar than Dan Harrington. The poker icon made back-to-back WSOP Main Event final tables, finishing in third place in 2003 and fourth place in 2004, the two biggest Main Events ever at that time.
In 2006, the buy-in for this event was upped to $10,000, and the following year, the biggest prize pool in WPT Legends of Poker history was made: $4.6 million. The televised final table was stacked, with Michael McClain (5th), Tom Schneider (4th), local player Thu Nguyen (3rd), and David “The Dragon” Pham (2nd). As you can tell by now, the victory was “Action” Dan Harrington, who took home $1,635,365 for the victory. To date, it is the biggest victory of Harrington’s illustrious career, and it still marks the largest first-place prize ever given out at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino for the WPT Legends of Poker.
2. Mike Shariati Pulls the Upset, Propels Him to Hublot WPT Player of the Year
Before 2015, Mike Shariati had registered seven career poker cashes for just over $3,500. Then, he exploded.
First, Shariati won the 12th installment of the Mega Millions at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino, earning $275,000. Just a few months later, Shariati played in his first WPT Legends of Poker Main Event. From a field of 786 players, Shariati found himself at another major final table at the Bike, and when he got to heads-up play, he was staring across the table at one of the most notable names in all of poker: Freddy Deeb.
The two players started heads-up play virtually even in chip stacks, but Deeb took a massive lead on the first hand of the duel. At one point, Deeb held more than a 10-1 chip lead, with 21.5 million to the 1.9 million of Shariati at the 240,000 big blind level. Few gave Shariati a chance at that point, but after spiking a lucky river to double up, Shariati stormed back. It would take over four hours, but eventually, Shariati completed the unlikely comeback to secure his second massive victory of the year at the Bicycle Casino.
Shariati would carry the momentum of this victory throughout the World Poker Tour season. He would later finish second in one of the most prestigious events on the WPT schedule, the WPT L.A. Poker Classic, on his way to an improbable Hublot WPT Player of the Year honor.
1. Doyle Brunson Wins the Season III WPT Legends of Poker Main Event
You will be hard pressed to find a bigger name in poker than the legendary Doyle Brunson. One of the greatest players the world has ever seen, Brunson came to Los Angeles in 2004 and walked away with his first and only World Poker Tour title.
In the Season III WPT Legends of Poker Main Event, Brunson defeated a field and final table that included Perry Friedman (9th), Paul Phillips (7th), Joe Awada (5th), and Lee Watkinson (2nd) to earn a massive $1,198,260 first-place prize. That score marks the biggest tournament cash in the illustrious career of a man that would be the first face built on the Mount Rushmore of poker.
Brunson’s win also came at the start of the poker boom in 2004, and provided a huge boost to the popularity of the game to see such a big name take down a prestigious and well-known title like the WPT Legends of Poker. The combination of an iconic player in Brunson and the televised World Poker Tour final table provided an emphatic spark to the industry.
The Season XVI WPT Legends of Poker has just kicked off at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino. Will there be a moment at this tournament that will top one of these iconic moments? Stay tuned to WPT.com’s coverage of the event find out!