The German poker player Koray Aldemir was crowned
the winner of the 2021 WSOP Main Event, banking $8 million for his efforts.
Aldemir is no stranger to poker, ranking in 4th
position on the Germany All Time Money List.
Could he – and other previous winners – still have won if inexperienced, but just got lucky?
We’ve been wondereing whether it’s possible to
win the World Series Main Event without studying any poker, and relying solely
But is luck alone enough to ensure the win in the biggest poker tournament on the planet?
The Main Event attracts countless amateurs, but it is also filled with experienced pros who have been playing poker for years, even decades.
Is it realistic to expect to win in such a
competition relying on luck alone and without actually studying any poker math
and strategy? Let’s try and find out.
Amateurs Have Won WSOP
In The Past
The idea that anyone can win the WSOP Main Event without really doing the hard work didn’t come out of nowhere.
Several amateurs have won the tournament in the past, creating this dream.
It all started with Chris Moneymaker back in 2003.
Although he wasn’t completely new to poker, he
could hardly be called a student of the game. On his run to the title,
everything lined up almost perfectly.
Some of you probably still remember that big cooler hand against Phil Ivey. If Moneymaker didn’t get extremely lucky there, poker history could have been completely different.
Then there was Jamie Gold in 2006.
The talent agent and TV producer was only in
the tournament because he was able to freeroll it. And while Gold did have a
certain set of skills that helped him to the victory, he certainly wasn’t a math
Looking at these and other examples of amateurs
who took down the most coveted title in all of poker, it seems like it can be
The beautiful thing about poker is that luck
does play a big role in the short run. One tournament, even if it spans across
several days, constitutes an extremely short run.
It’s just a few hundred hands. Virtually
everything can happen in such a small sample.
If you can win a few flips or 70/30s in a row,
which happens all the time, you can easily get in a position to fight for the
So, if things line up just right, it seems that
even someone with just a basic understanding of the game could bag the victory.
Players Are Becoming Increasingly
Although the WSOP Main Event has seen a fair
share of amateurs win in the past, this hasn’t been the case in recent years.
If you look at more recent winners, you’ll
notice that all of them are either full-time professionals or at least very
serious casual players.
No Limit Texas Hold’em is no longer this
mysterious game that only a small number of people understand.
There is a
wealth of free information out there, ready for the taking. Anyone willing to
learn can seriously improve their skills without spending a dime.
This shift also means that the odds of someone winning
without a solid understanding of poker math are becoming increasingly smaller.
Back in the early to late 2000s, there were
many inexperienced players in the Main Event fields, which meant that some of
them would have to end up with big chip stacks.
From that point on, luck could have a big
influence on the final outcome.
These days, you won’t find many truly bad
players in the WSOP Main.
Even those who won their tickets online from
small buy-in satellites probably have a very solid grasp of basic principles.
So, someone without these fundamentals will find it extremely hard to get
People play a different kind of poker nowadays.
They won’t be quick to pile their chips in the
middle and hope for the best, especially if they notice someone has no
experience. They’ll wait for good spots and chip away at them slowly.
Is it still possible to amass a huge stack by
virtue of luck alone?
Sure – a few coolers or a couple of bad reads
on the part of other players, and anything can happen.
But even then, as the pressure rises, it will
be much harder for someone with no basic understanding of poker odds and Independent
Chip Model (ICM) to do well.
A New Standard Of
Variance, or luck (whatever you want to call it), can play a huge role in any single tournament.
However, the Main Event isn’t just any
tournament. As players are eliminated, stakes get higher. Pay jumps start to
matter a lot, and the pressure of the coveted final table begins to pile up.
It’s easy to think that you wouldn’t be
affected by any of it, but the reality is, even if you’ve been playing poker
for some time, going deep in the Main Event is an experience unlike anything
An amateur who doesn’t understand poker math is
probably not used to that kind of pressure, either.
Even if they regularly play in the WSOP because
they enjoy it and can afford it, they don’t have the experience of going deep
in the Main.
That makes it much likelier they’ll make a
misstep at some point, and the sharks at the table won’t miss a beat.
And, these days, you’ll hardly find yourself
deep in the Main Event and surrounded by amateurs. The average level of play is
just so much higher than it used to be.
It’s really hard for someone without a basic
grasp of poker strategy to stumble upon the right moves.
They might play too tight or become too
aggressive, but either way, other players at the table will know how to adjust
to this and take advantage.
The thing is, you won’t find many players
who’ll look you up just because they don’t want to let you be the “table
Does this mean that an amateur absolutely can’t
Poker is still a game of luck to some degree,
and that’s what makes it appealing.
But, compared to before, it’s much harder for
inexperienced players to rise up to the challenge when it really matters most and
when they are surrounded by calm and methodical players who know their numbers.
How Much Luck Do You Need To Win?
When people talk about some of the past Main
Event winners, they often state that they had to be extremely lucky to do what
Now, it’s very hard to quantify luck, but I’ll
try to do it in the interest of this discussion.
There are several thousand people in any Main
Event, so there is no way to win it all without getting “lucky” in one way or
After all, luck is not only suckouts or winning
huge pots by hitting a magic card on the river.
If you flop top set against a second set on a
dry board and manage to win a massive pot to take the chip lead at the late
stage of the tournament, isn’t that also luck?
We can list plenty of these examples, so it’s
important to understand that luck can come in all forms.
Of course, there can only be one winner, so someone
does need to get luckier than the rest at the end of the day.
With escalating blinds and dwindling stacks,
luck becomes a big factor in the later stages of the tournament, where one coin
flip can decide who will win a life-changing event.
The bottom line is, you do need quite a bit of
luck to win any individual tournament, whether you’re a complete amateur or a
But if you’re constantly getting your chips in
the middle as an underdog, your “luck” will likely run out at some point.
Going back to previous points, the reason why
an amateur is probably less likely to win the Main Event today is that they
need more luck than they needed back in the day.
They’ll need the dealers to find their magic
cards time and time again, and the more often it happens, the better the odds
that the best hand will hold up eventually, cutting their WSOP dream short.
A Bit Of Learning Can
Go A Long Way
The question of this article is whether someone
with no knowledge of poker math can win the WSOP Main Event.
They can, but it’s very difficult.
But what if we change things around just a
little bit? What if that same player takes some time to learn the basics and
understand the fundamental odds of the game?
Even though this doesn’t take long to learn, it
changes things quite a bit.
Someone equipped with this kind of knowledge
will be in a much better position to win the whole thing, provided luck is also
on their side.
For example, if you know that you can’t call
off your entire stack for a two-times pot shove on the turn with just a flush
draw, you’ll do much better than someone who thinks that this is the situation
in which you can go either way.
Someone without any knowledge of poker math
will constantly find themselves in these situations. And good players will
quickly sniff it out and realize they can switch to the full exploitative mode
to crush their soul.
On the other hand, if you’re able to play
fundamentally sound poker, it’ll be much harder for the pros to take advantage
Sure, they’ll still have the upper hand, but
the amount of luck required to get to the final table and eventually win will
be much smaller.
It’s nice to have Lady Luck on your side, but
it doesn’t hurt to lend her a helping hand every now and again.
Can You Win The WSOP
Main Event With Pure Luck?
So, what’s the conclusion? Can someone win the
WSOP Main Event relying on luck alone and without knowing anything about poker
math and odds?
It’s possible but highly unlikely, especially
in this day and age.
At the end of the day, poker is a game of
numbers, and if you don’t know the first thing about these numbers, you’re not
doing yourself any favors.
With large fields and the overall quality of
play getting better with each passing year, it’s highly improbable that someone
without any knowledge of poker math could win the Main Event.
I’d bet heavily against that happening, but I wouldn’t hate to lose that bet looking at the bigger picture and what that could give to the industry.
Lead image: Twitter/WSOP