As you might know, poker surged in popularity
after 2003. Ever since, Main Events have had huge fields with the winners
taking home massive prizes that those who came before them couldn’t ever have
This article will look into the 10 biggest ever
Main Event winnings on record. If you’ve been on the fence about trying your
luck at the WSOP, these numbers might help tip the scale.
1. $12 Million – Jamie Gold (2006)
The 2006 WSOP Main Event remains the biggest one to date. The tournament attracted a record-breaking field of 8,773 runners, creating by far the biggest prize pool in WSOP history.
When the dust settled, it was announced the
winner would receive $12 million!
This was the first time the winner was poised
for an eight-figure amount, and it was a rather big increase compared to the
previous two years.
After a grueling multi-day battle on the felt, Jamie Gold took home the win and the $12 million.
Gold was an amateur player who got into the Main Event thanks to his deal with Bodog Poker and went on the hottest run of his life to secure the win in the biggest-ever Main Event field.
Gold’s victory was marked by some controversy,
as it later came to light he agreed beforehand to give half of his Main Event
winnings to one Crispin Leyser, the man who helped him get the deal.
In the end, Gold agreed to pay Leyser an
undisclosed amount of money, so he wasn’t able to keep the entire amount.
2. $10 Million – Martin Jacobson (2014)
For the most part, the prize for the Main Event
winner is a direct reflection of the total number of buy-ins. The more entries
there are, the bigger the win.
However, Martin Jacobson managed to pocket $10
million for his 2014 win, although this wasn’t one of the biggest Main Events
That year, the organizers decided to try a
little experiment, and they guaranteed the payout of $10 million for the
winner, regardless of the overall prize pool.
This was great for whoever would walk away with
the bracelet but not so great for the runner-up and other players who made it
to the final table.
Jacobson took home $10 million but his fellow
pro Felix Stephensen, who finished in second place, won “only” $5.1 million.
This was by far the biggest discrepancy between
the first and the second place in Main Events, and it didn’t go over too well
with the players. So, the WSOP abandoned the idea.
To add insult to injury, Stephensen had to pay more than 50 percent in taxes on his winnings.
Jacobson, being a UK resident, didn’t have to pay any taxes, so in the end his payout was four times bigger.
3. $10 Million – Hossein Ensan (2019)
Although the Main Event saw a massive uptick in
2006, it turned out to be a bit of a fluke.
In the years to follow, prize pools couldn’t
get anywhere near the 2006 record. In fact, it took all the way until 2019
before another Main Event would come close.
In 2019, 8,569 players descended upon Las Vegas
in their quest for fame and fortunes, coming very close to setting a brand new
record. Although that didn’t happen, the prize pool exceeded $80.5 million, and
$10 million of that was set aside for the winner.
This time around, Lady Luck favored Hossein
Ensan, an Iranian-born German player whose rather unorthodox and bold playing
style left his opponents puzzled and perplexed.
Ensan defeated the Italian pro Dario Sammartino
in the final skirmish, locking up what is by far the biggest win of his poker
4. $9,152,416 – Peter Eastgate (2008)
The 2008 WSOP Main Event was a very important one in WSOP history.
It was the first time ever that the tournament
didn’t play down to the winner. Instead, the final table play was suspended
until November, when players would come back to Rio to play until there was a
The concept, which came to be known as the
“November Nine”, stuck around for quite a few years before organizers
went back to the old way of doing things.
Coincidentally, this was also the year that
awarded the fourth-largest prize for the Main Event winner.
Eastgate didn’t break the record for the
biggest Main Event win, but he did become the youngest-ever Main Event winner
at the time.
That record was short-lived, though, as it was broken the very next year.
5. $8,944,310 – Jonathan Duhamel (2010)
The year 2010 saw 7,319 players going to Las
Vegas to play in the Main Event. It was the second-largest tournament field in
the event’s history up to that point, and it stayed in this spot until 2018.
Despite the large field and the total prize
pool of almost $69 million, the winner took home only the fifth-biggest prize
The Canadian pro Jonathan Duhamel took home the
victory and the coveted bracelet after outlasting every aspiring player in the
For his efforts, Duhamel received $8,944,310.
This was also the first of three WSOP bracelets that he’s managed to win up to
In 2011, the Canadian was a victim of a home
invasion, and his Main Event bracelet was stolen.
He did eventually get it back when a street
cleaner found it, but it was in a really bad condition, with many pieces
Luckily, the thieves were only able to get
$150,000 in cash from his home, half of which was retrieved when the police
caught the perpetrators.
6. $8.8 Million – John Cynn (2018)
It was only in 2018 that the 2010 Main Event
lost its spot as the second-biggest. That year saw a total of 7,874 players cough
up $10,000 each, generating the prize pool of over $74 million.
It was an important moment in the WSOP’s
history, as numbers were ticking up once again, beating the previous year’s
count of 7,221.
As is usually the case, a massive chunk of the
overall prize pool was set aside for the winner.
This time around, it was a nice-looking number
of $8.8 million. It may not have been the biggest ever Main Event payout, but
it was definitely a life-changing amount.
Interestingly enough, one of the players at the
final table was the 2009 Main Event winner Joe Cada, who was in a great spot to
make history and claim the second ME bracelet.
This didn’t happen, though, as he was
eventually sent to the rail in fifth, earning a $2.1 million consolation prize.
The title, the glory, and the $8.8 million went
to John Cynn, a US-born poker pro, whose biggest cash win up to that point was
$650,000 for the 11th place finish in the 2016 Main Event.
7. $8,711,956 – Pius Heinz (2011)
There are quite a few strong players hailing
from Germany, but it was only in 2011 that the country got its first Main Event
It was Pius Heinz, a young professional born in
1989, who outlasted the field of 6,868 runners and pocketed more than $8.7
million for his performance.
Interestingly enough, Heinz has never been too
keen on playing live poker.
He honed his skills playing poker online and found the live play way too slow and boring. Yet, he decided to give that 2011 Main Event a try, entering Day 1A, with plans to get over it quickly and go home.
Little did he know that Lady Luck had very
different plans in store for him. After several days of play, he was the one
holding all the chips and taking the winner’s photos for the media.
Despite this huge success, it seems his
approach to live tournaments hasn’t changed much.
Heinz has only cashed in a few events since his
Main Event victory, and his total live tournament winnings (including the ME)
currently stand at close to $9.1 million.
8. $8,547,042 – Joe Cada (2009)
In 2008, Peter Eastgate became the youngest
Main Event winner in the history of the competition. He was 22 when he won,
taking down the record long-held by none other than Phil Hellmuth.
Unlike Hellmuth, who got to enjoy his
achievement for almost two decades, Eastgate’s record was broken the very next
Joe Cada was only 21 when he entered the 2009
Main Event, and this was the first year he was legally allowed to play. The
minimum age limit to play in most casinos in the US is 21, and it’s the age
limit in place for the World Series.
That year saw 6,494 players generate the prize
pool of $61 million, with over $8.5 million set aside for the winner. In the
end, it was Cada standing tall, claiming the big win, and becoming the youngest
Main Event champion.
But, this wasn’t the only thing that marked
that final table.
The runner-up Darvin Moon was the talk of the tournament. His story was similar to that of Chris Moneymaker, and if he were to win, many believed it would trigger another poker boom.
In the end, Moon finished in second place,
pocketing close to $5.2 million, but there wasn’t a massive influx of players
The second interesting story was that of Phil Ivey, one of the best poker players in the world still awaiting his Main Event breakthrough.
That year, Ivey made it to the final table, and
there were countless fans around the world rooting for him to take it down.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out for Ivey
who was eliminated in 7th when his AK couldn’t hold up against
9. $8,527,982 – Greg Merson (2012)
The 2012 Main Event saw very similar numbers to
the one from 2009. Although the number of entries was slightly larger (6,598),
the final prize for the winner was a bit smaller.
Greg Merson walked away with the win, pocketing
$8,527,982 for his performance.
Merson was a young gun who came up playing
online cash games.
However, 2012 was a huge year for him, as he
ended up winning another WSOP bracelet, claiming the victory in the $10,000
As a result of this and other cashes during the
Series, he also claimed the coveted title of the Player of the Year.
Despite his success on the felt, Merson had to
fight many demons on a personal level. He became addicted to drugs when he was
17, and his battle with addiction was a long and grueling one.
According to him, he finally overcame it in December
2011, just a few months prior to his stellar performance in the 2012 World
Series of Poker.
10. $8,359,531 – Ryan Riess (2013)
Rounding up this list of the biggest Main Event
winnings is the 2013 Main Event won by Ryan “The Beast” Riess.
Born in 1990, Riess was 23 when he took down
the title after outlasting the field of 6,352 players.
This was the first year of playing live poker
seriously for the man with the peculiar nickname.
He certainly started things off with a bang, as
his win netted him $8,359,531. Riess continued playing in the years to follow,
and his live tournament winnings currently stand at just over $15 million.
For more WSOP content, check out:
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Lead image: Jamie Thomson/wsop.com