Ever since poker started being broadcasted on ESPN, and amateur player Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker in 2003 (along with $2.5 million), the public has been fascinated by just how much poker players can win at major events. Moneymaker's win is credited with helping to start the wave of enthusiasm for online poker and live tournaments alike—and yet, he's not even that high on the list of biggest prize winners in recorded poker tournament history.
Sound crazy? Well, consider the following: these are the 10 biggest prize winners in known poker tournaments (with prize money rounded to the nearest $100,000).
Antonio Esfandiari - $18.3 million
The exact number of Antonio Esfandiari's extraordinary prize package was $18,346,673, and it came at the 2012 WSOP. ESPN's
Gary Wise did a write-up of the win and noted that it was actually part of a charity event played within the WSOP that year. As Wise said
, "The 11.111 percent of the total entry fee that went to Laliberte's One Drop charity made the event an altruistic endeavor." This referred to Guy Laliberte, who came up with the game, which involved $1 million buy-ins from 48 different players. It may have been a charity, but in the end Esfandiari's personal prize package became—by a fairly wide margin—the biggest win in poker history.
Daniel Colman - $15.3 million
Colman won his ridiculous prize package in the 2014 version of the One Drop event that netted Esfandiari $18.3 million. Colman ended up against seasoned pro Daniel Negreanu in the final and won with a straight he got on the turn. He became famous for his reaction, which showed him seeming totally overwhelmed
Jamie Gold - $12 million
Gold's win came at the 2006 WSOP Main Event and was the result of a strategic bluff. Presumably wealthy following the win, Gold mysteriously seems to have sold or given away the bracelet he got for the win, with Poker News
reporting in 2013 that the same bracelet sold for $65,725 in an auction—though Gold himself wasn't selling.
Martin Jacobson - $10 million
While Daniel Colman won the One Drop event at the 2014 WSOP, Jacobson won the actual Main Event at the tournament. His $10 million represents the only known 10-figure win aside from those by Esfandiari, Colman, and Gold.
Peter Eastgate - $9.2 million
Peter Eastgate won his $9.2 million prize package by taking the Main Event at the 2008 WSOP. At the time, he was the youngest ever to win the event.
Jonathan Duhamel - $8.9 million
The 2010 WSOP Main Event netted Duhamel his approximately $8.9 million prize, though curiously enough the same event boasted the second-biggest total prize pool in tournament history. The total was nearly $70 million, second only to the 2006 Main Event where Jamie Gold was victorious.
Pius Heinz - $8.7 million
Pius Heinz became the first German-born poker player to win the WSOP Main Event in 2011 and secured $8.7 million along with the honor. Unlike a lot of other big-time champions, Heinz has kept a pretty low profile since winning his life-altering prize, telling Poker News in May 2014 that he's "just enjoying life pretty much
." Heinz says poker is a hobby for him once more, and that he only remained a professional for a short time after winning the WSOP.
Joe Cada - $8.5 million
While Peter Eastgate briefly held the title of youngest-ever WSOP Main Event winner, Joe Cada usurped that title with his win in 2009. He was only 21 when he won the event (and $8.5 million), and in the years since he continues to be a successful professional player.
Greg Merson - $8.5 million
Greg Merson won the Main event in 2012 and took home about $20,000 less than Cada did with his title. So for all intents and purposes, these two are basically tied as the eighth-biggest prize winners we know of.
Ryan Riess - $8.4 million
Riess took home his prize in 2013, at—you guessed it—the WSOP Main Event. Matthew Pitt did an article for Betfair
in which he counted down the biggest poker tournament wins of 2013. And in doing so, he made the interesting observation
that with the exception of the One Drop event in 2012 (and now the one in 2014 as well), the Main Event at the WSOP has awarded all of the biggest prizes in tournament poker. Riess's win was no exception, and stands as the 10th-highest total in known poker history!
So there you have it. Naturally, as time goes on and the events get richer, we'll probably have some even more lucrative prize money totals to talk about. But for now, these are the 10 largest prize pools and tournament winners we've ever seen in poker—a pretty far cry from Moneymaker's inspirational $2.5 million back in 2003!