Any poker fan worth their salt will be aware of the 1998 film “Rounders”, starring Matt Damon as a couple of poker players who are trying to earn money to pay off a debt. The movie features a clip from the 1988 World Series of Poker, the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em Main Event, a scene that depicts the final hand of the tournament in which Johnny Chan traps Erik Seidel with a classic slowplay.
The rainbow flop comes Q – 8 – T and Chan bets. Seidel, sporting a bright orange visor and a streak of aggression, throws out a raise. Chan puts one hand to his face and shuffles his chips with the other, seemingly deep in thought. He clearly doesn’t like that raise, but after a little consideration, decides to make the call.
The turn brings a harmless looking 2, a second spade on the board. The defending champion thinks before checking and looking away nervously. Seidel checks behind him and the river card falls the six of diamonds, seemingly no use to anybody. Seidel wastes little time in shoving and Chan, oversized sunglasses and all, calls in the blink of an eye whilst rising from his seat. The crowd becomes raucous as they realise what’s going on.
Chan turns up a suited J-9, which meant that he flopped a straight. Seidel flopped top pair, a strong enough hand heads up, but no match for the nuts. It is tough not to feel for him, as he stands bemused by what has just happened, the obvious disappointment all over his face, as the crowd cheers Chan’s victory.
Thanks to the film, that final hand of the 1988 Main Event is now famous amongst the poker community and the clip captures an iconic moment in WSOP history. Not only is the hand played to perfection and a joy to watch, but it earned Chan his second WSOP Main Event title, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that they had come back to back, in 1987 and 1988.
Although Chan had already won a World Series of Poker bracelet, the $1,000 Limit Hold’em event back in 1985, it was his 1987 WSOP Main Event triumph that announced the arrival of the man from Guangzhou. In winning the 1988 Main Event though, Chan would prove to the poker world that the “Orient Express” was not just a flash in the pan, as well as simultaneously paving the way for Asian players to break into the poker big time.
Chan would almost achieve the impossible the following year, making it to the heads up stage for the third consecutive WSOP Main Event. 1989 wasn’t to be his year though; this was the turn of one Phil Hellmuth, at the time the youngest ever WSOP Main Event winner.
But 1988 will always be remembered by poker enthusiasts, for “that” hand.