Robert Varkonyi - Forgotten WSOP Main Event Champ4 years ago
Rodney Dangerfield became famous for creating an image centered around his "I don't get no respect!" catchphrase. In the world of poker, the player who perhaps has the most right to utter the same sentiment is Robert Varkonyi.
The 53-year-old Varkonyi won the 2002 World Series of Poker Main Event and the $2 million prize that went with it. Only 631 players entered back then, before poker exploded after the Main Event the following year when Chris Moneymaker rose to stardom via a $39 investment in an online satellite at PokerStars to become the 2003 champion.
Today, Moneymaker is a PokerStars Team Pro who finds his name in print every time the popularity of poker thanks to the Internet is mentioned. And Varkonyi? Seemingly long forgotten as a footnote in the history of poker - yet the victories of the two champions were only one year apart.
Interestingly enough, the first live cash for both was the WSOP Main Event in their respective winning years. Moneymaker had to navigate a larger field of 839 and won $500,000 more as a result - $2.5 million. The following year, 2004, saw 2,576 players enter.
Varkonyi was able to parlay his victory 13 years ago into a few other endeavors that likely increased his bankroll somewhat. There was a "Poker Kings" documentary, an alliance with InterPoker, he gave a few speeches on the game and his victory, and was part of an instructional video with cast members from "The Sopranos" entitled "Wise Guys on Texas Hold'em."
But none of those compare with a lucrative PokerStars sponsorship as enjoyed by Moneymaker. Since his Main Event title, Moneymaker's live tournament earnings have increased by more than $1 million. The best cashes among those winnings were his very next payday in March 2004 at Bay 101 Shooting Stars where 2nd place in a WPT $5,200 championship event was good for $200,000, and a $300,000 score for another runner-up finish at the $25K NBC National Heads-Up Championship in 2011.
As for Varkonyi, his poker resume lists almost 20 cashes since his bracelet win, including the WSOP Main Event in 2007 and 2011 where finishing 177th and 514th, respectively, added over $75K to his bankroll. The Hendon Mob shows his career earnings at a tad under $2,300,000.
The disrespect for Varkonyi began even before he won his 2002 title. Varkonyi managed to knock Phil Hellmuth out of the Main Event while holding Q-10 to the Poker Brat's A-K. Hellmuth vowed to shave his head if Varkonyi somehow were able to go on and win the championship. Hellmuth remained true to his word, getting a buzzcut immediately after Varkonyi won, overshadowing the new champion and grabbing the spotlight.
But according to various media reports, Varkonyi is seemingly not bothered by the lack of respect or attention that winning the WSOP Main Event typically brings. He plays poker, not every day, apparently concentrating more on investments and his family.
He and his wife, who also plays poker and has racked up $123,146 in winnings, look forward to the WSOP every year. Olga Varkonyi finished 238th in the Main Event in 2005 for a cash of $28,375.
It's interesting to note how the lives of two recreational players who managed to beat the odds and win the WSOP Main Event in successive years more than a decade ago can be so different. One remains a recreational player who just happens to be a former WSOP champ, while the other is sponsored by the world's top poker site, receiving the acclaim and recognition that goes with it.
Although Varkonyi likely made some pals among The Sopranos mobsters during taping of that instructional video after his WSOP victory, it's a good bet that if his desire was to get out of poker, nobody would pull him back in.
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