Poker's Greatest Comebacks

2 years ago
The Greatest Comebacks in Poker
26 Sep


Games survive and thrive on their legends; the players who are remembered long after they pass; on the tournaments which fans still talk about decades after they finished; and the incidents which remain as fresh in the memory as the day they happened.

One of the most amazing aspects of any game is when someone - seemingly down and beaten and halfway out the door – miraculously fights back against the odds and somehow takes the greatest prize. At PokerTube we believe in legends and their worth, so here are some of the greatest comebacks in the history of poker

Jack ‘Treetop’ Strauss

There are few players who were as striking as ‘Treetop’ Strauss, the 6foot 6inch giant towering above opponents even when seated! Jack’s finest poker moment – and the one which confirmed his status in poker’s ‘hall of legends’ and later the actual Hall of Fame- was the 1982 Main Event.

A chip and a chair

The second day of the event saw Strauss shove all his chips into the pot, only to be called and defeated. On rising to take his leave, the man who had finished 4th a decade earlier discovered he still had one chip left, hidden under a napkin!

Accounts vary from it being a $25 up to a $500 chip, but regardless of the amount it would take an almighty run of cards, luck and skill to recover from the huge blow.

But big Jack did exactly that, eventually fighting all the way to the final table where he eventually outplayed Dewey Tomko, the final hand seeing Strauss’ pocket 10’s holding up against Tomko’s pair of 4’s, and Strauss won $520,000 and a Main Event gold bracelet.

Jack Treetop Strauss eventually died doing exactly what he had spent his whole adult life in love with – playing high stakes poker at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles.

Stu Ungar

If a chip and a chair to victory seems a bit of a stretch, then what about Stu Ungar’s tale of poker stardom, drug abuse and despondency… and back to stardom again!

One of the most talented poker players ever, Ungar won the Main Event back-to-back in 1980 and 1981 but his heavy addiction to cocaine was already well underway. He also had a serious gambling problem which saw his gin rummy earnings (prolific by all accounts) and latterly his poker winnings spewed away at racetracks and on the gaming tables.

In it to win it

By 1997 Ungar was seen as a lost cause by most, but his long-time friend Billy Baxter agreed to pay his $10k Main Event buy-in at the last minute – and Ungar would go on to secure one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the game-despite suffering horribly from his addiction and even falling asleep at the table early in the event!

It was to be Ungar’s final great success, however, the poker genius succumbing late the following year to the years of abuse his body had taken - a heart attack finishing off the life of ‘the Kid’, who had become known as ‘the Comeback Kid’ after his remarkable 1997 win.

A cautionary tale in many ways, but the stuff legends are made of when it comes to his unparalleled poker skills.

David Chiu and Olivier Busquet

Every poker player knows the feeling of being heads-up and staring at a massive chip stack across the table – it’s horrible, you can’t even sit and wait for some decent cards and at any point your tournament winning hopes could be dashed.

That’s exactly how Busquet and Chiu must have felt in their respective WPT final tables in 2009 and 2008 – starting with Busquet who was facing a 20:1 chip deficit against Jeremy Brown at the Borgata Poker Open!

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Against all the odds, the aggressive American pro somehow turned the tables on his adversary – scooping the $925,514 first prize in a comeback described by reporters as "something that had to be seen to be believed."

Chiu’s tale was a similarly unexpected affair when he faced Gus Hansen heads-up for the 2008 WPT at the Bellagio – his 18million chip deficit looking as though the title was all-but-reserved for the ‘Great Dane’. Hansen “had just knocked out four players in 22 hands and was seemingly cruising towards victory” according to reports, and we all know how hard it is to reverse such momentum!

The Walking Dead

Chiu, however, had other ideas and gradually clawed his way back into the battle and finally walking off with the $3,389,140 payday, leaving a stunned crowd of onlookers and players shaking their heads at his return from the dead.

Mike McDermott

If you haven’t heard of Mike McDermott it’s likely that you have never watched a poker movie in your life. If you had, there’s a great chance it would have been Rounders – the cult classic which launched a thousand poker careers!

McDermott was Matt Damon’s fictional character, who along with Edward Norton’s character Lester "Worm" Murphy has to raise a lot of money very quickly to pay off some serious debts to ‘Teddy KGB’, the villain of the movie played expertly by John Malkovich.

It’s a tell I tell ya!

The comeback? Well having lost his entire bankroll to Teddy KGB at the beginning of the film, the denouement sees him win it back to save ‘Worm’s’ skin – but then lose it all yet again after Malkovich goads him into one more game! A last-gasp opportunity offers itself whereby he spots a ‘tell’ – a chink in the Russian’s poker armory - and Damon’s McDermott finally emerges triumphant.

The movie has inspired countless poker players over the years – the final scene seeing McDermott heading to Las Vegas for the Main Event, a dream almost all poker players have had many, many times!

Michael Martin

The EPT London tournament back in 2005 had a tale to rival the first of ours in this article, with US pro Michael Martin being down to slightly over one big blind early in the final table, before leapfrogging his way past the others to take down £1million!

Mine’s a double, in fact make it a triple!

From the chip lead to almost out was the problem facing Martin after several hands went against him. With the big blind at 80,000 and Martin sitting with a measly 95,000 in front of him, it looked like curtains for the young US pro. However, if there is one thing better than a double-up it’s a triple up! And then doubling up the next hand, and the one after that?

Well you do the maths – Martin, with over a million chips in just a few minutes play, was back in a position to fight for top spot - which he did with a powerful display of poker which brought the EPT to life for many TV fans!

Adding to Martin’s joy was the fact that his mother, girlfriend and friend Brandon Schaefer all flew in to see him at the final table –and survived the one big blind scenario too!

So there you have it – living proof that even when you’re almost dead at the table you can make a dramatic comeback and go down in poker lore for all eternity!

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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