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WSOP: History -- 1981 Recap

The Kid Wins Again!


In 1981, the World Series of Poker featured a dozen preliminary events. Two of these events were won by players on opposite ends of their careers. Johnny Moss won his record eighth bracelet by winning the $1,000 seven-card stud eight-or-better event, which bolstered his already resume in the twilight of his historic career. Stu “The Kid” Ungar was just starting his poker career on the other hand, and he had begun it by winning the main event in his first attempt one year ago. The reigning world champion had been on a wild ride during that year and despite all the ups and downs both his bankroll and his life experienced he was back at the WSOP, and not only playing the best poker of his life, but the best poker of anyone’s life. He won the final preliminary event, the $10,000 deuce-to-seven lowball tournament, before gearing up to defend his title.

The main event was increased to four days in length in 1981 to accommodate the growing field. One player of special note in the field of 75 was Hugh Neville from the Eccentric’s Club in Dublin. He was the reigning Irish champion, and one of the first documented European players to enter the world championship. The Series also attracted a curious Englishmen who made the trip from the other side of the pond. His name was Al Alvarez, and the British writer went on to chronicle the ’81 Series in his famous book, “The Biggest Game in Town.”

Although he was blazing a historic trail by playing in the main event, it was a short one for Neville, who was among the first to get knocked out of the field. Moss had faired well in the preliminary action, but he did not have the same luck in the main event that year and quickly followed Neville to the rail.

During the first two days the big names and former champions continued to fall, including "Amarillo Slim" Preston and "Puggy" Pearson. Twenty players were left when day three began and at the top was Perry Green from Anchorage, Alaska. Doyle Brunson was never able to get much going that year, despite being the odds-on favorite to win the event, and he eventually hit the rail during the third day of action.

Day four was saved for the final table, and when it began Bobby Baldwin held the top spot on the leader board. Baldwin quickly disposed of Sam Petrillo in ninth place when his pocket queens held up against Petrillo’s A-K. Petrillo did take home some prize money, thanks to a change in the payout structure that now included all nine players at the final table.

Bobby BaldwinA few minutes later Baldwin woke up with queens again, and he put them to good use by eliminating Andy Moore, who received no help for his A-10. Play continued for the next 30 minutes without too much action before another player was dealt pocket queens. This time it was Green who held the ladies, and Baldwin who tried to defeat them with pocket nines. Baldwin had flopped a set and chose to slow play Green by checking his option. Green obliged by raising 42,000, and Baldwin reraised to 85,000. Perry went into the tank for a couple of minutes and then pushed all of his chips into the middle. Baldwin made the call and the turn and river were dealt J Q! Perry was now the chip leader and Baldwin was wounded.

Baldwin tried to get something started on the short stack, but he couldn’t regain any of his old momentum. His best opportunity came when he was dealt two kings in the hole and he committed the last of his chips to the strong possibility of survival. His opponent, Gene Fisher, turned over what else but pocket queens. The hand that had been so kind to Baldwin earlier in the day now continued to haunt him. Baldwin was ahead until the river, when the Q rolled off the deck, and busted him from the tournament in seventh place.

This opened the door for Ungar, who had just survived this long into the tournament, yet not really prospered. He quickly jumped at the opportunity to grab the chip lead after Baldwin was knocked out, and he soon succeeded. He started his climb by knocking out Jay Heimowitz in sixth place. Heimowitz held the kiss of death, pocket queens, and he fell to the Kid’s jacks, which flopped a set. One hand later, Unger sent Bill Smith to the rail, and it was then Green who took over duties as undertaker. Green took down Ken “Top Hat” Smith in fourth place to take the chip lead, and then he nearly knocked out Ungar. Ungar turned a set of kings against Green’s aces and a queen kicker, to steal back the chip lead from Green. Green made a recovery when he busted Fisher with a diamond flush in third place and things were set for heads-up competition.

Stu UngarHeading into the final match, the legendary Moss is quoted as saying, “I reckon Stuey’s got it made…he may not look like no Buffalo Bill, but he’s one tough poker player. That boy’s got alligator blood in his veins.” Ungar proved Moss correct by taking the chip lead with aggressive play before Green bore down and fought back to steal the lead. He was playing well against one of the best ever until he was dealt one of the major cooler’s in World Series history. Green held 10 2 and on a flop of J 9 8. Ungar opened the action for 65,000 and Green raised all in. Ungar quickly made the call and turned up some very bad news for Green, Ungar held A J. The hand held for Ungar and he now held an insurmountable chip lead. On the final hand Ungar raised preflop with A Q in the hole, and Green made the call holding 10c9d. The flop hit the table 8h7d4h and Ungar opened the pot. Green quickly followed with an all-in raise. The turn and river were dealt 4 Q to give Ungar the hand and his second world championship in as many years. The Kid had become a legend.

1981 WSOP Results

history article links:

Preludes - 1970 - 1971 - 1972 - 1973 - 1974 - 1975 - 1976 - 1977 - 1978 - 1979


Quote source: “All-In the (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker,” by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback