WSOP of the Past, 1979

The 1979 WSOP would see a different kind of outcome for the first time. Up until this point, all of the previous WSOP titles had went to well-known pros such as Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Bobby Baldwin. However, in this WSOP the World Champion of Poker would be a player from the amateur realm. You didn’t think it was Chris Moneymaker did you? It was a man by the name of Hal Fowler. In fact, the year before Moneymaker’s epic win, Robert Varkonyi won the event as an amateur. Most believe it was Moneymaker. After all, he did start the poker boom as we know it today. But when Hal Fowler won in 1979, it opened the door to much growth for the WSOP. He laid the foundation that anyone can win on any given day.

In the preliminary events there were two players who won multiple bracelets that year. Gary “Bones” Berland won two bracelets for the second year in a row. Both were in variations of 7-card stud as they had been the previous year. Lakewood Louie also took home two titles that year with one being in the $1,000 ace-to-five draw lowball event and the other in the $2,000 five card draw event. The defending world champion Bobby Baldwin won his second career bracelet in the $10,000 2-7 draw lowball event while Johnny Moss won the $5,000 7-card stud event. Barbara Freer was the women’s championship winner that year, winning the $400 7-card stud ladies event. Doyle Brunson won another bracelet as he and Starla Brodie won the $600 mixed doubles event. Dewey Tomko won his first bracelet in the $1,000 no limit hold ’em event, the last tournament prior to the Main Event.

The field in the 1979 Main Event drew a crowd of 54 entrants, 8 of which were amateurs. This was the largest turn out by amateurs in history at the time. One of the amateurs was Hal Fowler. He was the last amateur in the field when the final table was reached. Joining Fowler at the final table were poker greats; defending champion Bobby Baldwin, Crandall Addington, George Huber, Bobby Hoff, Sam Petrella, Sam Moon and 3-time champ Johnny Moss. Then there was Hal Fowler, an amateur poker player who worked at a public relations firm in Los Angeles, CA. Fowler would need to overcome a virtual murderers row to win the event and to make matters worse, he was the short stack. When play began, Moon had the chip lead and quickly railed the defending champion Baldwin when his set of aces beat Baldwin’s set of eights. Addington was gone soon after, leaving 6 players at the table. Hoff would become the aggressor by knocking out Petrella. Hoff continued his hot streak by eliminating Moss in 5th when Hoff’s A-10 rivered Moss’s A-Q. With only four players left, the amateur Fowler changed his strategy by becoming more aggressive. He eliminated Moon and Huber, leaving him heads up with the very talented Hoff.

Early in the heads up battle Fowler shoved all-in with top pair versus Hoff’s two pair, but on the river Fowler made a larger two pair scoring a huge double up. Late in the match Hoff was dealt pocket aces. He made a very sizable raise and Fowler, with only a 7s-6d, decided to make the call and see the flop. The flop was Js-5h-3c, a good flop for Hoff and only a gut shot for Fowler. Hoff made another big bet and Fowler called the bet with only a gut shot straight draw, a play most pros wouldn’t make. Unfortunately for Hoff the gut shot was made when the turn yielded a 4s. Hoff pushed all his chips in the middle and was immediately called. The river was a meaningless 10d and Hal Fowler was the 1979 World Series of Poker Champion! Nobody could believe that an amateur had won the World Championship and its benefits were seen at next year’s WSOP. The Main Event field grew from 54 entrants to 73 (a 26% increase in attendance) with more than 20 of them being amateurs.

Hal Fowler’s historic win showed a new strategy that is still used today. Instead of making a critical mistake Fowler simply waited for everyone else to knock each other out and when he was in the the money, he shifted his strategy. Fowler became the aggressor, which confused the remaining players. Since his win in 1979 there have been 15 amateurs to win the event, the most coming from 2002 to 2008. While Chris Moneymaker was considered to be the most famous of amateurs to win the event, he was not the first. That honor goes to Hal Fowler. Fowler faded from the poker scene after that win due to health issues related to diabetes. Fowler passed away on November 7, 2000. He was 73.

Michael Krisle –Senior Writer/Editor – AGP



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