The Story of the 1983 WSOP Main Event

Back in 1983, the future of the World Series of Poker was changed forever by a new winner who paid much less than the norm to play the Main Event. What did the 1983 world champion do? Which poker legend made the late stages of the Main Event and left hours before its conclusion, never to return? The 14th annual World Series of Poker really was one for the books.

An Event for Each Year... Plus One?

In 1983, the 14th year of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, there were a total of 14 events according to the official record books… but maybe 15 in reality. These ranged in buy-in from $500 up to $10,000 and included 13 different winners as one of the preliminary event winners would go on to win the world championship. 

There was also a ‘hidden’ event which has never officially been added to the books, was won by Dick Carson, who took home $105,000 for winning the $10,000-entry No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Draw even, beating Jack ‘Treetop’ Straus heads-up for the win. But just like James Bond fans ignore the seldom-mentioned Never Say Never Again, let’s not focus on Carson’s side event title.

The biggest show in town welcomed more players than ever to Las Vegas to fight for the right to be called world champion at the felt. As the tournament was introduced on television, the World Series of Poker was announced as “sometimes eccentric, often extravagant… and always exciting” – it would be impossible to argue with that by the end of the festival.

WSOP Hold'em Event Gold Bracelet

Preliminary Events See Stuey Land Third Bracelet

The first three events at the 1983 World Series of Poker saw players David Angel (event #1), David Baxter (event #2), and Artie Cobb (event #3) all win bracelets. The bracelet had now returned as the signature WSOP trophy after the debacle to change the prize to a WSOP wristwatch. After coming second to Ken Flaton in the $1K Seven Card Stud (event #5), Stu Ungar won the $5,000 Seven Card Stud event (event #13) for $110,000, beating 1982 Main Event runner-up Dewey Tomko – who had left his job as a teacher to turn pro. 

One of the biggest wins of the series was for Buster Jackson, who took home 124,000 after he beat Rick Hamil heads-up for the title in the $1,000-entry No Limit Hold’em event #7. David Sklansky took home another bracelet (event #11), making it one bracelet and two wristwatches on his mantel after his triumphs in 1982. Sklanksky remains the only player in WSOP history to win multiple WSOP titles but owns more WSOP watches than WSOP bracelets. 

Tom McEvoy took down the $1,000-entry Limit Hold’em event #10, beating Irishman Donnacha O’Dea to the title in an event populated by 234 entries. Both men would play the WSOP Main Event, with McEvoy taking advantage of the live ‘satellite’ event, qualifying for the World Championship for a fraction of the $10,000 buy-in. A move that made Main Event history in more ways than one.

McEvoy Makes Poker History

In the Main Event itself, there were a total of 108 entries, a record at the time, with the addition of satellite qualifying events boosting the prize pool more than ever. A bigger top prize lay ahead for the eventual winner, with the emphasis on the word eventual. It would transpire to be the longest heads-up in poker history. 

While Crandell Addington bubbling the money caused a ripple of surprise to reverberate around the final tables at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas, the shockwave was to come three-handed. Doyle Brunson called Rod Peate’s raise, with ‘Texas Dolly’ holding jack-nine. Peate had pocket nines and a nine on the flop got all the money in. At the time it was a momentary shock as Brunson shook the younger man’s hand. It was, as it turned out, to be the last time Doyle Brunson would ever reach the final table of the WSOP Main Event. 

That pot against Brunson gave Peate 60% of the chips in play and early in the heads-up, he moved all-in with a straight flush draw and top pair. Tom McEvoy held second and third pair on the flop but found the fold – explaining to anyone who would listen that he was playing the long game. He was not interested in a flip for $540,000 – this was going to be a long haul. 

Seven and a half hours later, the final hand played out. Peate raised to 50,000 with king-jack of diamonds, and McEvoy re-raised with pocket queens – for ‘all of it’. A safe flop left Peate needing either a king or running diamonds to the back-door flush. No diamond came on the turn but it was the jack of hearts, which added two jack outs to Peate’s kings. There were only five cards that could save him. No paint on the river meant no miracle and ‘Grand Rapids Tom’, leaping up onto the table, yelled ‘I did it! I did it!” as his wife beamed next to him.

No Smoke Without Chips

Celebrating in style, McEvoy would later claim that ‘Winning the championship was the fulfilment of my dreams, the thrill of my life’. It was certainly a major result as he became the first player ever to win the Main Event from a satellite qualifier. Such was the pace – or lack of it – heads-up that Mike Sexton would tell him: “You’ve set poker back ten years, Tom!”, but Tom McEvoy didn’t care, happy to laugh with his friend Mike as he floated on the high of winning the poker game of his life. 

“I was so into it that afterward if you looked at the pictures of us both, he looked like a wreck and I got so excited I jumped up on my chair and yelled ‘I did it, I did it!’, which is not something I would do today.” He later told this reporter in Las Vegas. 

A huge change would eventually take place at the World Series of Poker, led by McEvoy a passionate non-smoker. He didn’t like the way that the cardroom was a smoke pit and other players agreed with him, including many of the smokers themselves.

“The WSOP would be so bad with the smoking that players were getting bronchitis and coughing all the time,” he said. “They used to call it the ‘Horseshoe Crud’.” Well, it’s at least as catchy as the ‘Rio Flu’. 

McEvoy agreed to teach Benny Binion’s son poker for free if Benny would promise to make the World Series of Poker venue a smoke-free environment. Binion kept to his word and so did McEvoy. And to this day you cannot smoke inside at the WSOP venue, a change made possible by McEvoy’s gesture. 

There would be more thrilling winners of the Main Event in years to come, but McEvoy paved the way for many others in defeating so many of the big names along the way on his route to a cut-price-entry life-changing result.

“Rod is one hell of a tough player and I had to do it my way, a slow, long grind. I’m glad that it was me or Rod not Doyle Brunson or any of the other Texans. I’ve nothing against Texans but for years they’ve thought they’re the best in the world. Well, I’m from Michigan, Rod’s from Washington – and the Texans have got some competition.”

From 1984 onwards, Texas would no longer hold a monopoly on the destiny of many World Championships. The old days were, in some ways, gone forever. The World Series of Poker was now starting to belong to the world.

1stTom McEvoyUnited States $540,000
2ndRod PeateUnited States $216,000
3rdDoyle BrunsonUnited States $108,000
4thCarl McKelveyUnited States $54,000
5thRobert GeersUnited States$54,000
6thDonnacha O’DeaRep. of Ireland$43,200
7thJohn JenkinsUnited States $21,600
8thR.R. PenningtonUnited States$21,600
9thGeorge HuberUnited States$21,600

1982 WSOP Main Event                                          1984 WSOP Main Event

About the Author: Paul Seaton has written about poker for over 10 years, interviewing some of the best players ever to play the game such as Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. Over the years, Paul has reported live from tournaments such as the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and the European Poker Tour. He has also written for other poker brands where he was Head of Media, as well as BLUFF magazine, where he was Editor.