Amateurs Beating Pro Poker Players: Bodog’s Top Five
At some point in time, roughly around the turn of the 20th Century, the word “amateur” became an insult in the sports world – and “professional” a sign of excellence. This is grossly unfair to all of the people who play for the love of the game.
It’s even more unfair when it comes to poker. The idea that you have to “turn pro” to enjoy success at the tables is incorrect; everyone playing real money games at Bodog Poker is a professional by definition, even if it’s for pennies.
Besides, there are countless examples of amateurs beating pro poker players for big money. Every sport has some element of luck to it, but in poker, the random turn of a card means luck is baked right into the game. Even a first-time player can strike it rich if they go on a heater.
That’s pretty much what happened to the following five players. Again, calling them “amateurs” is a bit tricky; all of them studied the game to some extent before finding their big moment. But their success is living proof that you can do the same.
1. Chris Moneymaker Wins 2003 WSOP Main Event
This is still the most celebrated upset in the history of poker – and the moment that changed the game forever. Chris Moneymaker was an accountant from Nashville who played online poker when he wasn’t betting on sports. He earned his seat at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event through an online satellite tournament and ended up winning the whole thing for a cool $2.5 million. It was his first ever live poker tournament and simply has to feature in our list of amateurs beating pro poker players.
Moneymaker didn’t just run like God, though. He learned a thing or two playing all those hands online; on the first day of the Main Event, sports handicapper Lou Diamond called Moneymaker his “dark horse” to win. So-called professionals have been poking fun at Moneymaker ever since, but he also finished second at the 2004 WPT Shooting Star for another $200,000 in prize money, and second at the 2011 NBC National Heads-Up Championship for 300 large.
2. Fishman vs. Hellmuth
Moneymaker’s victory set off a poker boom that saw the creation of several high-profile television shows, including the Big Game, which was specifically designed to bring amateur players into the fold. Every episode of this 2010-2011 program featured a “loose cannon” who was staked $100,000 to play 150 hands of No-Limit Texas Hold’em against the world’s top professionals.
We could have chosen several moments from this show for our list, but the battle between David Fishman and Phil Hellmuth stands out. At one point, Fishman completes a straight on the river and uses some clever speech play to goad Hellmuth into calling his all-in raise with Two Pair. Cue the classic Hellmuth rant.
3. “Miss Finland”
Amateur players also featured heavily on the Shark Cage show that ran in 2014-15. The most famous moment from this show involved Sara Chafak, the winner of the Miss Finland 2012 beauty pageant. After appearing on the Finnish version of Dancing on Ice, where she and her partner took third place, Chafak tried her luck at the poker table. Her victim: Ronnie Bardah, who won a bracelet in Limit Hold’em at the 2012 WSOP.
Chafak started this hand by raising the flop in position with a gutshot; Bardah called with a low pair, then improved to trips on the turn. Bardah check-raised, Chafak re-raised, Bardah called, then folded to her all-in river bluff. Hilarity ensued when Chafak showed her hand. If you’re all about amateurs beating pro poker players, go give this footage a watch!
4. John Dibella Wins PCA 2012 Main Event
Poker is a great game for people from the financial sector – people like Moneymaker, and people like John Dibella, a day trader from New York who enjoyed taking annual trips with his family to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. Dibella made it pay in 2012 when he bagged over $1.7 million at the PCA Main Event, beating professional Kyle Julius heads-up for the title.
“Baby, I did it,” Dibella beamed as he broke the fourth wall during his post-victory interview. “I love you and the kids!”
The parallels with Moneymaker don’t end there. Dibella also earned his seat at the Main Event through a satellite, although a live one for $1,000 in this case instead of Moneymaker’s $86 online satty. Dibella has also enjoyed continued success on the felt, racking up nearly $2.9 million in live earnings as we go to press.
5. Maria Konnikova Wins 2018 PCA National
The last entry on our list perfectly illustrates why the line between amateur and professional is so fuzzy. Konnikova was a New York Times best-selling writer with a psychology background who got involved with poker despite having “zero interest” in gambling. She decided to take a deep dive into the game as part of a writing project, going as far as hiring noted professional Erik Seidel as her coach.
Less than two years later, Konnikova took down first place at the 2018 PCA National, overcoming the likes of Chris Moorman and Canada’s own Kevin MacDonald and Ryan Smith at the final table. Not only did Konnikova win over $110,000 in prize money and promotions, she also had the story for her third book, The Biggest Bluff, which was released in 2020.
Now that you’ve seen how the amateurs get it done, it’s your turn to show the world what a true lover of the game can accomplish. Satellite tournaments are running every day at Bodog Poker, giving you the chance to turn a few dollars into a small fortune. Standard multi-table tournaments are also available around the clock, along with Sit-and-Gos, cash games and more. Sign up today if you haven’t already, check out our growing archive of useful articles to help you sharpen your poker skills, and we’ll see you on the felt.