The ten greatest final tables of the 21st century

We at Bluff have been busy debating the greatest final tables on Earth. Could anything compare to the 2006 HORSE, we wondered. Here are the most awe-inspiring final tables of this century, each filled with bracelets, legends and big-time paydays.

No. 1: 2006 World Series of Poker, $50,000 HORSE (143 entrants)

There's no argument about the No. 1 spot. The 2006 $50,000 HORSE final table was one of the greatest spectacles in modern poker. The table consisted of nine of the fiercest players in the game, with 27 WSOP bracelets between them, battling each other at the greatest test of skill in poker. The $50,000 buy-in was unprecedented, and for many it was this event and not the main event that would determine poker's true world champion.

The air was charged with excitement at the Rio that night as Chip Reese worked his way through the assembled legends to face off against Andy Bloch in the longest heads-up match up in WSOP history. We can only imagine where this event is going in the future. One thing's for sure -- we'll have another addition to this list after the '07 HORSE final table.

(1) Chip Reese -- $1,716,000
(2) Andy Bloch -- $1,029,600
(3) Phil Ivey -- $617,760
(4) James Bechtel -- $549,120
(5) TJ Cloutier -- $480,480
(6) David Singer -- $411,840
(7) Dewey Tomko -- $343,200
(8) Doyle Brunson -- $274,560
(9) Patrik Antonius -- $274,560

No. 2: 2004 Borgata Poker Open, $10,000 no-limit hold 'em (302 entrants)

The Borgata always draws a great field of poker players, and in late September 2004, the cream rose to the top of this WPT championship event. The six at the final table included two legends (Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey) and two young guns fresh off a WSOP main event final table (David Williams and Josh Arieh). We hate to say it, but the two other guys didn't really matter.

There was furious action from the get-go, and it seemed to be turning into a battle of who could pull off the bigger bluff. Negreanu employed his usual mind games, forcing Arieh to make a huge laydown, and then showing him just one card, making him think he'd folded the winner. Arieh was eliminated shortly after when his busted bluff ran into Negreanu's rivered straight.

Negreanu continued to apply the pressure when he found himself heads-up with Williams. The action swung back and forth, but Negreanu eventually nailed the coffin shut when his aces held up against Williams' top pair on the flop. It was Daniel's night as he showed once again why he is among the greatest ever, while Arieh and Williams proved they were no one-hit wonders.

(1) Daniel Negreanu -- $1,117,400
(2) David Williams -- $573,800
(3) Josh Arieh -- $286,900
(4) Chris Tsiprailidis -- $181,200
(5) Brandon Moran -- $135,000
(6) Phil Ivey -- $105,700

No. 3: 2002 Five Diamond World Poker Classic, $10,000 no-limit hold 'em (146 entrants)

We all look at Chris Moneymaker's WSOP win in 2003 as the beginning of modern-day poker. What we sometimes forget, however, is that the birth of the WPT came almost a year earlier at the world-famous Bellagio Casino in the heart of Las Vegas. With its now legendary studio lights and hole-card cameras in place, poker history was about to be made by this stellar final table. And while the lineup included Freddy Deeb, John Juanda, John Hennigan and Scotty Nguyen, it was a newcomer named Gus Hansen who stole the show. His aggressive style and sometimes reckless play baffled the competition. There was even some trash talk, with Deeb stating afterwards, "He played very bad. I would like to play this game with him every day for the rest of my life." Little did Deeb know that Hansen would go on to be one of the winningest players in WPT history. This inaugural WPT final table was a great way of kicking off this new "big thing" called poker.

(1) Gus Hansen -- $556,460
(2) John Juanda -- $278,240
(3) Freddy Deeb -- $139,120
(4) John Hennigan -- $83,472
(5) Chris Bigler -- $62,604
(6) Scotty Nguyen -- $48,692

No. 4: 2005 World Series of Poker, $5,000 six-handed no-limit hold 'em (301 entrants)

For a few summer nights in 2005, Johnny Chan stood astride the poker world with his record 10 WSOP bracelets. It wasn't long, however, before his old pal Doyle Brunson sat down at a final table at the Rio with the single aim of knocking Johnny off the top spot. It wouldn't be easy, however; Doyle had some pretty stiff competition. Four of the six at that table had made the final table of the WSOP main event (Brunson, Nguyen, Minh Ly, Jason Lester); two of the six had main event bracelets (Brunson, Nguyen), and two others had WSOP bracelets (Layne Flack, Lester). In total, there were a whopping 18 bracelets between the players the table.

When action got underway, it was Flack and Brunson who seemed to dominate the play, fighting each other for every single chip. Doyle finally got the better of Layne when his K-9 caught a second 9 against Flack's K-10, on a 10-9-3-9 board. Doyle found himself heads-up with Ly and proved he still had the stamina to close the deal, moving in with 10-3, slightly off from his infamous 10-2. It had the same effect, though, and when he flopped a three against Ly's K-Q, the bracelet was his.

(1) Doyle Brunson -- $367,800
(2) Minh Ly -- $203,715
(3) Scotty Nguyen -- $106,105
(4) Layne Flack -- $99,030
(5) Ayaz Mahmood -- $82,055
(6) Jason Lester -- $67,905

No. 5: 2003 World Series of Poker -- no-limit hold 'em -- $3,000 buy-in -- 398 Entrants

You only have to look at the final three to see why we chose this particular table. Sure, there were some big names other than Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Erik Seidel at this $3,000 bracelet event -- Mark Seif, who has two bracelets of his own, finished ninth, and Jay Heimowitz, with six bracelets, finished sixth -- but the sight of three legends battling it out for a WSOP bracelet and over $400,000 must've been something else. We weren't born in 2003 -- just a twinkle in our publisher's eye -- but we'd give anything to have been a fly on a hole-card cam at this one.

(1) Phil Hellmuth -- $410,860
(2) Daniel Negreanu -- $210,980
(3) Erik Seidel -- $105,480
(4) Mike Lesle -- $66,720
(5) Al Stonum -- $49,960
(6) Jay Heimowitz -- $38,860
(7) Curt Kallberg -- $27,760
(8) Alan Brodsky -- $22,200
(9) Mark Seif -- $17,760

#6. 2000 World Series of Poker, $10,000 no-limit hold 'em (512 entrants)

The 2000 main event final table was the last to feature multiple "big name" players. The quiet-yet-dangerous Chris "Jesus" Ferguson applied his calculated, aggressive style to secure himself the victory and the $1.5 million prize. Tournament legend T.J. Cloutier was right behind him, the second time he had placed runner-up in the Big One. The rest of the table offered a lot for the spectators, too: Hasan Habib, Jim McManus, Jeff Shulman, "Captain" Tom Franklin, Mickey Appleman and Annie Duke were all in the top 10.

In perhaps the most dramatic final hand of a main event, Ferguson spiked a 9 with his A-9 on the river against the A-Q of Cloutier. It will probably be the last time that two true icons of poker face off heads-up for the biggest prize in the game, but this table provided enough memories to last a long time.

(1) Chris "Jesus" Ferguson -- $1,500,000
(2) T.J. Cloutier -- $896,000
(3) Steve Kaufman -- $570,500
(4) Hasan Habib -- $326,000
(5) Jim McManus -- $247,760
(6) Roman Abinsay -- $195,600
(7) Jeff Shulman -- $146,700
(8) "Captain" Tom Franklin -- $97,800
(9) Mickey Appleman -- $74,980
(10) Annie Duke -- $52,160

No. 7: 2005 Five Diamond World Poker Classic, $15,000 no-limit hold 'em (555 entrants)

The first face you'll recognize at this table is the godfather himself, Brunson. Making it through such a large field at such a grand old age, when it requires multiple 12-hour days, was a great achievement in itself. And although he was coming in fifth place in chips, there wasn't much to separate the field, and Doyle was the early favorite.

In stark contrast to Doyle was the young Patrik Antonius, who many consider the best no-limit cash game player in the world, and one who is feared at any table at which he sits with a load of chips. Darrell Dicken might not be a familiar name to you, but if you play online, you just might know the name "Gigabet." One of poker's great thinkers, Dicken will not be intimidated at any table. And we can't leave out the wacky and unpredictable Phil "The Unabomber" Laak. Beyond his table antics, all players know that Phil is a very solid and smart tournament player who is willing to get his chips in the middle. However, despite the sharks at the table, it was young Danish newcomer Rehne Pedersen who defeated Antonius heads-up to take the title.

(1) Rehne Pedersen -- $2,078,185
(2) Patrik Antonius -- $1,046,470
(3) Doyle Brunson -- $563,485
(4) Joanne "JJ" Liu -- $362,140
(5) Darrell Dicken (aka "Gigabet") -- $241,495
(6) Phil "Unibomber" Laak -- $160,995

No. 8: 2006 Five Diamond World Poker Classic, $15,000 no-limit hold 'em (583 entrants)

It had been a while since a World Series champion had any success on the World Poker Tour. Joseph Hachem broke the curse by winning the $15,000 buy-in Five Diamond Championship in late 2006. What made this feat even more incredible was that Hachem had to overcome the monster stack of Daniel Negreanu, the most accomplished player in the history of the WPT. Daniel came in with a mountain of chips and was the odds-on favorite to take down the title. However, through consistent, solid poker, Hachem chipped up and picked the right spots to cripple the eccentric Canadian. The climax of the tournament would prove to be one of the most exciting hands in the history of the WPT and the hand that would prove most crucial to Hachem's victory. The Australian got all his chips in the middle preflop with Q-Q against David Redlin's A-Q. The flop was safe for Hachem, but the turn was the dreaded ace that gave Redlin the better hand. Hachem flung his arms up in disbelief and headed to the rail. When the dealer peeled off the last queen in the deck, the room erupted, as did Hachem, who used the momentum to carry himself to victory and over $2 million.

(1) Joseph Hachem -- $2,182,070
(2) Jim Hanna -- $1,099,430
(3) Daniel Negreanu -- $592,000
(4) Mads Andersen -- $380,630
(5) David Redlin -- $253,715
(6) Edward Jordan -- $169,145

No. 9: 2005 World Series of Poker, $5,000 pot-limit Omaha with rebuys (134 entrants, 229 rebuys)

Yes, folks, we have a second table on our list that isn't no-limit hold 'em! This table was an awe-inspiring collection of talent. Not only did we have 2005 Bluff Player of the Year Phil Ivey, but also Phil Hellmuth, hell-bent on reaching the pinnacle of his poker career by winning his 10th bracelet. And the others? Well, there's Mr. Omaha himself, Robert Williamson III, who finished second in the same event in 2004. To top it off, we have Surindar Sunar and four-time bracelet winner Allen Cunningham. The action didn't disappoint, although if you ask Hellmuth he might disagree, as he headed to the rail when his set of queens ran into Williamson's set of kings. Ivey then seemed to dominate the play, working through this field of top-name pros like it was just another day at the office, to grab his fifth WSOP bracelet.

(1) Phil Ivey -- $635,603
(2) Robert Williamson -- $353,115
(3) Davood Mehrmand -- $194,210
(4) Allen Cunningham -- $141,245
(5) Surindar Sunar -- $123,590
(6) Sigi Stockinger -- $105,935
(7) Eduard Scharf -- $88,280
(8) Phil Hellmuth -- $70,625
(9) E.C. Cohen -- $52,965

No. 10: 2001 World Series of Poker, $10,000 no-limt hold 'em (613 entrants)

When looking back at all of these great final tables, we noticed one thing: Poker players really show up for the WSOP main event. These guys come to play and win. The Year 2001 was no exception, and we saw an amazing array of talent. "The Matador," Juan Carlos Mortensen, who has since become one of a very select few to win both a WSOP main event and a WPT championship, stole the glory that night. He battled through a table that included Hellmuth, Dewey Tomko, Phil Gordon and Mike Matusow. We would have loved to have heard the table talk between rivals Hellmuth and Matusow, but yet again, this was back in poker's Dark Ages, before televised tables. Luckily for us, most of these guys have graced many final tables in the TV-poker era. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Daniel Negreanu came in 12th, just missing out on this final-table fireworks display.

(1)Juan Carlos Mortensen -- $1,500,000
(2) Dewey Tomko -- $1,098,925
(3) Stan Schrier -- $699,315
(4) Phil Gordon -- $399,610
(5) Phil Hellmuth -- $303,705
(6) Mike Matusow -- $239,765
(7) Henry Nowakowski -- $179,825
(8) Steven Riehle -- $119,885
(9) John Inashima -- $91,910

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