5 Poker Resurrections Greater Than Phil Ivey’s Return to Form


Despite this remarkable level of success over the years, many questioned Ivey over the course of the last few years. Was he hungry enough? Could he still win playing his way? Would major titles ever come back to him? Comparisons to a certain legendary golfer have never been far from Ivey, but as if prompted to prove his greatness, Ivey traveled to Cyprus to play in this year’s Super High Roller Series and Triton Poker Series events as one to watch.

During the back-to-back festivals, Ivey banked over $2.8 million, cashing in five events, and winning two, also taking the overall leaderboard victory in the SKRS Europe for a $25,000 Championship Bonus? Back? He never went away.

According to Daniel Negreanu, someone who last week told us about the hand that changed his own poker career, the same is true now as has always been about Ivey – he’s the best there is.

Is Phil Ivey a comeback king? He cannot be, simply because he’s picked up the game after several extended periods out of the game without looking like he’s ever been away.

To find the best comeback in poker, we’ve scoured the archives, hunted far and wide, and, OK, pressed play on a worn-out copy of the best poker movie of all time, but we’ve found five genuine comebacks that may be better.

1. Jack Straus

It’s easy to forget about the man nicknamed ‘Treetop’, but Jack Straus once won the WSOP Main Event with “a chip and a chair”. The phrase, which has become something of a legend for short-stacked players around the world since it was used in the year Straus conquered the world in 1982, came about when Straus lost a huge hand on Day 2 and believed himself to have been knocked out.

However, upon readying himself to leave the felt, Straus discovered that he still had a single poker chip under a napkin. From that single chip, Straus came back to win the Main Event, eliminating most of the final table along the way, winning a then-record top prize of $520,000.

Straus, who died just six years later of a heart attack while playing in a high-stakes cash game, definitely made an incredible comeback, but how could that ever happen again? If it came in this era’s WSOP Main Event, he simply wouldn’t survive. While it’s an amazing success story from a single chip, there’s a reason it hasn’t happened since. Poker has changed and is tougher to make a comeback in than ever before.

2. Stu Ungar

Ungar’s success — at his comeback — came a considerable time after Straus’ heroics in the World Series of Poker, but does it outrank ‘Treetop’? This is a definite affirmative, with ‘The Kid’ taking a record-equalling third WSOP Main Event title a full 16 years after his second. Winning in 1997, Ungar conquered not only the biggest field the World Series of Poker had ever seen but was it the greatest return to greatness we’ve ever seen?

Ungar gets close but on balance, we have to deny him in terms of numbers. The WSOP may have grown by 73 and 75 players in his initial two wins in 1980 and 1981 to 312 entries by the time he made it a treble in 1997, but the sheer volume of players today is over 20 times bigger in the Main Event alone.

3. Tony G

Antanas ‘Tony G’ Guoga plays poker game

Antanas ‘Tony G’ Guoga during a poker game.

No list of comebacks would be complete without a left-field pick, and it doesn’t get a lot more out there than Tony G. There is, however, a lot of logic in picking Antanas Guoga as one of poker’s best comebacks. Leaving the game in 2014 for a second career as a member of the European Parliament (MEP) in 2014, Tony G turned his back on poker despite huge success.

After a five-year stint as an MEP, Tony G was drawn back to the game he loves and in the last few years has won $4 million in tournaments alone, with cashes in Cyprus, Czech Republic, the United States, and Austria — including one of the biggest online poker pots of all-time. Although his record following his comeback is great, however, Tony G may need to conquer the poker world harder and win a WSOP bracelet, something the Lithuanian poker legend has never done.

4. Mike McDermott

If you’re looking for sheer glory, then coming back from being made flat broke by the worst call in your life, being beaten up, abandoned, deserted by your best friend, and threatened by the man to whom you owe money is incredible. Sure, it happened to the fictional character of Mike McDermott in the 1998 movie Rounders, but does that stop it from being great? Guess again.

Mike McDermott’s fantastic comeback, as portrayed by Matt Damon opposite Ed Norton in the award-winning poker movie, mean there are more than 10 reasons Rounders is still the best poker movie ever made. He comes back from nowhere to not only get revenge on the baddie, but book a win and collect $30,000 before hopping in a taxi bound for the airport and Las Vegas. Fancy finding out what happened after McDermott arrived in Sin City?

You’ll probably want to know what happens in the novel (yes, there was a book before the movie!), where this secret is revealed. McDermott is a fictional character, so theoretically cannot be the best poker comeback, but he gets an honorable mention.

5. Erik Seidel

The poker legend with nine WSOP bracelets sits in third place of the most successful WSOP players ever, has duked it out with the very best for 40 years, and is Mr. Consistent. So how can he possibly be the comeback king? Well, he came back from the worst beat in the world from Johnny Chan in the 1988 WSOP Main Event.

Chan’s ‘look to the sky’ became famed around the world, and while Seidel went back to his New York career in banking before eventually converting into a poker player once he’d established his ability to adapt to the game and make it like a pro. In the three decades since, it is impossible to argue that Seidel’s achievements — save for that 10th WSOP bracelet which eludes him that the New Yorker has eclipsed Johnny Chan’s career in every other way.

Seidel has over $39m in winnings in tournaments alone and sits in fourth place on the all-time money list. Chan is in the 128th position. Seidel didn’t look to the sky, he kept his eyes on the long-term prize and might be in the argument for the best player ever.

In that sense, Seidel’s return from that brutal beat-down has to be one of the most enduring comebacks of all time.

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