What’s the greatest story you’ve ever been told in poker? The best one I heard came just a few years into my career in the game. Since then, I’ve heard it a few times more, repeating it myself to others, telling them that they wouldn’t believe how Huck Seed once won a million dollars… twice.
That’s usually the point where they’d take a beat and have to know how that happened because they’d only heard about the Poker Hall of Famer achieving that lofty tournament target once. That’s when I’d regale them with the story. But what took place and how much of it was actually true? To find out would take me a decade. You’ll never guess how it happened.
The First Million
They say that ‘The first million is the hardest.’ To be specific, the American business magnate T. Boone Pickens said those words, but I’ve always found that, in poker, it can be just as true. In this case, specifically, the $1 million that Huck Seed won when he became world champion in 1996.
Seed’s victory in the 1996 WSOP Main Event was no fluke. The soon-to-be face of Full Tilt Poker was recognized as one of the best poker players in the world at the time when he won perhaps the hardest event to take down. With 295 entries, Seed got the better of a final table including John Bonetti, Men ‘The Master’ Nguyen and heads-up opponent Bruce Van Horn.
When I was first told this legendary tale of tragic luck, I firmly believed every word. Then I was told that Seed had a vision the night before the final table took place.
A Vision of Victory
“So, the story goes like this – Huck Seed goes to sleep and has a dream that he’ll win the million dollars,” the original story-teller told me. I’d say that my source stays confidential but to be completely honest with you, I’ve no idea who it was; eventually, I was told the story in various formats by half a dozen folk in the poker industry. “When he wakes up, he knows, he just knows that he’s going to win the Main Event. In those days, only the top prize was a million, you see.”
So far, so believable. Seed had a dream. I already idolized the man. He was one of the first players I ever saw on TV and he looked about the coolest anyone ever did since Paul Newman in The Hustler. Heck, when Seed talked, I could hear Fast Eddie Felson, saying: “I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.” To me, Huck Seed owned the poker table.
Then the story got even better. A lot better. Because Huck Seed didn’t have one dream about winning a million dollars. He had two. From the many recollections of this infamous poker tale, here’s the most consistent version as best as I can tell it myself.
The Second Coming
A few years after winning the Main in 1996, so the legend went, Huck Seed had another dream that he would win a million dollars. Once again, he was in the latter stages of the Main Event. Huck went to sleep ahead of the penultimate day and had the same dream as before – a vision that the next day, he would win a million dollars.
This time, in order to win the million he’d visualized, Seed would only need to make the final table, with the prize money being so much higher with the inflated number of entries since his world championship victory. Down to the final two tables, Seed was all-in for a big pot, and lost with pocket queens all-in pre-flop against a lady’s pocket eights. An eight came, Seed crashed out and a few hands later, his loose change was mopped up by another player and he was out, told by the floor staff that his exit was in 14th place.
But Seed was sure that he’d win a million. The vision hadn’t failed him a few years earlier, so why had it now? Then Seed had a thought. The money he’d won – the best part of $30,000 – could be converted into a million dollars if he could put it on the right number on the roulette wheel. It was a one in 36 chance, but he’d had a premonition… and it had come true before.
Spin to Win
Seed made his way over to the roulette wheel and told the staff that he wished to place all his winnings on the number 14 – the position he’d busted out of the Main Event in. You can imagine the scene. The floor staff called over the crowds like a ringmaster (maybe I added that bit on my sixth re-telling). “Roll up, roll up! Huck Seed is going to risk it all for the million dollars that he dreamed of winning the night before!” The greatest showman on the poker planet was about to win or lose it all in 30 seconds.
The money was placed on the table, the little silver ball was spun, and a million dollars was on the line. The ball went round and round, round and round and then it bounced into the 14 slot… before bouncing out and landing with a final thunk into the number 13! One place away, one darn number out, the money was lost. The vision had failed.
Disconsolate, Seed walked away through the casino and went to bed, drifting into unconsciousness unsure of why the vision had failed.
But had it?
In the morning, Seed woke to a telephone call to his hotel room. It was the organizers of the World Series of Poker. They apologized profusely for letting Seed think that he had busted in 14th as it transpired, he’d actually been eliminated in 13th place. They owed him an extra few thousand.
But they owed him a lot more, didn’t they? Because his vision had been correct – the ball had landed in number 13. Had he placed the bet on the number corresponding to his actual place in the Main Event, then he would have won the million dollars!
Debunking the Myth
Ever since I heard that story – and then heard it again – I’d been dumbfounded by it. Imagine the agony! If they’d told him the correct place that he’d busted in, then the vision would have come true and for the second time, Huck Seed would have won a million dollars. But my mind couldn’t help working overtime on a few facts that were unclear.
The specific year had never been given to me and because I loved the story so much – who wouldn’t? – I’d never questioned it. Turns out that when I checked, the year in discussion must have been 1999 – the second and final time to date that Seed made the WSOP Main Event final table. But the vision does not tally with an elimination outside the final table. Seed finished sixth and won $167,700 as a result. Ninth place only won $64,285, nowhere near the million. So any vision before the penultimate day was wrong.
So what if someone along the way got the day of the vision wrong, and instead it had been before the final table? That would have made sense if only because a million was the top prize again. But there was no female player and no queens against eights; Seed’s jack-eight was beaten by the eventual winner, Noel Furlong’s ace-three.
It didn’t add up.
Huck Seed Breaks the Spell
Back in 2017, I was in Las Vegas and at the World Series of Poker just before the Main Event kicked off. In the fortnight this British reporter was in Sin City, I spoke to over a dozen Main Event winners, from Phil Hellmuth to Johnny Chan, Jonathan Duhamel to Ryan Riess. I had the time of my life. To a man, each of them was incredible to speak with. I only failed to grab two former world champions on my list.
The first was Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, who – no matter what I said or how much I promised to leave the discussion around the Main Event win rather than tackling the FTP stuff – wouldn’t play ball. Disappointing, but to be expected. The other was Huck Seed, my poker hero. I managed to get a number for him and we spoke via text. He was going to be around, and we’d get to talking. But before I knew it, I was on a plane home and we’d been unable to make it happen.
Five years on, I finally managed to get in touch with Huck and we spoke about the story briefly. I had gathered up the courage to ask him about this specific poker legend. I loved it, but I had my suspicions that it might not be true, just because so many facts didn’t add up.
Huck confirmed it.
“I’ve never had any vision like that,” he explained to me. “Also, I never finished 13th or 14th in the Main.”
If that was a disappointment, I’d seen some holes in the story so that was coming. But worse was to come.
“I’ve never taken poker tournament winnings straight to the roulette table,” he told me, telling me that he’d only played roulette ‘a few times’.
“Mainly just when I girl wanted to play and I played along betting small.”
My favorite story might have been ingloriously debunked by the man at the center of it (or not), but to me, it lives on. Once I heard it, it gathered a life of its own, and now, perhaps having read it yourself, it’ll live on with you.
It remains my favorite poker story, not for the truth, which as so often is the case is lost in translation from person to person. For the legend. For the love and affection and glory that everyone who ever told it to me held for Huck Seed. Growing up, getting into poker, he was such a hero to me.
Unlike the details of his myth, that will never change.
Headline photo reproduced with kind permission of Rob Gracie.