The World Series of Poker or WSOP is an annual poker tournament that is held in Las Vegas. Poker has a long history and despite its official debut in 1970, the idea of the WSOP Horseshoe's annual tournament was in reality already thought up 20 years before that. Story has it, that in 1949, the gambler Nicholas "Nick the Greek" Dandolos approached poker world legend Benny Binion with an unusual request to challenge the best in a high-stakes poker marathon.
Binion agreed to this and staged up a match between Dandolos and the legendary Johnny Moss, under the agreement that this game would be played while viewed by a public audience. They faced each other in all variety of cash games imaginable that dragged into a 5-month event with breaks only for sleep. Moss eventually won the whole thing and an estimated $2 million off Dandolos. When the Greek lost, he arose from his chair, bowed and said, "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go." This five month marathon is significant as the opening chapter in poker history. Binion saw that the public had gathered outside the casino every day just to watch the game with high interest as dedicated fans and was impressed at how popular the event had been.
Then in 1969 Tom Moore and Vic Vickrey jointly organised "The Texas Gamblers Reunion" in his Holiday Hotel in Reno. Vickrey was a gambling insider and a visionary man with big dreams. All the original gamblers were there, including Benny and Jack Binion, many Texas Rounders such as Amarillo Slim Preston, Doyle Brunson, Treetop Straus, Johnny Moss, "Corky" McCorquodale, Aubrey Day, Puggy Pearson, Jimmy Casella, Bill Boyd, Syd Wyman, Long Diddie, and Jimmy the Greek. There was no main event at the time and Crandell Addington was inaugurated as winner. Moore and Vickrey never sustained another annual get-together after that.
Inspired by what he had seen in Reno a few months earlier, Binion opened a poker room in his casino and organised the next poker event in 1970. He wanted to re-create this excitement and stage another battle of poker giants, which he named the "World Series Of Poker". He wanted it to be an event that determines who would be worthy of the title "World Champion." Numerous great players in the country gathered up and Johnny Moss won the whole thing and received a silver cup as a prize. Moss, the first WSOP world champion, did not even win a poker tournament but was elected best all-around player by a democratic decision of popular vote his peers after several days of high-stakes card playing. This first WSOP was a handful of players, with no media attention and a small public attendance. No one outside the state of Nevada knew about the World Series of Poker and no one cared about the winner. It’s hard to believe that when the WSOP started out there were fewer than 50 poker tables in the entire city of Las Vegas and just 70 poker tables in the whole state of Nevada. Back then, the host casino, Binion’s Horseshoe, did not even have a poker room and the event was held inside a space about the size of an ordinary hotel room -1970 definitely made poker history.
In 1971, the winner was determined by a freeze out competition, whilst the players were being systematically eliminated until one player was left with all the chips. A new format was born, 6 players forked out $5000 for a shot at taking home the whole booty of $30000 with Moss winning again. Binion realized that changes needed to be made for the WSOP to gain the prestige the title suggested. The games were played as a freeze-out and seven poker players entered into a $5,000 entry fee and Moss retained his title as world champion. At this time the cash games played included five-card stud, deuce to seven, low-ball draw, razz, seven-card stud and or course Texas hold’em. Over the years, other games have been added and removed like Horse and Chinese Poker.
In 1972, it was Amarillo Slim Preston who won the title and started speaking out to the talk-shows and media. This victory is one of the most significant moments in the history of poker as he shifted his personal triumph into a span of publicity that flooded the U.S. He went on a publicity tour that brought attention and status to the WSOP for the first time and it was gaining a wider following. Eventually, Slim became poker’s greatest living ambassador as he appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show eleven times, was cast in movies and wrote a best-selling book.
In 1973, the World Series was televised for the first time through CBS Sports. Even though the images of poker’s fourth annual world championship are amusing by our modern standards, this coverage gave the WSOP a first public status. The WSOP expanded to include four preliminary events, the Seven-card Stud, Razz, Deuce-to-seven Draw, and a lower buy-in No Limit Hold’em event.Puggy Pearson won the WSOP that year with two of those events. When Johnny Moss won his third championship in 1974, Doyle Brunson followed to win the next two titles. In 1973, the five-card stud was added and in 1976, a bracelet was awarded to the winner of every event at the annual WSOP. The competition continued to grow throughout the 70s, as well as the reputation of Benny Binion.
1978 saw major changes as the Main Event’s prize money was divided up for the first time and the top five finishers all received a cash payout. That year also saw the first woman entering the WSOP with Barbara Freer breaking the sex barrier in this all male fraternity. Las Vegas casino owner and poker player Benny Binion always saw the potential of the WSOP as he saw how participants had increased from 7 players to 13, then 20. He was the brain behind the set of tournaments that the WSOP would evolve into.
In 1979, Hal Fowler had a stunning victory and was the first amateur player to win. Many long-time poker professionals were shocked by the outcome. Fowler’s win set an example for year to come as an ever increasing numbers of aspiring amateurs, also international started going to the U.S in Las Vegas every April and May. That was Fowler’s only attendance at the WSOP but one that set history and will not be forgotten.
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The WSOP grew slowly and it took twelve years before the event drew 52 participants in 1982. By then, the WSOP had expanded to eleven preliminary events and a Ladies World Championship was added to it as well as the $10,000 buy-in Main Event. Through that year, the thirteen events awarded over $2.6 million in prize money to the top finishers. Binion’s protégé, Eric Drache, gave poker a further challenge as he came up with the concept of the satellite. During the early 1980s preliminary satellite tournaments with lower buy-ins were introduced allowing people to win their way into the various events for less than the full entry fees. Binion's vision of the WSOP becoming big turned to reality as its popularity soared. Everyday poker players started to fill the seats as the satellites gave aspiring champions an opportunity to compete against the best players in the world.
Stu “The Kid” Ungar won in 1980 and then again in 1981. His achievement generated even more publicity for this grand gambling event. NBC Sports dispatched a film crew to cover the 1981 WSOP, which introduced poker into millions of homes for the first time. By 1980 the prizemoney for first place had grown to $385,000. During the 80’s, the WSOP continued to grow in both size and stature. By 1987, there were over 2,100 entrants in the entire series and the Horseshoe Casino was not big enough to play host to this a global gambling event. Fields for some tournaments were so big that a segment of the participants had to be tabled at adjacent casinos, including the Golden Nugget and Four Queens. When the Binion family purchased and eventually took over The Mint Casino next door, the Horseshoe finally opened a full-time poker room. Binion eventually passed away in1989. If he was still alive nowadays, he would be amazed at how his project grew phenomenally.
The Binion family went on to control Binion’s Horseshoe Casino and his son Jack took over Benny’s role at the WSOP. Helped by two respected poker veterans, Jim Albrecht and Jack McClelland, he presided over the World Series by improving the structure, atmosphere, and public perception of the event. The WSOP continued to diversify as more women and international players joined the competition.
Johnny Chan won in 1987 and then had a second victory in 1988 and was featured on the 1998 film Rounders. In 1989 he was then beaten heads up by the youngest champion ever, 24 year old Phil Hellmuth Jnr. In 1990, the first non-American won the championship, Mansour Matloubi, an Iranian-born ex-pat who resided in England. In 1991, the WSOP awarded its first million dollar cash prize in an Event that attracted over two hundred players for the first time. Within the next five years, 300 players entered the world championship. By 1997, the Horseshoe’s poker room was expanded and included a temporary tournament area. Then there was a split in the Binion family and Jack was excluded from WSOP operations. This resulted in many top players boycotting the casino and the tournament between 1999 and 2002. There was controversy at the WSOP and with a number of high-profile disputes making the headlines.
By 2003, things were not looking up with many ongoing disputes, critics and up against a new rival, the World Poker Tour. It was Chris Moneymaker who that catapulted things again that same year in favour of the World Series of Poker. His win changed the old ways of looking at the game and many changes were made. It was a staggering victory by a friendly young man viewed by millions of viewers worldwide. He was a poker player others could easily identify with and he inspired thousands to play for their dream. This win surely ranks as one of the most important during the history of the World Series of Poker. Many professional poker players became celebrities and the celebrities wanted to become poker players. In a way, poker had captured the public’s imagination, and the World Series took a turn to the spotlight. Prizes went up with Moneymaker winning $2.5 million and Greg Raymer, winning $5 million in 2004. 2005 saw a $7.5 million as the top prize. At this point the only problem was the venue as the event grew so much.
Since 2004, the $10,000 no-limit hold'em "Main Event" has attracted thousands of entrants, an unexpected growth they couldn t cater for. It was that year that Harrah's Entertainment, the world’s largest gaming company purchased Binion's Horseshoe. They kept the rights to the Horseshoe and World Series of Poker brands, sold the hotel and casino and announced that the 2005 Series events would be held at the Harrah's-owned Rio Hotel and Casino, just off the Las Vegas Strip. This extra gaming space meant that more tournaments could be added to the schedule, as thousands of players flooded into Las Vegas in the next years. This went far and beyond their projections for turnout and prize money.
As of 2005, the WSOP began a tournament circuit where in addition to the $10,000 buy-in tournament at each site, qualifying players became eligible for the Tournament of Champions. The 2005 the tournament made up of the top 20 qualifying players at each circuit event, along with the final table from the 2005 Main Event and the winners of nine or more bracelets, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, and Phil Hellmuth would participate in the revamped event at Caesar's Palace. Mike "The Mouth" Matusow won this first prize of $1 million. Aussie Joe Hachem came up from down under and claimed the biggest ever first prize of $7.5 million during the 2005 WSOP Championship.
The WSOP has also expanded beyond Las Vegas itself, to nearly a dozen casinos spread throughout the United States. This gave nationwide poker players an opportunity to participate in poker’s greatest tradition. Poker events had become a highly desirable celebration. Large scale companies such as auto makers, and other mainstream businesses were now eager to attach themselves to the World Series of Poker.
The 2006 World Series of Poker had satellite events and the Tournament of Champions won by Mike Sexton. Various events led up to the main event, and the first prize of $12 million was awarded to Jamie Gold. Participation boomed in 2006, with 8,773 people participating in just the Main Event whilst since 2007, the WSOP has consisted of a hefty 55 events.
The WSOP bracelet- The winner of each WSOP event wins a World Series of Poker bracelet and a multi-million dollar monetary prize based on the number of entrants and buy-in amounts. The World Series of Poker bracelet is considered the most desirable prize or trophy a poker player can win, with one from the Main Event revered above all others. Back in 1976 the bracelet looked like gold nuggets kind of hammered flat. In 2006, Frederick Goldman, Inc manufactured the WSOP bracelets with 259 stones including 7.2 carats of diamonds, 120 grams of white and yellow gold. It also had rubies representing the heart and diamond suits, a sapphire to represent the spade and three black diamonds to represent the clubs. Corum became the official bracelet manufacturer for the WSOP in 2007.
Winners - The winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event is considered to be the World Champion of Poker. Since its inception, Stu Ungar is the only player to have won the Main Event three times. Johnny Moss also holds three Main Event titles. However the first win was not played in the current tournament format but by a vote, making Ungar the only three-time champion in terms of actual victories. Moss, Ungar, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan are the only people who have won the Main Event in consecutive years. Phil Hellmuth holds multiple WSOP records: 11bracelets, 68 WSOP cashes and 41 WSOP final tables. Peter Eastgate is the youngest person to win the Main Event. Besides Stu Ungar winning his third title in 1997, there has been a new WSOP main event champion every year since Hellmuth won in 1989. The heavy task of overcoming 5,600 strong competitors has made the feat of securing successive and multiple titles a difficult one to achieve again.
The World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE)- is the first expansion of the World Series of Poker. The first WSOP championship events outside of Las Vegas, complete with bracelets, were held in September 2007 in London. The inaugural WSOPE consisted of three events and the main event was a GBP 10,000 buy-in no-limit hold 'em tournament, won by Norwegian online prodigy Annette Obrestad. Annie was barely 19, the youngest person ever to win a WSOP bracelet. This is a record that cannot be broken in the American WSOP as the minimum legal age for casino gaming is 21. There are no definitive plans for the next non American WSOP but Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack indicated that in the next one to three years other venues could start holding these events. Egypt and South Africa were two of the locations mentioned as possible expansion sites.
Some memorable moments in WSOP history include:
• 1972 - Amarillo Slim won the third WSOP event beating Johnny Moss the previous two year’s winner. He took home $80,000. The tournament only had12 participants.
• 1973 - CBS Sports televised the World Series for the first time.
• 1974 – Johnny Moss beats 15 other players to win the main event and $160,000
• 1977 - Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson backs up his 1976 win to make it back-to back WSOP wins.
• 1978 – Place prizes were introduced for the first time with the 2nd to 5th finishers of the main event sharing in the prize money for the first time.
• 1989 – Benny Binion, the father of WSOP, passes away this year.
• 1991 – Prize money for first place in the main event tops $1 million for the first time.
• 1997 – Stu "The Kid" Ungar makes a comeback and wins the main event for the third time after his previous back-to-back wins in 1980 and 1981. And the main event was played outdoors.
• 2003 – Unknown rookie Chris Moneymaker qualifies for the main even by winning his entry to the tournament though an online qualifier, paying only $39 and went on to become the champion winning $2.5 million dollars.
• 2004 – The WSOP was held at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino for the last time, after the Horseshoe was bought by Harrah’s Entertainment.
• 2005 – Johnny "Orient Express" Chan wins his 10th WSOP bracelet setting a new record for the most bracelets won with his victory at the Pot-Limit Omaha event. Four days later, Doyle Brunson also won his 10th WSOP bracelet in the $5,000 No Limit Short Handed event.
• 2006 – College student Jeff Madsen becomes the youngest winner ever of a WSOP event. Aged 21 years, one month, and nine days, he won event #22 taking the $660,948 prize. His record was later broken by Peter Eastgate in 2008.
Pros like Chris Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen, Carlos Mortensen, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem have become legends through their WSOP main event wins and the tournament continues to grow year by year in its prestige, number of participants and the annual prize money. During the events, most of the major poker game options are featured, with half of the events being variants of Texas hold 'em. The main event prize money has increased from $7,769,000 ten years ago to an amazing $56,190,000 in 2005.
Nowadays, the World Series of Poker has branded events now held throughout the year at casinos right across the USA and it is one of the world's highest rating sports telecasts on ESPN. The plan is to see these circuit events expand even furthur into more homes throughout the world. Benny Binion’s legacy, the WSOP is by far, the oldest, largest, most prestigious, and most media-hyped gaming competition in the world. It continues to give the opportunity to players to achieve their dream to one day achieve greatness as a poker legend. The World Series of Poker offers it all, the excitement, the prestige, the international fame and the millions of dollars in prize money - and we believe it can only get bigger !