A History of the WSOP

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wsop_stacked_logo_lgThe first World Series of Poker (WSOP) was hosted in 1970. Benny Binion invited 6 well-known poker players to his casino, Binion’s Horseshoe, to find out who the best poker player in Vegas was. By the end of the decade the number of preliminary events increased considerably, including an event just for women. Since 1976 each event winner has been awarded a bracelet. The decade saw Johnny Moss win the WSOP 3 times. It also saw Doyle Brunson win back-to-back championships. He is one of only 4 people to do so. The others are Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar, and Johnny Chan.

The WSOP experienced consistent growth throughout the 80’s mostly due to the introduction of the “satellite” tournament. A satellite gave poker players the opportunity to gain entry into the Main Event by means of winning a “feeder” tournament that had a considerably smaller buy-in. The most common format would be ten players each buying in for $1,000, winner take all, thus covering the WSOP main event buy-in. Not only did the main event participation grow, so did the number of preliminary events and the entrants to those.

But despite the number of amateurs that were playing in these events, it was mostly pros that dominated the final tables. Stu “the Kid” Ungar and Johnny Chan would both win back-to-back titles. Chan nearly won three in a row, making it heads up against Phil Helmuth in the 1989 WSOP tourney before finally bowing out.

With the 90s came the beginning of online poker boom. It’s effect change the landscape of poker. The number of Main Event participants grew in small increments eventually going over the 300 mark. The event continued to be held at Binion’s and the prize for first place hit $1,000,000 in 1991, making the WSOP Champion an instant millionaire.

At the start of the 21st century the WSOP would finally feel the full effects of online poker. The decade began with gradual increases in expansion with 512 players entered into the 2000 WSOP Main Event and 24 side events. Online poker rooms began offering prize packages to the World Series Main Event by offering lower buy-in tournaments to make it easier to win a seat. In 2003, Chris Moneymaker won his way into the World Series of Poker main event through a $40 online satellite, and turned it into a $2.5 million payday.

This created the perfect storm. With the notoriety of the appropriately named Moneymaker, the popularity of Texas Hold’em on television programs such as the World Poker Tour, ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP, and the fact that Moneymaker had won his way into the event through an inexpensive online satellite, the WSOP was about to go on a meteoric rise. No Limit Texas Hold’em was also the perfect game for television. With only two hole cards, and five community cards, there weren’t as many cards to keep track of as opposed to a game like Seven Card Stud. Couple that with the fact that a player being to state the now famous words “all in”, and push his whole stack in at any time and you have high drama with big bluffs, bad beats, and huge paydays.

By the year 2005, the WSOP had grown too large for the iconic Binion’s Horseshoe and was moved to the Rio Casino Convention Center where it’s still hosted to this day. Participation in the WSOP Main Event hit its peak in 2006 with 8,773 entrants and a $12.5 million dollar first prize that was claimed by Jamie Gold that year. The WSOP is now one of the most recognized brands in the sports and entertainment industries.

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