History of the World Series of Poker

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) made its official debut in 1970. However, it was in 1949 that Nicholas “Nick the Greek” Dandolos, America’s most famous gambler at the time, approached Benny Binion with an idea. Dandolos wanted to challenge the best poker player in a high stakes marathon. Binion agreed to set up a contest between Dandolos and the legendary Johnny Moss, as long as the match would be played in public view. This planted the seed for the future of the World Series of Poker.

The poker match lasted a whopping five months, and the two gamblers only took breaks to sleep and eat. Moss dominated and won an estimated $2 million during the contest. When Dandolos lost his last pot, he said, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” These famous last words will forever live in poker history.

The heads up match attracted many excited spectators each and every day. But despite the attraction, it took Binion another twenty years to create another entertaining poker event. In 1970, seven of the best players in the United States played in the first “World Series of Poker”. The champion for this contest was decided by a democratic vote by the seven players, and Johnny Moss was crowned champion.

The following year, the winner of the WSOP was determined by a freezeout tournament, with players being eliminated until one player had all of the chips. Moss defended his title, and once again was declared the world champion. This time, $5,000 was ponied up by the six players, and the prize given to the winner was $30,000. In 1972, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston won the WSOP title and $80,000, beating seven other opponents in the $10,000 buy-in event.

The Evolution of the WSOP

The number of participants in the WSOP has grown every year. In the Main Event alone, participants grew from 839 in 2003, to 2,576 in 2003, to 5,619 in 2005, to 6,352 in 2013. Much of this growth can be attributed to televised poker. The World Series of Poker airs on ESPN every year, and the World Poker Tour originally aired on the Travel Channel before moving to Fox Sports. Online poker is also a major contributor to the explosion of poker and the WSOP, as it provides an inexpensive way to get to the WSOP via online satellite tournaments. So, hundreds and perhaps even thousands of players are winning seats into the biggest and most prestigious poker tournament.

In 1971, the prize was $30,000 for the winner. In 2005, the WSOP Main Event winner Joe Hachem earned $7.5 million dollars. In 2013, the prize for the winner was $8.3 million dollars. Besides the WSOP Main Event, there are many other smaller buy-in side events covering Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Omaha hi-lo, Seven-card stud and its lowball variants, and H.O.R.S.E., which combines Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, and Stud hi-lo or Eight or better.

Harrah’s Takes Over

In 2004, Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Binion’s Horseshoe after running the WSOP for 35 years, but moved the World Series of Poker to Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino. In 2005, most of the WSOP poker action took place in a huge ballroom at the Rio. However, to appease the mayor of Las Vegas, the final two days of this main event were held at Binion’s. The Rio will again host the 2014 WSOP major events beginning on May 27, with the annual Casino Employee No Limit Hold’em tournament, and culminating with the start of the $10,000 buy-in main event on July 5.

The 2006 World Series of Poker set a record of 8,773 participants in the Main Event. Jamie Gold went on to capture the title and a whopping $12 million dollars. The winning hand was Q-9 against his opponent’s pocket 10s. The flop came down Q-8-5 and his opponent Paul Wasicka bet 1.5 million chips on the flop. Gold immediately moved all in with Q-9, and Wasicka called. The turn and river were of no help to Wasicka, and Jamie Gold became the WSOP champion for that year. The 2006 WSOP ME final table featured top professional Allen Cunningham. He finished fourth and received roughly $3.6 million dollars.

The attendance numbers in the World Series of Poker Main Event has remained steady. Many people in the industry predicted that numbers would drop significantly for the 2011 WSOP as a result of Black Friday, but that didn’t turn out to be the case, with there being close to 7,000 participants in this main event, the year Pius Heinz won it.