The World Series of Poker (WSOP)

Published: 06/09/2010

In 1969, a series of poker games took place in Reno, Nevada—an event called the “Texas Gamblers Reunion.” It was the brainchild of Tom Moore, part-owner of the local Holiday Inn where the game was held, and a gambler named Vic Vickrey. Seated at the table were some of the greatest card players of their day: Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, Rudy “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, and “Amarillo Slim” Preston. Also attending were Benny Binion, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, and Johnny Moss, who had taken the Greek for some $2 million in a heads-up game at Binion’s Casino in Las Vegas twenty years earlier.

The Reunion was intended as an annual affair, but when Moore and Vickery decided not to host it in 1970, Benny Binion seized the opportunity. He invited six of the world’s top players to the Horseshoe for the opportunity to play a high stakes cash game with unlimited buy-ins; afterwards, they would vote amongst themselves to determine who deserved to be named the World Champion of Poker.

As it turned out, 63-year-old Johnny Moss got the nod and a small trophy. The following year, the rules were changed to a $10,000 buy-in with a “freeze out” format—meaning players were eliminated one by one as they lost all of their chips, until just one winner remained. Binion dubbed this event the “World Series of Poker,” or WSOP, and that’s how it has been known ever since.

No one forty years ago could have predicted how big and wildly popular the WSOP would become. Binion himself imagined that someday the tournament might attract 50 entrants or more. In fact, it drew 52 participants in 1982, awarding some $2.6 million in prize money and staging a concurrent Ladies World Championship.

During this period, growth was fueled at least in part by CBS Sports, which began televising the WSOP across America in 1973. It was also aided by “Amarillo Slim,” who wrote books and toured the country to popularize the sport. When an amateur named Hal Fowler pulled an upset victory in 1979, it set an example for others to follow and soon even players from overseas were clamouring for a shot at the title.

In the early 1980s, satellite tournaments had to be introduced to determine who would be eligible to enter the Main Event. Some 2,100 players vied for that honor in 1987. Then the first non-American won the championship in 1990. It went to Mansour Matloubi, an Iranian-born expatriate who resided in England.

In 2003, 27-year-old Chris Moneymaker became the first Internet player to win the WSOP’s main table at Binion’s. He emerged from a $39 satellite that he entered on to defeat champion Sam Farha and take home $2.5 million.

The following year, Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Binion’s Horseshoe and the rights to hold the WSOP, which had outgrown its humble downtown home. The venue was moved to the cavernous ballrooms of the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino in 2005. By 2006, the number of entrants in the Main Event alone, not counting preliminaries, had shot up to 8,773 players and the top prize reached $12 million.

Today, Harrah’s WSOP at the Rio in Las Vegas consists of 57 separate events, ranging from lesser known poker variations like Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball to the more familiar Seven-Card Stud, Omaha, and the world’s favourite—No Limit Texas Hold’Em. The games start in late may and run through mid-July, until there are just nine players left to be seated at the Final Table that decides the No Limit Hold’Em Champion in November.

Buy-ins for the events vary widely. They start at $500 for the 2-day Casino Employees No Limit Hold’Em event and top out at $50,000 for the 5-day Poker Players Championship for professionals. Most events cost $1,000~$5,000 to enter, although Championship rounds are still priced at $10,000. There is also one freeroll event, the 9-day WSOP Tournament of Champions, which requires winning a qualifying tournament to enter.

Several WSOP Circuit events are conducted throughout the year, and the WSOP Europe is held each September at London’s Casino at the Empire. A poker school called the WSOP Academy is also offered online to provide tutorials and live training by professionals, encouraging more amateurs to become involved in tournament play.

Published on: 06/09/2010

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