A Brief History of the World Series of Poker

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This year the World Series of Poker (WSOP) will hold its 46th tournament. Although it is a younger event than other gaming events, such as the World Series or the Superbowl, it has a very storied history
and experienced a quick rise to prominence. The seeds for the event were planted in 1969 in San Antonio, Texas with the Texas Gambling Reunion. Though this only lasted one year, it caught the attention
of Benny Binton, who owned the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, and in 1970 the first WSOP event was played. It started modestly with a few rounds of poker variants. Though Johnny Moss didn’t win all
of his games, he was elected the winner by the other players, naming him the Best All-Around Player.



During its humble beginnings there wasn’t much demand for poker. There weren’t even 50 poker tables in all of Las Vegas. Even the hosting casino, the Horseshoe, didn’t have a poker room.
And in that first game only around 30 gamblers showed up.

The game quickly rose to notoriety by 1972 when Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston won. He was a loud, charismatic Texan and a rounder who traveled the nation to place high bets. After his win he appeared
on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson eleven times, bringing quite a bit of credibility to the game as he was broadcast to homes all over America.

Although it was still somewhat niche at the time, Amarillo Slim is the primary reason that CBS ended up televising the event in 1973. As entrants increased, the tournament expanded, adding several preliminary
rounds including razz, seven-card stud, no limit hold’em, and deuce-to-seven draw.

In 1979, another winner birthed an increased following of the WSOP. Hal Fowler came into the tournament as an unknown, an underdog, and an amateur. As he sat at the final table, he dropped to 2,000 chips
out of his starting 500,000. The odds weren’t in his favor with his opponents, either. Two of the players at the Main Event were former champions: the “Grand Old Man of Poker” Johnny Moss and the previous
year’s champion Bobby “The Owl” Baldwin. Despite having the chips stacked against him, he won, becoming the first amateur to do so and opening up the gates for dozens of hopefuls who would flock to Vegas
to maybe get a taste of the big time. The event had officially captured America’s imagination.

As the popularity of the game rose, Jack Binion took over for his father and Eric Dranche, Jack’s right hand man, introduced satellite games that allowed players from all over the country to qualify. This led
to further expansion, and by 1987 the game had to expand to three casinos, which included the Golden Nugget, Horseshoe, and Four Queens, to accommodate its 2,100 entrants.

The game had been getting attention overseas since Hal Fowler won in ’79, but it wasn’t until 1990 that a non-American won the Series when the Iranian-British Mansour Matloubi took the bracelet home
to England with him.

In the early years it looked as if WSOP was in dire straits as the World Poker Tour was getting bigger and high profile disputes broke out with management, dealers, and players. But then Chris Moneymaker
(not a nickname) came in and overcame the odds for the WSOP by being the first player to ever qualify online, opening the door for even more amateur play and significantly more interest in the tournament.
It helped that he won it all live on ESPN.

The very next year the Horseshoe was sold off and the WSOP was sold to Harrah’s Entertainment (which would eventually become Caesar’s Entertainment) and the Series introduced the Tournament of
Champions, an invite-only freeroll tournament in which Annie Duke took the $2 million top prize.

By 2006 the game had become part of the mainstream and officially became the game with the highest amount of prize money awarded at $100 million. Even the $12 million top prize was more than the top
prize at the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, and Wimbledon combined

In 2007, after years of international players coming from overseas, the WSOP Europe was created. The first winner of that tournament just so happened to be the youngest winner in any WSOP event,
as well as one of the few women to make it to a WSOP Main Event. Annette Obrestad took home an early birthday present the day before her 19th birthday.

By 2013 the WSOP began Series events in Gauteng, South Africa and at the Crown Melbourne in Australia, attracting even more international attention and gaining more international players.


By now it’s normal to win millions in the $10,000 buy-in main event. Although there is a killing to be made, some play it for the thrill, the recognition, and/or the status of being one of the few to take
home the most prestigious award in all of poker—the WSOP bracelet.
 
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