The World Series of Poker is the most exciting and popular gambling event in history. Details about the annual event are broadcast on every form of media into every country in the world and still people want more, but the tournament had a humble beginning.
According to Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling, Benny Binion understood the power of a show, and he proved to himself and other casino operators that staging a live poker game between world class competitors for a huge amount of money was spectacle enough to draw crowds.
Binion grew up as a hard-nosed Texan with a penchant for gambling, and he learned quickly that running the games was better than playing them, but they were illegal in his neck of the woods. So, he came to Las Vegas, where everything was legal and above-board. That suited Benny fine, and in 1949 he convinced fellow Texan Johnny Moss to play poker at a special table near the main entrance to help attract a crowd to the downtown Las Vegas casino.
Binion also attracted one of the most famous gamblers in the world, "Nick The Greek" Dandalos to join the game - simply by telling him the high limits! The game was often heads-up, with over $100,000 on the table, and a single hand (Nick drew a straight-flush in 5-card draw) between the two poker players was so amazing and picture-perfect it was mirrored in the 1960's movie The Cincinnati Kid.The First World Series of Poker
Twenty years later, Vic Vickrey asked "Amarillo Slim" and his fellow poker players to come to the Holiday casino in Reno to play some poker and enjoy the town. He envisioned plenty of action from the guests, but they didn't stray into the blackjack and craps games as much as he had hoped, so the event wasn't repeated. However, fellow attendee Benny Binion thought maybe it was time for an event of his own, and the following year the World Series of Poker was born.
In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion introduced 15 poker stars and gambling celebrities to the world in a poker event that featured several forms of poker tourists hadn't ever heard of. Poker players in Oklahoma and Texas favored a community-card game called Texas Hold'em, but most casual players were used to 5-card draw, lo-ball, and 7-stud. Each event was a freeze-out and eventually Johnny Moss was declared the winner. The crowds enjoyed the show and Binion's Horseshoe had a great month.
In fact, the whole affair was so popular the Binion's decided to make it an annual event. In 1971 the week-long affair ended in a Texas Hold'em freeze-out tournament. There were only six players willing to pony-up the equivalent of a new Cadillac - $5,000. Five of the players were from Texas, four of them, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, Jack Strauss, and Sailor Roberts, would win the main-event of future WSOP tournaments. In 1971, Johnny Moss bested the field again.
In 1972, the tournament buy-in was raised to $10,000 and there were a total of eight players. Tall,lanky, and talkative Texan, "Amarillo Slim" Preston won the tournament, and national newspapers and magazines took note of the event. Preston was also featured on television, appearing on the Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Preston's easy demeanor and country charm was a juxtaposition to what viewers expected a professional poker player to be and he became a regular on The Tonight Show spinning colorful and funny stories about poker and his life.WSOP Expansion
Over the next ten years, the WSOP expanded to include more games and the main-event, the $10,000 buy-in Texas Hold'em freezeout grew in popularity. The event was featured in Sports Illustrated magazine as well as The Wide World of Sports on CBS. Doyle Brunson won the event in 1976 and 1977 and used his new-found popularity to release his book, Super System, which introduced thousands of people to the tournament and the game of Texas hold'em. Stu Ungar won the main-event in 1980 and 1981, and repeated in 1996 to become the only three-time champion
The final tournament had over 100 entries for the first time in 1982, and in 1983, Tom McEvoy won, becoming the first satellite winner to take the top prize. In 1991, the final event drew 215 entries and by 2002, that number grew to 601. That number jumped to 839 in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker won back-to-back online tournaments (a super satellite) and went on to win the main-event's $2.5 million prize.Online Explosion
As online poker exploded in popularity, so did the story of Chris Moneymaker's $36 buy-in tournament at Pokerstars that turned into a $2.5 million payday. Over the next few years virtually every event grew in size and the main event attracted thousands of players, many who qualified with small buy-in online tournaments.
The WSOP was also purchased from the Binion family by Harrah's. Since that time the tournament has continued to grow in popularity and excitement. The venue has also been changed from the old Binion's Horseshoe casino in Downtown Las Vegas to the upscale Rio, which has the convention space necessary to offer poker tournaments for thousands of players.