You have heard of it, and with the huge spike in popularity the last few years, you have likely watched the World Series of Poker on television. Each summer Poker players from around the world gather in the steamy desert paradise of Las Vegas, Nevada to try and vie for the ultimate prize. While some of them may realize the great struggle it took for Poker to get to be the showcase game that it is today, most probably do not know the rich history of the even now known on WSOP for short.
The first World Series of Poker was held in 1970 at Binion’s Horseshoe casino. The winner was Johnny Moss by popular vote- that’s right, the first official World Series of Poker was won by a majority vote of the players. The next year, the familiar elimination game started that still exists today. Proving that he really did deserve the title, Johnny Moss again won the WSOP for the second straight year.
Benny Binion, owner of the Horseshoe, can be billed as the Grandfather of the World Series of Poker, because it was his idea, and he saw it through brilliantly. So where did the idea come from? Even though the tournament was first held in 1970, it was 11 years earlier in 1949 that the real foundation for the future WSOP was laid, and Johnny Moss was a part of this series of events as well.
Binion enjoyed playing cards and dreamed of a tournament where the ultimate World Champion could be crowned. That year, infamous Poker player Nicholas Dandolos (Nick the Greek) approached Binion in his casino about holding a Poker challenge unlike any other- high stakes Poker against the best in the world, who happened to be Johnny Moss at the time. Binion knew Moss and agreed to arrange the match between him and Dandolos as long as it was held in his casino and in public view so that he could gauge the interest and reaction. Dandalos agreed to these stipulations and the match was set up.
Incredibly, the match lasted five grueling months. Day after day, Moss and Dandelos came back down to the table and played every type of Poker variation known to man at the time. They only took breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, and eat. But even though the Poker game became something of a marathon, each day people excitedly gathered outside the casino to watch the two Poker heavyweights go at it.
Finally after five months, Johnny Moss beat Dandolos, who stood up after the final hand and said “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go” and went to his room to sleep. These words are now fairly famous and can sometimes be heard being uttered when a player who knows their history gets eliminated. The jackpot was a staggering $2 million, which is a huge amount today- so imagine what it was worth back in 1949!
The excitement and crowds that gathered each day for the ‘biggest game in town’ was not lost on Binion, and that is why 11 years later he hosted the first-ever WSOP in his casino.
That first World Series of Poker had just a few players by invitation. The second year was 7 players, the next year the number was up to 13. For the rest of the 1970s, the tournament would very slowly increase in numbers.
In the 1980s came a new decade and a new way of selecting participants. This was the first year that ‘satellite’ tournaments such as the ones still played to day were used. People paid generally small buy-ins to play in these satellite tourneys and the victor of each would get a seat into the WSOP, making it easier for players from around the country to participate for the first time. Building on the popularity of this new tournament structure, by 1990 the WSOP had over 2,000 participants. Unfortunately, Benny Binion passed away a year earlier before he could finish seeing how big his “World Champion” tournament would become.
Today, people from around the entire world come in and play at the WSOP in the hopes of achieving Poker immortality. They range from seasoned veterans who were playing Poker professionally before it was popular to new players who won freeroll tournaments on the internet. Though the skill and experience level of the players varies wildly, one thing that every Poker player there knows is that anything can happen and even a novice can win the big prize. The first proof of this came in 2003, when an internet player named Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event, which is No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em.
Other popular World Series of Poker games include Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo, Ladies-only Hold ‘Em, Pot Limit Hold ‘Em, 7-Card Stud and many others.
Filed Under: The World Series of Poker