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World Series of Poker

The WSOP Main Event

There’s nothing quite like the World Series of Poker. The venerable poker series began life as a promotional event for Binion’s Horseshoe way back in 1970 but it’s since become the richest poker tournament, a multi-million dollar brand in its own right and the ultimate goal for poker players around the globe. The WSOP is largely responsible for turning poker from a back-room card game into an international phenomenon that’s televised around the world. The WSOP exists in a unique space that sits at the crossroads of card games, sports and gambling.

What You Need to Know About the WSOP

The World Series of Poker is a series of poker tournaments that take place every summer in Las Vegas. It is the biggest, richest and most famous poker series in the world. It regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of players.

The number of individual tournaments in the WSOP has been steadily growing since its inception in 1970 and these days the series offers 70+ events over roughly a month and a half. Every event awards a signature WSOP gold bracelet and the chance to be part of poker history.

The crown jewel of the WSOP is the $10,000 buy-in Main Event, which is always the biggest poker tournament of the year and has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to poker players over the years.

The Main Event is so popular that it’s sometimes referred to as the World Series of Poker all on its own. The tournament is always televised and it attracts international media attention. Essentially it’s poker’s version of the Super Bowl or World Cup.

The WSOP’s growth and media exposure increased exponentially after 2003 when accountant Chris Moneymaker won that year’s Main Event for $2,500,000 after qualifying for just $40 online.

While the Main Event remains the favorite of poker players around the world the barrier for entry at the WSOP has been reduced significantly for amateurs and the series now offers tournaments where the buy-in starts at just $365. On the other end of the scale the Big One for One Drop was introduced in 2012 with a record-setting $1 million buy-in.

The WSOP is so popular that it’s been played by numerous celebrities over the years including actors Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Ray Romano, Jennifer Tilly as well as sports stars Michael Phelps, Georges St. Pierre, Roberto Luongo, Paul Pierce and Gerard Piqué.

WSOP Bullet Points:

  • The biggest poker series in the world with 70+ events and millions in prizes.
  • The series culminates with the flagship $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event.
  • Takes place exclusively in Las Vegas every summer for around 50 straight days.
  • Started in 1970 by Benny Binion as a way to promote his casino Binion’s Horseshoe
  • The majority of tournaments at the WSOP are open events
  • Amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 Main Even for $2.5 million in 2003 after qualifying for just $40 on an online poker site.
  • Buy-ins for events at the WSOP start at $365 and scale up to staggering $1,000,000.
  • The biggest ever WSOP Main Event took place in 2012 with Jamie Gold winning $12 million.
  • Some of the most successful WSOP players include Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, Erik Seidel and Daniel Negreanu

How it All Began

The WSOP began as a way for Benny Binion to bring some attention to his casino — Binion’s Horseshoe — in 1970.

Binion’s already had a popular poker room so it made sense that Benny would attempt to cash in on its reputation as one of the prime spots to play poker.

The very first WSOP was actually a series of cash games that alternated between several games including No-Limit Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud, Razz, 2-7 Lowball and Five-Card Stud.

After playing for several days the players settled on an overall winner by voting. The players selected Johnny Moss as poker’s first world champion.

That was the only time the WSOP took place as a cash game and the very next year they switched the event to a No-Limit Hold’em freezeout tournament. It turned out that Johnny Moss was worthy of his colleague’s votes as he won the 1971 WSOP as well.

The 1971 WSOP attracted just 6 players but the tournament would attract more players every year and by 1982 the elite tournament was attracting over 100 players.

The first decade of the WSOP was dominated by a legendary group of gamblers that hailed form Texas including the aforementioned Moss as well as Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson.

In the early ‘80s a young poker player from New York city named Stu Unger changed the status quo at the WSOP with a controversial style that won him back-to-back titles.

Unger, who was referred to as “The Kid”, was renowned for getting under the skin of his opponents and was somewhat of a forerunner for “bad boys” of poker like Phil Hellmuth and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow.

By the time the 1990’s rolled around the WSOP Main Event was attracting hundreds of players and awarding $1m with numerous side events also on the schedule.

It was far beyond what Benny Binion ever expected for the WSOP but the best way yet to come.

Chris Moneymaker Changes Poker Forever

The WSOP was steadily expanding as the ‘90s came to a close.

In the course of a decade the Main Event had gone from attracting 194 players to 393 with famous winners like Dan Harrington, Huck Seed and Scotty Nguyen taking down titles.

That growth would be dwarfed, however, by the next 10 years thanks to the invention of online poker and a man named Chris Moneymaker.

The Internet was still in its infancy in the year 2000 but it was clear there was a huge market for online card games. Card games were a perfect for the slower computers and internet of the early 2000s and games like Hearts and Bridge were favorites on message boards and chatrooms.

It turned out that poker — particularly No-Limit Hold’em — was a perfect fit for online play thanks to its “simple to learn, hard to master” structure.

Online poker sites started popping up rapidly in the early 2000s as investors and entrepreneurs chased the next Dot Com explosion.

The sites proved to be a hit and in 2003 an accountant from Tennessee named Chris Moneymaker qualified for the WSOP Main Event by playing a $39 satellite.

It seemed inconceivable that the amateur poker player would go on to win the Main Event but that’s exactly what happened next. Moneymaker outlasted all 839 entries and defeated seasoned poker pro Sammy Farha to win $2,500,000.

The WSOP Main Event exploded the following year with 2,576 entries as amateur poker players attempted to pull off a Moneymaker of their own. The phenomenon was dubbed the “Moneymaker Effect”.

It’s difficult to say whether the poker boom would have happened without Moneymaker — as online poker sites were starting to explode on their own — but it certainly didn’t hurt.

Over the next few years the WSOP would go through unprecedented growth, peaking in 2006 with 8,773 entries. Jamie Gold walked away from that tournament with a record $12,000,000.

Since then the online poker industry has had it’s ups and downs but the WSOP Main Event has remained remarkably consistent and has attracted 6,000 players every single year over the least decade.

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