I asked Brunson if he could pick one person, dead or alive, to attend this year's WSOP who would he choose. He responded without hesitation: "Benny Binion." When I asked why, he explained that he wanted Benny to see how his vision of the WSOP had evolved. It got me thinking of Binion's and how Benny started it all back in 1970.
In fact, I was at Binion's Horseshoe the other night. Feeding off my poker high, I wanted to see where the World Series originated. I walked into the neon-saturated building and walked the tacky-carpeted path to the back of the casino where the poker room was intimately tucked away.
I had to laugh when I first stepped into the room. There's no way in hell that they could hold a third of the number of entrants who are competing in this year's events. But so what? I was standing in a room that only had enough seats for the best of the best in the poker world. The air was thick with history and memories I'd only ever read about. A nostalgic excitement permeated the room especially when I discovered the meager looking table in the corner, no different from any other poker table except for the little labels on the back of each chair that said "Final Table."
If you think that poker is only now becoming a real spectator sport, well Benny Binion would certainly say otherwise. Although the WSOP officially started in 1970, it was actually 1949 when Benny first came up with the idea for the event. The seed that planted the idea in Binion's head came in the form of Nicholas "Nick the Greek" Dandolos when he confronted Binion with a special request. Dandolos wanted to challenge the best player to a high-stakes poker marathon. Loving the idea, Binion set up the match between Dandolos and the legendary Johnny Moss with the condition that the entire event would take place in the public eye.
The event lasted five months (and you thought a 16-hour final table was long) with breaks only for sleep and bathroom use. And it wasn't just a No-Limit Hold'em marathon. The two competitors played every single form of poker known to man, demonstrating the mark of a true poker master, according to Doyle Brunson and many other pros (which probably explains why the H.O.R.S.E. event was so popular).
Every single day, hoards of spectators gathered around the casino to watch the heads-up action, which finally ended with Moss taking the title (along with $2 million) and Nick the Greek saying the now-famous last words: "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go," before going upstairs to bed.
Because of the attention that this special event garnered, Benny Binion knew he was on to something. And 21 years later, Binion created the World Series of Poker, a competition between the best poker players in the country to determine a champion. Moss once again who prevailed as he was named champion by popular vote, which is how it was done at the time.
So like many others, I'm happy that the H.O.R.S.E. event made its debut at this year's World Series. First of all because it's a way of trying to recapture the level of play that was prevalent in Binion's five-month marathon, and secondly because, although I missed out in 1949, I've witnessed a part of poker history today.