The History of the WSOP

In 1969, some of the biggest bookmakers and top poker players in the United States descended on the Holiday Inn in Reno, Nev., to compete in the first ever major high stakes poker tournament. Organized by Tom and Lafayne Moore, two of the original licensees of the hotel, the event was held in the hopes of promoting the Holiday Inn's business to the country's most influential bookmakers, some of who were producing the Second Annual Gaming Fraternity Convention.

The poker tournament was a re-buy event that hosted a playing field of some of today's most legendary players: Crandell Addington, Benny Binion, Billy Boyd, Doyle Brunson, Minnesota Fats, Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, Amarillo Slim Preston, "Sailor" Roberts, and Jack Straus, as well as the father of actor Woody Harrelson, Charles, who is now serving life for the 1979 assassination of a U.S. District Court Judge in San Antonio, Texas.

The event lasted one week with competitors playing a variety of poker games including Texas Hold'em, Kansas City Lowball, Razz, Stud, and Ace-to-Five Lowball Draw. Two attendees, Benny and Jack Binion - the owner of Binion's Horseshoe Gambling Hall and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., and his son - were so impressed with the tournament that they acquired the rights to it from Moore when he sold the Holiday Inn in 1970.

That same year, Benny Binion gathered together a group of highly skilled poker players and media representatives from around the United States. His plan was to host a series of games in a public setting where players would compete for the title of "World Champion of Poker." He named the event the World Series of Poker.

In 1970, 35 players entered the World Series and played five different poker variations. The winner was determined not just by their poker playing throughout the event, but also by player vote. In the end, celebrated poker legend Johnny Moss was crowned the very first World Champion of Poker. This was the only year a vote was held.

The following year the Series was held again, but this time was played within a tournament framework where competitors played to knock each other out until just one player remained. This style of play was created by poker legend Puggy Pearson, and was later named "freezeout." For the second year running, Johnny Moss defeated his opponents with his skillful play and unique style.

After the launch of the WSOP in 1970, tournament payouts and player participation steadily increased each year. In 1972, "Amarillo Slim" Preston" defeated 8 other players to win the event, which was the first tournament ever hosted with a $10,000 buy-in. At this time, "winner takes all" was the rule of the day and Amarillo Slim's tournament success resulted in an $80,000 prize.

Of course, the WSOP has experienced the most significant growth in the last few years. In 2000, when Chris "Jesus" Ferguson was crowned World Champion, the number of participants had grown to 519 and first prize was $1.5 million. In 2004, an unprecedented 2,576 players battled for the coveted World Champion title, and Greg Raymer ultimately defeated the massive field to collect the $5 million first prize. And, in 2005, Australian pro Joseph Hachem wowed the world when he defeated 5,619 players to take home the record $7.5 million first place prize.

This explosion in numbers, both in the amount of players and the sum total of the prize, can be almost entirely attributed to fact that that, in recent years, online poker has established itself as a highly favored pastime in millions of homes worldwide thanks to the popularity of televised and online poker.

But what has perhaps contributed most to the astounding growth that took place between 2000 and 2004, is that online poker spawned Chris Moneymaker, 2003 WSOP Champion and average Joe extraordinaire, whose $10,000 buy-in was itself won via That's right, it cost Moneymaker only $39 to win $2.5 million! This amazing story was heard quite clearly across the globe and was enough to triple the number of participants in the Main Event between 2003 and 2004.

During the tournament's initial two years, the Championship Event was the only event held in the Series. In 1972, a Five-Card Stud tournament was added and, since then, more events have been included each year.

In the 2004 World Series of Poker, 33 events were held, including the Main Event. The types of games varied from Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo, Omaha Pot-Limit, and Texas Hold'em to tournaments that mixed all variations. At the 2006 WSOP, a record breaking 45 events will be held in total, with the Main Event boasting a $10 million first place prize and an expected playing field of nearly 8,000 players!

What all WSOP events have in common is that the winner of each tournament receives a precious WSOP solid gold bracelet, the most prestigious prize offered in the realm of international poker. There are certain players who have won more bracelets than all other competitors, namely Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, and Johnny Chan, each of whom have won at least 9 bracelets (Brunson and Chan both acquired a 10th bracelet at the 2005 WSOP)!

Sadly, the 2004 World Series spelled the end for Binion's as home of the WSOP, and it officially closed its doors as hosts of the tournament in May 2005. One last hurrah was had during the 2005 World Series, when the final table played out at Binion's. Otherwise, the event was held at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the new home of the WSOP. 

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