The boom and reputation of poker would not be the same, at all, without the existence of the World Series of Poker, World Series of Poker or, simply, WSOP and not only because it is the most important tournament in the industry, or because it left important contributions in the culture of card games. It is, above all things, the universal scope that gave the races and their competitors.
Annually, millions of spectators sit in front of their televisions to tune into what is supposed to be the most important contest of the year in the field of gambling. The United States, the eternal promoter of casinos and their games, destines ESPN, the largest sports coverage channel in the country, the direct and prolonged transmission of this great event.
As expected, there are other festivals in the world that honor poker with marathon game sessions. However, none has achieved the impact of the World Series. With almost 50 years of uninterrupted career, it is worth stopping to remember all those great moments that this tournament has experienced that today is more relevant than ever.
Every story has a beginning
The World Series of Poker goes back to the Meeting of Poker Players that was celebrated in 1968 in the locality of Reno, Texas. Benny Binion, a gangster but inveterate player and owner of Las Vegas Club Casino, attended the event.
Fascinated by the ideas of how big the industry could become, which at that time continued to gain strength in the US, Binion thought that organizing a tournament would be a very lucrative form of entertainment and would attract the attention of many important players, of course, from the press.
The headquarters of the first world tournament, in that sense, was the Horseshoe casino, also owned by Benny. That was the first step; by then, no one imagined that competition would become the most important worldwide event of all years.
Johnny Moss would be the champion in that opportunity, and he would repeat next year. For both victories, it is estimated that the player received more than 40 thousand dollars in cash. In that time, the great world poker tournament counted, barely, with 6 participants.
Thomas Preston: Yellow Slim
With the successive victories of Moss, many of the contestants who attended the 1972 World Series came up without much hope, but also called for the enthusiasm and desire to fight against players of the same size.
The championship, however, was taken by Thomas Austin Preston, a regular gambler who already carried an excellent reputation in all the gambling halls he attended. History would remember him as Yellow Slim.
That year, the contest was held again at the Horseshoe. The prize was $80,000 and the circle of opponents, although larger than the years after, was only a dozen. Slim proved his worth and champion. Beyond that, he also became a poker legend and the first important icon in the World Series.
As of this year, the contest stopped being taken as a battle between amateurs and experienced gamers. Advertising became real and as if by magic, the mass media of the date – radio, press, and television – offered coverage of the event.
CBS: the small screen that transmitted first
The letters were thrown in 1973 before a prize that reached 130 thousand and another dozen of players with all the opportunities of taking send the amount to their houses. Of course, the collection was incredibly juicy and important that year, but what really marked was the presence of CBS, a television company that would tune into the World Series of Poker for the first time.
Of course, this nascent transmission is not comparable to what exists today. The cards were not shown nor were there several cameras focusing the faces of all the players simultaneously. However, in its own way, it was the game of chance of the year.
That is how, during the fourth annual poker tournament, the preliminaries were granted, contests that were carried out apart from the main event. Walter Pearson, known as Puggy Pearson, won the “Main” and was also made with two preliminaries that earned him a legendary place in the history of the contest.
Hal Fowler’s beginner’s luck
Between 1974 and 1978, the baton of the tournament changed its name as the years progressed. Johnny Moss returned to become a winner in 1974 and took 160 thousand dollars home. Crandall Addington was the one who took the second place and the CBS, again, was in charge of the coverage of the event.
Brian Roberts would be the lucky winner in 75. The jackpot, at that time, reached 210 thousand dollars and the number of players, a dozen, became a circle of a score of men from anywhere in the United States.
One of the names that most resonated at that time was that of Doyle Brunson, who achieved the respect and admiration of the public when he won successively in 1976 and 1977. The feat had already achieved Moss at the beginning of the game but had never been in the record of the media.
In 1978, the number of players suddenly grew. For the first time, those responsible for organizing the Series decided that the prize would be divided among the top 5. Of course, the best part for those who had worked more neatly. Bobby Baldwin was the champion that year, with a prize of 210 thousand dollars.
Before the end of the 1970s, another event marked the history of the World Poker Series. The protagonist was Hal Fowler, a beginner in the cards who signed up for the contest without many aspirations. Among the veterans, Fowler looked like a lost child, but that was no impediment to the country was left in debt at the time he took the $270,000 and encouraged a number of applicants to enter the competitions that would provide the next few years.
A decade of the 80s: the digits increase
With all the popularity that made the game praise the date, it is ironic how it took both the players to congregate to form hundreds of participants. Of course, this amount is insignificant compared to the thousands that are currently presented, but for the time it was nonsense if a casino game contest succeeded.
The evolutionary process, however, would not have been the same in the absence of Chris Moneymaker. Either way, it would be several years until then, and in what concerns the 80, Stu “El Niño” Ungar was the winner that year. With 73 members and a prize that already exceeded 300 thousand dollars, this New Yorker would become the third man to win the Main Event in 1981 in a row.
This case was just as special, though not as shocking as Hal Fowler’s. The fact is that Ungar was a rookie in poker, but with an unprecedented natural talent that helped him rise quickly in the rungs of the World Series. His second triumph was covered on national television, for the first time, by NBC.
This means of communication was also one of the catalysts in the presence of contestants the following year. 1982 finally welcomed a figure that amounted to one hundred players. The prize also achieved a considerable increase. For the first time since its inception, the World Series distributed half a million dollars to its winner.
Jack Strauss was the man. Given the number of players, the preliminaries increased in number and the main event, like every year, brought together the best competitors of the moment. The following year, satellites were introduced and transmission ceased to be a local issue to become an international event.
The numbers did not stop growing. Each year, the number went up and the players were greeted by the organizers with the same enthusiasm that Benny Binion welcomed his first 6 opponents. From a hundred they passed to almost two hundred and so on it closed the decade of the 80 with 178 participants.
Another of the most important players of the time was Johnny Chan, the first Chinese contestant with American nationality to win the World Series of Poker. His victories in 1987 and 1988 augured that he would take the prize again next year. However, neither Chan nor any other player has achieved such a feat in the history of the tournament.
The nineties: the arrival of Jack Binion
To the lament of the casino community, Benny Binion died in 1989. However, the entire legacy would be in the hands of his son, Jack. Overcoming the affliction and with the resolution to follow in his father’s footsteps, the heir increased resources and launched a strategic growth plan for the contest.
Everything was catapulted from 1990 when the first non-US player won the World Series of Poker. The name of Monsour Matloubi was on the front pages of newspapers, was announced on stations and tuned live and direct. The Welshman fought in the preliminaries and in the main event. That year, of the 194 participants, the creditor was 895 thousand dollars.
In 1991 the milestone of the award was a complete outbreak. For the first time in history, the pot for the winner was one million dollars. The country was elated at such a fact. Brad Dougherty, finally, took this award.
The new millennium was approaching. In 1998, the Vietnamese Scotty Nguyen received his million dollars and, in 1999, the Irish Noel Furlong was consecrated as the winner.
The new century: outbreak of participants
Carlos Mortensen, in 2001, became the first winner of Spanish origin in the World Series. For the date, more than 600 players battled against each other in the preliminaries and prepared, for weeks, for the main event. Even so, everything seemed to explode after the presence of Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 winner.
What happened with Moneymaker, about the impact on the game, is that he was a novice in every sense of the word. In fact, he won his seat playing online poker for an amount that did not exceed $40. Chris, an Atlanta accountant, became the first $2.5 million creditors in cash and his story turned in favor of the World Poker Tournament.
After the participation of this man, in 2004 he received no less than 2576 participants, the largest increase to that point. In fact, when Moneymaker’s victory happened, there were only 843 people participating.
The 2 thousand transformed into 5 thousand and quickly into 10 thousand. The jackpot, although it was kept on US territory most years, occasionally surprised the audience with players of other nationalities. Such were the cases of Eastgate, Danish who triumphed in 2008 and, later, the German Pius Heinz, in 2011.
The new millennium brought and continues to bring surprises for the World Series of Poker. For example, in 2006 the biggest prize of the whole trajectory in the contest was registered. Jaime Gold took nothing less than $12 million in cash.
Finally, in 2018 the most recent edition was carried out. John Cynn, 33, got $8.8 million in a game that lasted 10 hours and 22 minutes. The second place, represented by Tony Miles, received the nothing modest sum of 5 million.