WSOP History: From Private Competition to Worldwide Renown

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is the most prestigious and renowned poker tournament series in the world. It’s been the peak of competitive poker for over five decades, completely revolutionizing the game. WSOP bracelets are status symbols in the community, emblematic of poker greatness. 

However, the WSOP wasn’t always like this. Its fifty years of history have been filled with legendary moments, unforgettable players, and more. Today, we’ll go through the history of the WSOP, from the first gathering between seven pros to its peak in 2006.

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1970: Benny Binion sets the stage

It’s 1970, and casino owner Benny Binion has an idea. Just a year ago, he attended the 1969 Texas Gamblers Reunion, where some of the best pros gathered to play cash games against each other. After ensuring Tom Moore wouldn’t host another reunion, Binion made his own version.

Binion calls in seven of the best poker pros in America: Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo “Slim” Preston, Sailor Roberts, Puggy Pearson, Crandell Addington, and Carl Cannon. The pros play high-stakes cash games for several hours and at the end, are told to vote for the best player.

Unsurprisingly, everyone voted for themselves. Upon being asked to vote for the second-best player, Johnny Moss was crowned the first-ever WSOP winner. They didn’t have bracelets, instead giving Moss a silver cup.

It would take a year for the WSOP to adopt the iconic elimination-style freezeout tournament format and six more before the bracelets were used as the prize. While the 1970 WSOP bore almost no resemblance to the tournament we know today, it was an essential foundation. 

1973: The WSOP makes it to TV

Nowadays, the WSOP is globally broadcast, reaching a massive audience all across the world. It inspired countless poker players to chase their dreams of becoming a pro; some have even succeeded! However, its humble beginnings go back to 1973, when the WSOP first appeared on TV as part of a sports program. 

Thanks to Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, a documentary about the WSOP Main Event was made for the CBS Sports Spectacular anthology series. While it wasn’t an instant hit, it inspired a few more WSOP-related programs on CBS. This culminated in ESPN taking over WSOP coverage in the 80s, giving an annual one-hour show about the main event.

1982: A chip and a chair

This WSOP run remains one of the most famous, inspiring the poker adage “A chip and a chair.” The saying means you should never count yourself out of a poker tournament until you’ve actually lost all your chips, and Jack Straus’ run was the perfect example of that. 

On day two of the WSOP, Straus looked done. After a big hand went bust, he seemingly had lost all his chips. As he was standing up from his chair, he noticed something: A single $500 chip beneath a napkin. Sitting right back down, it seemed Straus was in the tournament for just a few more hands.

As it turns out, he was in it for a lot more. Straus brought it back, becoming the chip leader by day 3. At the final table, he eliminated everyone else, finally beating Dewey Tomko in a record 10-minute heads-up battle. 

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2003: Chris Moneymaker wins it all

Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP run may be the single most impactful one in history for numerous reasons. 

The first was that he was a total amateur. With his day job as an accountant, the WSOP was Moneymaker’s first live tournament. His win showed players worldwide that victory wasn’t exclusive to seasoned pros. You don’t need a background in poker; anyone can win if they have the skill. 

The second big reason Moneymaker’s win was impactful is that it proved the legitimacy of online poker. While online poker was still a recent invention from 1999, Moneymaker used it to qualify for the WSOP with just a $39 investment. He joined an online satellite tournament, which qualified him for a $600 one. Winning gave him a seat at the $10,000 WSOP Main Event, where he beat out 838 other entrants for the $2.5 million prize. 

Moneymaker’s win started the poker boom, which was a period from 2003 – 2006 when poker exploded in popularity. In 2006, attendance increased almost tenfold to 8773, the most entrants for a WSOP Main Event ever. 

2006: The biggest WSOP ever

The 2006 WSOP was the biggest one yet, and sadly, the growth of the poker boom was halted right after, thanks to a law shutting down several key poker sites.

Still, we at least saw the WSOP near the peak of its popularity, with a whopping $82,512,162 prize pool from the 8773 entrants. The winner of this WSOP was Jamie Gold, who received $12,000,000.

The highlight of Gold’s run was the finals, where his signature table talk shined in a massive all-in to win the pot. All tournament long, Gold had been getting into his opponents’ heads. He tricked them beautifully, even going as far as to reveal his hole cards to mess with them more. 

In the final hand, Gold held Q-9 on a flop of Q-8-5, against Paul Wasicka who had pocket 10s. “You don’t have a queen, do you?” Gold asked Wasicka. “I’m already all-in, you can’t change my action. You don’t have a queen, do you? I guess if you did, you’d call, so I’ve got this one. No queen?” 

Wasicka said yes, prompting Gold to say, “I’ve got you” with a simple smile. After a long pause for decision-making, Wasicka admits Gold talked him into calling, which leads to Gold winning the pot and the Main Event of the biggest WSOP to date. 

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Feeling inspired? Chase your dreams!

Now that you know the WSOP’s remarkable history, don’t you just want to go and compete there? If you plan on becoming a poker pro, don’t hesitate to pursue that career option. Just know that you must keep your dreams grounded in reality, and being a poker pro takes a huge amount of time, effort, and courage.