History of the WSOP

The first annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) did not take place until 1970, but it was a concept two decades in the making. According to legend, it all began back in 1949 when incorrigible gambler Nicholas “Nick The Greek” Dandolos had a phenomenal idea.

Dandolos approach the owner of the now historical Horseshoe Casino, Benny Binion, relaying the concept of a marathon, high-stakes event. By design, the tournament would pit the best of the best against one another.

Interested in the notion, Binion agreed to set up a match between Dandolos and legendary poker player Johnny Moss. Benny Binion insisted that the match take place in public view. And so the marathon began…

Breaking only long enough to sleep, the heads-up tournament lasted for five months. Moss and Dandolos played every poker variant known to them. In the end, Moss prevailed, crowned the victor of the “the biggest game in town”. Moss was awarded an estimated $2 million.

Upon losing his final hand, Nick the Greek stood slowly, offered a slight bow to his opponent and, before heading upstairs to bed, uttered the words that would become an everlasting spoke in the wheel of time, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.”

It would still be another 21 years before the World Series of Poker made its official debut, but the 5-month marathon started the wheels spinning in Benny Binion’s head. He took note of the crowd that gathered each day outside the casino, devoted fans eagerly entertained by the rigorous competition before them. Amazed at the enthusiasm of so many attracted onlookers, Binion held onto this information for the next two decades until one day, in 1970, it all came together.

Binion made the decision to re-set the phenomenal stage, inviting the giants of poker to compete for the title of “World Championship” in what he historically dubbed the “World Series of Poker”. The best players in the world were gathered at the Horseshoe Casino, and as he did 21 years before, Johnny Moss emerged victorious. Interestingly enough, however, the winner was not decided by chips, but rather fan favorite. The crowd voted on the winner, and Moss was chosen, hands down.

In 1971, the WSOP became a Freezeout competition. Players were given a specific amount of chips to start with, and anyone whose stack ran dry was immediately eliminated. The player to end up with all of the chips would be declared the winner. Once more, Johnny Moss gained the title of World Champion.

The following year, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston won the 1972 WSOP. After his win, Preston hit the talk-show circuit, speaking of his experience and the WSOP as a whole. The added publicity brought much more attention to the WSOP, attracting a much wider audience.

In 1973, Binion took part in the Oral History Project at Reno’s University of Nevada, where he discussed the WSOP in an interview with Mary Ellen glass. “This poker game here gets us a lot of attention. We had seven players last year, and this year we had 13,” Binion said. “I look to have better than 20 next year. It's even liable to get up to be 50, might get up to be more than that." With a brief moment’s hesitation, Binion predicted, "It will eventually."

Preliminary Satellite competitions were introduced in the early 1980’s, offering lower buy-ins that catapulted Binion’s prediction into reality. A field of 52 participated in the 1982 WSOP, jumping to 2,141 in 1987. The World Series of Poker was becoming phenomenally more popular, but nothing compared to what it is today. If only Binion could have seen 20 years into the future before he passed away on Christmas Day, 1989.

By 2002, the WSOP saw 7,595 participants take to the felt. With the increase of participation levels came the inevitable boost in overall prize pool, from $7,769,000 in 1992 to $19,599,230 in 2002. The game variety expanded as well, rising from 12 events of mostly Texas Holdem and 7 Card Stud in 1998, to 33 events in 2004, spanning all forms of poker.

After the 2004 WSOP, Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, including the rights to the World Series of Poker. Harrah’s retained the rights to the WSOP, but sold the hotel and casino to MTR Gaming Group. Harrah’s then announced that the 2005 WSOP would be held at Harrah’s “Rio Hotel and Casino”, located just off the Vegas Strip.

When the World Series of Poker became a widely promoted television broadcast event in the early 2000’s, poker exploded from the occasional home game scenario to one of the most popular pastimes in all the world. The massive success of the online poker industry can be largely attributed to WSOP broadcasts. Online poker is now ranked as the second largest revenue-yielding business on the World Wide Web.

Currently, Phil Hellmuth Jr holds the record for the most WSOP Bracelets at 11. Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson are tied for second place with 10 WSOP Bracelets. When Peter Eastagte won the 2008 WSOP World Championship, he became the youngest player to ever take down the Main event; a record once held by Phil Hellmuth Jr.

World Series of Poker Champions 1970-2008

1970 WSOP: Johnny Moss - n/a [7 Entrants]
1971 WSOP: Johnny Moss - $30,000 [6 Entrants]
1972 WSOP: Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston - $80,000 [8 Entrants]
1973 WSOP: Walter “Puggy” Pearson - $130,000 [13 Entrants]
1974 WSOP: Johnny Moss - $160,000 [16 Entrants]
1975 WSOP: Brian “Sailor” Roberts - $210,000 [21 Entrants]
1976 WSOP: Doyle Brunson - $220,000 [22 Entrants]
1977 WSOP: Doyle Brunson - $340,000 [34 Entrants]
1978 WSOP: Bobby Baldwin - $210,000 [42 Entrants]
1979 WSOP: Hal Fowler - $270,000 [54 Entrants]
1980 WSOP: Stu Ungar - $385,000 [73 Entrants]
1981 WSOP: Stu Ungar - $375,000 [75 Entrants]
1982 WSOP: Jack Straus - $520,000 [104 Entrants]
1983 WSOP: Tom McEvoy - $540,000 [108 Entrants]
1984 WSOP: Jack Keller - $660,000 [132 Entrants]
1985 WSOP: Bill Smith - $700,000 [140 Entrants]
1986 WSOP: Berry Johnston - $570,000 [141 Entrants]
1987 WSOP: Johnny Chan - $625,000 [152 Entrants]
1988 WSOP: Johnny Chan - $700,000 [167 Entrants]
1989 WSOP: Phil Hellmuth Jr - $755,000 [178 Entrants]
1990 WSOP: Mansour Matloubi - $895,000 [194 Entrants]
1991 WSOP: Brad Daugherty - $1,000,000 [215 Entrants]
1992 WSOP: Hamid Dastmalchi - $1,000,000 [201 Entrants]
1993 WSOP: Jim Bechtel - $1,000,000 [220 Entrants]
1994 WSOP: Russ Hamilton - $1,000,000 [268 Entrants]
1995 WSOP: Dan Harrington - $1,000,000 [273 Entrants]
1996 WSOP: Huck Seed - $1,000,000 [295 Entrants]
1997 WSOP: Stu Ungar - $1,000,000 [312 Entrants]
1998 WSOP: Scotty Nguyen - $1,000,000 [350 Entrants]
1999 WSOP: Noel Furlong - $1,000,000 [393 Entrants]
2000 WSOP: Chris Ferguson - $1,500,000 [512 Entrants]
2001 WSOP: Juan Carlos Mortenson - $1,500,000 [613 Entrants]
2002 WSOP: Robert Varkonyi - $2,000,000 [631 Entrants]
2003 WSOP: Chris Moneymaker - $2,500,000 [839 Entrants]
2004 WSOP: Greg Raymer - $5,000,000 [2,567 Entrants]
2005 WSOP: Joe Hachem - $7,500,000 [5,619 Entrants]
2006 WSOP: Jamie Gold - $12,000,000 [8,773 Entrants]
2007 WSOP: Jerry Yang - $8,250,000 [6,358 Entrants]
2008 WSOP: Peter Eastgate - $9,152,416 [6,844 Entrants]