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History of the World Series of Poker

by Mike Schultz on July 16, 2010

In 1970, casino owner, poker enthusiast and mobster Benny Binion, invited six of the best known poker players to the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas - and thus, the World Series of Poker was born.

The first World Series of Poker was a single tournament with a set start and stop time, with the winner determined by secret ballot. That first World Series of Poker attracted no attention and Johnny Moss, the first WSOP champ, didn't win a tournament - but was elected "best all-around player" via secret ballot after several days of play. For his efforts, Moss received a silver cup as a prize. The following year, the WSOP was played as a freeze-out with seven poker players and a $5K buy-in. Moss was again victorious, this time as the last man standing.


The WSOP first gained national attention in 1972 with "Amarillo Slim" Preston's upset victory. Preston's win turned into a tsunami of press that earned him movie roles, a book deal, and eleven Tonight Show appearances, putting the WSOP on the world's radar. In 1980 and 1981, Stu "The Kid" Ungar changed the face of the WSOP by winning back-to-back WSOPs and wiping the smirks off the faces of the older, burly Texas-type players who had become fixtures of the game and dominated the WSOP in the past. NBC Sports noticed the press and dispatched a film crew to cover the '81 WSOP, which brought poker into the homes of Americans nation-wide for the first time. Ungar, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan are the only people who have won the Main Event in consecutive years. Phil Hellmuth, who this year, appeared at the 2010 WSOP dressed as a UFC fighter, even going so far as to arrive with UFC Octagon Announcer Bruce Buffer who introduced Hellmuth, holds multiple WSOP records with the most bracelets (11), most WSOP cashes (78), and most WSOP final tables (42).


The WSOP wasn't an overnight sensation, growing slowly at first with only 52 participants after 12 years. In 1973, five-card stud was added as a second event. By 1982, the WSOP had expanded to eleven preliminary events including a Ladies World Championship and by 1987, there were over 2,100 entrants in the entire series. In 2004, Binion's Horseshoe was sold and Harrah's Entertainment acquired the rights to the World Series of Poker. In 2005, the WSOP moved to the cavernous RIO All-Suites Casino and Hotel which had the space to accommodate more tournaments and the thousands of poker players who began coming to the WSOP in droves. The WSOP peaked in 2006, with 8,773 players competing with Jamie Gold winning the Main Event bracelet and the whopping $12 million prize. Since 2009, the WSOP has consisted of 57 events.

This year's WSOP is also making history. With an impressive 12% increase over 2009's Main Event field, the WSOP proved poker is making a serious come back with final numbers resulting in the second biggest Main Event ever at 7,319 and the biggest all-round tournament ever in the history of the world. A record that was set even before all the numbers were in for the Main Event proving a growing interest for lower stakes tournaments.