World Series of Poker underway in Las Vegas

Jun 5, 2019 3:00 AM

This year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) got underway last week with 89 events, building up to the main event on July 3 – 59 days in all. Awards will total over $866 million in prizes plus bracelets for the winners.

Players throughout the world are participating. Last year, there were over 120,000 participants in the WSOP events representing 102 countries, including almost 90,000 people from the U.S.

It all started in 1969 – 50 years ago, in Reno, when Benny Binion, a gangster and casino owner, conceived of the World Series of Poker. There were barely enough players to make it a viable tournament, and the game was 7-card stud. A lot has happened since then. Today, it’s Texas hold’em, by far the most popular poker game.

In 1970, Binion moved the event to his Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. It has since remained in Vegas, moving to the Rio in 2005.

Since 1972, the main event of the WSOP has been a no-limit Texas hold‘em tournament with a $10,000 buy-in. (Some earn their entry via smaller tournaments designated for that purpose, as did Chris Moneymaker.) The winner of the main event receives millions of dollars (the exact amount depends on the number of entrants), a special WSOP bracelet, and is considered the World Champion of Poker for that year.

The WSOP grew and matured along with Las Vegas. Once ruled by the “mob,” Vegas became a place for family recreation, entertainment and gambling, overseen by smart business people.

The number of players skyrocketed from only seven in the 1970 WSOP, to almost 200 in 1990 –a year after Binion died. Moneymaker made poker history in 2003 when he won a small on-line poker tournament that got him into the WSOP. He went on to take first place in the WSOP against over 800 opponents, winning $2.5-million.

That made big news and attracted even more players. Three years later, with more events offered, there were almost 9,000 participants.

With all that interest in the WSOP, the main event soon found itself on TV with ESPN. Needless to say, with millions of people watching, interest in the WSOP (and the game of poker, in general) , greatly expanded. And the WSOP prizes grew along with the number of entrants. Last year’s winner, John Cynn. won $8.8 million.

All in all, 1,182 players ended in the money. As a consequence, in addition to Chis Moneymaker, many poker players have gained fame and fortune via the WSOP. Of particular note, Barbara Enright, a resident of Hollywood, Calif., is the only woman to reach the final table at the WSOP. In 1995, she finished in fifth place. She is also the first woman to win two WSOP bracelets (she now has three), and the first woman to win an open event at the WSOP when she prevailed in 1996. That helped her gain election to the WSOP Poker Hall of Fame, the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, and the Senior’s Poker Hall of Fame.

Other poker notables who are WSOP main event winners include three-time winners Johnny Moss and Stu Ungar. Doyle Brunson and Johny Chan won two years in a row. (Johnny Chan’s second victory was featured in the 1998 movie, “The Rounders.”

In 2008, Peter Eastgate, then just 22 years old, became the youngest person to win the WSOP at that time. But, just one year later, 21-year-old Joe Cada became the WSOP champion.

Some of the more colorful winners have been Tom “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Walt “Puggy” Pearson, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, Jerry “The Shadow” Yang, Ryan “The Beast” Riess, and Qui “Tommy Gun” Nguyen.

And, as of 2007, the WSOP has expanded into Europe. The first WSOPE winner was Annette Obrestad of Norway. She was just shy of her 18th birthday at the time – the youngest person in the world to win the WSOP. (Note: The minimum age is 18 in the UK.)

It’s clearly evident that the World Series of Poker has done a lot to help promote and grow the game in its first 50 years. Let’s see where the next 50 years leads.  

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