World Series set for Rio

May 30, 2005 2:20 AM

In the summer of 1949, famed gambler Nicholas "Nick the Greek" Dandolos approached gambling icon, Benny Binion, wishing to challenge the reputed best poker player, the legendary Johnny Moss, in a high-stakes poker marathon.

Binion agreed to set up a match between Dandolos and Moss with the one stipulation that the event be held in public. Five months later, with breaks only for sleep, Moss won "the biggest game in town" and an estimated $2 million purse.

Fast forward 21 years to 1970, when Binion decided to recreate the event — dubbed the "World Series Of Poker" — to determine who would be worthy of the title of "World Champion." Again, Johnny Moss won.

From 1970 to 1982, the tournament had grown to 52 entries. In 2003 there were 839 entries for the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em event. In 2004 the previous year’s record was smashed when 2,576 poker fanatics entered the Championship event. The prize money increased from $7,769,000 a decade ago to more than $49 million in 2004.

It’s now the biggest, most famous poker event on the planet.

The 36th Annual World Series of Poker kicks off on Thursday, June 2, at the Rio in Las Vegas, and will run through July 15. At least 5,000 players are expected to participate in the $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas hold ”˜em Championship, double the number that competed in 2004.

Moreover, the number of tournament events has increased to more than 42. Each event has a winner, and each winner receives a bracelet, arguably the most coveted prize in poker. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth each have nine bracelets, but only Chan and Brunson have won the Championship more than once.

Over two hundred players have won bracelets throughout the history of the WSOP — with amateur players winning their share of the gold.

This year’s World Series marks the first time it will be held outside of Binion’s Horseshoe, which sold all rights to the tournament to Harrah’s last year. All events, except for the final two days of the Championship Event, will be contested at the Rio.

In recent years, the World Series of Poker has become a household name, not because of legendary players, but because of the "no-name" amateurs that have taken the title of World Champion.

The most famous poker players in the world — including legendary gamblers such as T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Men Nguyen and Amarillo Slim — have regularly graced the tables of the World Series. Almost all of them have won.

But the 2003 champion, Chris Moneymaker, infamously won entry into the WSOP through a $39 buy-in online mini-tournament.

Proving the path was no fluke, last year’s overall champion, Greg Raymer, also gained entry via an online poker tournament that cost less than $100 to enter.

No doubt there will be thousands of entries this year that will come by way of satellite tournaments. (By winning a satellite tournament, a player can win a $10,000 seat into the World Series championship.)

Who knows, the next World Series champion could also arise from the anonymous ranks of the Internet.