The first official WSOP tournament took place in 1970, but the World Series of Poker dates back further than that. In 1949, top poker player Nicholas Dandolos, also known as "Nick the Greek", approached casino partner Benny Binion and offered him a series of tournaments in which the best of the best poker players would compete. The tournament would pit Dandolos against Johnny Moss, a well known poker player.
The two poker legends dueled for five months and the prize of what was referred to as "the biggest game in town", climbed to $2 million. In the final game, after Moos had won, Dandalos said the famous line: "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go".
For more than twenty years after that event, Moss remained the unofficial champion of the poker world. In 1970, Benny Binion decided to initiate the official "World Series of Poker" and invited a wide array of players to compete against Moss for his title. Moss managed to defend his position and he was voted the official world champion (the first official tournament was won by a vote and not by an elimination process).
A year later, the system for deciding the winner of the WSOP was changed to the elimination system and Moss was victorious in that event, keeping his title yet again.
Since 1972 the main event of the World Series of Poker remained the $10,000 buy-in and the game - Texas Hold'em. In addition to the largest prize of the tournament, the winners also receive a gold WSOP bracelet, which is respected by poker players worldwide.
There have been several players to win the main event multiple times: Johnny Moss won three times, in 1970, 1971 and 1974, Doyle Brunson won two consecutive main events, in 1976 and 1977, Stu Ungar won two consecutive main events, in 1980, 1981 and one in 1997 and Johnny Chan won two consecutive main event, in 1987 and 1988.
Past, Present and Future
The WSOP continued to grow throughout the eighties and produced poker superstars such as Stu Ungar, Phil Helmuth and Johnny Chan. In the nineties the tournament achieved worldwide fame with thousands of competitors and tens of millions in prize money.
In 1982, the tournament had 52 entrants, in 1987 there were 2,141 entrants and 15 years later, in 2002, the tournament drew 7,595 participants.
The WSOP was no longer just a Las Vegas tournament. International satellite tournaments took place in cities throughout the US and the rest of world.
2003 was an important year for the World Series of Poker. Chris Moneymaker, an unknown and amateur player won the main event, beat 838 players and received an amazing $2.5 million prize. The amazing thing was that Moneymaker won a seat into the main event of the 2003 WSOP through a $39 online poker satellite tournament.
Moneymaker's win (and Greg Raymer's win in 2004, also the result of qualifying through an online satellite) - the Cinderella story of a man who turned $40 into millions – made people think that if he could do it, so can anyone.
This, along with an ever growing TV coverage of poker and the WSOP in particular, caused the tournament to continue to grow fast, with more and more people entering the tournaments and bigger and bigger prizes offered each year.
Even the WSOP's creator, Benny Binion, who died in 1989, did not foresee the statue that his annual tournament achieved. The main event prize money has increased proportionately, from $7,769,000 a decade ago to a staggering $56,190,000 in 2005.
There have been many WSOP champions over the years. Apart from Stu Ungar who won his third title in 1997, there have been a new WSOP main event champion every year since Phil Hellmuth won in 1989 and defeated Johnny Chan who was on his way to win a third consecutive championship! The chances of someone pulling the same feat that Chan did are slim since overcoming a 5,600 field is extremely difficult.
Harrah's Entertainment owns the rights to the WSOP since 2004. Harrah's moved main event from the Binion's Horeshoe to the Rio casino in Las Vegas in 2005. This might have ended some of the traditions of the old WSOP events, but there is no doubt they are taking the game of poker to new levels of popularity and public acceptance.