How the WSOP Started

It's really hard to contemplate the fact that when the WSOP actually started, all the way back in 1970, there were actually less than 50 poker tables in Las Vegas. There were actually only 50 poker tables in Nevada. In fact, Binion's Horseshoe didn't even have a poker table at the time. So how did we go from this to having fully-fledged online video poker games? Let's find out.

The Horseshoe Casino Patriarch Benny Binion is often accredited with coming up with the championship format that we know today. In reality, it comes down to two, lesser-known men. They are known as Vic Vickrey and Tom Moore. Tom Moore was actually a Texan who owned the Holiday Casino, which at the time was located in Reno. Vickrey was a gambler and he had a vision. He had grand ideas and even bigger dreams. In the year 1969, Vickrey and Moore invited a lot of different poker aficionados to his Reno casino to attend the Texas Gamblers Reunion. This was the first of its time, and Jimmy Snyder, Rudy Wanderone and Benny Binion ended up attending. Some notable players attended, too, including Doyle Brunson and Johnny Moss.

This would eventually blossom into the World Series. Sure, things would have been very different if they had carried on with this tradition. Instead, they chose to pass up the chance of hosting a poker night and instead, they agreed to meet up the following year. Binion then pounced on this opportunity, and created what we have today.

The first World Series of Poker was actually nothing more than a few players. There was zero public attention and pretty much no press coverage. Nobody outside Vegas knew about this, and they certainly didn't care about the outcome either. Johnny Moss didn't even end up winning the tournament, either. Instead, he was elected the best player all-round after a couple of days of high-stakes playing.

Binion knew that improvements needed to be made if the World Series was to ever gain any traction. The following year, they played to a freeze-out. Seven experienced poker players paid the entry fee of $5,000 and Johnny Moss ended up taking the prize. He was finally able to regain his title of being world champion. Sure, poker has a very long and storied history. Amarillo Slim Preston's victory in 1972 really does have to be one of the biggest moments in the whole history of the game. Sure, he was only one of the 12 entries that year, but he soon became the biggest poker ambassador. He went on to tour publicly and he was even brought on as a guest for the Tonight show well over 10 times. He then wrote a best-seller and wove a red cape to the media. This attracted the bulls, and it started to give the WSOP some traction.

In 1973, CBS televised the WSOP for the very first time. The images of, what was at the time, the fourth annual championship were very comical to say the least. People actually ended up wearing dotted lapels and many people sported sideburns too. They also burnt cigars and this made the final table look a lot more like a time capsule.

After Johnny Moss went on to win his third championship, Doyle Brunson then solidified his presence in history by winning the title back to back. The next major change to happen actually occurred when the format was instituted. The top five players received a cash payout. It was also the very first year that women were able to enter the series, which helped to break down the barrier between women and gambling. Barbara Freer actually became the first player, and she quickly took her place in what was an all-male fraternity.

Hal Fowler's upset victory also made its mark in history. This happened in the year 1979 and it was the first time that an amateur player was able to beat every single elite in the tournament. A lot of long-time professionals were in complete shock when they found out that they had been beaten by someone who had very little experience, and it just went to show that Fowler was destined for great things. Fowler's example then encouraged even more amateurs to sign up, and some even came from overseas. Fowler was never again able to enjoy the fruits of how much he contributed to the WSOP. In fact, he never actually played again and soon after, he was forgotten about.

Stu Ungar burst onto the scene in a complete firestorm. He was the lightning rod which would then go on to electrify an enclave of Texans who were used to taking home the prize money. Ungar won in 1980 and he went on to repeat his luck again in 1981. He was from New York so his personality varied from his peers. He wanted to generate even more publicity for the event and he certainly succeeded. NBC Sport dispatched a film crew to cover the 1981 WSOP and this introduced poker to millions of households.

In 1982, the WSOP had then expanded to 11 events. They even added a Ladies World Championship, too. The buy-in for the main event that they held rose to $10,000 and people were happy to pay. The 13 events that they had that year ended up giving out $2.6 million in prize giveaways to some of the top finishers.

During the 1980s, Jack Binion had really assumed the duties from running the popular casino from his father. His protégé at the time was Eric Drache, and he went on to give poker its next push. He wanted to push things even more and he wanted to fill more seats. He wanted satellites to broadcast the event and this really paid off. Ever since then, poker has been shown in millions of homes across the globe and even online games have been created, too. It's got a phenomenal history overall, with even better things to come.

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