You may remember a day when sporting channels were more interested in reruns of professional football games and daily highlight shows than high-stakes card games, but, since 2003, the biggest championship tournament in poker has maintained a near constant presence on TVs around the world. So, where did the World Series of Poker begin, and how did it end up in your living room? Let’s take a look at the history of the most popular annual card tournament ever conceived.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) dates back to 1970, when Las Vegas legend Benny Binion invited seven of the country’s best-known poker players to the Horseshoe Casino for a tournament to determine the best-of-the-best. Due to the nature of the tournament, which had a set time period for completion, the winner, Johnny Moss, was determined by popular vote. Following the 1972 tournament, the WSOP began to gain a larger following thanks, in part, to champion Thomas Preston’s talk-show circuit tour following the tournament’s completion.
By 1982, the small poker tournament had grown into a 52 participant battle royal with pre-qualifying satellite tournaments popping up around the country. From there, popularity exploded. By 1987, the WSOP series, including qualifiers, boasted over 2,100 entrants. The 2006 WSOP tournament, which included 45 events covering the majority of popular poker variants, marked the height of the tournament’s participation growth, with 8,773 registered players. Following 2006, new legislation on online gambling restricted the number of online qualifiers for the tournament, but popularity continued to grow.
The WSOP was held at Binion’s Horseshoe casino up until 2005, when Harrah’s Entertainment, now known as Caesars Entertainment Corporation, purchased the Binion brand and moved the event to the Rio Hotel and Casino, also in Las Vegas. Following the move, the tournament’s new operators created a tournament circuit, which featured events located in all of the company’s properties throughout the United States. In the new format, winners and other qualifying players from each site were eligible for a new Tournament of Champions at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which featured a grand prize of $1 million.
While a variety of games are featured at the WSOP, there is little doubt that the no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, which currently features a $10,000 buy-in, is considered the main event amongst players and fans. Winners of this tournament traditionally take home the largest cash prize of the series, as well as one of the coveted gold bracelets, which signify the tournament’s annual champions. An additional 8-game championship, featuring a variety of poker variants and a $50,000 buy-in, was introduced in 2006 and is often referred to as The Poker Player’s Championship for its diversity of necessary skills and huge entry fee, which is five times larger than the next most expensive tournament.
With a huge boom in popularity came expansion for the WSOP. In 2007, the World Series of Poker Europe was introduced as the first event with championship bracelets on the line held outside of Las Vegas. In 2010 and 2013 respectively, the World Series of Poker Africa and World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific continued the tournament’s international expansion. Over 45 years since its inception, the tournament’s popularity boom seemingly has no end in sight, which is good news for both players and fans of the game.
Over the years the event has gotten not only great coverage and attention by the media, but has also created a very devoted fan base. Although the main World Series of Poker events this year are set to run From May 27 to July 14, 2015 at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, pre-events have already started taking place since early January.