No other poker tournament has the history or prestige of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Held in its current format since 1971, the WSOP Main Event has been the preeminent celebration of the game. Directly involved in the growth of both Las Vegas casinos and online poker rooms, the event has helped to make poker the international phenomenon that it is today.
For forty years, the WSOP Main Event has been a classic No Limit Texas Holdâem battle, and many of its champions have become legends in the game. From Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Walter âPuggyâ Pearson to Chris Moneymaker, Joe Cada and Jonathan Duhamel, this tournament has made more poker players famous than any other event.
The Beginning of the WSOP Main Event
Neither the World Series of Poker nor the Main Event started in its current format. In 1969, an invitational poker tournament called the Texas Gambling Reunion was held at the Holiday Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada. The event was won by gambling legend Crandell Addinton.
Inspired by the event, Las Vegas casino owner Benny Binion created the World Series of Poker in 1970. The inaugural WSOP would be a series of games that included five-card stud, deuce to seven low-ball draw, razz, seven-card stud, and Texas Hold’em. The following year, the new WSOP would feature its first Main Event, a Texas Holdâem tournament, which was won by the legendary Johnny Moss.
The current format for the Main Event was set in 1972, when the buy-in was raised from $5,000 to $10,000. The winners would receive prize money, a gold bracelet and have their names added to the Gallery of Champions at Binion’s Horseshoe.
The History of the Main Event â 1971 to 1980
From its humble beginning in 1970, the World Series of Poker started to grow slowly; the WSOP Main Event followed the same pattern. After being elected champion in 1970, Johnny Moss became the first winner of the Main Event, outlasting his five opponents to take the title and a silver cup for his win. Over the course of the decade, the number of players would continue to grow, from 8 players in 1972 to seventy-three in 1980. Prize money would also grow; Mossâ $30,000 for the inaugural event would be dwarfed by Stu Ungarâs $385,000 prize in 1980. During this time, two of the three back-to-back champions were crowned, with Doyle Brunson winning in 1976 and 1977, and Stu Ungar prevailing in 1980 and 1981. The list of champions during the decade was:
1971 â Johnny Moss
1972 â âAmarillo Slimâ Preston
1973 â Walter âPuggyâ Pearson
1974 â Moss
1975 â Brian âSailorâ Roberts
1976 â Doyle Brunson
1977 â Brunson
1978 â Bobby Baldwin
1979 â Hal Fowler
1980 â Stu Ungar
The growth of the WSOP Main Event â 1981 to 1990
After building a solid base of gamblers in the 1970s, the WSOP Main Event continued its steady growth throughout the 1980s. The tournament continued its climb, with 1990 marking the 19th consecutive year that registrations increased. By the time Mansour Matloubi took the gold bracelet in 1990, the tournament had reached 194 players and the winnerâs share was an impressive $895,000.
During the decade, several legends would make their marks. Stu Ungar finished his back-to-back championships in 1981 and was joined by Johnny Chan, who would become the third to accomplish the feat in 1987 and 1988. Phil Hellmuth Jr. would set the record for the youngest winner and prevent Chan from taking an unprecedented 3rd straight in 1989. Hellmuth would use this Main Event title build a WSOP leading total of 11, one ahead of both Chan and Brunson. The Main Event winners during this decade were:
1981 â Stu Ungar
1982 â Jack Straus
1983 â Tom McEvoy
1984 â Jack Keller
1985 â Bill Smith
1986 â Berry Johnston
1987 â Johnny Chan
1988 â Johnny Chan
1989 â Phil Hellmuth Jr.
1990 â Mansour Matloubi
The Interim Years â WSOP Main Events from 1991 to 2003
While no one would realize it when the 1990s began, the period from 1991 to 2003 would Ativan experience a growth that culminated with Chris Moneymakerâs groundbreaking victory in 2003. During this thirteen year period, thirteen different champions would be crowned as the tournament continued to grow in size each year. Stu Ungar would become the only three-time winner of the Main Event with his 1997 triumph. Brad Daughertyâs 1991 victory would be the first against a field to top 200, (with 215 total players) while Moneymakerâs victory in 2003 would come against a then-record field of 839.
Prize money would also continue to soar. Daugherty was the first champion to receive a $1 million prize for his win; no longer would a champion drop below this mark. The top prize picked up by Chris Ferguson in 2000 would rise to $1.5 million, Robert Varkonyiâs share in 2002 would climb to $2 million, and Moneymaker would earn $2.5 million for his victory in 2003. The WSOP Main Event winners for this period include:
1991 â Brad Daugherty
1992 â Hamid Dastmalchi
1993 â Jim Bechtel
1994 â Russ Hamilton
1995 â Dan Harrington
1996 â Huck Seed
1997 â Stu Ungar
1998 â Scotty Nguyen
1999 â Noel Furlong
2000 â Chris Ferguson
2001 â Juan Carlos Mortensen
2002 â Robert Varkonyi
2003 â Chris Moneymaker
The Moneymaker Effect â WSOP Main Events from 2004 to 2010
Chris Moneymakerâs win in 2003 dramatically brought together pokerâs two most dynamic forces: the WSOP and online poker. Since the first Internet cash games were played in 1998, online poker rooms were growing at an incredible pace. Millions of people were playing poker online, and Internet card rooms were capitalizing on the popularity of the game to draw new players every year.
Using satellite tournaments, online poker rooms started sending a growing number of winners to play in events like the World Series of Poker. Moneymaker, qualifying for the WSOP Main Event while playing at PokerStars, would register a win that shaped live poker for years to follow with his 2003 Main Event triumph.
Through 2003, the WSOP Main Event had grown every year since its inception in 1971, reaching a then-record high of 839. With the realization that an online qualifier had won pokerâs premier event, neither live poker nor online poker would ever be the same. In 2004, Harrahâs Entertainment would take over the World Series of Poker, and 2,576 players would register for a chance to take the $5 million Main Event top prize, later won by another online qualifier, Greg Raymer. The trend was set; registration never again dipped below 5,600 and the winnerâs share stayed above $7.5 million after 2004. The winners during this period include:
2004 â Greg Raymer
2005 â Joe Hachem
2006 â Jamie Gold
2007 â Jerry Yang
2008 â Peter Eastgate
2009 â Joe Cada
2010 â Jonathan Duhamel
The WSOP Main Event â Moving Forward
Although poker experienced a setback in 2007 due to the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the United States, the future of the WSOP Main Event continues to be extremely bright. 2007 brought the first-ever decline in registration, although the turnout was a still-impressive 6,358 players. A logistics error at the Rio Casino caused a second decline in 2009, when more than 500 players were turned away due to insufficient seating. In spite of these drops, the 2010 tournament had the second-highest registration ever, with 7,319 people signing up to play.
Even with a couple of down years, the WSOP Main Event continues to be the premier event in poker. Thanks to the influx of players from online poker rooms, the event has become infused with renewed energy from younger players. Peter Eastgate broke Phil Hellmuthâs record to become the youngest winner WSOP Main Event winner in 2008, only to be eclipsed by Joe Cada in 2009.
Although 2010 winner, 23-year old Jonathan Duhamel, didnât best Cadaâs mark, he led a final table that is regarded as the youngest in the history of the tournament. With a long history, a new generation of prolific players and the intense popularity of poker, the World Series of Poker Main Event will undoubtedly continue to be worldâs most famous and most popular tournament.