The First World Series of PokerTweet Share
Hosted by outsized Texas legend Benny Binion at his infamous Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, it joined other successful Binion marketing ploys such as the $1 million dollar display and a genuine western stagecoach that traveled to rodeos drumming up business.
Binion believed, and rightly so, that a poker game featuring the most famous gamblers of the day would be something people would be interested in, though most likely even a 24 carat visionary such as himself could not have predicted its present day popularity.
As with anything having to do with a mostly illegal activity, there a different versions of how Binion got the idea, but most believe he merely copied the “Texas Gamblers Reunion,” the brainchild of Vic Vickrey and Tom Moore as a way to publicize the opening Holiday Casino in Reno, of which Moore had part interest.
The draw for spectators to the event were high-stakes cash games held over the course of several days, played by real Texas gambling legends such as Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, and Amarillo Slim Preston. Other icons in attendance included Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, Rudy “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone as well as Binion himself.
The real winner of the “Texas Gamblers Reunion” was of course Binion himself who seized on the idea and brought it back to Vegas, initiating the first annual WSOP the following year in 1970.
Yet, despite Binion’s enthusiasm, the first year was a lackluster affair. Doyle Brunson has said in a Time magazine article, “there were only six of us, including Jack Straus, Johnny Moss, and Amarillo Slim.” They played two tournaments, a Deuce-to-Seven Lowball game and the Main Event in a small room off the main casino floor.
That year, it was decided that the world champion would be determined not by tournament play, but by the players themselves who would elect the winner by vote. The popular story regarding that vote is the players were asked to choose the second best player, because if asked to name the best, each player would undoubtedly name himself, thus canceling out the vote in the process. And so it was that the honor went to Johnny Moss.
But in the end, no one cared. Not the press, not the public. This first WSOP was most valuable serving as a catalyst to provoke Binion into reorganizing and rethinking the entire affair.
He decided the next year’s tournament would be played as a freeze-out with players buying in for a $5,000 entry fee. Though only seven players showed up, Johnny Moss won the winner-take-all free for all, retaining his title and establishing a yearly tradition we have come to know as the WSOP.
This year, the 2010 World Series of Poker set a new record for overall attendance, with 63,706 entrants playing in 55 events with a prize pool in excess of $100 million.
More than 40 years after its humble beginning, the World Series of Poker keeps rolling along. The schedule for the 2011 WSOP has been announced with 58 events running from May 31st through July 19th. Organizers are looking to break the attendance and prize money totals that we set in last year’s record-setting WSOP.