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World Series of Poker

The WSOP Main Event

There’s nothing quite like the World Series of Poker. The venerable poker series began life as a promotional event for Binion’s Horseshoe way back in 1970 but it’s since become home to the biggest poker tournament in the world, a multimillion-dollar brand in its own right and the ultimate destination for poker players around the globe. The WSOP is partly responsible for turning poker into an international phenomenon that’s televised around the world. The WSOP exists in a unique space that sits at the crossroads of card games, sports and gambling.

Update: Check out our Ultimate Guide to the 2019 WSOP for complete schedule, best value tournaments and more.

What You Need to Know About the WSOP

The World Series of Poker is a series of poker tournaments that takes place every summer in Las Vegas. It is the biggest, richest and most famous poker series in the world. It regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of players.

The number of individual tournaments in the WSOP has been steadily growing since its inception in 1970 and these days the series offers 70-plus events over roughly a month and a half. Every event awards a signature WSOP gold bracelet and the chance to be part of poker history.

The crown jewel of the WSOP is the $10,000 buy-in Main Event, which is always the biggest poker tournament of the year and offers a prize pool that numbers in the tens of millions.

The Main Event is so popular that it’s sometimes referred to as the World Series of Poker all on its own. The tournament is always televised and it attracts international media attention. Essentially it’s poker’s version of the Super Bowl or World Cup.

The WSOP’s growth and media exposure increased exponentially after 2003 when accountant Chris Moneymaker won that year’s Main Event for $2.5 million after qualifying for just $40 online.

While the $10,000 Main Event remains the favorite of poker players around the world, the barrier for entry at the WSOP has been reduced significantly for amateurs and the series now offers tournaments where the buy-in starts at just $365. On the other end of the scale, the Big One for One Drop was introduced in 2012 with a record-setting $1-million buy-in.

The WSOP is so popular that it’s been played by numerous celebrities over the years including actors Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Ray Romano and Jennifer Tilly as well as sports stars Michael Phelps, Georges St-Pierre, Roberto Luongo, Paul Pierce and Gerard Piqué.

WSOP Bullet Points:

  • The biggest poker series in the world with 70+ events and millions in prizes.
  • The series culminates with the flagship $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event.
  • Takes place exclusively in Las Vegas every summer for around 50 straight days.
  • Started in 1970 by Benny Binion as a way to promote his casino Binion’s Horseshoe.
  • The majority of tournaments at the WSOP are open events.
  • Amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 Main Event for $2.5 million after qualifying for just $40 on an online poker site.
  • Buy-ins for events at the WSOP start at $365 and scale up to a staggering $1 million.
  • The biggest-ever WSOP Main Event took place in 2012 with Jamie Gold winning $12 million.
  • Some of the most successful WSOP players include Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, Erik Seidel and Daniel Negreanu.

How it All Began

The WSOP began as a way for Benny Binion to bring some attention to his casino — Binion’s Horseshoe — in 1970.

Binion’s already had a popular poker room so it made sense that Benny would attempt to cash in on its reputation as one of the prime spots to play poker.

The very first WSOP was actually a series of cash games that alternated between several games including No-Limit Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud, Razz, 2-7 Lowball and Five-Card Stud.

After playing for several days, the players settled on an overall winner by voting. The players selected Johnny Moss as poker’s first world champion.

That was the only time the WSOP took place as a cash game and the very next year they switched the event to a No-Limit Hold’em freezeout tournament. It turned out that Johnny Moss was worthy of his colleague’s votes as he won the 1971 WSOP as well.

The 1971 WSOP attracted just six players but the tournament would attract more players every year and by 1982 the elite tournament was attracting over 100 players.

The first decade of the WSOP was dominated by a legendary group of gamblers who hailed from Texas, including the aforementioned Moss as well as Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson.

In the early ’80s a young poker player from New York City named Stu Unger changed the status quo at the WSOP with a controversial style that won him back-to-back titles.

Unger, who was referred to as “The Kid,” was renowned for getting under the skin of his opponents and was somewhat of a forerunner for “bad boys” of poker like Phil Hellmuth and Mike “The Mouth” Matusow.

By the time the 1990s rolled around, the WSOP Main Event was attracting hundreds of players and awarding $1 million with numerous side events also on the schedule.

It was far beyond what Benny Binion ever expected for the WSOP but the best was yet to come.

Chris Moneymaker Changes Poker Forever

The WSOP was steadily expanding as the ’90s came to a close.

In the course of a decade, the Main Event had gone from attracting 194 players to 393 with famous winners like Dan Harrington, Huck Seed and Scotty Nguyen taking down titles.

That growth would be dwarfed, however, by the next 10 years thanks to the invention of online poker and a man named Chris Moneymaker.

The internet was still in its infancy in 2000 but it was clear there was a huge market for online card games. Card games were perfect for the slower computers and internet of the early 2000s and games like hearts and bridge were favorites on message boards and chat rooms.

It turned out that poker — particularly No-Limit Hold’em — was a perfect fit for online play thanks to its “simple to learn, hard to master” structure.

Online poker sites started popping up rapidly in the early 2000s as investors and entrepreneurs chased the next dot-com explosion.

The sites proved to be a hit and in 2003 an accountant from Tennessee named Chris Moneymaker qualified for the WSOP Main Event by playing a $39 satellite.

It seemed inconceivable that the amateur poker player would go on to win the Main Event but that’s exactly what happened next. Moneymaker outlasted all 839 entries and defeated seasoned poker pro Sammy Farha to win $2.5 million.

The WSOP Main Event exploded the following year with 2,576 entries as amateur poker players attempted to pull off a Moneymaker of their own. The phenomenon was dubbed the “Moneymaker Effect.”

It’s difficult to say whether the poker boom would have happened without Moneymaker — as online poker sites were starting to explode on their own — but it certainly didn’t hurt.

It was at this point the WSOP had effectively outgrown the Binion family both figuratively and literally. Casino giant Caesars purchased Binion’s Horseshoe and the WSOP in late 2003. They moved the WSOP away from downtown to the much larger Rio Casino & Resort.

Over the next few years the WSOP would go through unprecedented growth, peaking in 2006 with 8,773 entries. Jamie Gold walked away from that tournament with a record $12 million.

Since then the online poker industry has had its ups and downs but the WSOP Main Event has remained remarkably consistent and has attracted 6,000 players every single year over the last decade.

The Modern WSOP Format

These days the WSOP is a monster poker event that manages to fill the cavernous convention center at the Rio in Las Vegas. It’s undoubtedly the single biggest gathering of poker players every year and attracts over 100,000 players on an annual basis.

The WSOP generally runs for around 50 days in the middle of the summer. There are generally 60 to 77 side events and every one of them awards a WSOP gold bracelet. Almost every format of poker is available for play including:

  • No-Limit Hold’em
  • Pot-Limit Omaha
  • Limit Hold’em
  • Seven-Card Stud
  • 2-7 Triple Draw
  • Omaha Hi-Lo
  • Razz
  • 8-Game

The buy-ins at the WSOP range from just $365 all the way up to $50,000 for the Poker Players Championship, which utilizes every single poker game. Periodically the WSOP also hosts a blockbuster $1-million buy-in tournament for Super High Rollers.

The majority of tournaments at the WSOP take place in No-Limit Hold’em and generally feature a buy-in of $1,500 or less. That means that even recreational poker players will likely have a chance of playing something most weeks at the WSOP. The WSOP also runs numerous satellites that allow players the chance to qualify for a WSOP event for far less than a direct buy-in.

The crown jewel of the WSOP is still the $10,000 Main Event, which takes a little over two weeks to complete thanks to the massive field. It’s considered one of the “softest” big buy-in events in the world and that makes it a favorite among pros and recreational players.

It’s still possible to pull off a “Moneymaker” of your own by qualifying for the WSOP on an online poker site. It’s one of the best ways to avoid paying the whole cost of a direct buy-in.