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World Series of Poker History

A Primer on How the Biggest Game in Poker Started

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The Horseshoe Hotel and Casino

The Horseshoe Hotel and Casino is seen on May 30, 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)


The series has come a long way since the first game in 1970, when just a few seasoned pros gathered in Vegas to see who was the best of the best.

How did the World Series of Poker Come to Pass?


It all begins with three men, years before the first World Series of Poker, in 1949, when Nick “the Greek” Dandalos asked Lester “Benny” Binion, owner of the Horsehoe Casino in Downtown Las Vegas, to arrange the biggest poker game of all time. Binion knew just the guy to take on the Greek – Johnny Moss, who at the time was regarded as the best poker player in the world. With Binion’s promise to bankroll him, Johnny Moss agreed to the match, and sat down to play at a game that would go on for five long months. They played every type of poker for huge pots of hundreds of thousands of dollars until at last, the Greek decided he was beat and got up from the table saying, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.”

The epic battle between Moss and the Greek sparked an idea in Benny Binion’s head, and in 1970 he invited the best poker players he knew, including Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston, Brian “Sailor” Roberts, Puggy Pearson, Crandall Addington, and Carl Cannon to play No-Limit Texas Hold’em against each other in front of a crowd. Instead of playing until one player had all the chips, the players voted on who was the best, and Johnny Moss was unanimously chosen.

In 1971 the World Series was a freeze-out, winner-take-all tournament, which Johnny Moss once again won. Over the following years, it evolved into a “shared purse” tournament, in which not only the first place winner, but several other top finishers won a share of the prize money. Registration was open to anyone who had the $10,000 bucks to put up, and enrollment grew, but it wasn’t until satellite tournaments for the event were started that the numbers really started growing. Now, instead of plopping down the whole 10K, players could win a 10K seat by winning their way through a field of players at a lower buy-in tournament.

Still, the number of players at the Main Event remained under a thousand until 2003. Then, Chris Moneymaker won the top prize.

Next: The World Series of Poker Explodes
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