Chris Moneymaker won a seat to the World Series of Poker through a $40 satellite tournament at the online poker site, PokerStars. This (until then) unknown player had only played online before the day of the tournament, and battled his way through the 838 other players to win an incredible $2.5 million.
America’s imagination latched on to this Cinderella story of a man who turned $40 into millions. If he could do it, we thought, anyone could. The TV coverage of the WSOP and other poker shows grew as well, and more and more people could watch and fantasize about sitting down at the table and beating a poker pro and winning huge prizes. In 2004, registration for the $10,000 main event tripled, and 2,576 players battled for the $5 million first prize. Greg “Fossilman" Raymer, who also won his seat through an online satellite at PokerStars, captured the 2004 WSOP bracelet.
2004 was a landmark year for another reason, as it also marked the final year of the World Series of Poker as part of the Binion’s Horsehoe empire, when they sold ownership of the tournament to Harrah’s, which is hosted the 2005 event at their own casino, The Rio All-Suite, though the final of the main event took place at the Horseshoe.
The main event in 2005 had over 5,600 participants and boasted a $7.5 million first prize, which was captured by Australian Joseph Hachem.
The 2006 World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold’em Championship Event broke all sorts of records -- the most impressive being the 8,773 players competing for the largest prize of all time: 12 million dollars in prize money, which was captured by Jamie Gold, a Los Angeles producer, took the chip lead on Day 4 of the event and never gave it back, dominating the field all the way to the WSOP bracelet.
In 2007, there were fewer online qualifiers due to the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, and so there were "only" 6,358 entries in the big main event. Californian Jerry Yang outlasted them all and won $8.25 million.
2008 brought a different kind of record-breaking event: A new youngest-ever champion, Peter Eastgate, who at 22, took away that distinction from Phil Hellmuth, who had held the title for almost 20 years. Eastgate won just over $9 million.
Eastgate didn't stay the youngest-ever WSOP main event champion for long, though, for in 2009, Joe Cada took home the bracelet and $8.55 million in prize money at the tender age of 21.