The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is one of the biggest and most prestigious poker tournaments in the world. Its dominant position in the sport is partly thanks to its age since it was the first of its kind when it was first run way back in 1970.
Now, 52 years on from its modest beginnings, the WSOP has grown into the highlight of the poker calendar, attracting the eyes of everyone involved in the sport.
Of course, it no longer has a monopoly on large poker tournaments. Other major events like the European Poker Tour have also grown a large following and earned a lot of prestige, but the WSOP still has a special place in the hearts of poker players because it was the first.
But how did it get it started and how did it get this big?
The First World Series of Poker
The first-ever World Series of Poker took place 52 years ago, in 1970, at what was then Binion’s Horseshoe (now simply Binion’s) in Las Vegas.
Benny Binion, the flamboyant owner of the casino who was also partial to playing poker, organized the original competition with Tom Moore and Vic Vickrey, two other people heavily involved in the Vegas casino scene.
The original WSOP was a little different to the modern-day. Of course, it was much smaller, with just seven players taking part. There was also no main event. Instead, there were just a few cash games for different variants of poker, including five-card stud, razz, and Texas hold’em.
With no main event, the overall winner was decided by a ballot of all the players, who decided that the first-ever WSOP title should go to Johnny Moss.
In addition to there being no main event, there was also no bracelet for winners, at least not immediately.
Although the tournament has since moved, you can still see remnants of the WSOP’s history at Binion’s. The casino is located at the popular Fremont Experience, where it proudly shows off memorabilia, including a signed table from an early tournament.
The organizers of the WSOP began making tweaks to the format, such as the introduction of the main event, to help create more structure and to add a focal point.
This allowed the tournament to more closely follow the style of major sports leagues like the NFL and NBA.
The changes worked. By 1973 the competition was being aired on television. Of course, just three years in, the WSOP was still much smaller than it was today, but TV would help the event to gain popularity, increase its prestige, and as a result attract more players.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the event’s growth accelerated, resulting in around 400 poker players taking part each year by the end of the 21st century.
The Poker Boom
Today, card players take online poker for granted. It’s convenient and easy to just open your computer, tablet, or smartphone and start playing.
It’s not even just free games with play money either. Thanks to major brands like PokerStars, it’s possible to enjoy many variants of online poker with real money on all of these platforms by taking advantage of the various payment methods they offer.
Until the early 2000s, that wasn’t the case. Your only options for a game of Texas hold’em was to play around your kitchen table or to take a trip to a card room which, depending on where you lived, could be several hours away.
Spotting an opportunity, many online poker sites began sponsoring the WSOP and offering talented players on their platforms a spot in the tournament.
When one of the players became the first WSOP winner to qualify online, demand for these sites exploded, leading to a period known as the poker boom.
By 2006, the number of entrants to the tournament grew to 20 times the 1990s figures, reaching 8,773 in 2006. They’ve never been quite that high again, but with 8,569 in 2019, the WSOP has been able to maintain is popularity and relevance in the sport.
It’s not just the WSOP anymore either. In addition to the annual event that takes place in Las Vegas, organizers have been expanding to Asia and Europe, with tournaments taking place on both continents for much of the last decade.
They remain somewhat smaller than the original, but they carry much of the same prestige. As we go into the future, we can expect them to grow and for organizers to add more events to their already busy schedule.