World Series of Poker (WSOP)

World Series of Poker

When a bunch of old-school poker pros and road gamblers anted up the $10,000 to play in the first-ever World Series of Poker at the beginning of the 1970s, few could they have guessed what the poker tournament would eventually become.

But 43 years after the first tentative steps toward a major poker tourney, the WSOP managed to cram in events as diverse as No Limit Texas Hold’em, Omaha, 2-7 Lowball, HORSE and Stud, and award its Main Event champ a first prize of $8,361,570 to go with his place in the history books.

The ‘November Nine’ in 2013 - the Main Event’s final table of players whittled down from a starting field of 6,352 - was bested by Ryan Riess, a 23-year-old college graduate from Michigan, who became the latest in a long, illustrious line of winners stretching back to Johnny Moss in the Series’ beginnings.

Humble Beginnings Of The WSOP

From those early WSOPs - when the winner was decided via a vote among peers after several days’ play - the festival of poker has grown exponentially. Binion’s Horseshoe staged the Series until 2005, when it moved to the rather larger and more easily accessible environs of the Rio Hotel & Casino, right off the Las Vegas Strip.

Up until then, the WSOP had seen many old-time gamblers - relics of the backroom cardrooms of New York and casinos of Nevada - do battle, with No Limit Hold’em joined by Stud and Omaha, to offer players a more rounded poker series.

Early series boasted wins from Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson (1976 & 1977), Bobby Baldwin (1978) and Tom McEvoy (1983), while Stu Ungar - a backgammon legend from New York and the era’s equivalent of today’s ‘Internet whiz kids - won back-to-back Main Events in 1980 and 1981. Later in the 1980s, Phil Hellmuth Jr. became the WSOP’s youngest-ever winner - just 24 - when in 1989 he took down the Main Event.

2003 And The Moneymaker Effect
Chris Moneymaker

If the Internet was around in Hellmuth’s day, his win would arguably have triggered a poker boom.

However, it wasn’t until the Internet poker explosion at the beginning of the 2000s that numbers began to grow rapidly, and the arrival on the scene of a complete unknown amateur - Chris Moneymaker.

Taking advantage of the slew of new, cheap online qualifiers, Moneymaker spent $80 satelliting into the 2003 Main Event, and won his $10,000 seat. That year, he made it to a heads-up duel against old-school cash game and Omaha specialist Sammy Farha. It was a clash of generations – the old-timer in the $5,000 suit against the baseball cap-wearing Atlantan.

Moneymaker prevailed to win the $2.5 million first prize and spark a wave of amateurs trying to qualify online for mere dollars and have their chance of glory as well.

The Main Event Boom And Post-UIGEA
Jamie Gold

"The Moneymaker Effect" – triggered both by the Internet boom AND the winner’s unlikely but real surname - was in full swing, and 2004’s Main Event was won by another relative newcomer, attorney Greg Raymer.

Numbers continued to grow, and peaked in 2006 when a record 8,773 runners pitched up for the Main Event. That year, as well as records being broken, controversy reigned as Jamie Gold – the boisterous, and some would say, annoying television producer - won the biggest-ever first prize of $12.1 million. However, he was sued by a colleague who claimed he’d verbally agreed to split all winnings 50-50, and eventually settled out of court.

The same year Gold was busy taking down multimillion dollar scores, UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) was being introduced in the US, and overnight scores of American online poker players were frozen out of qualifying online.

A "mere" 6,358 runners still turned out for 2007’s showpiece, with yet another amateur – Jerry Yang – taking down first place.

There then followed several years of young, solid pros winning bracelets, with Joe Cada, Jonathan Duhamel and Pius Heinz all pitching claim to become the WSOP’s youngest-ever champ.

WSOP Record Breakers
Antonio Esfandiari

But where the WSOP Main Event was once held up as the Series’ biggest tournament, that honor has recently befallen a new candidate – the champion of the WSOP’s charity centerpiece – the Big One for One Drop.

This $111,111-buyin tournament – first introduced in 2012 – raises money for valuable water projects across the world, and was the brainchild of Cirque du Soleil founder and poker fan Guy Laliberte. At the inaugural Big One tourney, seasoned American pro Antonio Esfandiari triumphed for a staggering $18 million payday.

And while we’re on the subject of world-beaters, Phil Hellmuth Jr. has been busy racking up the gold bracelets since his 1989 Main Event win, and now boasts 13 titles. All eyes will be on him and nearest rival, Phil Ivey, over the coming years to see if the record can be bettered.

Putting the World Into “World Series”

Keen to spread the word of poker across the world, the WSOP has expanded beyond just the Rio Hotel in recent years, with a first WSOP Europe – in 2007 – pitching up in London, England, before moving on to its new home in Cannes, France, for a well-attended series in 2013. That same year also saw the introduction of a WSOP APAC (Asia Pacific) series, played out at the home of the Aussie Millions: the Crown Casino in Melbourne. If the organizers were hoping for a high-profile winner that year, they got it, as revered pro Daniel Negreanu came out on top for his first WSOP Main Event title.

How Can I Qualify Online?

How'd you like to follow in the footsteps of Moneymaker, Riess and Hellmuth?

Dozens of legal US poker sites offer great value online qualifiers to the biggest game in town each year, with satellites often starting at just a few dollars – or even less!

With so many smaller events cluttering the WSOP calendar now, however (the Series boasts several $1,000 No Limit Hold’em events), it’s also possible to qualify online for a Series package that includes buy-ins to one or two of the cheaper events, plus travel and accommodations in Las Vegas. These are great if you want the WSOP experience, but aren’t too worried about playing in the $10,000 Main Event.

There’s usually an online WSOP qualifier to suit every budget, so check out some of our recommended legal US poker rooms today at, sign up for an account, and try your luck at any one of a dozen online qualifiers. Sign up with our exclusive deals today, and you can even take advantage of a top real-cash welcome bonus.