From a dusty desert in Vegas to coverage on ESPN, the World Series of Poker has certainly come a long way. The World Series of Poker (or “WSOP” as it is sometimes called) started in 1970 at Binion’s Horseshoe casino. According to Nolan Dalla of wsop.com, the host casino did not even have a poker room in 1970. The 30 poker players gathered in a conference room to compete. Although Johnny Moss won the first two World Series of Poker events, it was 1972’s winner, the flamboyant “Amarillo Slim” Preston, who brought a great deal more attention to WSOP. In fact, CBS televised the event in 1973. Other significant events from the 70’s included Johnny Moss winning his third World Series of Poker in 1974 and amateur Hal Fowler’s upset victory in 1979.
The Legend and Tragedy of Stu Ungar
In 1980 and 1981, Stu “The Kid” Ungar won the World Series of Poker. Ungar, a thin, wiry New Yorker, did not fit the classic image of the barrel-chested, 10-gallon hat wearing poker player. Considered a genius at card games, Ungar was an intimidating figure at the table, despite his small frame. Sadly, Stu Ungar was also addicted to cocaine and many other forms of gaming. On many occasions, Ungar would win millions of dollars at poker and be broke shortly thereafter. After many years of fighting his demons, Stu Ungar was sponsored to participate in the 1997 World Series of Poker. Ungar was able to maintain his composure long enough to win the event, tying him with Johnny Moss as the only three-time WSOP champion. Stu Ungar died in a hotel room under mysterious circumstances in 1998 at the age of 45. Click here to see an incredible video of Stu Ungar’s life.
The World Series of Poker in the 21st Century
Another important event in the history of the World Series of Poker was when ESPN began televising the event. Although coverage was sparse compared to today’s over-the-top exposure, it did bring poker to millions of people around the world. At the turn of the century, business and family problems with the Horseshoe led some high-profile players to skip the WSOP. But in 2003, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, renewing interest in the event. Moneymaker was viewed as a regular guy and his victory brought needed attention to the WSOP. In 2004, the Horseshoe casino went out of business and Harrah’s took over sponsorship of the World Series of Poker. This meant much larger purses and winnings. In fact, according to Nolan Dalla of wsop.com, the 2006 WSOP winner Jamie Gold, won $12 million dollars, more than the Wimbledon, Masters and Kentucky Derby winners combined! Thanks to ESPN’s coverage and Harrah’s sponsorship, the World Series of Poker looks to grow even more in the future.
Nolan Dalla, “WSOP History: From Moss to Gold” wsop.com