In 1949, Nicholas “Nick the Greek” Dandolos made an unusual proposal to Benny Binion, owner of the renowned Horseshoe casino. His proposal was if Binion would be interested in letting Dandolos challenge the best in a High Stakes Poker Marathon. Binion leapt at the idea and set up a contest with Johnny Moss. The contest was fierce and lasted for more than five months, with the players pausing only to sleep. Dandolos and Moss played every kind of poker existing at the time and finally, when Dandolos won the final hand, pocketing approximately 2 million dollars, the now well known phrase was coined: “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go”. Dandolos then left the table and went to bed.
This poker marathon provided the inspiration for Benny Binion to institute what would later become the World Series of Poker. This was primarily due to the fact that he realised what a spectator sport poker really was, mainly because of the huge crowds that formed outside the casino on a daily basis, just to watch the game. The first of the 36 World Series of Poker tournaments was held in 1970 and won by Johnny Moss, on points (!). The following year, the winner was decided by the method still in use today, that is, the player who wins all the chips is declared the winner. Johnny Moss retained the title in 1971. The third year, the tournament and title was won by Amarillo Slim, who brought even more publicity to the WSOP when he took part in a variety of talkshows.
During the beginning of the 1980s, interest in the World Series of Poker increased sharply due to the low buy ins available in the new phenomenon that would come to be known as satellite games. Satellites gave “normal” players the chance to win a seat at the WSOP. In 1982, 52 people registered for the competition. Five years later, that number had increased to 2,000 people and by 2002, it was up to 7,000. One other aspect that grew was the prize money and competition forms. 20 years ago, the prize money stood at around 7.5 million dollars and was divided over 12 events, but by 2002, these figures had leapt to 19.6 million dollars and 33 events.
The final table at Party Poker Million III
Benny Binion, Founder of the World Series of Poker
The biggest upset of all time must probably go to Chris Moneymaker at the 2003 edition of the WSOP. Chris won his seat in a $40 satellite game at Pokerstars.com and won the title with $2.5 million in the pot. This showed the world that it was possible for amateurs to enter an elite competition and actually come out on top. Of course, this led to an even more increased interest in poker.
Over recent years, the WSOP has experienced an upswing due to online poker playing a significant role and all the different television channels deciding to broadcast poker tournaments. Broadcasts of the WSOP and the World Poker Tour have motivated thousands of people to learn to play in order to have a chance of winning the enormous prize monies available at the highest levels.