Texas Holdem World Series of Poker
While there are plenty of big poker events around the world, none are as large and extravagant as the World Series of Poker WSOP.
Held every summer in Las Vegas, the WSOP features dozens of tournaments with big prize pools. It also has a rich history that's seen many memorable moments and champions.
Thanks to its lengthy history and big prize money, the WSOP is where both amateurs and famous poker pros compete for glory and riches.
Seeing as how the WSOP is poker's most important event, it's worth exploring the WSOP's history, notable tournaments, famous champions, current format, television coverage, and records.
WSOP History: From a Small Cash Game to the Bright Lights
The concept for the WSOP was inspired by the Texas Gambling Reunion in 1969.
Sponsored by Tom Moore of San Antonio, the Texas Gambling Reunion was held at Reno's Holiday Hotel and Casino. Crandall "Dandy" Addington, a self-made millionaire from Graham, Texas, won the event.
The following year, Benny Binion held the first WSOP at his Binion's Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas.
The 1970 WSOP wasn't the glamorous affair that we see on ESPN today. Instead, it was a small collection of 7 poker pros who played a series of cash games and voted on a champion.
Games played included 2/7 lowball draw, 5 card stud, 7 card stud, razz, and Texas holdem.
At the conclusion, players were asked to vote for a World Champion of Poker. They all voted for themselves the first time, so Binion asked them to each vote for the second best player.
Johnny Moss was voted the champion, taking home a silver cup, as opposed to the diamond encrusted gold bracelet that players are given today.
Unfortunately for Moss, this is the only time in WSOP history that the champion didn't receive a cash prize for their efforts.
Other players who competed in the inaugural WSOP include Carl Cannon, Addington, Doyle Brunson, Thomas "Amarillo Slim" Preston, Walter "Puggy" Pearson, and Sailor Roberts.
The 1971 WSOP instituted a buy in fee and cash prize. The Main Event buy in was $5,000, which is almost $30,000 today when adjusted for inflation.
This tournament drew 6 players, who were all seeking the $30,000, winner take all payout approx. $180k w/ inflation.
The cash game structure was replaced by a series of freezeout tournaments, including four preliminary tourneys and the $5k Main Event. Moss won the Main Event for a second consecutive year and the $30k payout.
The following year brought another big change, with the 1972 WSOP Main Event featuring a $10,000 buy in. This is significant because, even today, the Main Event still has a $10k buy in.
Amarillo Slim Preston defeated an 8 player field to win this tourney along with an $80,000 top prize.
In the mid-1970s, only the Main Event champion was given a WSOP bracelet.
But this changed starting in 1976, with preliminary tournament winners also receiving a bracelet.
This tradition has continued today, with every WSOP champion receiving a gold bracelet.
The WSOP slowly grew throughout the 1970s and early 80s. And the 1982 WSOP Main Event is the first time that the tournament attracted over 100 entrants.
104 players paid the $10k buy in, creating a prize pool worth $1,040,000. Jack "Tree Top" Strauss won the tourney along with a $520,000 payout.
By this point in WSOP history, there were 12 preliminary tournaments featuring a variety of games. 2 7 draw, 7 card razz, 7 card stud, A 5 draw, ladies' 7 card stud, and mixed doubles were some of the different games offered.
In the early 1980s, the WSOP began offering satellite tournaments that allowed players to win seats to the $10k buy in Main Event.
Satellites are tourneys with a smaller buy in that offer larger tournament seats as prizes.
Satellites continue to be an effective way to help amateurs win their way into the WSOP Main Event.
WSOP television coverage was inconsistent throughout the 1970s and early 80s. It began as a single episode special, then was picked up by CBS in the late 1970s.
After the WSOP returned to being a special, ESPN picked up the rights and helped popularize the event.
Aside from a brief stint from 1999 2001, where the Discovery Channel broadcast the WSOP, the event has remained on ESPN ever since the 80s.
The 1991 WSOP Main Event was the first time that the event delivered a $1 million payout.
Brad Daugherty was the lucky recipient, topping a 215 player field to collect the $1 million prize. Since 1991, the Main Event winner has always received a seven figure payout.
In 2003, the WSOP and poker as a whole began experiencing a boom.
A number of factors came together to help this happen, including online poker becoming more popular, the advent of the hole cam discussed in TV coverage, and ESPN promoting their WSOP coverage more.
The result saw WSOP Main Event attendance go from 839 in 2003, to 2,576 in 2004.
By 2006, the Main Event hit a peak when 8,773 players entered the tournament.
2004 marked the first time that the WSOP gave out a Player of the Year POY award.
The POY award is based on a points system that takes into account all of the different tournaments that players cash in. Tourneys offer different point amounts based on their size and buy in amount.
Only open tournaments count towards the standings, meaning casino employee, seniors, and ladies events don't award POY points.
Daniel Negreanu was the first player to win the POY award, winning one event and final tabling 5 other tourneys.
Negreanu would become the only two time POY winner in 2013, winning two tourneys and cashing 10 times overall.
WSOP organizers expanded outside of Las Vegas for the first time in 2007, holding the WSOP Europe in London from September 6 17.
The inaugural WSOP Europe only featured three tournaments, including a Main Event that drew 362 players.
The WSOP switched from London to Cannes, France in 2011. It has also been held in suburban Paris 2013 and Berlin 2015.
Further expansion occurred with the launch of WSOP Africa in 2010 and WSOP Australia in 2012. Neither event has been held since 2014.
In order to build excitement and increase ratings, ESPN made a deal with the WSOP to delay the Main Event final table for months in 2008.
The WSOP Main Event final table is determined in mid-July, but the nine players "November Nine" don't play until November.
The November Nine has remained in its current format ever since 2008.
With the poker boom long gone, the WSOP made moves to encourage more recreational players to make the trip to Vegas.
In 2015, more low buy in events were infused into the schedule, including the $565 Colossus Holdem, $1,000 Hyper Holdem, $1,500 Dealer's Choice, $1,500 DraftKings 50/50 Holdem, and $777 Lucky Holdem tournaments.
The moves were a success as over 100,000 players participated in the 2015 WSOP, and over $200 million in prize money was generated.
Notable WSOP Tournaments
The WSOP is constantly tinkering with their tournament lineup to encourage larger attendance and deliver more player satisfaction.
But some tournaments have lasted for years on the schedule and/or led to notable records. Below you can see some of the most important tourneys that have or still run in the WSOP.
This is the only tournament that's remained on the WSOP schedule since its inception.
Despite featuring a $10,000 buy in, the Main Event draws thousands of players ever year and offers multi-million dollar payouts to the top finishers.
Today, the entire November Nine is guaranteed at least $1 million.
Main Event attendance has increased from 7 players in 1970, to a peak of 8,773 in 2006.
Although not nearly as big as the Vegas based Main Event, the WSOP Europe Main Event is still a large draw for a €10,000 buy in tournament.
The first WSOP Europe Main Event was held in London, and Annette Obrestad won the tournament along with a €1,000,000 prize.
The biggest winner in this tourney's history is Elio Fox, who collected €1,400,000 after winning the 2011 WSOP Europe Main Event.
The $50,000 Poker Player's Championship features a H.O.R.S.E. format, including rounds of Texas Holdem, Omaha, razz, 7 card stud, and 7 card stud hi lo eights or better.
Chip Reese won the first Poker Player's Championship along with $1,784,640. Sadly, Reese passed away the following year, with the tournament being named the Chip Reese Memorial Tournament afterward.
The biggest winner in this event's history is Freddy Deeb, who earned $2,276,832 for taking down the 2007 Poker Player's Championship.
In 2012, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté announced that his One Drop Foundation was partnering with the WSOP.
The result was a $1 million buy in, Big One for One Drop high roller tournament. Antonio Esfandiari won the event along with $18,346,673, which is the largest poker payout in history.
In 2016, Laliberté moved the event to Monte Carlo, thus breaking the Big One for One Drop's association with the WSOP.
The Colossus was added to the 2015 WSOP schedule, giving recreational players a chance to compete for big money for a small buy in.
Requiring just a $565 buy in fee and offering a $5 million guaranteed prize pool, the first Colossus tournament drew 22,374 players – a record for any land based poker tournament.
It appears that the Colossus will remain part of the WSOP lineup for years to come.
The $1,000 Seniors Holdem Championship is restricted to players aged 55 and older.
This has become one of the most popular events at the WSOP, with a record 4,499 players entering in 2016. Johnnie Craig won this tournament along with $538,024.
This $1,000 buy in event has been played for decades and is supposed to only be for women.
But in 2010, men began entering the Ladies Holdem Championship under the banner that it was discrimination to keep them out.
In 2013, the WSOP responded by raising the buy in to $10,000, which has since deterred all but one man from entering the ladies tournament.
The Millionaire Maker was created in 2015 as another small buy in tourney meant to attract recreational players to the felt. As the name suggests, this event guarantees a $1 million payout to the first place finisher.
The first Millionaire Maker drew 7,275 players, and Adrian Buckley won and scooped a $1,277,193 prize.
Notable WSOP Champions
The WSOP produces dozens of champions every year, but some have stood out above others over time. Below you can see some of the most famous players who've won at the WSOP.
Aside from winning the first two Main Events, Moss became the first player to win this prestigious tourney three times when he captured the 1974 Main Event title.
Moss would win 9 gold bracelets over his career before he passed away in 1995.
One of the early WSOP participants, Doyle Brunson is an ageless wonder who still plays high stakes cash games in his 80s.
Brunson's first memorable victory occurred when he won the 1976 WSOP Main Event and $220,000. The "Texas Dolly" became one of the rare back to back champions when he captured the 1977 Main Event title along with $340,000.
Brunson only plays cash games now, but he's tied for the second most WSOP bracelets all time with 10.
Up until the 1979 WSOP Main Event, everybody who'd won the Main Event had been a poker pro. But Hal Fowler, an amateur player, broke this streak by winning the 1979 Main Event and $270,000.
Fowler pulled off what is considered the greatest upset in poker history when he defeated Bobby "The Wizard" Hoff heads up to win.
The final hand gave a clear indication of just how overmatched, yet lucky, Fowler was against Hoff.
He continued playing an unsuited 7 6 combo on a flop of 5h 3s js while seeking a gutshot straight. Hoff meanwhile had pocket aces and would've forced any skilled professional out of the hand with his big bets.
Nevertheless, Fowler went all in and hit his straight when a 4c landed on the turn.
Some consider Stu Ungar to be the greatest poker player of all time, and his record at the WSOP doesn't dissuade this notion.
Ungar won the WSOP Main Event in 1980, '81, and '97. Ungar's victory in1997 was a comeback tale that saw him fight through years of drug addiction, poor health, and debt to win the tournament along with $1 million.
Ungar is the only other player besides Moss to win 3 Main Event titles.
Sadly, Ungar would quickly blow his 1997 winnings on a combination of drugs and sports betting. He died the following year in a cheap hotel room with only $800 in his pocket.
Johnny Chan is the last player to win back to back Main Event titles, doing so in 1987 and '88. His payouts were $625,000 and $700,000 respectively.
Chan narrowly missed becoming the only player to win 3 Main Events in a row, losing to Phil Hellmuth heads up in the 1989 Main Event.
Chan is tied with Brunson and Phil Ivey for the second most gold bracelets with 10. He currently runs a restaurant chain in Las Vegas and doesn't play poker as much anymore.
As mentioned above, Hellmuth stopped Chan's run of WSOP Main Event victories by winning the 1989 Main Event along with $755,000.
What makes Hellmuth's victory more unique is that this was his first gold bracelet, and he's the all-time leader in bracelets with 14.
Hellmuth also won the 2012 WSOP Europe Main Event along with $1,333,841.
Brad Daugherty was only in high school when he began is poker playing career back in 1969 while on a highschool field trip.
His first ever World Series of Poker win was when we was given the first ever million-dollar prize at the 1991 WSOP Main Event.
Daugherty has went on to co-author a few books and is happily married with 3 children. He currently lives in the Philippines where he enjoys poker recreationally.
Chris Moneymaker became the posterchild for the poker boom when he won the 2003 WSOP Main Event and $2.5 million.
An accountant prior to winning, Moneymaker won his $10k Main Event seat through a $40 PokerStars satellite.
PokerStars used Moneymaker in marketing campaigns after this victory to show that anybody can win big in poker. Moneymaker's win not only increased participation in PokerStars' satellites, but also at other online poker sites too.
Jamie Gold enjoyed the fruits of the poker boom more than anyone since he won the largest Main Event in history.
8,773 players entered in 2006, which created a $12 million top prize. Gold, a Hollywood talent agent and amateur player, won this huge payout, which is the largest prize in Main Event history.
Considering that current WSOP Main Event tournaments typically have attendance in the 6000s, it doesn't seem like Gold's record will ever be broken.
Annette Obrestad became an online poker legend, turning freeroll winnings at the age of 15 into a multimillion dollar bankroll by the time she was 18.
This allowed Obrestad to enter the first ever WSOP Europe Main Event and win the €1,000,000 top payout.
The Norwegian's victory is significant since she was the first woman to win a WSOP Main Event, and because it happened one day before her 19th birthday.
At 18, Obrestad became the youngest player ever to win a gold bracelet.
The 2012 Big One for One Drop high roller marked a historic occasion for both the WSOP and poker in general.
Not only did it feature the largest tournament buy in ever at $1 million, but it also paid out the single largest payout at $18,346,673.
Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari topped a 48 player field to win this event.
Current WSOP Format
The WSOP consists of dozens of tournaments, capped by the Main Event.
Every year, the WSOP begins with the Casino Employees Holdem tournament in late May. Tournaments continue to run until the Main Event final table is formed in mid-July.
WSOP organizers adjust the schedule every year to feature new events that attract more players. But there are general aspects of these events that remain the same year in and year out.
Below you can see some of the consistencies in the WSOP format:
The Main Event starts in early July and spans several days. To accommodate the thousands of players who buy into this tournament, Day 1 consists of 3 4 flights held on different days Day 1a, 2a, etc.
Every player starts with 30,000 chips, which is a larger starting chip stack than most poker tournaments offer.
With over 6,000 players entering the Main Event these days, it takes 7 days to determine the 9 player final table.
The final table, a.k.a. November Nine, takes place in November over a 3 day span.
A large portion of the WSOP schedule consists of low buy in events that give more players a shot to participate.
The cheapest tournaments are the Casino Employees Holdem and Colossus events, which both charge a $565 buy in.
Other inexpensive tourneys that occur on a consistent basis include the following: $1,000 buy in No Limit Holdem, $1,000 Turbo Holdem, $1,500 NL Holdem, $1,500 Omaha, $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha, and $1,500 7 card stud.
The WSOP features at least 1 2 high roller tournaments every year.
While the same high rollers don't always run on a consistent basis, the $50,000 Poker Player's Championship and $111,111 One Drop High Roller have run consistently every 1 2 years.
The $1 million Big One for One Drop ran at the WSOP in 2012 and '14, but it was moved to Monte Carlo as a standalone event in 2016.
Some events are restricted to specific age groups and women, including the $1,000 Seniors No Limit Holdem Championship, $1,000 Super Seniors Holdem Championship, and $1,000 Ladies Holdem Championship.
The Seniors Championship requires that all participants must be over 55 years old, while the Super Seniors event requires that entrants be 65 or older.
The Ladies Championship is open to both genders, but women only have to pay a $1k buy in, versus a $10,000 buy in for men. The latter is meant to deter guys from entering this tournament.
ESPN provides TV coverage of the WSOP, and they currently only air taped Main Event footage.
In the past, ESPN also covered other significant events like the $50k Poker Player's Championship. But they've since narrowed their focus to the Main Event.
Here's a closer look at their Main Event coverage, past events on ESPN, and how the hole cam changed the game.
ESPN tapes the WSOP Main Event when it runs in July, then starts airing the event in September on both ESPN and ESPN2.
Their coverage includes highlights of big hands, colorful players, and well known professionals.
The Main Event episodes continue until early November, when the final table concludes. ESPN provides live coverage of the final table.
The network also runs an Encore telecast two weeks after the final table ends for those who missed the live coverage.
During the poker boom, ESPN expanded their WSOP coverage to include a few other events.
The most notable is the $50k Poker Player's Championship, which ran for a few years on ESPN.
The 2008 Player's Championship provided a number of highlights from Scotty Nguyen, who got drunk and chastised opponents during the final table.
Nguyen would win the Player's Championship along with $1,989,120. But his behavior, although entertaining, was criticized following the event.
Aside from the Poker Player's Championship, ESPN also covered a mixture of preliminary events during poker's boom years from 2004 06.
Due to the popularity of poker in 2006, ESPN offered coverage of the entire Main Event final table that year.
Up until 2002, neither the announcers nor audience knew what hole cards poker players had during WSOP coverage. Instead, they were left to guess as hands played out until the showdown.
This changed in the early 2000s, though, with the introduction of the hole cam.
Currently seen in all poker telecasts today, this cam gives viewers a look at players' hole cards. The hole cam makes watching poker more entertaining because you can see the cards that players are basing their strategic decisions on.
The hole cam first debuted at the 2002 WSOP as the "sneak peek." ESPN producer Fred Christensen would acquire rights to the technology, and it became known as the hole cam during coverage of the 2003 WSOP.
The hole cam revolutionized the way that poker is shown on TV, and it also greatly improved ESPN's ratings for WSOP telecasts.
Notable WSOP Records
- Most WSOP Main Event wins – Johnny Moss and Stun Ungar (3)0.
- Most WSOP bracelets – Phil Hellmuth (14)
- Most WSOP bracelets in 1 Year – Puggy Pearson 1973, Ted Forrest 1993, Phil Hellmuth 1993, Phil Ivey 2002, Jeff Lisandro 2009, George Danzer 2014 all won 3 bracelets.
- Youngest WSOP winner – Annette Obrestad won 2007 WSOP Europe Main Event at 18 years, 364 days.
- Oldest WSOP winner – Johnny Moss 1988 won a $1,500 Ace 5 draw event when he was 81 years old.
- Oldest WSOP player – Jack Ury at age 97 in 2010.
- Most consecutive years winning a WSOP Event – Billy Boyd 1971 74 and Doyle Brunson 1976 79 both won gold bracelets in four straight years.
- Most WSOP cashes – Phil Hellmuth 109.
- Most WSOP cashes in 1 Year – Ismael Bojang 2014, Roland Israelashvili 2016 both had 13 cashes.
- Most WSOP Player of the Year awards – Daniel Negreanu 2004, 2013 has won two.
- Biggest WSOP Main Event Cash – Jamie Gold $12 million.
- Youngest Las Vegas WSOP Main Event Winner – Joe Cada 2009 at 21 years, 357 days.
While the growth of the WSOP Main Event has remained stagnant since 2016, the event as a whole continues growing.
The WSOP now pays over $200 million in total prize money, and over 100,000 players turn out for the event annually.
Organizers have done a great job at adjusting to meet the current poker climate, which includes more recreational players who prefer small buy ins.
Poker faces challenges ahead, like declining online poker traffic and millennials gravitating towards eSports.
But with primetime TV coverage, huge prize pools, and a rich history, the WSOP looks to retain a prominent spot in the gaming world for years to come.