The World Series of Poker released the 2017 schedule which included a handful of new events earlier in the week. The WSOP evolved from a publicity stunt to the largest poker event of the year and is closing in on 50 years of history. Looking back there are several key moments that shaped the WSOP to what it has become today.
Johnny Moss Wins First World Series of Poker by Vote
The first World Series of Poker Main Event was an invite-only affair with eight players in action across a number of days. Following play, Benny Binion asked each player who was the best and he got eight different names, each player reportedly claiming he won. Binion polled the players a second time, this time asking who was second best and all votes went to Johnny Moss.
Doyle Brunson Wins back-to-back WSOP Main Events
Doyle Brunson was poker’s first real ambassador to the public after winning back-to-back WSOP ME titles in 1976 & 77 and was widely considered the best player of the time. Brunson saw poker’s appeal to the masses and was the first player to write a definitive encyclopedia of the games in action. His “Super/System” or “How I Won $1 Million Playing Poker” was self-published at first, but then became known as the bible among serious players.
Brunson went on to win ten total bracelets and his success became the measuring stick of players to come. Brunson’s WSOP tournament days are behind him but he continues to play poker nearly every day.
Stu Ungar Wins Third WSOP Main Event in 1997 Comeback Win
The only player to win the WSOP Main Event three times, Stu Ungar’s final win cemented his place in history as one of the best to ever play the game. He rose to fame with his back-to-back wins in 1980 and ’81 but Las Vegas couldn’t keep his demons at bay during the 80s and 90s.
Ungar was on a life downswing, wearing purple shades to hide his collapsed nose from cocaine abuse and practically out of the game when Billy Baxter and Mike Sexton put him in the event. He steamrolled over the final table in a couple hours, which would be his last, and dedicated the win to his estranged daughter.
Chris Moneymaker Bluffs Sammy Farha, Wins 2003 WSOP Main Event
Chris Moneymaker was the right guy, in the right place, at the right time and brought poker to living rooms everywhere. He was the everyday guy that went up against poker’s best villains, told beautifully by Lon and Norm on ESPN when Moneymaker ran the bluff heard around the world.
The poker boom brought the game out of the proverbial smoky backroom and into America’s living rooms. The influx of mainstream money fueled an environment where capable players were able to make life-changing money in a short time.
The WSOP Goes Global, Annette Obrestad Wins WSOPE Main Event
The WSOP left the poker friendly confines of Las Vegas and jumped across the pond for the very first international WSOP-branded event. The £10,000 Main Event drew 362 entries in London and Annette Obrestad became the first woman and teenager to win the Main Event.
The 2008 WSOP Main Event Final Table & the First November Nine
This final table is remembered more by who didn’t win than who did. It was the first November Nine – the concept of pausing of the final table while ESPN could boil down the footage and tell the story of the final table and hold the public’s interest without knowing the winner.
It was anyone’s guess if Chino Rheem would be at the final table due to legal problems, Dennis Phillips captured middle-America’s heart and Ivan Demidov’s runner-up finish inspired a Russian pop culture poker boom of its own. His (alleged incredible deal) with PokerStars made him one of the richest poker players in Russia.
The 2012 $1 Million Big One for One Drop
The rumors of seven-figure buy-in games around the world for poker whales proved true in 2012 when the WSOP did the unthinkable – a $1 million buy-in, sold to the public as a charity event. The still-standing sell out record of 48 players took the felt. Antonio Esfandiari won more than $18.3 million, a familiar eccentric face from the poker boom and to this day is the guy that can play without shoes around the world.
The tournament was a hit in the ratings, provided some positive buzz in a post-Black Friday environment and helped form a community of international super high rollers willing to play at stakes that might even make Andy Beal nervous.
Phil Hellmuth, Bobby Baldwin and Mike Sexton, stalwarts of the old school faced young pros Esfandiari, Sam Trickett and Brian Rast with wild cards David Einhorn, Guy Laliberte and Richard Yong at the final table. The spectacle lived up to the hype and elevated the One Drop from a tournament to an event.