The World Series of Poker has become one of the largest sporting events in the world. When it comes to participants and prize money you would have to go a long way to find something that matches it. It’s hard to think that it was only 40 years ago that a couple of hard core poker champions and a forward thinking casino operator came up with the tournament that would change the game forever.

World Series of Poker: a short but colourful history

Poker has a rich history and much of that centres on the World Series of Poker. 1970 is considered the year the WSOP officially started but in the early 70s it was nothing more than a handful of the world’s best poker players sitting around the table seeing who would win the crown and the title for another year. Names like Amarillo Slim, Johnny Moss and Puggy Pearson are the names we associate as the early pioneers of poker.

The other big name that we should always remember is Benny Binion and his famous Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Binion was the driving force behind the WSOP as he saw it as the perfect tool to turn the humble poker game into something far greater. Not even the old man himself could have ever dreamed what would happen in the future.

It would take until 1980 before the first real twist would come to the game of poker when a new star was born. Up until that point the game was ruled by older sun drenched players who mostly came from States like Texas or Las Vegas. The new man on the scene was none other than Stu “The Kid” Ungar from New York. At first appearance he looked barely out of diapers. But make no mistake the Kid could play better than most and is widely regarded as the best player of the game ever.

Poker continued to grow and increase in popularity through the 80s and 90s. Names like Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth would become household names and a Vietnamese-born pro called Scotty Nguyen became the first ever poker million dollar winner when he won the Main Event in 1998. The game had its high and low points but it wasn’t until 2003 when the whole affair went totally out of control.

2003 saw a Southern American book keeper by the name of Chris Moneymaker walk away with the title of World Champion. Sure, there had been some upset winners of the Main Event in the past but none quite like this. Moneymaker won his seat to the WSOP on an online satellite and for around $40 had walked away with millions. Online poker and poker TV was seen as the catalyst to introducing the game to a wider audience and once that took hold the game was never the same again. Main Event numbers boomed as everyone was looking to win a WSOP package online for their chance to walk away with fame and fortune.

Harrah’s bought the WSOP event and it moved from its spiritual home at the Horse Shoe to the far more lavish surroundings at the Rio Casino down near the Strip. The Event would sky rocket to incredible numbers attracting thousands of hopefuls trying to win their place amongst poker elites. Most players would qualify through online satellites which further increased the popularity of the game. Poker had arrived and the WSOP was cemented as the pinnacle of the game.