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History of the WSOP - The Pinnacle of Poker Tournaments

Despite hundreds of events taking place every year, many organised by the biggest online poker sites, the World Series of Poker still remains the most prestigious event on the calendar.

Ankit Kanaujia
Last updated: 19.01.2021
History of the WSOP - The Pinnacle of Poker Tournaments | Sports Social Blog

All sports have their own prestigious competitions. Soccer has the FIFA World Cup, athletics has the Olympic Games, American football has the Super Bowl, and cricket has the Indian Premier League Final.

In the sport of poker, there are numerous national and international tournaments where professional players battle it out to see who comes out on top. Many of these events receive coverage on television, online streaming services like Twitch, and through dedicated poker news websites. 

This is in addition to many online tournaments open to experienced and beginner players that happen almost every day. Some of these online competitions give new players the option to get to grips with the basic mechanics of the game for free, while others provide a route to qualification for other live events. 

Despite hundreds of events taking place every year, many organised by the biggest online poker sites, the World Series of Poker still remains the most prestigious event on the calendar. 

Some of the biggest names in poker have won the competition’s Main Event, including Abhinav Iyer who became the country’s first WSOP Bracelet winner in 2019.


The Early Days of The Tournament:

Part of WSOP's status as the pinnacle of poker tournaments is because of its age. The tournament first took place in 1970 at the Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas, where it stayed until 2004 before being moved to other Vegas casinos during the 2000s. 

Binion’s Horseshoe was a cornerstone of the Las Vegas strip, located next to the popular Fremont Street Experience, it continues to operate as a casino but under a different name. 

Benny Binion, the owner of the casino that bore his name, was a big poker fan and he saw an opportunity to create the world’s first international poker tournament. This resulted in the creation of several cash games using several poker variants, including five-card stud, razz, and Texas hold’em. 

However, there was no “Main Event” like we see today. Instead, the winner of the event was decided by a vote among the players, who decided that the honour should go to Johnny Moss. He received a silver cup, not the bracelet, as it's customary today. 

The following year, the Main Event was added, creating a focal point for competitors and those spectating. 


The Main Event Prize

Since 1976, the winner of the Main Event has received a bracelet. It has changed a little over time, but it has continued to be made from gold and precious metals. No official value is put on the bracelets, but they’re believed to be worth thousands of dollars each. 

In addition to the prestigious bracelet, the winner of the Main Event is awarded a cash prize. It changes each year, but it has been around $10 million for much of the last decade. 

This cash prize is much bigger than almost every other poker tournament in the world. So much so, WSOP Main Events in 2006, 2019, 2018, 2010, and 2017 had the five biggest poker cash prizes in history. 17 of the 20 biggest prize pools in poker history have all been Main Events from the World Series of Poker since the turn of the millennium. 

WSOP on Television

It’s not just the huge prize that makes the competition so prestigious. The World Series of Poker was the first poker tournament to be aired on television. This began in the 1970s, though these were typically “special” programmes that received narration instead of sports commentary. 

It wouldn’t be until ESPN gained the broadcasting rights in the late 1980s that it began to be treated like other sports. During the 1990s it pioneered the “pocket cam” that allowed fans to see what hand each player had. It continues to broadcast the competition today, adding even more innovations over time. 

The NHL lockout in 2004-05 left the broadcaster with a lot of airtime to fill. For much of it, it chose re-runs of the WSOP as the replacement, helping to cement the competition’s position as the best-known poker tournament in the US. 



The World Series of Poker is to poker as the Super Bowl is to American football and the IPL is to cricket. It is the pinnacle of competition in the sport. This creates a lot of attention and drives desire among players and fans to get involved, further cementing its position as the leading event for the card game. 

The WSOP has been at the top of poker since 1970 and more than 50 years on, it doesn’t seem like anything will change any time soon. 

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