The 50th World Series of Poker is set to kick off Wednesday, and in reaching such a landmark moment in the most famous tournament series in the world, it's natural to take stock of past, present and future.
In 1970, the legendary Jack Binion invited the seven best American poker players to his downtown Las Vegas casino, creating the first World Series of Poker. This first event was a cash game -- not the tournament the poker public is so accustomed to in the present day.
After this cash game, which included Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Sailor Roberts, Puggy Pearson, Crandell Addington and Carl Cannon, the group voted on who would become the inaugural WSOP champion. This elite group of players decided that the legendary Johnny Moss would be crowned the first WSOP champion.
The following year, the tournament-based series was born with five events -- each in a different poker variant (7 card stud, razz, 5 card stud, Ace to 5 draw and no-limit hold 'em). Each tournament was a $1,000 buy-in, except for the newly created "Main Event," which had a $5,000 entry fee. Once again, Johnny Moss took home the title, recognized as the WSOP's first back-to-back champion. In the 50-year history of the WSOP, Doyle Brunson (1976-77), Stu Ungar (1980-81), and Johnny Chan (1987-88) are the only other repeat champions, with Johnny Moss (1970, 71, 74) and Stu Ungar (1980, 81, 97) the only three-time WSOP main event winners.
In 1972, the WSOP Main Event increased its buy-in to $10,000, at which it still stands today. That year, Amarillo Slim took home the main event title. In 1976, the WSOP began awarding the iconic gold bracelets to its event winners that have become the standard for measuring success on poker's biggest tournament stage.
For the first 35 years of its illustrious history, the WSOP was held at the Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. During those years, the WSOP created a wide variety of memorable moments, such as:
Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson winning the 1976 and 1977 WSOP main events, both times with 10-2. Thus, the hand was immortalized with Brunson's nickname attached.
Johnny Chan capturing back-to-back WSOP main events in the 1987 and 1988 (Chan's second win, in '88 against Erik Seidel, was captured in the movie "Rounders"). Chan almost won a third consecutive main event, but lost to ...
Phil Hellmuth, who became the youngest WSOP main event champion in history (since broken by Peter Eastgate in 2008 and Joe Cada in 2009) -- the first of his record-setting 15 WSOP bracelets.
Stu Ungar's winning his third WSOP main event title in 1997, with the final table played outside on Fremont Street.
Scotty Nguyen's stating, "If you call, it's all over, baby!" prior to winning the 1998 WSOP main event.
In 2004, after Harrah's Entertainment (presently Caesars Entertainment) purchased the rights to the WSOP (and Horseshoe) brand, the WSOP moved just off the Las Vegas Strip to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. In honor of the history and transition, the final three tables of the 2005 WSOP main event were held back at Benny's Bullpen at the Horseshoe Downtown; I was so blessed to be part of that final group of 27 players.
This summer, the 50th Annual WSOP will be once again held at the Rio, now for the 15th year in a row. For many professional poker players, this is the time of year they most look forward to on the calendar.
"Playing the WSOP is always like coming home," said Jonathan Duhamel, the 2010 WSOP main event champion. "It is always a lot of fun, and there are so many great memories. You are here for the whole summer, seven weeks nonstop, playing event after event. I definitely look forward to coming back every summer."
A record 89 bracelets events will be held over the seven-week tournament series in 2019. In recent years, some WSOP events outside of the main event have become staples, such as:
Poker Player's Championship: This $50,000 buy-in event pits the best poker players in the world against each other in eight different games. The winner receives not only the WSOP bracelet, but also the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy, posthumously named for the inaugural winner of the event in 2006.
Millionaire Maker: A popular event held during the second weekend that guarantees $1 million to the winner.
Marathon: An event that gives extended chips and time and is most similar to the main event for only a $2,620 buy-in.
Senior (at least 50 years old), Super Senior (at least 60 years old) and Ladies Championships: Popular tournaments that offer specialized championships for each demographic every summer.
Little One For One Drop: The $1,111 buy-in event is held every summer to raise money for One Drop Foundation, founded by Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil.
This year, there are some new events:
The Big 50: This four-flight, re-entry event will kick off the summer's first weekend with a buy-in of only $500. The WSOP is guaranteeing a $5 million prize pool with $1 million guaranteed to the winner. With 50,000 starting chips and 50-minute levels, this tournament has the chance to break the all-time record for most entries (the first edition of Colossus had 22,374 entries). The first entry for every player is rake-free.
$50,000 Anniversary event: Another event that will kick off the first weekend is the $50,000 no-limit hold 'em buy-in event in honor of the 50th anniversary of the WSOP.
Bracelet winners only: This event will allow only previous bracelet winners to participate. Held on July 10, the WSOP claims the tournament will crown the "Champion of Champions."
Short Deck: A popular game in Asia has slowly begun to gain popularity in the U.S., especially among the high rollers; the WSOP has decided to introduce a $10,000 buy-in event this summer in this discipline.
Mini Main Event: This $1,000 event is meant as a warm-up for the main event with the same starting chips (60,000) but 30-minute levels instead of 120 minutes levels in the main event. The event will take place two days before the start of the 2019 WSOP main event.
Salute to Warriors: This charity event will also be a $500 buy-in bracelet event, with proceeds going to the United Service Organizations and other veteran organizations.
"The World Series of Poker always offers the biggest and best events that are happening in Las Vegas during this time period," said WSOP vice president Jack Effel. "Additionally, this year, we really honed in on all the different types of events for the different types of players."
For example, all 50 no-limit hold 'em events will utilize the big-blind-ante format, which has become the standard for the game. In this format, the big blind antes for the entire table, which helps speed up the game.
Additionally, each event has seen an increase in the number of starting chips. For example, popular $1,000 events, which last year started with 5,000 chips, will start with 20,000 this year, and the $1,500 buy-in tournaments will start with 25,000 -- an increase from last year's 7,500 chips. The starting stack for $10,000 championship events, including the main event, will increase from 50,000 to 60,000.
Finally, although online events were introduced in 2015, there have been nine bracelets awarded for playing on WSOP.com in cyberspace to date. However, the total of online bracelets won will double this year alone, with nine such events on the schedule, primarily on Sundays.
As the 2019 WSOP is about to begin, the same questions that arise every year come back into play:
Will there be another double-bracelet winner this year? Since 2000, there has been at least once player who has won multiple bracelet every year.
Who will win WSOP Player of the Year?
Which players will become first time WSOP bracelet winners?
How many players will play in The Big 50? And the 2019 WSOP main event?
And, of course, who will win the most coveted tournament and bracelet in poker, the main event?
While the WSOP main event can be seen exclusively on PokerGo and ESPN, PokerGo has recently signed an agreement with CBS to livestream 41 additional days of poker on a variety of platforms.
As we head into the 2019 WSOP, let's allow the reigning WSOP main event champion, John Cynn, to kick off the festivities with his own words:
"It's crazy to think the WSOP is right around the corner," said Cynn. "I'm extremely excited to defend my title this year, as unrealistic as it may seem ... but then again, winning the first time was never a realistic dream to begin with. The series is always a time I get excited for, and going into it this year is no different. Good luck to everyone who comes to participate this summer ... but I'm hoping to repeat. See you in Las Vegas."