Wednesday, October 12, 2011

They Called It the World Series of Poker

1970 World Series of PokerThe 2011 World Series of Poker Europe is off to what appears to be a successful start in Cannes. Seven “open” bracelet events this time around, plus a ladies-only event, too. They are getting good turnouts thus far. And the early buzz from players seems positive with regard to the move from London to the south of France.

The WSOPE began back in 2007 and has steadily grown ever since. This year’s Event No. 2, a €1,090 buy-in no-limit hold’em event, drew a whopping 771 entrants, the most of any WSOPE event thus far. (The previous high had been 608 for a £1,000 event in 2009.)

I was thinking this morning about the early days of the WSOP, those initial few years back at Binion’s Horseshoe when only a handful of players, many from Texas or other southern states, made their way over to Fremont Street each spring.

You’ve probably read that story somewhere before. About how a fellow from San Antonio named Tom Moore staged what he called a “Texas Gamblers Reunion” at his hotel up in Reno in 1969. Moore decided not to bother the next year, partly because all of the players he’d invited did nothing but play poker and thus it had failed to produce much revenue for him.

So Jack Binion asked Moore if they could do something similar the next year, and Moore said sure. And thus the WSOP was born.

Most accounts suggest that at that very first WSOP there were a total of 38 different players who kind of came and went during the playing of five different games. However, usually only a small percentage of those names ever get mentioned as having participated, a list that usually begins and ends with Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim Preston, “Sailor” Roberts, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, Crandall Addington, and Carl Cannon.

In his autobiography, The Godfather of Poker, Brunson notes that “about thirty different players” were there playing in the games, mentioning Jack Straus and Titanic Thompson as being among them, too.

In any case, it was a modest-sized event by any stretch of the imagination, thus making it seem all the more audacious for the Binions to have named it the “World Series of Poker.”

The following year they’d stage some tournaments, including three prelims and a $5,000 buy-in Main Event in which just six played. If you hunt around the internet you’ll find all sorts of different line-ups listed for that 1971 WSOP ME, but I trust Brunson’s memory: himself, Moss, Pearson, Roberts, Straus, and Jimmy Cassella.

That’s four Texans, a Tennessean (Pearson), and a New Yorker (Cassella). And yet they called it the World Series of Poker. And following the lead of major league baseball, the Binions would add the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979, the year the Main Event would exceed the 50-player mark for the first time. Still a pretty small “world,” really.

The world of pokerIt would take a few decades, but the WSOP would eventually literally evolve into an international event. Players from 105 different countries participated in WSOP events in Las Vegas this summer. In the Main Event, just about 33% of the field were non-Americans coming from 84 other countries. And as usually happens whenever the WSOPE gets going, we’re hearing some chatter about the possiblity of staging WSOP events on other continents, too, like Australia or Asia or Africa.

Was a bold thing dubbing that first get-together the “World Series.” Yet, if you think about it, calling it such allowed for growth -- without limit, really -- in a way that could never be the case for, say, something like the “Texas Gamblers Reunion.”

So, yeah... I guess that turned out to be a good call.

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