The idea came as I was rereading Jon Bradshaw’s great gambling narrative Fast Company, published in 1975 (reviewed here), in particular the chapter on Johnny Moss. That chapter contains a detailed report from the 1973 World Series of Poker, including a number of specific hands described with varying levels of detail.
There were 13 players participating in that year’s Main Event at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. It was the first year players paid $10,000 to play, actually. In 1970, the first WSOP had no tournament, then in 1971 the buy-in for the Main Event was $5,000. Then in 1972 the buy-in was $10K, but Benny Binion paid half of it for each player.
As would be the case through the 1977 WSOP, the Main Event was played “winner-take-all,” meaning the champ earned a $130,000 first prize. There were no bracelets yet, either, just a “corny trophy” (as Becky Behnen, Binion’s daughter, described it years later). The bracelet first was introduced in 1976.
As I was rereading Bradshaw’s entertaining account, I remembered how this particular WSOP Main Event not only was covered much more extensively than previous ones, but many subsequent ones, too.
David Spanier also writes extensively about the tournament in his 1977 book Total Poker in a chapter focusing on Pearson. (I reviewed Total Poker here.) Like Bradshaw’s account, Spanier’s includes a number of hands as well as chip count updates along the way.
There is also a filmed record of the event, made by Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder for the CBS Sports Spectacular anthology show and available on YouTube. During the 47-minute program you can see portions of several hands being played, get updates on counts, and hear still more table talk and other information from the event.
Speaking of media coverage, Benny Binion was interviewed in May 1973 by Mary Ellen Glass shortly after the completion of that year’s WSOP, and Binion tells her how “this poker game here gets us a lot of advertisement, the world series of poker.” He continues: “Last year it was in seven thousand newspapers; I don’t how many it was in this year, whether it was more or less, but we got awful good coverage on it this year.” (You can read the two-part interview here and here.)
The 1972 WSOP was won by Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, who then went on to help publicize the WSOP (and poker, generally speaking) by appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson multiple times. Preston was also featured on 60 Minutes, spoke before various groups including the National Press Club in D.C., and produced a book titled Play Poker to Win that the some of the other players joke about at that 1973 event.
Some have misread Binion’s “seven thousand newspapers” quote to Glass as saying there were 7,000 articles written about the 1973 WSOP, when obviously he was referring to the 1972 one. In any event, Preston’s publicity tour certainly contributed heavily to the coverage, not only helping boost the number of articles but attracting folks like Bradshaw and Spanier to be there in 1973, as well as encourage CBS to go along with Snyder’s idea to do the special for the Spectacular.
Here’s my idea -- using primarily Bradshaw, Spanier, and the CBS documentary, plus a few random extra bits of info gathered online, I thought I’d compile as best as I could some “live updates” from the 1973 WSOP and share them here on HBP over the next few days.
The tournament itself lasted two days. They started sometime during the late afternoon on Monday, May 14, 1973, probably around 4:30 p.m., and after about nine hours of play (plus a dinner break) the original 13 had played down to six players. Play resumed on Tuesday, May 15, 1973 at around 6 p.m. again, and it was sometime after 2 a.m. that the last hand was dealt.
Coverage begins tomorrow, and may continue for the rest of the week depending on how quickly I can get through it all. Come back then and follow along as Crandall Addington, Bobby Brazil, Doyle Brunson, Jimmy Cassella, Bobby Hoff, Bob Hooks, Sherman Lanier, Johnny Moss, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Brian “Sailor” Roberts, Jack Straus, and Roger Van Ausdall do battle to see who becomes the 1973 WSOP Main Event champion.
Image: “Binion’s Horseshoe Casino presents The World Series of Poker,” CBS Sports Spectacular (1973).