Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


The Birth and Growth of the World Series of Poker

by Lee Munzer |  Published: Aug 01, 2005


History tells us that in 1970, Johnny Moss was voted the winner after the first World Series of Poker (WSOP) concluded. A panel of his peers elected him champion. They were: Crandall Addington, Doyle Brunson, Carl Cannon, Thomas "Amarillo Slim" Preston Jr., Walter "Puggy" Pearson, and Brian "Sailor" Roberts. Johnny once explained that the vote was really moot, since he had played in five different games and, in his words, "won them all," defeating 37 players and taking their money along the way. The facts are fading with the loss of players and memories, but we do know that Moss did not receive prize money in the inaugural WSOP championship.

Print advertisement for the Eldorado Club shows some of

the attractions of that gambling hall.


We also know the idea for a WSOP championship was born prior to 1970. Benny Binion had arrived in Las Vegas in 1946, when there were approximately 18,000 residents and two strip hotels (El Rancho and Last Frontier). In the summer of 1949, Nicholas Andrea "Nick the Greek" Dandalos visited town and asked Binion to set him up against the best in "the biggest heads-up game that this world has to offer." Benny immediately called a Texas player by the name of Johnny Moss. The terms were arranged, the competitors met, and play began. Five months later, Moss' dominant play had earned him more than $2 million. After the last hand, the wealthy Dandalos rose, bowed slightly, and retired from the match. His parting sentiment, "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go," is well-known and exemplifies the grace of the Greek gambler.Benny noticed that this unusual and lengthy contest had attracted an increasingly large number of interested bystanders as the match persisted. It is believed the spectators' attraction to the competition remained in Benny's mind and became a factor when, in 1970, he decided to once again stage a battle of poker behemoths and call it the World Series of Poker.

Johnny Moss, 1974 World Series of Poker champion


Another catalyst was the annual cavalcade to Reno, Nevada, in the 1960s. Each year, Tom Moore invited Benny and the best poker players in the world to his Holiday Hotel for some big-stakes poker. Moore was a terrific host, and everyone had a good time. But, the brakes were put on the annual excursion when Moore sold his hotel. Benny had the perfect solution – he would hold the event in Las Vegas at his hotel and casino and designate his son Jack to run the event. Jack asked brother Ted to help him and make the event something to behold. Jack showed great vision, since Binion's did not spread regular poker games (poker wasn't a lucrative casino game, nor was it considered as respectable as blackjack, craps, or roulette).

With such big money at stake (a $10,000 entry fee in the 1970s was huge), players needed to know they would get paid if they won. Benny was known for his integrity toward gamblers, if not when dealing with the IRS (he served some time for tax evasion), and his gambling propensity. More than once, after Benny opened Binion's Horseshoe (he changed the name from Eldorado Club) in 1951 and established limits that were 10 times as great as his competitors, gamblers questioned him concerning the casino's ability to pay off a big win. Binion would walk the inquisitor into the vault and show him the money. Later, after visiting Washington, DC, and observing people lined up to visit the U.S. Treasury, Benny set up the $1 million glass showcase, now gone, but long a top tourist attraction in Las Vegas

One of the best decisions the Binion brothers made was to permit open participation. This allowed wealthy players to join the professionals, who perceived the moneyed players as added incentive. Of course, sometimes the bear eats the trapper, and these upsets attracted even more new players.

Could Benny ever have imagined 6,600 entrants? Probably not, but he sure had the urge to make the WSOP as attractive as he could. After he and his sons conducted the event in 1973, he was optimistic, saying, "We had 13 players this year. I look to have better than 20 next year. It's even liable to get up to be 50. Might get up to be more than that. It will, eventually."

Jack Binion (left), Benny Binion (center), and U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (c. 1960s)


Benny is gone, but as poker players and fans, we are his beneficiaries and we are living his dream. As Howard Schwartz, owner of the Gambler's Book Club, has stated, "When you met Benny Binion, you felt like you were part of history."

The history of the World Series of Poker is best recalled by the championship tournament. While the main event now comprises a small percentage of the number of tournaments and satellites spread, it is deservedly in the limelight as a "happening," and presents sports' biggest purse. Let's take a look at the champions and some memories from 35 years of play.