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WSOP History -- Schedule Evolution (Part 1/3)

Just How did the Biggest Event in Poker Evolve from One Cash Game to More than 50 Bracelet Events

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Binion's HorseshoeThousands more have come to the Rio today to compete in the World Series of Poker’s first $1,000 event of the summer, creating an overall field of 4,345. The first of eight $1,000 bracelet events, these extravagant small buy-in events show just how dramatically the WSOP schedule has changed over the years.

In this feature, we will look at the history of the WSOP schedule and just how much it has evolved over the past four decades. This three-part series of articles will look at different periods of WSOP history and how each of them shaped the current schedule of events that will be offered in 2010.
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The WSOP has gone from a single cash game with a handful of players to an international event that is the largest brand in poker in just over 40 years. These days tens of thousands of players turn up in Las Vegas each summer and play for over 50 bracelets. The story of how the schedule has evolved during the years echoes not only the story of the WSOP itself, but poker in general. Events have been added and subtracted, but sustained growth has been the driving narrative.

The dates for the WSOP have fluctuated between April and August, but the time frame always ensures that players will travel to the Nevada desert during the hottest months of the year. Thanks to the unprecedented growth of poker during the past decade, WSOP events have now wandered out of the summer heat and into other parts of the world as well as other dates on the calendar. The WSOP Circuit series began in 2004 in locations all over the United States and just finished a sixth season, while the WSOP went international for the first time in 2007 with the WSOP Europe hosted in London.

The buy-ins for the preliminary events have consistently stayed within the $1,000-$5,000 range, while events tied to the title of world championship come with a $10,000 price tag. Outliers have emerged in recent years with $25,000-$50,000 buy-ins in order to price out all but the most experienced professionals. In all of these cases the large amount of money awarded at the WSOP has captured the imagination of the general public as the richest sporting event in the world.

Part I: The First Three Decades

Johnny MossThe first WSOP was held in 1970 when a collection of the best poker players in the world gathered at the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas for a high-stakes poker cash game. At the end of three days of erratic play they voted on a world champion. The person voted as best all-around player was Johnny Moss, but the difficulty in getting the players to vote for anyone but them self led to the most important schedule innovation in tournament poker history. The next year the WSOP world championship event featured a freezeout structure, meaning the last man standing with all of the chips would be crowned the winner. This gave each tournament a distinct beginning and end, and it is the format that is still used today.

The second year saw multiple bracelet events for the first time in 1971. The number of events jumped to five, with five-card stud, seven-card stud, razz, and ace-to-five draw lowball joining the offerings. Deuce-to-seven draw lowball joined in 1973 and seven-card stud eight-or-better was added in 1976. The first ladies event was offered in 1977 and it was a seven-card stud tournament. Draw high was added in 1978 to help ensure that the first decade of the WSOP was when draw tournaments experienced their glory days. The final addition to the agenda during the decade came in 1979 when the co-ed mixed doubles event was included on the schedule. The seventies saw the number of events offered jump from one to a dozen and it established popular forms of the game for years to come.

The number of tournaments during the eighties stayed relatively stable with no less than 12 and no more than 14 events on the schedule during any one year. Rebuy tournaments made their debut in 1980 with a deuce-to-seven draw lowball event offering rebuys. The ace-to-five draw lowball event was given a twist when it was offered with a joker in 1983, and another quirk was added in 1986. This was when the strangest event in WSOP history graced the schedule, an ace-to-five draw lowball with a joker event with rebuys. The second decade also saw the first limit hold’em event in 1983. Mixed co-ed doubles was retired from the schedule in 1984. The most important development during the eighties was the addition of Omaha events in 1983, which began to attract players consistently from Europe.

Omaha events continued to grow in popularity during the nineties, especially in the pot-limit format. This decade was very popular for pot-limit tournaments, with the hold’em variation debuting in 1993. Omaha received another twist in the form of the first Omaha eight-or-better event in 1991. The first media tournament took place in 1994 in an attempt to bring more attention to the WSOP during the silver anniversary of the tournament. The 25th anniversary of the main event also marked the first time the no-limit hold’em world championship featured a twist to reach out to history. The world champion that year was awarded his weight in silver in addition to the prize money. A popular favorite among the players was added the next year in 1995, when Chinese poker was offered for the first time.

The number of tournaments in the nineties grew to 25 in 1995 and 96, but the number of bracelets awarded just before the turn of the century in 1999 had shrunk to 16. A lot had changed during the first 30 years of the WSOP but most of the growth for the schedule was on the horizon.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a lot at how a venue change and a win by a man named Moneymaker took the WSOP schedule to another level and helped inspire a takeover by no-limit hold’em.