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WSOP History -- Schedule Evolution (Part 2/3)

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


Chris MoneymakerAt the turn of the century the World Series of Poker had grown from a single cash game to a strongly attended yearly tournament series for the best poker players in the world. It had stood the test of time as it entered its 31st year in 2000, but it was still an event rarely mentioned or acknowledged outside of Las Vegas. All of that would change in the next few years thanks to technological advancements, television attention, and an accountant from Tennessee that came to Vegas thanks to a golden ticket for the main event that he won in an online satellite.

The tournament schedule featured 24 bracelet events in 2000, and for the first time the WSOP hosted a $500 casino employee’s event. The ladies event switched to a blend of seven-card stud and limit hold’em in 2000 after 23 years as a seven-card stud event. The ladies event would switch to limit hold’em in 2004, and starting in 2005 the ladies championship event was played at a no-limit hold’em table. The senior’s championship event got its start in 2001, bringing the number of non-open buy-in events that award bracelets up to three.

Mixed games gained popularity during the first couple years of the new century, with S.H.O.E. (seven-card stud, limit hold’em, Omaha eight-or-better, seven-card stud eight-or-better) joining the schedule in 2001. Hold’em/seven-card stud was added to the docket in 2002, and H.O.R.S.E. (hold’em, Omaha eight-or-better, razz, seven-card stud, seven-card stud eight-or-better) joined the schedule in 2003. The popularity of mixed games produced a new event in 2006, when the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. world championship joined the schedule in an attempt to become an exclusive Players Championship. It featured the largest buy-in in the history of the WSOP in order to attract only the top professionals in the game.

One event was dropped from the WSOP schedule after a run of more than three decades when ace-to-five draw lowball ended in 2005. Other events added to the schedule between 2000 and 2006 included heads-up no-limit hold’em, limit and no-limit hold’em shootout events, and a very popular variation among the players, six-handed no-limit hold’em. By 2006 hold’em events accounted for close to two-thirds of the tournaments on the schedule, with 29 events out of a 45-tournament slate. The hold’em obsession that gripped poker during this stretch had to do with one very important main event in 2003, which put poker, the WSOP, and its schedule on a new trajectory.

In 2003, 839 players entered the $10,000 no-limit hold’em championship and the tournament lasted for five days. At the end of five days amateur Chris Moneymaker had won the top prize. The poker world changed forever thanks to his win, when combined with the popularity of poker on television thanks to hole-cards cameras, and the rise of online poker. The immediate impact was that the WSOP was inundated with a record number of players the next year, which called for big changes to the schedule. The number of total tournaments jumped from 33 in 2003 to 45 by 2006, and the number of players in the main event jumped from the 839 in 2003 to a record 8,773 in 2006. The length of the main event and the entire tournament series had to be increased to meet the growing demand. By 2006 the number of days in the main event had increased to 14 days. More than a week had been added to the no-limit hold’em world championship in just four years time.

Rio Hotel and CasinoThe shock waves from the poker boom in 2003 affected the WSOP schedule in other ways as well. The Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas had served as the legendary host site for the WSOP since it began in 1970, but the influx of new participants helped the event grow out of its surroundings. Harrah’s bought the Horseshoe in 2004 and in 2005 they moved the WSOP over to the Rio Hotel and Casino, were the event still resides today. The poker boom also created a demand for WSOP events year round, and in 2004 the WSOP Circuit series began at locations all over the United States. The 2004-2005 season took the circuit to Lake Tahoe and San Diego in California, Atlantic City on the East Coast, and New Orleans. At the height of the poker boom in 2006 the WSOP Circuit series had reached 13 stops, some with championship events featuring $10,000 buy-ins.

The poker boom had exceeded everyone’s expectations by the conclusion of the 2006 WSOP. The future appeared to be limitless with a healthy influx of online satellite winners creating an almost insatiable demand for live tournament poker. But the boom came to an end on September 30, 2006, when Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The bill didn’t kill poker but changes were on the horizon, including the first time that WSOP bracelets were played for outside of the borders of the United States.