The World Series of Poker is like the Jerry Rice of poker. It’s been around for so long that people tend to forget how great the WSOP was when it first started, or how great it still is. Unlike the hundreds of poker Web sites that have sprouted out of the woodwork in the last couple years, and the handfuls of TV shows, the WSOP was around when poker was serious card playing. It wasn’t a fad or a fashion. Men smoked cigars over it and sipped whisky while eyeing their opponents.
It was a game for men like Nicolas Dandolos, aka Nick the Greek, and Benny Binion. These two were champion gamblers back in the 1940s. It was small wonder then when Nick the Greek approached Binion to set up a match with the supposed champion of all poker players, Johnny Moss.
Binion agreed to the plan. Binion set up the match between Dandolos and Moss, but made sure to attract as much attention to the event by holding it in public. It was to be a marathon. All parties agreed to it after five months of discussions and compromises. The World Series of Poker was born in 1949. The players only took breaks for sleep. Moss came out on top and purportedly took home a $2 million purse. That was a casino’s worth of money in 1949.
It wouldn’t be for another 21 years later that Binion decided to try the WSOP again. It was 1970, and this time he officially called it the WSOP. And again, Johnny Moss took care of business and walked away with the pot.
But now Binion knew he had something. He continued the World Series of Poker each year from then on. By 1982, there were 52 top poker players signed up for the WSOP. Now in 2003, at the height of the poker craze, when everyone believes he or she is a poker whiz, there were 839 people entered into the competition. The following year, there was an amazing 2,576. With the WSOP moving to the much larger Rio Hotel Casino for 2005, the number of entries may be overwhleming.