The World Series of Poker

Quorum doesn’t specifically cover the World Series of Poker, but several references are made to it throughout the show. My hope is that we’ve explained things sufficiently enough for listeners to follow along to the degree necessary (without over-explaining), but some of you may enjoy a bit more background.

The World Series of Poker started out as a private-invitation event in 1970, when casino owner (and mob boss) Benny Binion invited seven of the best-known poker players in the industry to the Horseshoe Casino for a private tournament — a timed cash-game event with multiple game variations, after which the players voted on the overall winner: Johnny Moss. Moss was awarded a silver cup and proclaimed the first “World Champion of Poker.” The following year, a set buy-in ($5,000 originally, but raised to $10,000 the following year) and freeze-out format was introduced — and the game was limited to a single variation of Texas Hold ’Em — and the World Series as we know it was born. It has continued as an annual tradition ever since (sponsored by Caesar’s Entertainment since 2005).

Though the no-limit Texas Hold ’Em “Main Event” — which still retains its $10,000 buy-in price — remains the signature tournament, there are currently 74 different events taking place, representing an array of different poker styles and play levels. Winners of each individual tournament win a “bracelet” and a monetary prize based on the number of entrants and buy-in amounts. Entrants in the World Series, held each year in June or July in Las Vegas — number in the thousands, a far cry from the original seven players at that inaugural event.

But it’s the Main Event that remains the biggest draw, and it is the winner of that event’s bracelet that is crowned the World Champion of Poker (and is expected to serve as an ambassador for the game across their championship year, a “duty” that winners have achieved with varying degrees of success). Though the tournament is open to anyone who can produce the buy-in amount (or gain an entry slot by winning a separate “satellite” tournament), winners were traditionally professional players — a logical expectation, given that these were the people most likely to develop the skills to beat such a large pool of opponents.

That all changed in 2003, when an unknown amateur player named Chris Moneymaker (a man with a name that would be considered too on-the-nose in the world of narrative fiction) took home the top prize. Not only was he not a professional player, but he had earned his seat by winning a $39 satellite poker tournament in an online game room. Suddenly, the floodgates were opened — amateur players the world over saw not only that an amateur could take on the best in the business and win, but that online poker was a viable way to play. The number of players in the main event jumped from 839 that year to 2,576 in 2004, 5,619 in 2005, and a whopping 8,773 in 2006 — a tenfold increase in just three years. (The number of entrants has since stabilized, now typically hovering around the 6,500–7,500 level.)

As an interesting side note, the Main Event tournament that Jimmy Harmon mentions as the first he saw on television was mine as well — the 2005 tournament in which Joe Hachem beat out Steve Dannenmann, and in which Hachem’s signature call-and-response to the crowd (“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” “Oi, oi, oi!”) became immortalized.

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

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