During the summer of 1949, Nicholas ‘Nick the Greek’ Dandolos asked Benny Binion if he could stage a high-stake poker marathon. This marathon should also take place in public view. Although unusual, Benny Binion agreed and the challenger was the legendary Johnny Moss.
During the next five months, Johhny Moss and Nick the Greek, played every poker game imaginable only stopping to sleep. Ultimately, ‘the biggest game in town’ was won by Johnny Moss and cashed in an estimated $2 Million. After the final hand, the Greek stood up, bowed and uttered the now-famous words; “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” Then went upstairs to bed.
Binion realised something from this event, more significant than the prize money and the game, that the public gathered at the casino every single day to watch the marathon. This stuck in his mind until 1970, when he decided to re-create this excitement and stage the battle of the poker kings, calling it the ‘World series of poker’. The winner could then officially call himself ‘World Champion”! The decision of who the champion would be was made by democratic vote and the title went to Johnny Moss.
The following year, the winner was determined by knock-out. (Not – no punching battles). This is where players were systematically eliminated until one player had all the chips. Johnny Moss won this again!
In 1972, a new champion arose – Thomas ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston. After the tournament, he went on the talk-show circuit, which gave the WSOP more exposure and wider following.
In this year, there were 7 participants. When Binion was asked “is it possible to get up to 50 participants, or more?” he gazed up into the sky and answered “It will eventually”.
When the first satellite competition took place in the early 1980’s (Offering lower buy ins), Binion’s prophesy came true and the popularity of the WSOP exploded. But even Binion (passed away in 1989) would not have been able to foreseethe enormous growth the was about to take place.
In 1982, the tournament had 52 entries. Five years later, there were 2,141 entires and the 2002 event had 7595 participants. The prize money increased from $7,769,000 a decade ago to a staggering $19,599,230 in 2002!