Everything You Need to Know About the World Series of Poker

World Series of Poker Chips
Image: Logan Ingalls, flickr

It is the ultimate target of poker professionals and fanatical amateurs alike.

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) brings together thousands of card game lovers from around the globe together in a series of events that are both money-spinning and the most revered in the ‘sport’.

Everyone involved has one aim: to clinch a WSOP bracelet, which is the most prestigious non-financial prize that poker has to offer.

The beauty of the World Series of Poker is that ANYBODY can qualify to play in it. They say that the Open Championship in golf is the people’s tournament because it is open for everyone (hence the name). But you have to be a really, really good amateur to qualify for the Open….whereas with the WSOP, you can simply have a good day at the office and qualify.

So if you are a poker enthusiast that is looking to take their game to the next level, you really ought to be trying to make it in the World Series of Poker….here’s everything you need to know about the grandaddy of them all.

What is the World Series of Poker?

Pair of Aces

The World Series of Poker is an annual set of events – typically more than 100 – that offers professional and amateur players the chance to compete for a number of different cash prizes.

As well as smaller buy-in events, there’s the Main Event for each poker variant that crowns an overall champion, who walks away considerably richer thanks to the hefty paycheque in their pocket and somewhat heavier too courtesy of the WSOP bracelet on their wrist.

Typically, the WSOP takes place from July onwards every year, but in 2021 the format was switched up and took place from September-November.

History of the World Series of Poker

Binion's Horseshoe, Las Vegas
Image: VasenkaPhotography, flickr

Poker has been popular for decades, and so prior to the explosion of online poker amidst the technological boom of the 2000s tournament play was already underway.

The initial idea for the World Series came way back in 1969 with the Texas Gambling Reunion, although this was focused on players largely from the Deep South of the United States.

The idea for the WSOP was born from this Texan event by Jack Binion, son of the owner of Binion’s Horseshoe, Benny. An avid poker player himself, Jack welcomed the first ever World Series of Poker to the Las Vegas property in 1970, and it would stay there for the next 34 years.

The first ever WSOP saw numerous different variants of poker played, and those involved would vote for the overall champion – Johnny Moss, who would win three Main Events which still stands as a record today, was crowned the inaugural victor.

In 2004, it was all change. Caesars Entertainment acquired Binion’s Horseshoe and took over the running of the World Series of Poker too. They moved it to another of their casinos, the Rio, where it remains to this day. The only exception came in 2020, when the World Series largely took place online.

The WSOP has since expanded into Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin-America, with annual events falling under the World Series branding.

Who are the Best Players at the World Series of Poker?

Johnny Moss with Becky Binion Behnen and Puggy Pearson at the 1974 World Series
Image: University of Nevada, Wikimedia Commons

Every year, new players spring to prominence at the World Series of Poker – whether they are established pros that have toured the circuit or complete newcomers stepping out of their online poker bubble.

Defining the best player is difficult, but as we know Johnny Moss and Stu Ungar claimed those three Main Event victories apiece. They have to be in the conversation.

Since 2004, the WSOP has awarded a Player of the Year gong to the individual that earns the most points throughout the series. And only one person has won the POTY honours twice – Daniel Negreanu, who also triumphed in the WSOP Asia-Pacific Main Event in 2013. He’s certainly another contender.

We could also use the number of WSOP bracelets won as our guide. Here, Phil Hellmuth is the runaway leader with 15, and he also has two Main Event victories (one of those was in Europe) to his name and sits second on the all-time WSOP money finishes list behind Negreanu.

Chris Ferguson is another highly-revered poker pro. He won the Main Event in 2000, was crowned Player of the Year in 2017 and sits third in the money finishes standings, clinching six bracelets along the way.

And if you’re looking for pure monetary success, nobody can lay a glove on Antonio Esfandiari. His career earnings from the WSOP are $21,917,460….nice work if you can get it! However, it’s worth noting that $18 million of that came in one event – the ‘Big One for One Drop’ in 2012 that was held in conjunction with the One Drop Foundation.

There are numerous candidates as to the best players in World Series of Poker history, and more will be added in the years to come.

Do Women Play in the World Series of Poker?

Annie Duke
Image: Gene Bromberg, flickr

Absolutely – it’s been estimated that around 5% of all World Series of Poker entrants are female.

They have enjoyed plenty of success too, with four women – Kristen Bicknell, Nani Dollison, Barbara Enright and Vanessa Selbst – all clinching three bracelets each.

Annette Obrestad, the Norwegian, became the youngest bracelet winner of either gender in 2007 after claiming the WSOP Europe Main Event – she was just one day shy of her nineteenth birthday at the time.

In the 2000 World Series, Annie Duke was ninth months pregnant with her third child – she still finished tenth out of 512 players in the World Championship event, and four years later she claimed her first WSOP bracelet by winning an Omaha Hi/Lo event. Duke’s career earnings run to in excess of $4 million.

Where is the World Series of Poker Played?

Rio, Las Vegas
Image: VasenkaPhotography, flickr

As mentioned, Binion’s Horseshoe – located on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas – was the host of the World Series of Poker for the first three decades of the competition.

Binion’s original claim to fame was that it was the first Las Vegas casino to offer comps to all players, not just high rollers, and also the first gaming den to have carpet as opposed to sawdust-laden floors.

Benny Binion lost his gaming licence after being charged with tax evasion, and his son Jack took over as president of the company – it was he who first came up with the idea of the WSOP.

However, in the late 1990s a painful legal battle between Jack Binion and his sister Becky for the right to run Binion’s Horseshoe unfolded, and when Becky won she and her husband Nick implemented a number of cost-cutting measures that did not go down well with their regular players.

A court case, brought about by unions representing the Horseshoe’s hospitality staff, alleged that Becky had not been paying medical insurance and pension contributions on time, and facing financial apocalypse she agreed to sell the casino and its hotel to Caesars Entertainment.

They sold the hotel complex pretty much straight off the bat, but carried on running the casino and took ownership of the World Series of Poker brand too.

Wanting to sex up the image of the WSOP, they moved it to another of their properties – the Rio Hotel and Casino – which is much closer to the Las Vegas Strip. It has more floor space too, meaning that the World Series could comfortably be expanded.

It has remained at the Rio ever since, however there are rumours it could move to another Caesars casino – Bally’s – from 2022 onwards.

What is the Format of the World Series of Poker?

World Series of Poker Dealers
Image: Gene Bromberg, flickr

The general idea of the World Series of Poker is that everyone, no matter what their background or financial status, can compete for the big prizes.

And that is reflected in the format of the competition, which since 1971 has seen cash payouts for every single event held within the series.

Typically, Texas Hold’em is by and far away the most popular poker variant, and so that is the best represented in the WSOP, although Omaha, Seven Card Stud and Draw-based events can also be entered.

Participation in the World Series of Poker has grown over the years, and since 1976 all event winners have taken home a WSOP bracelet – other than cold, hard cash, this is the most sought-after item in the game. They are pretty valuable too, with Peter Eastgate selling his WSOP bracelet on eBay to raise funds for UNICEF….he made a very handy $147,000.

Since the 1980s players have been able to qualify for WSOP events through satellite tournaments. Held both in person and online, these satellites can feature lower buy-ins and are a fantastic way for low-budget players to gatecrash the high rollers’ party in Las Vegas.

At the 2021 World Series of Poker, 88 events will be played at the Rio Casino and dozens more online, with more than 10,000 players from all over the world expected to play in at least one of them.

What is the World Series of Poker Main Event?

Multiple Stacks of Casino Chips

Considered the daddy of them all, the Main Event brings out the big guns each year at the World Series of Poker.

This takes the form of a $10,000 buy-in Texas Hold’em game, and the winner is crowned as the unofficial world champion of poker – and goes home suitably richer too, with the Main Event victor typically pocketing between $8 million and $10 million depending on the number of entries.

There are no limits on how many players can enter the Main Event, nor do you need to have a certain pedigree in the game – usually, around 8,000 players will enter.

Indeed, Jerry Yang had only been playing poker for two years when he entered the Main Event in 2007, and yet he took down the best in the business to walk away with the $8.25 million top prize.

There are some famous stories from the Main Event – who can forget Jack Strauss’ victory in 1982, when he thought he had lost only to find he had another chip left on the table. His subsequent comeback victory was one of the most epic ever witnessed on the big stage.

Johnny Moss and Stu Ungar are the most decorated Main Event players in history with three wins each, while Jesse Alto has made more Main Event appearances (seven) than anybody else.

How Much Can You Win at the World Series of Poker?

Ten Thousand Dollar Stacks

Given that the World Series of Poker is the most prestigious tournament on the planet, it goes without saying that the prize pot to play for is one of the largest too.

Of the ten highest prize pools in poker history, eight have been recorded in the Main Event of WSOP – the largest pot in the game was the $82.5 million that the players contested in the 2006 Main Event. The winner, Jamie Gold, trousered £12 million.

The amount you can win in any given WSOP event depends on a number of factors. Those include the rake taken by Caesars Entertainment as the host – generally that’s around the 5% of the total pot, give or take, as well as the number of players taking part and their initial buy-in.

But, you can rest assured, given the popularity of the World Series of Poker, any event that you enter will be a tremendous money-spinner with a range of cash prizes (depending on where you finish) not to be sniffed at.

How Can You Enter the World Series of Poker?

Welcome to Las Vegas Sign

One of the great things about the World Series of Poker is that it is a completely democratic competition – anybody can enter an event that has the necessary buy-in amount, which ranges from around $400 at the lowest end to that $10,000 charge to enter the Main Event.

You can register to play in person should you find yourself in Las Vegas – simply head to the Rio resort and all of the information can be found there.

There is also the opportunity to register online, and don’t forget that you can significantly reduce your entry costs by competing in – and winning, naturally – any of the WSOP satellite events that are available at a range of poker sites or in person just prior to the World Series starting.