In the world of tournament poker there is no one competition that crowns its winner the world champion in any official way. However the World Series of Poker Main Event is considered by all to be the unofficial world champion. So how did it all begin and how does it now merit the cachet that winning the competition brings.
It’s a relatively young competition considering how far various forms of poker stretch back. In 1969 Tom Moore, part-owner of the Reno Holiday Casino and Vic Vickrey, a poker aficionado, had the notion to invite a few select players to Reno to what they called the Texas Gambling Reunion (Moore was Texan). Among poker playing notables at the time the line-up included Doyle Brunson, “Amarillo Slim” Preston and (importantly) Benny Binion.
The event was well-received but for whatever reason Moore and Vickrey decided not to
repeat the tournament the following year. Into the breach stepped Benny Binion, owner of Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas who, in 1970, invited a group of poker players to compete in the inaugural World Series of Poker. The winner of this tournament was Johnny Moss, a poker professional in his early 50s and he won this event via a secret ballot, rather than on the standard ‘highest chips’ method we are familiar with now. There is a story, quite possibly and urban legend, that in the ballot each player voted for themselves and only when asked to vote for the second best player did Johnny Moss emerge victorious.
The tournament was almost unknown with regards to publicity and the Las Vegas public treated it as just another poker game in a local hotel. Benny Binion realised that the event needed some changes if it was to progress, especially with regards to the winner. What was the point of playing high-stakes games for several days in pursuit of chips if that wasn’t what was necessary to make you world champion?
Part Two follows……