Following on from our previous article, in which we talked about how “Amarillo Slim” Preston’s victory in 1972 had prompted him to embark on a nationwide publicity tour, ensuring the WSOP and himself became household names. CBS Sports also began showing live coverage. Poker was clearly here to stay but it was still a niche participation event. The players were mostly Texans and they were definitely all men.
In 1978 the rules were tweaked slightly to share the winnings between the top five finishers (previously it had been winner takes all) and in the same year Barbara Freer broke the
all-male stranglehold by entering the tournament. Hal Fowler was the first amateur to beat the pros to the title in 1979 and the complete Texan lock was broken in in 1980 and 1again in 1981 by Stu ‘The Kid’ Ungar, a New Yorker who acted like one. Ungar’s success brought with it East Coast coverage and publicity that had previously been missing and in 1981 NBC Sports joined CBS Sports in providing live coverage of the event.
In 1982 the inaugural Ladies Tournament was held and the total prize money for the competition had reached just under $3 million. The success of each annual event was assured as long as it could keep raising the prize money, attracting the best players and accommodating everyone. Space soon became the problem for Binion’s Horseshoe – it just wasn’t big enough and out of necessity some of the games overflowed into the neighbouring Golden Nugget and Four Queens casinos. The Horseshoe eventually took over The Mint, another neighbouring venue and created it’s own poker room, enabling it to bring the entire tournament back into the Binion’s fold.
Benny Binion dies on Christmas Day, 1989, leaving his son Jack to run the casino. Jack hired two experienced organisers, Jim Allbrecht and Jack McClelland and the tournament continued to prosper under their guidance. In 1990 the final barrier was broker when a foreigner won the main event – Mansour Matloubi, an Iranian resident of the U.K. and the following year the main prize for the overall winner reached $1 million for the first time.
Matloubi’s 1990 Final Hand