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WSOP celebrates 50th anniversary in Las Vegas

Updated May 28, 2019 - 3:53 pm

It took two votes to determine the first World Series of Poker Main Event champion in 1970 at Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas.

That’s because every player voted for himself the first time around.

When casino owner Benny Binion asked the players — Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Bryan “Sailor” Roberts, Crandell “Dandy” Addington and Carl Cannon — to vote for the second-best player, Moss was named champion and awarded a silver cup trophy.

Moss won his second straight WSOP Main Event title in 1971, outlasting a field of seven players in a freezeout event, and took home the $30,000 winner-take-all prize.

Five decades later, the WSOP has exploded in popularity, with 123,865 entrants and $266.9 million in prize money awarded in 2018. John Cynn of Evanston, Illinois, made $8.8 million for outlasting 7,874 players last year en route to winning the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold’em World Championship, aka the Main Event.

Similar numbers are expected for the 50th annual WSOP, which opens Wednesday and runs through July 16 at the Rio Convention Center.

“The buzz and anticipation is very palpable this year. There is definitely excitement in the air in the poker community,” said Seth Palansky, vice president of corporate communications for the WSOP. “I’m not sure if it’s because it’s our 50th or a good economy. But there’s just a lot of positive vibes out there.”

The WSOP will start in earnest Thursday with The Big 50 No-limit Texas Hold’em tournament. The event features a $500 buy-in with a $5 million guaranteed prize pool and $1 million guaranteed prize to the winner. The first entry is rake free.

The Big 50 already has broken the WSOP preregistration record with more than 5,000 entries. Palansky said the preregistration numbers typically amount to 10 percent of the total entrants, which would translate to 50,000 entries and shatter the record for most entries for a WSOP event, which is 22,374 for the Colossus in 2015.

“We can’t even fit that many people in. It tells us we’re going to be bursting at the seams on opening weekend,” Palansky said. “We have four starting days to try to accommodate everyone who wants to play it.

“We may not break the record, but this will go down as a top-five field size ever.”

The WSOP will feature a record 530 poker tables in six locations at the Rio and 89 poker events, including 19 new ones, played over 50 days.

Buy-ins range from $400 to $100,000 — the latter for the High Roller Texas No-Limit Hold’em event, which starts July 11. The Main Event is scheduled from July 3 to 16.

Thirty-four players made at least $1 million at the 2018 WSOP, and 15 won at least $2 million, with Justin Bonomo of Denver leading the way with $10.2 million in winnings.

Palansky said the 50th edition of the WSOP is geared more for the recreational player.

“We have more $1,000 and under buy-ins than ever before,” he said. “The school teacher, the bus driver, the mechanic — we love when they’re coming in and getting life-changing money.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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