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WSOP Guide – Largest Poker Tournament in the World

The World Series of Poker, or WSOP, is the largest poker tournament in the world.

It consistently offers the largest prize pool and holds the record for the largest number of players in a single tournament. The WSOP started in 1970 which also makes it the oldest major poker tournament.

On this page to explain everything you need to know about the WSOP, including how it works, the tournament events, and an overview of the winners.

World Series of Poker Overview

When most people hear WSOP, they think of the Main Event that happens in Las Vegas every year. But that is only one event in the series.

In 2019 and 2020, the WSOP included more than 35 circuit events around the US, in addition to the Main Event and international events.

If you include all of the events that make up the whole series of WSOP, it includes more than 100.

The World Series of Poker has evolved over time in response to the number of entrants and changes within the poker industry. New events are always being added to the series, both in-person and online.

Although there are now WSOP events at casinos around the world, as well as online, most of the series still occurs at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas during June and July.

The Rio in Vegas hosts most WSOP events.

The Main Event is a no-limit Texas hold‘em format, but dozens of other poker varieties and game formats are also represented in the WSOP events.

All of the various events in the WSOP have different buy-ins, game formats, and rules. So, it is difficult to define the WSOP by any of those standards.

Instead of thinking of the WSOP as a single poker game, remember that the WSOP is really a collection of tournaments that includes most poker variations and several different levels.

The WSOP Main Event

The WSOP Main Event is the most prominent single tournament in the poker world. It is a $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold ‘em tournament.

Whoever wins the tournament gets to be called the unofficial World Champion of poker, according to WSOP tradition.

They also receive a coveted WSOP bracelet and a cash prize determined by the number of players in the tournament. The WSOP Main Events’ prizes range from $30,000 in 1971 to $12 million in 2006.

There are no limits on how many people can enter the Main Event tournament. The largest number of Main Event competitors was in 2006, with 8,773 players, but 2019 was not far behind, with 8,559 players.

Past Winners of the WSOP

Here is a list of all of the WSOP winners, how much they won, and how many players competed in the tournament.

This table should be the “expandable” version. Please reverse the order, so we start with the most recent and work backwards

Year Winner First place prize (US$) # of Entrants
2020 Damian Salas 2,550,969 1,379
2019 Hossein Ensan 10,000,000 8,569
2018 John Cynn 8,800,000 7,874
2017 Scott Blumstein 8,150,000 7,221
2016 Qui Nguyen 8,005,310 6,737
2015 Joe McKeehen 7,683,346 6,420
2014 Martin Jacobson 10,000,000 6,683
2013 Ryan Riess 8,361,570 6,352
2012 Greg Merson 8,531,853 6,598
2011 Pius Heinz 8,715,638 6,865
2010 Jonathan Duhamel 8,944,310 7,319
2009 Joe Cada 8,547,042 6,494
2008 Peter Eastgate 9,152,416 6,844
2007 Jerry Yang 8,250,000 6,358
2006 Jamie Gold 12,000,000 8,773
2005 Joe Hachem 7,500,000 5,619
2004 Greg Raymer 5,000,000 2,576
2003 Chris Moneymaker 2,500,000 839
2002 Robert Varkonyi 2,000,000 631
2001 Juan Carlos Mortensen 1,500,000 613
2000 Chris Ferguson 1,500,000 512
1999 Noel Furlong 1,000,000 393
1998 Scotty Nguyen 1,000,000 350
1997 Stu Ungar (3) 1,000,000 312
1996 Huck Seed 1,000,000 295
1995 Dan Harrington 1,000,000 273
1994 Russ Hamilton 1,000,000 268
1993 Jim Bechtel 1,000,000 231
1992 Hamid Dastmalchi 1,000,000 201
1991 Brad Daugherty 1,000,000 215
1990 Mansour Matloubi 895,000 194
1989 Phil Hellmuth 755,000 178
1988 Johnny Chan (2) 700,000 167
1987 Johnny Chan 625,000 152
1986 Berry Johnston 570,000 141
1985 Bill Smith 700,000 140
1984 Jack Keller 660,000 132
1983 Tom McEvoy 540,000 108
1982 Jack Straus 520,000 104
1981 Stu Ungar (2) 375,000 75
1980 Stu Ungar 385,000 73
1979 Hal Fowler 270,000 54
1978 Bobby Baldwin 210,000 42
1977 Doyle Brunson (2) 340,000 34
1976 Doyle Brunson 220,000 22
1975 Brian “Sailor” Roberts 210,000 21
1974 Johnny Moss (3) 160,000 16
1973 Walter “Puggy” Pearson 130,000 13
1972 Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Jr. 80,000 8
1971 Johnny Moss (2) 30,000 6
1970 Johnny Moss N/A 7

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The November Nine and Televised Poker

The Main Event was traditionally played to its conclusion as one of the last events of the series in June and July. However, WSOP decided to do things differently for the last few years.

Beginning in 2008, they stopped the tournament after it got down to the final nine players. These players would make up the final table, and they all received a guaranteed prize of at least $1 million.

Instead of letting these nine players finish their tournament the following day, WSOP delayed the final table game until November. This was ultimately for the purposes of creating more hype, and making it easier to televise.

The marketing tactic worked. Viewers were far more excited about the WSOP final table, and the ratings were better than they had ever been before.

The reaction from players was not favorable. They felt like the delay interrupted the tournament and made it less authentic. But, WSOP and ESPN both made more money when the Final Table was aired live.

So, from 2008 until 2016, the Final Table occurred in November, instead of July. This event and the players who participated became known as the November Nine.

This delayed-ending format continued for the next eight tournaments. During 2012 and 2016, the Final Table technically occurred at the end of October so that the tournament didn’t interfere with the US election.

Technology advances have changed the way televised poker tournaments work. By 2011, ESPN and WSOP.com could air the Final Table event with only a five- to thirty-minute delay.

Those delays were necessary to make sure that players could not cheat.

If the footage was live-streamed in real-time, viewers could see other player’s hole cards and text them to someone in the live audience. That person could then give the players visual signals to help them win.

According to the Nevada Gaming Commission’s rules, streamed footage with a five-minute or fifteen-minute delay could not include hole card cameras.

The November Nine format continued through WSOP 2016. In 2017, WSOP and ESPN signed a digital media contract with Poker Central.

That contract removed the delayed Final Table format, so the remaining nine players can now finish their game in traditional tournament-style during July.

Other Notable WSOP Events

In 2020, the WSOP included 101 different events.

We won’t bore you by explaining all of the details of every single event. Instead, we will give you an overview of some of the most prominent events.

Ladies Championship Event

Only five percent of the poker players who participate in the World Series of Poker are female.

Women are allowed to participate in the Main Event, but only one woman has ever made it to the final table.

Barbara Enright is the only female who has ever made it to the final table, and that was in 1995 when only 273 players were competing.

While there is always a lot of attention given to the last woman standing in the Main Event, WSOP has also created a ladies-only event to give women a chance to compete against each other.

  • The WSOP Ladies Championship Event began in 1977 with a $100 buy-in seven-card stud tournament.
  • Jackie McDaniels won the inaugural event, which included a prize of $5,580 and a WSOP bracelet. It was the smallest cash prize in WSOP history.
  • Sally Boyer won $262,077 in 2007. It was the largest prize in the Ladies Championship Event history.

Since then, the Ladies Championship Event has happened every year. It was held on Mother’s Day for many years, but the women complained, so the tournament was moved to another day.

From 1977 until 1999, the Ladies Championship Event was played with seven-card stud. It switched to Texas hold ‘em in 2001, and during the 2000 WSOP included both games.

The buy-ins started at $100 in 1977, doubled to $200 in 1978, and doubled again the following year. From 1982 until 1991, the buy-in was $500, and it increased to $1000 from 1992 to 2012.

While the Ladies Championship Event is supposed to be a ladies-only poker tournament, a few men felt discriminated against. The WSOP could not legally block men from participating in the ladies’ event.

In 2013, WSOP found a way to discourage men from entering the women’s tournament without actively discriminating against them.

They changed the buy-in for the tournament to $10,000, but they offer a $9,000 discount to female players.

If men want to participate in the Ladies Championship Event, they have to pay as much as they would to enter the Main Event, which offers significantly higher prizes.

Casino Employees Championship Event

The Casino Employees Championship is only open to people who are actively employed by a casino. This event got added to the WSOP in 2000 to honor all of the work that casino employees do for the tournament.

It was called the Dealers World Poker Championship during the first year because only dealers could participate. They opened it to all casino employees in 2001.

Professional poker players are not typically employed by a particular casino, so most of the Casino Employees Championship players are average hourly workers.

Some of them are dealers who are involved with poker games regularly, but other players might be janitorial staff or food service employees. The casino owners and executives are also eligible.

The variety of players from different backgrounds makes for an exciting dynamic that other WSOP events cannot replicate.

The Casino Employee Championship often highlights a rivalry between proposition players and dealers.

Proposition players are people that the casino hires to fill seats at the table or get games started. They have to play with their own money, but they receive a wage or a percentage of the rake. 

These proposition players typically have a working relationship with many dealers because they often play with them. The rivalry comes out when both of them end up on the same side of the table.

The Casino Employee Championship Event has always been a game of Texas hold ‘em. It was a limit game during the first four events but switched to the no-limit format after that.

Buy-ins were $500, but it increased to $565 in 2016. Chris Gros won $127,496 in 2006, which was the largest Casino Championship prize in tournament history.

Poker Player Championship

Some critics don’t believe that the Main Event winner should be called the World Champion of poker because they don’t think the Main Event requires a diverse set of skills.

Daniel Negreanu argued that a pot-limit format would be a better way to determine the world champion based on their poker skills.

In response to some of those critics, the WSOP created the Poker Player Championship Event. It has a $50,000 buy-in, which discourages amateur players from joining.

More importantly, the Poker Player Championship is a mixed game format including different poker variations. Players have to be able to adapt.

All of the Poker Player Championship Winners have won at least $1 million. Freddy Deeb won the largest prize for this event when he won $2,276,832 in 2007.

David “Chip” Reese was the first player to win the Poker Player Championship Event in 2006. He tragically died just 18 months later.

The WSOP created David “Chip” Reese Memorial Trophy in his honor.

Each winner of the Poker Player Championship Event gets to keep the memorial trophy for one year, in addition to their cash prize and WSOP bracelet.

The Chip Reese Memorial Trophy.

Big One for One Drop Charity Event

In 2012, WSOP partnered with Guy Laliberte, the owner of Cirque du Soleil, to create the first WSOP fundraising event called the Big One for One Drop.

The One Drop Foundation is an international organization founded by Laliberte to support clean water initiatives and create public awareness about the lack of clean water.

Big One for One Drop is the highest buy-in poker tournament in the world. The buy-in is $1,000,000.

Eleven percent of each player’s buy-in gets donated to the One Drop Foundation, which equals $111,111 from each player. WSOP does not take a rake from the One Drop Event.

The first Big One for One Drop Event had a maximum of 48 players. Their massive buy-ins combined to offer a first-place prize of $18.3 million.

Antonio Esfandiari took home the prize, which is still the second-largest payout in poker history.

Between 2012 and 2018, WSOP has featured a charity event to support the One Drop Foundation. Some years they use the Big One for One Drop format, with $1 million buy-ins.

In other years, they offer a different event called High Roller for One Drop. The High Roller tournament only has a $100,000 buy-in so that more players can participate.

They still take 10% of the buy-in or $11,111 as a donation for the foundation.

World Series of Poker History

The World Series of Poker is the oldest poker tournament in the world.

Here is some information about how it has evolved over time.

Early Years of the WSOP

Binion's Horseshoe Casino

In 1970, the owner of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, Benny Binion, invited seven of the world’s best poker players to participate in the first World Series of Poker event.

It was a mixed game format that included five-card stud, 2-7 low-ball draw, razz, seven-card stud, and Texas hold‘em.

At the end of the tournament, all of the players voted for who they believed should win the title. Johnny Moss received the title of the first World Champion of Poker and a silver cup as his prize.

The following year, the WSOP as we know it began. It was an open Texas hold‘em tournament that anyone could enter. This time, they let the winner of the game be crowned the champion instead of voting for the winner.  

From there, the WSOP steadily grew, with more events, more players, and larger prizes each year.

In 1983, Eric Drache suggested the possibility of attracting participants through satellite tournaments. That idea spread the concept of the WSOP and attracted players from New Jersey and international casinos.

The WSOP continued to grow from there. Throughout the 1980s, every WSOP Main Event had at least 100 participants. By the turn of the century, that number had jumped to more than 500.

The slow and steady growth of the WSOP continued for three decades. But it was nothing compared to the poker explosion that was coming.

The Poker Boom and the WSOP

Between 2003 and 2006, poker exploded in the United States for several reasons.

  • In 2001, Party Poker and Poker Stars launched their online poker websites. They were not the first online poker sites in the US, but they quickly became the most popular.
  • In 2002, televised poker tournaments began using hole card cameras to show the viewers what cards the players were working with. This invention made televised poker similar to sporting events with accurate commentary.
  • In 2003, Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event. He was an amateur online player who won his buy-in through satellite tournaments. His story inspired thousands of poker players.
  • In 2004, Harrah’s Entertainment purchased the rights to the WSOP from the Binion’s Horseshoe Company. They moved the tournament to the Rio Casino the following year. The larger casino gave them more space for additional events.

These events combined to create a national fascination with poker, and the WSOP was the center of it all.

Other poker tournaments started, but none of them came close to the excitement and prestige that winning a WSOP bracelet could offer. 

The World Series of Poker hit its peak in 2006. That year had the highest number of participants (8,773), the largest prize pool, and the highest first-place prize ($12 million) in tournament history.

The US government had noticed the countries fixation on poker. Congress passed the UIGEA in 2006, which immediately altered the online poker industry in America.

WSOP was not limited to online poker, and the company was not running an online poker site at that time. The tournament was not violating UIGEA.

However, thousands of players used online poker satellite tournaments to qualify for the WSOP Main Event. The changes in the online poker industry slowed down the growth of the WSOP.

Global Expansion of the WSOP

After 2006, the American poker industry was unstable. The WSOP wanted to maintain its growth, so it decided to pursue international opportunities.

  • In 2007, the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) held its first tournament in London. Subsequent tournaments moved to Paris.
  • World Series of Poker Africa started in 2010 in South Africa. However, it is treated as a circuit event, so no bracelets are given out during the events.
  • In 2013, the World Series of Poker Asia Pacific launched at the Crown Melbourne Casino in Australia. It is the third bracelet-level WSOP tournament.
  • World Series of Poker created an International Circuit in 2015, with events in Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. It is not a bracelet event, but winners can earn a spot in the WSOP Global Casino Championship event.

These international events have solidified the WSOP as the most prominent poker tournament in the world.

Noteworthy WSOP Winners

Winning a World Series of Poker bracelet event is one of the most prestigious awards in the poker industry.

Here are a few of the most remarkable winners.

  • 1983: Carolyn Gardner wins the Ladies Championship Event, becoming the first person of color to win a WSOP bracelet.
  • 1990: Mansour Matloubi became the first non-American to win the WSOP.
  • 2003: Chris Moneymaker wins $2.5 million after entering a satellite tournament for only $86.
  • 2006: Jamie Gold wins $12 million, the largest Main Event prize in tournament history.
  • 2007: Annette Obrestad wins the first WSOPE, becoming the youngest person to ever win a WSOP Main Event. It was the day before her 19th
  • 2012: Antonio Esfandiari wins the Big One for One Drop event. He received $18.3 million in prize money, the largest single prize payout in tournament history.

There have been a few winners of multiple WSOP bracelets. Here are some that stand out.

  • Phil Hellmuth won the Main Event in 1989, and he won the Main Event in WSOPE in 2012. He has won 13 other WSOP bracelets for other events, earning him more WSOP bracelets than any other player.
  • Stu Ungar and Johnny Moss are the only players who have won the Main Event three times.

World Series of Poker Bracelets

A WSOP bracelet

The WSOP bracelets are the most coveted prize in poker. They were first offered in 1976, but the previous winners all received a bracelet retroactively.

These bracelets are equivalent to winning the Stanley Cup in Hockey or a championship ring in football. Most players consider their bracelets to be priceless.

Jennifer Tilly is an actress who was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress in 1995. She claims that her Ladies Championship Event bracelet is more valuable to her than her Oscar nomination.

However, that was not always the case. It took a while for the prestige of the bracelet to catch on.

Doyle Brunson has won ten bracelets, but admitted that he didn’t pick two of them up because he didn’t realize how valulable they were.

The design of the WSOP bracelets changes each year based on the manufacturer and designer.

They always include gold and diamonds. Some designs also include rubies and sapphires to represent the red and black colors of the cards.

Manufacturer Years
Mordechai Yerushalmi  1980-2004
Gold and Diamond International  2005
Frederick Goldman Inc  2006
Corum  2007-2009
On Tilt Jewelers  2010-2011
Jason Arasheben  2012- Present

How to Play in the WSOP

Now that you know all about the prestige and excitement of the WSOP, you might be wondering how you can join the fun for yourself.

There are only two requirements for entering the WSOP.

  • You must be of legal gambling age. If you are planning on participating in an event in the US, you have to be 21. Players in Europe can join at 18.
  • You have to buy or earn your seat.

There are two ways that you get a seat to the WSOP.

You can buy-in directly by paying the buy-in amount. If you want to participate in the Main Event, you will need $10,000. However, there are several other events that you can enter for smaller amounts.

The lowest buy-in for any WSOP bracelet event is $400. You can also enter circuit events for buy-ins starting at $215.

If you want to join the Main Event, but you don’t have an extra $10,000 laying around, you can join a satellite tournament.

Satellite tournaments are lower-stakes tournaments that offer buy-ins to other tournaments instead of cash prizes. There are many satellite tournaments offering a route to the WSOP Main Event, especially online.

You never know when an amateur is going to surprise everyone by taking home the bracelet. The next amateur winner could be you!

So, what are you waiting for? Check out our poker site recommendations and start playing today.