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Guide to the WSOP – History, Events & How to Play in the WSOP

One of the most alluring things about playing poker is that anyone has the ability to go from being merely a recreational player to playing on the largest stage the game has to offer where the best in the world battle it out for millions of dollars. Unlike other games and sports where most of us will never be able to compete on the highest level, anyone is allowed to give poker’s biggest stage a shot as long as they have the entry fee.

The stage we are talking about is the World Series of Poker. If you’ve ever watched poker on TV or read any stories about it in the news, the chances are good that you were watching or reading about the World Series of Poker (WSOP). From its humble beginnings of just a few of the best in the world, the WSOP has exploded in popularity to a global affair attracting thousands and thousands every year vying to leave their mark.

Before we go any further, we do want to dispel one of the biggest misconceptions about the WSOP. Many people are under the impression that the WSOP refers to the $10,000 buy-in Main Event at the end of the summer every year in Las Vegas. While this event is part of the WSOP and is usually referred to as the Championship event, it is only a part of the WSOP. The World SERIES of Poker is a series of events that are run every year to determine the best in all different formats of poker.

The WSOP refers to a collection of tournaments run every year, not just one event.

The Historic Rise of the WSOP

The World Series of Poker was the brainchild of famed gambler Benny Binion and took place in 1970. The turnout was a far cry from the thousands that play in WSOP events now. How far of a cry? Seven. There were literally seven people that played in the inaugural WSOP. Now, to be fair, the inaugural year of the WSOP was invitation only. The following year the tournament was converted to a public format with a $5,000 buy-in and only attracted six players and was a winner take all format.

The initial seven players included some of the most famous gamblers in the history of all forms of betting. They included Johnny Moss, Amarillo “Slim” Preston, Brian “Sailor” Roberts, Doyle Brunson, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Crandall Addington and Carl Cannon. Johnny Moss was the inaugural winner, though they determined that through voting instead of the traditional methods of a freezeout style tournament that was introduced in 1971.

In 1972, the buy-in was doubled to $10,000 and has been that way ever since. 10 years later the series had only grown to 52 entrants, still a far cry from where it is today. Up until 1976, all winners were given a silver cup. In 1976, this was changed to awarding gold bracelets which has been the case ever since. All winners before 1976 were retroactively awarded bracelets for their wins.

In 2004, the event would skyrocket to an impressive 1000+ entrants thanks to a random accountant from Tennessee with one of the most foreshadowing of names one could expect.

The Moneymaker Effect

In 2003, Chris Moneymaker – a 27-year-old accountant and amateur poker player won a couple satellite tournaments on PokerStars to earn himself a seat to the 2003 WSOP Main Event. A satellite tournament is a way for a player to play a smaller buy-in tournament to try and win a seat in a larger buy-in tournament.

For example, if 100 people want to play in the $10,000 Main Event, they might all play in a smaller buy-in tournament for say $500. 100 players paying an entry fee or $500 means there is $50,000 in the satellite tournament prize pool. Divide that by $10,000, and the top five finishers in this tournament will get a seat into the $10,000 buy-in event. Satellites can sometimes run as small as $0.01 and will usually have satellites to win seats into bigger satellites.

These are referred to as step tournaments. Let’s say your ultimate goal is to play in the $10,000 WSOP Main Event, but you don’t want to put up $10,000. You look and see that the $500 satellite we mentioned above is running, but you don’t want to put up $500. They may run a smaller satellite for let’s say 100 people at $25 which would award five seats to the $500 satellite. So you could effectively buy-in to the first step of the satellite for $25, win a seat into the $500 satellite, and then win that and you would be playing in the $10,000 WSOP Main Event for only $25.

Chris Moneymaker who was by no stretch a pro player (he was a complete amateur) did just this and won his seat in the WSOP Main Event. He then went on to win the Main Event for $2.5 million. This made every single person in America who thought they were great at poker to believe they too could go on to win the Main Event.

In 2003, there were 839 entrants. In 2004, there were 2,576, and in 2005 there were 5,619. Fast-forward to 2016, and there were 6,737 players in the WSOP Main Event. This has been labeled the Moneymaker effect and is the sole reason that poker is as famous and profitable as it is today.

Going Global

Following this boom in the United States, the WSOP decided to expand its reach having the inaugural World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE). The first year was only three events which included a 10,000 GBP Main Event that was won by Annette Obrestad, a 19-year-old girl from Norway. With the successful expansion into Europe, the WSOP continued its expansion with events in Africa and Asia.

The expansion also continued in the United States with the number of events being run each year greatly increasing as well. Remember, the World SERIES of Poker is not just one event but a series of events that culminate in the Main Event that is usually referred to as the Championship.

The Events

As we’ve mentioned, the World Series of Poker is a full series of events consisting of all different buy-ins and all different variations of the game of poker. As the years have gone on, the creativity in the types of tournaments has also increased with some more unusual type tournaments being added. In 2017, there will be nearly 75 different bracelet events which are more than double the number of tournaments run in 2004 (32).

Texas Hold em is by far the most popular game played in these tournaments, though there are many variations that are played in the WSOP. On top of the game variations, there are several different format variations that are applied as well to make for more tournaments.

Here are some of the more notable tournaments that are offered every year in the WSOP.

Blackjack Games$10,000 Main Event

This is the biggest and most prestigious of the events offered at the WSOP. For those people that make the mistake of the thinking, the WSOP is one tournament, this is the tournament they think that it is. This is the event that gets all of the media coverage and is plastered all over ESPN. First place in this tournament is usually well north of $5 million dollars and in recent years, every player who made the final table has been guaranteed $1 million minimum in payout.

Before 2008, the Main Event was played until they had reached a winner. After 2008, though, they enacted something they were calling the November 9 where the final 9 players would leave the tournament in late July and would return in November to play down to a winner. The idea was to allow the media to get to know all of the players and build up some more excitement for the final table. This continued until 2017 when the tournament reverted back to its original play to the finish format.

Blackjack Games$50,000 Poker Player Championship

This event is a mixed game format with one of the biggest buy-ins of the series. If you ask a lot of professional players, this event is the real Championship as it requires players to be good at all variations of poker and not just Texas Hold em. The counter argument is that due to the extremely high buy-in, it eliminates some players who might be better but don’t have the bankroll to play in a $50k event.

Blackjack GamesSenior Events

These are events that you must be of a certain age to participate in. In 2017, there will be a regular senior’s event and a super senior’s event with minimum ages being 50 and 65, respectively. The event also usually starts earlier and has shorter days to accommodate the older entrants.

Blackjack GamesEmployee Event

This is always the opening event of the summer and is limited to Caesar’s employees only. This does not just mean the staff in Vegas but from any of their properties worldwide. The buy-in is $500 and is always a fan favorite as you get the opportunity to root on your favorite dealer or staff member from your home casino.

Blackjack GamesLadies Event

This event was originally designed to be for women only, but due to the fact they can’t actually keep people out based on gender, it has caused some issues. Men have decided they wanted to play in the event and there was nothing the casino could initially do about it. The WSOP response was to allow both genders to play, but to on the $10,000 buy-in.

In addition to these staple events you see every year now, the WSOP has also added a lot of newer unique events to try and appeal to the masses. These events have been wildly successful in bringing in huge numbers of people and generating massive prize pools.

Blackjack GamesThe Colossus

The first year they introduced this it became a smash hit breaking attendance records by becoming the largest poker tournament in history. With a buy-in of only $565, it gives a lot of people that might otherwise not have the opportunity, the chance to win a WSOP bracelet. The tournament is so massive that the first day has to be broken up into six different flights/starting days.

Blackjack GamesThe Millionaire Maker

This event guarantees that the first-place winner will walk away a millionaire. The buy-in is a relatively cheap $1,500 (2017) compared to the payout structure and other events. This is another popular event, too, which is always expected to draw 6000+ players.

Blackjack GamesTag Team

Players get to make teams of 2-4 players and take turns playing at the tables. If you’re familiar with WWE wrestling tag team matches, this is essentially the same thing but with fewer tables getting smashed over people’s heads. The last ‘team’ event held at the WSOP was back in 1983.

Blackjack GamesThe Giant

On the back of the success of The Colossus, the WSOP is introducing The Giant for the 2017 series. This has a $365 buy-in, the lowest of all the tournaments, and also allows unlimited re-buys. This one is expected to be huge (like the Colossus), as the buy-in is within reach of just about anyone.

The Giant also has multiple starting flights, which is another way of saying starting days. What’s interesting about this, in particular, is that, if you want, you can forfeit your chips from one day if you wish to start over again in another flight on one of the remaining days. You can also cash in multiple flights, so long as you make it to the top 15% of any one flight, but don’t survive the flight with chips.

Blackjack GamesThe Marathon

This is a no limit hold em tournament with a $2,620 buy-in. You start with 26,200 chips, and there are 100-minute levels. Between the stack and levels, this nearly mirrors the structure used by the Main Event.

Who Can Play

One of the biggest reasons that the World Series of Poker is so big is that the limitations and requirements to enter are so small. Here’s a complete list of the requirements to play in the WSOP.

  • You must be 21 years of age or older
  • You must have the money to buy-in

If you’re looking for the rest of the list, that is it. You only need to be 21 years old and have the money to buy-in to the tournament. The ability to play on the highest stage and mix it up with the best in the world with such ease is one of the coolest aspects of poker. If you wanted to go play in the Superbowl, the biggest stage in Football, you can’t unless you earn a spot on a team and win your way there which most of us will never do. With poker, though, you can be there by being 21 and having the buy-in money.

How to Play

Playing in the World Series of Poker does not require any sort of special license or anything like that. You simply need to show up in Las Vegas with your ID and money in hand, and you will be allowed to play. This is referred to as buying in directly. You are not playing in a satellite or trying to win a seat into the event; you are showing up and paying your entry fee.

range from $333 on up to $111,1111.

Few people – other than well bankrolled or backed pros – will be able to bankroll the entire series. It’ll cost you tens of thousands in buy-ins alone.


Someone did the math for the 2016 WSOP and found that it would take $410,805 to buy into every WSOP bracelet event once. But that doesn’t matter too much anyway because unless you immediately busted out of every tournament, you wouldn’t have the time to play in every single one anyway. Most tournaments will overlap, and they have to in order to get through 70+ tournaments in 8-ish weeks.

Also, remember that you do not have to play in every event and a ton of players only play in one or just a few. You are not required to play in the entire series or anything like that.

You can buy-in with cash, casino chips, or a debit/credit card in person at the Rio in Las Vegas. You can also pre-register online for events by wiring money to the casino or sending a cashier’s check with a form that is available from the WSOP.

As we discussed earlier, you also have the ability to satellite into tournaments through satellites run at your home casino, tournaments run in Vegas, or several online poker sites will run satellites to the events. If you win a satellite online, you may also be given some travel money and/or hotel accommodations included to make your trip easier.

When you win a satellite, it will be handled one of two ways. You may just be given cash and then asked to go buy-in yourself, or the online site or casino may buy you into the tournament directly. With the first option, you can of course just choose to keep the money and not play in the tournament. There are a lot of poker professionals that play satellites only to make money and just pocket the cash from winning those.

The Take Aways

  • The WSOP is considered the Championship of poker and winners receive bracelets and cash prizes.
  • The WSOP is not one tournament but a series of events. The Main Event is the most prestigious and notable of these events.
  • The WSOP started in 1970 with only 7 players and has grown to over 6000+ players every year.
  • The WSOP has expanded to Europe, Africa, and Asia with more events there.
  • To enter, you only need to be 21 years of age or older and have the money to buy-in.
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