For cricket and soccer, think the World Cup. For American Football, think the Super Bowl. And for poker, think the World Series of Poker.
The WSOP is THE ultimate test of poker skills, an annual event held at the glamorous Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas from May to July that features almost 60 poker tournament events that cover every poker discipline imaginable.
From a $1,000 No Limit Hold'em tourney to a $100,000 buy-in charity event to a $5,000 Seven Card Stud, if there's a poker variant invented, chances are you can bag yourself a gold bracelet in it at the WSOP.
The showpiece is the $10,000 No Limit Hold'em Main Event, and for those Aussies without the 10k to buy-in direct, there are plenty of online satellites to get in for less.
A Brief History Of The WSOP
The first WSOP in 1970 was far removed from the media circus of today. Back then, just a handful of poker players anted up the $10,000 to enter, with the winner decided by a secret ballot based on the 'best player at the tournament'. Unfortunately, everyone voted for themselves, so the following year a straight No Limit Hold'em 'freezeout' was played.
The 'Moneymaker Effect'
As the WSOP grew in popularity, more and more events were added, but even up until the 1990s, only a few hundred players would turn out for the showpiece $10k Main Event. In 2003, however, the aptly-named Chris Moneymaker became the first online qualifier to win the Main Event, having won through satellites on PokerStars for the lowly sum of $70.
In 2004, the Moneymaker Effect was in full 'effect' as almost 3,000 players turned out for the Main Event. Numbers peaked in 2006 with 8,773 runners for the big one, and entrant figures have remained strong ever since. In 2013, 58 separate poker tournaments – and gold bracelets – were won and awarded.
Big Winners At The World Series
The pre-Internet boom of the early 2000s saw a slew of old-school legends triumph at the WSOP tables, first at its traditional home of Binion's Horseshoe in Downtown Vegas, and then at its new home of the Rio. Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson won the Main Event twice during the 1970s, while one of the true legends of the game, Stu Ungar, took down the showpiece event three times – 1980, 1981, and again in 1997, a year before his death.
In terms of bracelets, Phil Hellmuth – who won the Main Event in 1989 – holds the record with 13 WSOP tournament wins. It will take some effort to unseat him.
The WSOP record payouts toppled during the 2000s as more and more online qualifiers continued to pad out the prizepool. Jamie Gold still holds the record for the biggest WSOP prize after he won a first place haul of $12 million in 2006. 2013's champion, 23 year old Michigan man, Ryan Riess, still took down an $8.3 million first prize, despite the US having effectively shut up shop for American online qualifiers since 2006.
It's in the WSOP's $100,000 buy-in charity event – the Big One for One Drop – that the biggest ever prize has been seen, however. Antonio Esfandiari took down a staggering $18 million for first place in 2012.
WSOP Events Around The World
If you thought the World Series was all about Vegas, think again. In 2007 the WSOP Europe hit London, with just three events played out. In 2013, Cannes in France plays host to a widely expanded WSOPE, with gold bracelets given out to some of the world's best players.
However, 2013 also saw the introduction of the WSOP APAC (Asia Pacific) with a small series of events held at Melbourne's Crown Casino. With poker booming in Asia right now, it was just a matter of time before the World Series touched down on this side of the world, and fingers crossed we get another WSOP Down Under next year.
How Can I Qualify?
If you want to try and qualify for the WSOP Main Event, you're in luck. Around spring time, many online poker rooms launch qualifying satellites with various systems so you can make it to the Rio for mere dollars.
As with all online satellite packages – where sites will guarantee one or two regardless of entrants – make sure the site you play at has decent player traffic so that the qualifier prizepools are nice and juicy. The more players there are trying to qualify online, the more packages there will be on offer.
Satellites often start at just $1 (or less!) with weekly or monthly finals giving away the big prizes. You can normally jump in the qualifying ladder at any level depending on your wallet.
Aussie WSOP Packages
Check out sites like 888 Poker, PokerStars, and Full Tilt – all reputable sites with experience in giving away packages. WSOP qualifying packages will normally consist of the $10,000 Main Event buy-in plus travel costs and expenses. And if you're flying from Sydney or Perth, those travel costs can really add up.
These days, however, some online rooms are offering 'Pick Your Own' packages to the World Series, where you can opt to play in some of the smaller WSOP events, like the very popular $1,000 No Limit Hold'em tournaments. These tournaments still award gold bracelets and give you a taste of Vegas in the summer. With the lower buy-in it means you may end up paying out less in online qualifier buy-ins over time.