THE WSOP NAME GAME
When the idea of a poker world championship was first conceived, there were several names worthy of the grand occasion.
One feasible title for the new championship was the World Series of Poker. Other names from the sports world were also considered, most notably the Super Bowl of Poker.
"World Series" and "Super Bowl" were obvious frontrunners, for good reason. Both were monumental names connected to proven championship entities in major sports. Although the first Super Bowl game had been played just four years earlier, by 1970 it was already regarded as pro football’s most meaningful contest. Baseball's World Series enjoyed a much greater legacy dating back several decades and was unmistakably linked to America’s pastime. An inaugural gathering like a so-called poker world championship hoping to gain instant recognition would have been wise to pick out a name associated with either of the nation's two most popular sports.
So, why was "World Series" chosen over "Super Bowl?" To find out, we went directly to the source and asked Jack Binion. His explanation as to why he chose the "World Series of Poker" among the list of possibilities appears at the end of this column.
Although the championship came to be known as the World Series of Poker, a rival tournament called the Super Bowl of Poker did become a reality some years later. The annual gathering was patterned after the WSOP and included a series of tournaments with steadily-higher buy-ins culminating in a $10,000 Main Event finale. It was first held in 1979 at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Reno. Just like the WSOP, the Super Bowl of Poker attracted the game's best players and biggest names. After its initial success that first year, the week-long tournament series caravanned back and forth between different casinos for the next dozen years before finally fading away into near oblivion during the early 1990s.
It’s sad, really. The Super Bowl of Poker deserved a better fate. At the very least, it should be remembered fondly by all those who revere the game. For many years, it was the world’s second-largest poker competition. Winning a Super Bowl of Poker championship was nearly as prestigious as collecting the coveted WSOP gold bracelet in today's poker world -- a perspective no doubt shared by the late Stu Ungar, who incredibly won three Main Event titles each, both at the Super Bowl as well as the World Series.
Another major poker tournament held many years ago which borrowed its name from the sports world was called the Grand Prix of Poker. It took place during the 1980s. The Grand Prix tournament ran over a number of consecutive years at the Golden Nugget, located directly across the street from Binion’s Horseshoe. At the time, WSOP attendance and prize money were stagnant. Meanwhile, Grand Prix figures grew steadily over the years. Some thought it might even come to challenge the WSOP in terms of prestige. But changes in Golden Nugget ownership and management in addition to the expansion of poker in California where newer and bigger tournaments began to blossom at bigger casinos eventually doomed the Grand Prix to the dust bin of history. Accordingly, the Grand Prix of Poker took its sullen place alongside the Super Bowl of Poker and countless other tournaments in the equivalent of a poker boneyard, now long since forgotten.
POKER'S SUPER BOWL
It’s fitting that the 2011 World Series of Poker's official schedule was released on the eve of the Super Bowl, or more precisely the Super Bowl of football. The two competitions share some similar traditions and encompass comparable surroundings. Both have become larger-than-life public and media extravaganzas which occasionally upstage the actual competition.
Both the Super Bowl and WSOP were created during an era when the host nation was in the midst of turmoil. Yet they have evolved into undeniable symbols of unity through common desires and shared experiences -- both among those who participate as well as those who attend merely to observe.
Both contests have matured into something far bigger than was originally intended by their creators and by consequence, are far more significant than niche sideshows which appeal only to the game's most hardcore fans. In fact, ordinary citizens utterly unconnected to either football or poker often see at least part of the Super Bowl game and/or will see at the very least a few minutes of WSOP coverage when its broadcast on television. Some events are so intrusive they become not just part of our culture, but in many ways come to actually define it.
A LOOK AHEAD AT THE 2011 WSOP
Let's talk about the official WSOP schedule which was released last week. A quick overview shows that most of the things which helped to funnel record overall attendance into the Rio last summer and generate near-unanimous positive reviews during last year’s WSOP will remain in place. Borrowing from the old cliché, “If it’s not broke, don’t try and fix it,” the WSOP is determined to make sure the things that worked last year will remain an integral component of this year’s operations.
Nevertheless, improvements are always possible. If the WSOP was graded with a B+ for last year’s effort, the goal in 2011 will be to garner as many A’s as possible. Borrowing a few song titles from classic rockers David Bowie and Led Zeppelin, here’s a glance at both the changes and similarities which can be expected at the 42nd Annual WSOP, to be held May 31st through July 19th.
"CHANGES" -- NEW IMPROVEMENTS IN 2011
Hard-Stop Times Nightly for Tournaments -- For the first time ever, tournament play for all WSOP gold bracelet events -- other than the $10,000 buy-in Main Event championship -- will conclude nightly at a predetermined time, regardless of the number of players still remaining. In past years, some playing days ran exceedingly long. Some third days and final tables ended at sunrise, a day later than originally planned. This year, the first day of noon tournaments will end at approximately 12:45 am each night. Tournaments starting at 5 pm will conclude play at approximately 2:00 nightly. Those fortunate to survive and make it to the second day and beyond will play a maximum of ten (one-hour) levels daily, regardless of the number of players remaining. This means several tournaments that used to take three very long days (in years past) to conclude will now take place over four more leisurely playing days. Players should be better rested.
Extended Tournament Registration Periods -- In the past, most WSOP tournaments kept registration open through the end of the second level of play. However, the registration period will be extended, starting this year. Registration will not close until the end of the fourth level of play. The only tournament which will close registration immediately after two levels will be the $10,000 buy-in Main Event championship. However, since the Main Event includes two-hour levels (rather than one-hour levels), this means the duration of the open registration time will be about the same.
More Gold Bracelet Events and Wider Diversity of Games and Buy-Ins -- There will be a grand total of 58 gold bracelet events played in Las Vegas, this year (Note: Additional gold bracelet events will be held at WSOP Europe and will be announced later). This represents an increase of one event from recent years, which included 57 tournaments. Given attendance increases over the past few years, adding one gold bracelet event seems quite reasonable. The newest high-profile addition to the tournament schedule will be a $25,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Heads-Up championship, which will be limited to 256 entrants. This will be the first open event on the 50-day schedule.
Start Days (Four Flights) for $10,000 Main Event Championship Moved Away from the July 4th Holiday -- Independence Day presented some difficulties in recent years. Many poker players prefer not to play on the host nation’s birthday. Consequently, starting field sizes on July 4th were considerably lower than all the other three start days. In order to balance the field and create four days with about the same number of players, the Main Event will start three days later, during July 7-10. However, plenty of poker will still be taking place at the Rio with the continuation of $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tournament as well as the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship. The 4th of July will also include cash games, satellites, and deep stack tournaments.
Pre-Registration Opens Earlier than Ever Before -- Pre-registration for all WSOP tournaments opens on Monday, February 7th. This is the earliest time in history that the WSOP will accept entries. Players may register in person at the Rio's Main Cage or online at: www.WSOP.COM/registration.
Economical Hotel Rates and More Choices -- Caesars Entertainment owns and operates a wide variety of first-class properties convenient to the WSOP with plenty of hotel space. However, hotel rooms are expected to fill up fast for the busiest periods of play during this year’s series. Hotel rates are as low as $35 per night at the Imperial Palace. The Rio, Harrah’s, Bally’s Flamingo, Paris, Planet Hollywood and Caesars Palace range in price from $45 up to $110 per night. SPECIAL WSOP HOTEL RATES for players are available.
"THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME" -- THINGS UNLIKELY TO CHANGE FROM 2010 TO 2011
Ample Poker Tables and Plenty of Tournament Floor Space – At last year’s WSOP, for the first time since the tournament's humble beginnings, the playing area had enough space to host tens of thousands of visitors who came to Las Vegas from all over the world. There were 370 poker tables for use. Just as important, aisles and hallways funneling foot traffic around the massive tournament rooms were well organized and easily navigable. The end result was a more enjoyable and less-hectic player experience appreciated by just about everyone in attendance. This year’s WSOP is expected to maintain the same basic footprint that was successful in 2010.
Saturday and Sunday Tournaments Welcome the “Weekend Warriors” – Huge field sizes at all the $1,000 and $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournaments at last year’s WSOP proved once and for all players will enter as many of the lower-cost gold bracelet events as can fit onto the schedule. Once again this year, the WSOP will meet player demands and will roll out the red carpet every weekend for more casual poker players, many of whom are first-timers. Most Saturdays feature a $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event. Most Sundays include a $1,000 buy-in event.
Great Tournament Structures and Plenty of Starting Chips – All WSOP gold bracelet tournaments will provide players with triple the number of starting chips as the amount of the buy-in. Furthermore, deep structures which have won near unanimous praise from everyone connected to tournament poker will remain in place. This allows players the greatest possible amount of time for play at all stages of the tournament and provides for a fair competition which accentuates the skill factor in poker.
Seniors Championship and Ladies Championship Legacy Continues – These two tournaments are among the most anticipated events of the year in poker. Fortunately, they remain part of the WSOP tradition in 2011. Last year’s Seniors Championship demolished the previous record for attendance, attracting a whopping 3,142 entrants. The Ladies Championship, the largest participated ladies event on the calendar each year, was also successful and will bring in many new players to the WSOP.
Those are just a few of the high points. There’s a lot more to mention. In coming weeks and months ahead, we’ll take a closer look at non-gold bracelet tournaments, single-table satellites and mega-satellites, as well as cash games taking place at the Rio during the 2011 WSOP.
Here's a FAQ sheet which contains additional information for players.
JACK BINION REMEMBERS
So, how did poker’s grandest and most prestigious international attraction become known as the WORLD SERIES OF POKER instead of something else?
To find out, we went directly to the source.
WSOP founder and patriarch Jack Binion recalled events from more than forty years ago and explained what caused him to decide upon the World Series name.
“To be perfectly honest it was the only thing I could think of at the time,” said Binion. “But if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have instead called it the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OF POKER.”
To think, we might instead be calling all this the "WCOP," if Binion had a magic time machine.
Binion remembered that no name seemed to be the perfect fit for what he envisioned. What little discussion occured took less than a day and he ultimately made the decision. Part of his reasoning was the very first poker gathering would not be a series of tournaments at all, like it is today. That notion came a few years later (in 1973, when more tournaments were added to the schedule). When the World Series name was decided upon, it came to actually define a series of side games that might eventually culiminate in some sort of competition for the top prize. That first year, the "competition" was a vote.
"We couldn't call it the Super Bowl," Binion recalled. "The Super Bowl was big back then, but nothing like it is today. I just thought the World Series of Poker had a nice ring to it and went with that."
Nevertheless, Binion would like to go back in time and make at least one change to the tradition he created.
“To this day I just think WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP sounds better,” Binion stated. “When people come to Las Vegas from all over the world, they should have announced to everyone they are coming to play in poker’s world championship. But, it’s too late to change things now, isn’t it?”
Despite Binion’s candor, the World Series of Poker is very much here to stay -- both in name and in stature. The name has become widely associated with a mythological history and an even more promising future. The name is instantly recognized by hundreds of millions of people, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Media and pop culture now abbreviate the tournament series simply as "WSOP." Four simple letters have taken a rightful place alongside revered institutions such as the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and NASCAR.
Binion may prefer something other than "World Series." But his initial instincts were proven correct. The WSOP has a nice ring to it. Scratch that. Instead, make that, a gold bracelet to it.