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  • Hold Me, Darling (Part 3)

    By Anthony Holden

    Anthony Holden’s new poker strategy manual, HOLDEN ON HOLD’EM, is published this week by Little, Brown. By way of celebration, is proud to present an exclusive, five-part extract chronicling the origins and history of Texas Hold’em.

    Bill Boyd, Sid Wyman, Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, ‘Sailor’ Roberts, Amarillo Slim, Jack Straus, Crandell Addington – nearly all the legendary players we have already met, with the notable exception of Major Riddle, were sooner or later accorded places in the Poker Hall of Fame established in 1979. As indeed was the toughest entrepreneur of them all, if not himself much of a player, Benny Binion – none too surprising, since Binion himself founded the Hall of Fame on a suggestion from his then poker manager, Eric Drache, as a marketing ploy for an annual tournament he started in 1970 called the World Series of Poker (WSOP). In 2005 Binion’s son and successor Jack was also enrolled in the Hall of Fame, for his role in maintaining and building the World Series through the latter decades of the twentieth century.

    Today, thanks to the TV and online poker ‘boom’ of the early 21st Century, the WSOP has grown into a massive annual jamboree involving some 50,000 registered players from all over the world – almost 9,000 of whom paid (or won) the $10,000 entry fee to play in the 2006 ‘main event’, a ten-day No Limit Hold’em tournament whose winner is crowned world champion, with a first prize that year of $12 million, far the largest in all sport. Of the fifty-four events at the 2008 World Series, more than forty involved some form of Hold’em.

    Back in 1970, the first WSOP at Binion’s ended in a steak dinner in the Sombrero Room, where the handful of participants were asked to vote on whom they considered the best all-round player. Down to a man, of course, each player voted for himself. ‘I couldn’t understand why the fuck anybody would want to vote,’ said Amarillo Slim. ‘We played for a lot of money, and that was the vote.’ So they were all asked to vote again, this time for the player they considered the best – apart from themselves. The answer came up Johnny Moss, who thus found himself elected the first official world champion of poker.

    The following year the title was decided, as it has been ever since, by a knockout tournament (or ‘freezeout’), whose entry fee of $10,000 has remained unchanged since the third WSOP in 1972. In the 1980s Eric Drache transformed the event by coming up with the idea of the ‘satellite’ – a single-table, ten-player, $1,000-entry freezeout whose winner would play in the ‘main event’ for a mere thou; 1983 saw Tom McEvoy become the first world champion to have won his way into the event via this route.

    By 1991 the first prize (won that year by local pro Brad Daugherty) had become a guaranteed $1 million; as of 2000, and the arrival of internet poker, rising young professionals like Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Carlos ‘The Matador’ Mortensen started to win first prizes in excess of a million. In the first few years of the 21st Century, through sheer force of numbers, the centre of gravity in the WSOP ‘main event’ has shifted from pros to amateurs, with each of the nine players to reach the final table becoming dollar millionaires – and that awesome first prize, by 2006, of $12 million.

    Poker mythology gives Benny Binion the credit for launching the event that has done more than any other, before the launch of television’s World Poker Tour in 2003, to make Hold’em the world’s favourite poker game. But the honours should be shared with the man who gave Binion the idea – literally handed it him, at no charge, on a silver platter – by inviting him in 1969 to a ‘Texas Gamblers Reunion’ in Reno, Nevada. Among those present was, guess who, Crandell Addington.

    Tom Moore was the reason that Hold’em had, in Addington’s well-chosen word, ‘gypsied’ its way from San Antonio to Reno, Nevada, en route to Las Vegas. In 1969 Moore staged the week-long ‘reunion’ to boost the slow season at his Holiday Hotel. The twenty or so players to show up included all the usual suspects: Moss, Preston, Brunson, Roberts, McCorquodale, Addington, ‘Puggy’ Pearson, Benny and Jack Binion. Even the legendary pool player Minnesota Fats came along for the ride – as did the notorious hit-man Charles Harrelson, a convicted contract killer, father of the actor Woody.

    They had such a wild time at Moore’s riverside casino, playing a series of poker games across the different disciplines, as to nickname the event ‘The World Series of Poker’. The winner that first year was Crandell Addington – who never again managed to win the world title, once it was so called, but went on to finish in the top ten no fewer than eight times, a record unequalled as of 2007. The following year Moore sold his interest in the Holiday and passed the WSOP baton to his pal Benny Binion, who put his son Jack in charge. They invited the same dozen big-time poker players – plus a few more, including the amateurs ‘Doc’ Green and Curtis ‘Iron Man’ Skinner – to come to the Horseshoe in downtown Vegas for a few days in May and play the game in all its many forms. But the ‘main event’, from the very start, gave the world title to the winner of the Texas Hold’em freezeout.


    Extracted from Anthony Holden’s new poker strategy guide, HOLDEN ON HOLD’EM, published by Little, Brown on 6 November.

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