World Series of Poker – Biggest Prize Payouts & Past Winners

Posted by Veronica Taylor . Last updated:

Everything You Need to Know About the World’s Biggest Poker Event

Many people think of the World Series of Poker as a single tournament. While it did start that way, it is now a huge event. There are now more than 60 tournaments each year in the WSOP. The biggest of them all is the ‘Main Event’. This crowns poker’s World Champion each year – and attracts a lot of media attention.

This page has everything you need to know about the World Series of Poker. It covers WSOP history, past winners and how the event is organized. You will also find out about different ways of qualifying – so you can take a shot yourself next time around!

Here is how this World Series of Poker Guide is organized:

World Series of Poker History

If you could travel back in time to the first WSOP event in 1970, you likely would not recognize it compared to today. It was organized by casino owner Benny Binion – and held at the Horseshoe casino in downtown Las Vegas. There were only seven players to this invitation-only event.

Even more surprising, the winner was decided by a vote among the players!

The inaugural event was won by Johnny Moss – one of the only players to pick up three Main Event wins.

Things gathered pace only slowly. Even though the event became open to anyone with $10,000 to enter, the field did not reach 100 until 1982. Some of the most infamous poker players won during those years. They included Doyle Brunson, Walter Pearson and Stu Unger.

An epic battle between two of poker’s biggest names took place as the tournament grew at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Johnny Chan won the event in 1987 and 1988 – and was heads-up for the title in 1989. In his way was a young upstart named Phil Hellmuth, who took the title and a to-date record prize of more than $750,000.

Fields and prize pools continued to grow – as did the number of tournaments scheduled each year.

Things got a huge boost in 2003. This is considered the event which started the huge online poker boom of the following years. It was down to an accountant named Chris Moneymaker. He won an online satellite qualifier at PokerStars in a $33 tournament. This gave him entry into the Main Event, which he then won for a huge $2.5 million.

This caught the imagination of recreational poker players around the world. It led to a boom in the fields at the WSOP, and the prize pools. In 2006 the field was big enough to make the first prize a staggering $12 million. This went to Jamie Gold.

By then the WSOP had moved to the Rio Casino, under new ownership from Harrah’s. It continued to expand in terms of the number of events. Each one awarding a coveted WSOP bracelet.

Today the fields are around 6500 players, with around $10 million for first place. The ‘Main Event’ is still considered the decider for poker’s World Champion, though it is far from the biggest buy-in on the schedule. That accolade goes to the $1 million buy-in ‘One Drop’, which has a charity element and attracts the biggest names from around the world.

World Series of Poker Records and Main Event Winners

Over the years some staggering amounts of real money have been won at the WSOP. Here are some of the current records:

  • Most Main Event Wins: This is a tie at 3 apiece between Johnny Moss and Stu Ungar.
  • Biggest Main Event Prize: The 2006 title had a prize of $12,000,000 which was taken by Jamie Gold.
  • Most WSOP Gold Bracelets: Former Main Event champion Phil Hellmuth holds this record, with 13 wins to his name.
  • Biggest Single Cash: This was a staggering $18.3 million, won by Antonio Esfandiari in the 2012 ‘Big One for the Drop’ tournament.

List of All WSOP Main Event Winners 1970 – 2019

Below you will find a list of all of the WSOP Main Event winners, together with (rounded) prize money:

  • 2019 – ?
  • 2018 – John Cynn – $8.8 million
  • 2017 – Scott Blumstein – $8.1 million
  • 2016 – Qui Nguyen – $8 million
  • 2015 – Joe McKeehen – $7.7 million
  • 2014 – Martin Jacobson – $10 million
  • 2013 – Ryan Riess – $8.3 million
  • 2012 – Greg Merson – $8.5 million
  • 2011 – Pius Heinz – $8.7 million
  • 2010 – Jonathan Duhamel – $8.7 million
  • 2009 – Joe Cada – $8.5 million
  • 2008 – Peter Eastgate – $9.1 million
  • 2007 – Jerry Jang – $8.2 million
  • 2006 – Jamie Gold – $12 million
  • 2005 – Joe Hachem – $7.5 million
  • 2004 – Greg Raymer – $5 million
  • 2003 – Chris Moneymaker – $2.5 million
  • 2002 – Robert Varkonyi – $2 million
  • 2001 – Juan Carlos Mortensen – $1.5 million
  • 2000 – Chris Ferguson – $1.5 million
  • 1999 – Noel Furlong – $1 million
  • 1998 – Scotty Nguyen – $1 million
  • 1997 – Stu Ungar – $1 million
  • 1996 – Huck Seed – $1 million
  • 1995 – Dan Harrington – $1 million
  • 1994 – Russ Hamilton – $1 million
  • 1993 – Jim Bechtel – $1 million
  • 1992 – Hamid Dasmalchi – $1 million
  • 1991 – Brad Daugherty – $1 million
  • 1990 – Mansour Matloubi – $900k
  • 1989 – Phil Hellmuth – $750k
  • 1988 – Johnny Chan – $700k
  • 1987 – Johnny Chan – $625k
  • 1986 – Berry Johnson – $570k
  • 1985 – Bill Smith – $700k
  • 1984 – Jack Keller – $660k
  • 1983 – Tom McEvoy – $540k
  • 1982 – Jack Strauss – $520k
  • 1981 – Stu Ungar – $375k
  • 1980 – Stu Ungar – $385k
  • 1979 – Hal Fowler – $270k
  • 1978 – Bobby Baldwin – $210k
  • 1977 – Doyle Brunson – $340k
  • 1976 – Doyle Brunson – $220k
  • 1975 – Brian Roberts – $210k
  • 1974 – Johnny Moss – $160k
  • 1973 – Walter Pearson – $130k
  • 1972 – Thomas Preston – $80k
  • 1971 – Johnny Moss – $30k
  • 1970 – Johnny Moss (prize unknown)

Today’s Packed World Series of Poker Schedule

With more than 60 tournaments to choose from, the current WSOP schedule has options for everyone. This changes each year, with new events added. Below you will find the main categories – and some individual ‘staples’ which appear year after year.

#1 – Championship Events

Each of the main poker games has a ‘championship’ event. These have a $10k buy-in and attract the best players in each format. They include Pot-Limit Omaha, Omaha H-Lo, Stud (and variants), Pot-Limit and fixed-Limit Hold’em and Draw variants. The Main Event is considered to be a ‘championship’ tournament.

#2 – Poker Players Championship

This game is played in HORSE format. That involves rotating between Fixed Limit Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Stud and Stud Hi-Lo. With a $50k buy-in, this event attracts the top pros – and is considered an unofficial ‘Main Event’ among the high-rolling professionals.

#3 – One Drop Events

There are two charity events in the current schedule. They include a donation to a charity which provides clean drinking water to 3rd world countries. You will find a ‘Big One for the Drop’ and a ‘Little One for the Drop’. The bigger event has a $1 million buy-in, plus $111,000 for charity. The smaller event is $1,111 total (with $1000 going to the prize pool).

#4 – Restricted Events

The women’s event had some problems over the years, with men joining. This was fixed by offering women a 90% discount at $1000 to enter, while men need to pay the full $10k price. There are also senior’s events, a super-senior’s and one for casino employees.

#5 – Online Bracelet Events

This is a new development. With online poker legal in Nevada, players can vie for a bracelet online. There are several events, including both No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha.

#6 – Mixed Games / Dealer’s Choice

With mixed game poker becoming more popular, the WSOP now offers these at smaller buy-ins – in addition to the $50k players championship. Dealer’s Choice lets the player on the button choose from more than 60 poker variants!

#7 – Smaller Buy-In Events

Most WSOP events start at $1000. To include players with smaller bankrolls, some huge events have been added to the schedule. These include the ‘Colossus’ and ‘Giant’ with buy-ins starting at $365. There is also a ‘Crazy 8’s’ event, sponsored by 888 Poker. This has a buy-in of $888 and $888,000 guaranteed for first.

#8 – Every Combination You Can Think Of!

Finally, there are events with deep stacks, short-handed tables, big blind antes, and turbo structures. You’ll find rebuy events and shootouts too. With buy-ins between $1000 and $5000 – there are combinations of popular games (mainly NL Hold’em) and different formats packed into the schedule.

The World Series of Poker Expands: Europe and Asia

For most of its history, the only place you could win a WSOP gold bracelet was Nevada. This changed in 2007, when the first WSOPE (World Series of Poker Europe) took place. This was based in London – and offered a series of tournaments including a $10k Main Event. With bracelets at stake, this event attracted players from around the world. It has since become a yearly event held in different countries.

Asia-Pacific is a more recent addition to the list of WSOP events. These started in 2013, with big tournaments held in Melbourne, Australia. They have not yet reached the heights of the European stop – though with poker growing in popularity in this region, it is only a matter of time.

How Can You Qualify for the World Series of Poker?

You can win your way to the WSOP in many different ways. Back in the poker boom years, online poker sites used to compete to send the most players. While those days are over, there are still plenty of opportunities to qualify online – both for US and international players.

In the regulated states of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware – sites run buy 888 Poker are the best place to head. Offshore sites including those on the Winning Poker Network, also offer multiple options to win a WSOP package. Expect this to include entry to the main event, hotel accommodation, and expenses.

Internationally, there is a lot more choice. Again, 888 push its qualifiers hard (it is sponsor after all!). You can win Main Event packages, and some to side-events, including the ‘Crazy Eights’.

Qualifiers are not limited to online poker sites. You can also win a seat at the Rio during the event itself. These take the form of multi-table satellites, and single table tournaments too. Your local casino or card room (and even private clubs) might also run qualifiers.

The final option is to buy-in direct. While the $10k for the Main Event might be a stretch for many players, there are plenty of smaller buy-in tournaments with big guaranteed prize pools to try for!

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