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Poker began to take a new firmer grip on the American public's imagination with the introduction of the tournament format in the Vegas casinos and the birth of the World Series of Poker.
The World Series of Poker began in 1970 when seven of the most renowned players were asked to vote on who they believed was the best player in the world. The first vote was inconclusive as each of the players voted for himself. The matter was eventually decided at a second vote where all seven were asked to pick the second best player. Poker legend Johnny Moss won by a land slide.
The World Series of Poker from 1971 onwards ditched the voting system and instead pitted the players against one another in a variety of poker tournaments. Since 1971 the centre piece of the Series has been a Texas Hold’em poker tournament known as the Main Event.
Successes in the Main Event led to the public exposure of many early legends of the game such as Amarillo Slim, Walter ‘Puggy’ Pearson and Doyle Brunson. These players revealed to the wider public the element of skill involved in the game.
The World Series did a huge amount to fill up the powder keg required for poker’s explosion into mainstream American consciousness but a few more significant events had to take place to light the fuse.
The next significant event was the publication of a book in 1979 by back-to-back World Series Main Event winner Doyle Brunson. In "Super System: A Course in Power Poker" Brunson brought together some of the game's most renowned players to explain the intricacies of certain varieties of the game, in particular a game known as Texas Hold’em which was described by Brunson as "Tomorrow’s most popular form of Poker".
The direct, explanatory style of Super System along with its many anecdotes and insights into the lives of the elite poker players helped demystify poker, highlighting that it really could pay to study the game and play smart. The success of Super System paved the way for many other poker authors such as David Sklansky and Mike Caro who revealed even more aspects of the game. The view that poker was just a game of chance could no longer be supported. To those in the know poker was clearly a game of skill where the ability to calculate risk and make the most of complex opportunities could provide a genuine advantage against opponents.
Following the establishment of a distinctive and growing poker literature the decision to televise the World Series of Poker in the late 1980's on the American sports channel ESPN exposed poker to a vastly wider audience. The ESPN broadcasts showed the world that poker can be a fascinating spectator event. It also revealed that the only barrier to participation by literally anybody over the legal age to play was an understanding of the game and the money to required to sit down at a table. In 1991 Americans and the wider world were able to witness the introduction of a guaranteed one million dollar first prize for the winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event. In just twenty years the number of participants had increased by more than 2,000%.
In the late 1990’s the Hollywood movie "Rounders" capitalised on the growing public interest in poker and introduced the game to yet another new group of fans. At roughly the same time the first online poker games began to appear on the internet and new poker shows began to appear in late-night television schedules around the globe. Most observers of the poker world would agree that the big bang in poker’s popularity, the explosion that saw the game become the global phenomenon it is today, occurred in 2003 when online poker player Chris Moneymaker beat 838 players to win $2,500,000 and become the World Series of Poker champion.
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