In an interview with the Bernard Lee Poker Show, Jack Binion, the son of Binion’s Horseshoe casino founder, talked about how the World Series of Poker began, recalled Stu Unger, and talked about two factors that, in his opinion, turned the industry upside down. We publish the most interesting of the hour-long interview.
Jack Bignon on the creation of the WSOP
What was I thinking when I launched the WSOP? About money (laughs). We were about to open a poker room and put together a “players convention” in Reno. In fact, there is just a cash game there. And there I met my best friend Doyle Brunson.
Then we decided to try to collect players again next year, but no one believed that this would work. In general, anyone could participate in the game, but in fact it was an invitation-only event. We didn’t really have any fame. And no one has ever heard of anything like it. We didn’t even think about holding a poker tournament (freezeout).
The idea for the freezeout was invented by Amarillo Slim. Freezeouts were not popular at the time. Yes, heads-up freezeouts were played, but we came up with a freezeout for several people. And then, in 1971, only six people agreed to participate in this tournament. And nobody wanted to go public. At the time, we didn’t even think about it. Slim won this tournament. This is how it all started.
About how by chance the whole world learned about the WSOP
In 1972, the tournament was repeated. At that time, Hold’em was losing its popularity. We just got all these guys together and they were playing cards. And nobody wanted any publicity. Then, many participated in illegal games, and none of the players wanted to be known as the strongest in the world (including that the police were not interested in him). In general, the whole world learned about this tournament by accident. Two journalists from the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote a note in a Sunday newspaper supplement.
Amarillo Slim’s victory did its job. This guy was perfect for the role of champion: a simple guy, an extrovert – the combination of these qualities was fascinating. Amarillo Slim has become a household name for the poker player. There was no better candidate for the role of champion.
We can say that he was the first poker superstar. He won the first $ 10K WSOP event. Then in 1972 it was a lot of money. Boldly multiply the amount by x10 to get the equivalent of modern money. By comparison, a top-notch car cost $ 3,200. I remember buying my wife a Ford Fairlane 500 for $ 3,200. Now a car of this class costs about $ 40K. A $ 10K buy-in is valued at $ 100K by today’s standards.
About Doyle Brunson and two wins from T2
In 1976 and 1977, Doyle Brunson became the WSOP champion. Between us, Doyle was the best player at the time. Doyle was the only guy who could sit down at the table and break the game to smithereens simply because no one wanted to face him. And there was no one else, but there were many good players. But no one beat the game like Doyle Brunson. And hand Ten-Two is pure coincidence. It’s just that both times the opponents had few chips left, and Doyle had to close on any two, and twice it turned out to be T2.
To be honest, all these guys like Doyle Brunson, Huck Seed, Sailor Roberts and possibly the best player of all time Chip Reese were not really very strong tournament players, not before of the end understood the tournament strategy. They were not as strong tournament players as we can see now, like Phil Hellmuth, for example.
About poker then and now
Then many players did not want their names and skills to be revealed. Plus, many returned home and continued to play where it was prohibited by law. The way people think about poker has changed a lot. It has become more liberal. Gambling was stigmatized 50 years ago. But now, if a college student says he wants to become a professional gambler, he will get family approval.
About Stu Unger and his gin and poker skills
Stu Unger has never really been equal in gin. He was two heads taller than any other player. This was surprising. It was impossible not to fool him, not to outplay him – he was so good. Gin is not that popular now. Previously, you could go to any room, and everyone would play gin there. And he was a good poker player. Stewie’s only problem was that he was blown away when he couldn’t win. He tilted easily. And, of course, he had a lot of personal problems that everyone knows about. But he was a really smart guy.
I met Unger when he was 21 – 22 years old. Stewie has never weighed more than 49 kilograms. He had no facial hair. But he was taken to games all over New York. At 21, he looked 12. Stu can be compared to a Chihuahua competing in dog fights against bulldogs. And this little Stewie was just tearing up all these thugs. He was good at poker too. But he never intended to become as famous a poker player as he was in gin.
For those who have never played gin, I will explain. The main trick of the game is to determine which cards are in your opponent’s hands. Stewie knew how to determine the opponent’s hand in 7 moves. How he did it, I do not know. And no one will ever know. But he understood the game so much better than others that it was something incredible. Stewie’s mom worked at a bookmaker and played gin well. And Stewie has been honing his skills in this game since childhood.
About Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth went heads-up against Joni Chen, with Joni Chen finishing his third Main Event bracelet in a row. Joni Chen is still one of the strongest players. But, unfortunately, he is underestimated as much as he should have been. In recent years, Joni has been playing in Macau and does not say how much money he has. Phil was a student. I think he was about 24. And then his father came to see the game. And, of course, that victory changed Phil’s fate a lot. Hellmuth was perhaps the first player to differentiate between cash game strategies and tournaments. I think he understood tournament strategy better than anyone else.
Two factors, according to Jackie Bignon, that turned the poker industry upside down
I think what really helped the development of poker was the hole card cameras and the internet. Poker is a good spectator sport. And if it were not for the cameras in the tables, then it is unlikely that the players would have allowed to somehow monitor their cards. And with the advent of cameras, the viewer was able to play at the same table with the player. Therefore, the broadcasts became interesting.
The Internet has changed the industry a lot and influenced the popularity of poker. Everyone started playing online. It’s easy, you didn’t have to look for a game anymore. If it weren’t for cameras and the internet, we wouldn’t be talking about poker right now.