Road to the WSOP: A Long Way from Alabama

I have been playing in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) almost since it began in 1970, and this year there was an excitement in the air I haven’t felt in years.

In 1973, I made my first trip to the WSOP. My good friend Ray Hall told me to call Jack Binion and tell him I was a poker player, and everything will be taken care of. 

Ray was right. Four of us drove out to Las Vegas from Alabama, and I have never missed a series since.

One of the more unusual things I remember was the year there was not enough room for the players to play at The Horseshoe. Eric Drache, the tournament director at the time, went around to the casinos downtown and asked if they would allow players to play the WSOP tournament in their poker rooms.

We were walking back and forth from the Four Queens, Fremont and Golden Nugget  with our tournament chips in hand. What a sight that was.

Chance to Be Champ

For the WSOP’s silver anniversary in 1994, the winner of the Main Event received $1 million and his weight in silver. Jack Binion was a poker marketing genius.

That year the Main Event drew 268 players, which is about how many people were in line in front of me to use the bathroom this year at the Rio 25 years later during the Big 50 tournament.

Back to 1994.

I made the final table of the Main Event that year and could not sleep the night before; I kept thinking, “Could I really win the big one and be part of poker history as a world champion?” I just had to find a way to take my low chip stack and bust the other five.

It was not meant to be. I finished in 6th place and won $50,000. But I was proud of my performance on poker’s biggest stage.

Not in Alabama Anymore

I had come a long way from the cotton fields of Alabama where we played in a tractor shed, and bologna sandwiches or crackers tasted so good. Now I was eating the free steak and shrimp Benny and Jack Binion had waiting for the poker players every night on our dinner break.

What a privilege it is to still be playing in the WSOP. I played in the Big 50, the largest live poker tournament in history. This $500 buy-in event had 28,371 entries creating a prize pool of $13,509,435.

The Saturday morning of the Big 50 there was a traffic jam on the freeway not for a sporting event or concert but for a poker tournament. I have never experienced anything like it.

The buzz on social media promoting the event and all the table talk in the poker rooms contributed to the record-shattering turn out. The city of Las Vegas is the big winner, and they owe a great deal of gratitude to Caesars for bringing this poker convention to town. 

The only suggestion I have concerns relaying information in real time. For example, during the Big 50 they opened up windows for quicker sign ups, but communicating this to players was not easy. My wife was escorted to a registration line 10 deep while hundreds waited in the main line. Some employees were saying sold out, and players were texting friends not to come while other employees were saying everyone will get in.

But none of that takes away from the phenomenal job WSOP Vice President Jack Effel and WSOP Operations Manager Tyler Pipal did putting on the biggest live poker tournament in the world. I predict this summer’s WSOP continues smashing records.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982.

He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at for consulting and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at and on Twitter @thechipburner.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s