In 2006, the owners of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand, Harrah’s Entertainment, purchased the British gambling company, London Clubs International (LCI), for a fee of £279m, stating that the purchase was a way of establishing its presence in the British casino market.
At the time of the purchase, the LCI owned casino properties in Southend, Brighton, four in the capital city of London, two in Egypt and one in South Africa. More importantly, the LCI had also been awarded five new casino licenses for sites in Manchester, Leeds, Blackpool, Nottingham and Glasgow.
“London Clubs International has one of the leading positions in the UK casino market and, through the new licenses that it has recently been awarded, will be able to further enhance its position,” said Harrah’s chief executive Gary Loveman at the time of purchase.
One of those four London based casinos was The Empire Casino in the heart of Leicester Square, and one year on from the purchase of LCI, Harrah’s announced that it was going to host a series of WSOP bracelet events, outside of US soil, for the first time since the brand was created back in 1970. The World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) was born, and The Empire Casino was going to be its new home.
One of the main men behind the move into Europe was the then WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollak. Pollak brought many attributes with him when he joined Harrah’s in 2005, and one of them was his talent for negotiation, which saw Pollak create several key alliances throughout the world of business. One of these alliances was with the world’s largest betting exchange Betfair, who would become the WSOPE sponsor for the inaugural event that was held in 2007.
The decision to offer bracelets’s outside of the US was met with mixed feelings from the poker playing community. The Europeans were ecstatic to have a WSOP series on home soil, but some of the Stateside professionals criticized the decision, and for a long time the WSOPE bracelets were often given an inferiority complex.
The 2007 WSOPE consisted of just three events:
Event #1: £2,500 H.O.R.S.E
Event #2: £5,000 Pot Limit Omaha (PLO)
Event #3: £10,000 No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) Main Event
The H.O.R.S.E event attracted 105 players and a total prize pool of £262,500, and the German Thomas Bihl became the first-ever player to win a WSOP bracelet outside of the US, when he defeated Jennifer Harman in heads-up action.
The second event attracted a field of 165 players, creating a total prize pool of £825,000, and it was the Italian Dario Alioto that took the title and £234,390 first prize, when he defeated the Hungarian Istvan Novak in heads-up action. A certain Tony G finishing in third place.
The Main Event attracted 362 players and a total prize pool of £3,676,990. Annette Obrestad, from Norway, creating a little bit of WSOP history as she became the youngest ever bracelet winner at just 18 years and 364 days of age. Obrestad picked up £1m for her win after defeating the Welshman John Tabatabai in heads-up action.
In 2008, the WSOP added a fourth event to the schedule with the introduction of the first NLHE side event. 410 players would each pay £1,500 to create a £615,000 prize pool, and for the second year running, WSOP history would be made as Jesper Hougaard followed up his WSOP Las Vegas bracelet win with victory for £144,218, to become the first player to win WSOP bracelets on two separate continents.
Sherkhan Farnoon – who had made the final table of the PLO event one year earlier – took down the H.O.R.S.E event; and Theo Jorgensen – who made the final table of the main event one year earlier – took down the PLO event. The £10k main event once again attracted 362 players and John Juanda took the £868,800 first prize, and with it became the second player to win WSOP bracelets on two different continents.
There were a few minor changes to the 2009 schedule. The £1,500 buy-in event was lowered to £1,000 to allow more recreational players to join the fray, and the £2,500 H.O.R.S.E event was switched to PLO/PLH. The results were great with the largest fields since the WSOPE had began just two years earlier. JP Kelly defeating 607 other players to win the £136,803 in the £1k NLHE event, Erik Cajelais defeating 157 players to take the £104,677 first prize in the mixed event and Jani Vilmunen defeated Howard Lederer to capture the £204,048 first place in the PLO event.
A slightly lower field of 334 players took part in the 2010 £10k Main Event, and it was Barry Shulman who defeated a stellar final table including Praz Bansi, Jason Mercier and Chris Bjorin to take the title. Shulman defeating Daniel Negreanu in heads up action, and who can forget that hand? Daniel Negreanu making the check-raise on [Js] [8d] [5d], whilst holding [Qc] [Jd], and Barry Shulman moving all-in with [As] [Ah].
“I think this is the one…it is the one…I call.” Said Negreanu.
Negreanu needed some help and the deck provided it when the [Jh] peeled off on the turn. Negrenau was a 95% favorite to win the hand, and become the WSOPE Main Event champion, when the [Ad] hit the river to put Shulman in control of the event, and he would turn that into gold a few hands later.
2010 would be the final year that the event would be held in London, and once again the WSOP created some changes to the structure. Poker’s appeal had grown and so had the schedule with a £10,350 NLHE Higher Roller Heads Up event added to the roster, and the PLH/PLO event was once again altered to make way for a £2,650 Six Handed NLHE contest.
Phil Laak would defeat 244 players to capture the six max crown when he defeated Andrew Pantling in heads-up action; Chris Bjorin once again making a final table appearance with a third place finish and the Unabomber picked up £170,802 for his win; Jeff Lisandro defeated Joe Serock to take the £159,514 first prize in the PLO and Willie Tann made consecutive WSOPE final tables; JP Kelly nearly did the unthinkable when he so nearly won back-to-back £1k WSOPE events. PKR employee Scott Shelley defeating JP Kelly in heads up action to take the £133,857 first prize; and Gus Hansen defeated Jim Collopy to take the £288,409 first prize in the High Roller.
The £10k Main Event attracted 346 players and Matchbook owner James Bord took the first prize of £830,401 when he defeated Fabrizio Baldassari in heads-up action, on a final table that saw Roland de Wolfe finish in fourth.
London would make way for the adult playground of Cannes in the South of France as the 2011 & 2012 events moved out of the rain and into the sunshine. The change of venue also saw the end of the alliance between the WSOP and Betfair and instead new allegiances were formed with BarrierePoker and 888.
In it’s fifth year of operation, the WSOPE brand was bigger than ever. The 2011 schedule consisted of seven bracelet events and over 50 side events. Guillaume Humbert securing his one and only live poker tournament cash when he defeated Azusa Maeda from Japan to take the €215,999 first prize in the six max event; Andrew Hinrichsen defeated Gianluca Speranza heads up to take the €148,030 first prize in the €1k NLHE event that saw 771 players create a total prize pool of €740,160; Steve Billirakis took the PLO title for €238,140; Tristan Wade won the first-ever NLHE Shootout event that the WSOPE had ever held when he defeated Michael Watson heads-up for the €182,048 first prize; Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi won bracelet number two, and €336,008, when he defeated Shawn Buchanan in the new €10k mixed max format and Philippe Boucher took €124,584 in the €1.6k PLO event. The 2011 Main Event was one of the strongest main event final tables in the history of the WSOP. Elio Fox overcoming a final table that included Jake Cody, Shawn Buchanan and Chris Moorman to take the first prize of €1,400,000; the biggest prize in WSOPE history.
2012 was the final year that the WSOPE would be held in Cannes before moving to it’s new home in Paris. Once again WSOP records would be broken as the brand continued to hold impressive sway in Europe. Imed Ben Mahmoud took €147,099 in the €2.7k Six Max NLHE, on a final table that housed Matan Krakow and Roberto Romanello as the pair made their second final table appearances in successive years; Antonio Esfandiari followed up his amazing Big One for One Drop $18m success when he captured gold in the €1k event for €126,207; Roger Hairabedian brushed off his disappointment at finishing in the semi finals of the 2011 Mixed Max event by winning the PLO – Mizrachi coming third – Giovanni Rosadoni beat Dan O’Brien to take the Shootout title for €107,614; Jon Aguiar won a bad tempered heads up match against Brandon Cantu to win the Mixed Max event for €258,047 (Hairabedian once again making the semi finals); and Francisco Da Costa Santos defeated Ana Marquez to win the €1.6k PLO event for €83,275. Then we had a little bit of history as Phil Hellmuth became the first player to win WSOP Main Events on two continents, after defeating Sergii Baranov in heads up action for the first prize of €1,058,403.
In just three weeks time the WSOPE will be moving home once again. This time the action will come from Enghien-les-Bains on the outskirts of the French capital. This year there will be eight bracelet events, including for the first time a €1,100 Ladies NLHE event and a €25,600 Hi Roller NLHE event.
Phil Hellmuth will also be there…and just think…back in 2007 he was one of those detractors who thought the WSOPE bracelets didn’t hold the same shine as the ones won in Vegas. I wonder if the WSOPE Main Event champion still holds that view?