Last year, the World Series of Poker celebrated the 10th anniversary of Chris Moneymaker's Main Event win. It's an event worthy of celebration, but for me, 2004 was a far more interesting year than 2003. It was the year we learned just how much poker was going to change. Instead of being a niche event that drew only the most die-hard poker players, the WSOP became a festival that drew professionals, celebrities and the most rank amateur players the world has ever seen.
Lured in by the idea that they could win millions just as easily as an accountant from Tennessee, the 2004 WSOP was historic for more reasons than you can count. I think a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of that year's series is just as important as celebrating Moneymaker's win.
Here are 10 things to remember about the 2004 WSOP.
10. Last year the entire WSOP was held at Binion's
The WSOP was born at Binion's Horseshoe in 1970 (now Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel), and 2004 was the last year the downtown casino hosted the entire series from start to finish. The following year, the WSOP (which Caesars – then Harrah's – bought in 2004) moved to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, with only the final table of the Main Event contested at Binions. Since 2006, the Rio has hosted the WSOP from start to finish.
Binion's oozes history, and in many ways it's too bad that the WSOP has moved away from that history. But in 2004, it became clear that the world's largest poker festival had outgrown Binion's, and moving the tournament off the Strip to the Rio, where convention center space could hold all the players, was a necessity.
9. ESPN covers more than a dozen bracelet events
In my opinion, the best work ESPN did in its WSOP coverage came 10 years ago. Sure, the broadcasts are clearer now, pot and bet sizes are clearly identified, commentary includes advanced strategy (with pie charts!) and they even broadcast the Main Event final table live (technically on a 15-minute delay, but they show every hand and if you stay off Twitter you can watch it like it's live).
But in 2004, for the first time, ESPN decided to broadcast several tournaments, including several non-hold’em events.. Sure, they've shown the $50,000 Poker Players Championship and One Drop events recently, along with a few other special events in past years, but in 2004, the "Worldwide Leader" picked 13 non-Main Event final tables to broadcast, including six non-Hold'em events.
That summer, I learned to play Omaha, Razz and Stud thanks to those broadcasts. Without them, I'd never be the fan of mixed games that I am today.
8. The glorification of "Men the Master"
I'm not really breaking news when I say Men Nguyen doesn't have the best reputation in the poker world. I've never met the guy, nor do I have any firsthand knowledge of anything he's done to earn that reputation. But I will say that in 2004, I thought he was a quirky, funny guy who loved Coronas and that most other players liked him after watching him play for a Seven Card Stud bracelet.
Really, I should have seen the signs that that wasn't the case if I had watched that event a little more closely. Ted Forrest says that 70 percent of what comes out of his mouth is "smoke and mirrors," and listen to what he says to Chad Brown at 7:15:
7. "I've got the straight" – Pot-limit Omaha coverage
It's hard to believe that Ted Lawson won a Pot-Limit Omaha bracelet in 2004, and I think even Ted Lawson would say that. Watch the hand at 28:15, where Lawson thinks he's got a straight but only has four cards to a straight, not the requisite five needed to make the hand.
The best part of this hand is that no one – not Lee Watkinson, Freddy Deeb or the dealer – points that out to Lawson until he starts asking why he isn't raking in the chips.
6. "We had the same hand!" – Razz coverage
The Razz tournament in 2004 remains one of my favorite hours of televised poker. Any time you have a scantily dressed woman walk up to a final table to give T.J. Cloutier a hug, you've got winning coverage. You also get Cloutier winning a bracelet, beating Dutch Boyd, much to the consternation of "The Crew," the group of young players who said they were going to take the poker world by storm.
You also had the most entertaining razz hand in the history of televised poker, when Cloutier and Howard Lederer had the same hand on sixth street and just kept raising each other. Watch that hand develop at 11:30 below.
5. The Fischman flop
Scott Fischman, one of the members of "The Crew," really did take the WSOP by storm in 2004, winning two bracelet events. The first was covered by ESPN, and Fischman's elation when he won was evident. He rubs his hands frenetically as he awaits the river card, and he flops himself down on the table when he wins, lying on the chips and cards and taking it all in. Looking back, it was a pretty ridiculous display, but at the time, the expression of emotion really summed up the 2004 WSOP very well. The musical soundtrack in the cut below helps, too.
4. The dawn of the patch
In 2003, Chris Moneymaker wore a PokerStars hat and a golf shirt throughout the WSOP. But in 2004, the idea of the "patch" was born. Full Tilt patches started showing up all over the place, thanks in large part to the large stable of pros Lederer and Chris Ferguson assembled to join Full Tilt Poker. Many of those pros made final tables that ESPN broadcast that year, and it was the best advertising Full Tilt could get in its early days. PokerStars, of course, followed suit, and the patch wars were set to begin, much to the delight of every poker player that made it onto a TV stage, as online poker rooms bid thousands of dollars just to get them to wear their patch.
3. 2-7 single draw coverage
This game isn't on TV enough. I've watched this event at least once a year in the last 10 years, simply because my appetite for this game isn't being met by current televised poker coverage. And it didn't hurt that, at the time, the players at the final table were some of the biggest names in poker, including Ferguson, Lederer, Barry Greenstein and Chau Giang.
Not enough people know how to play this game. And when I call this game in a mixed game (and invariably, if this game is called, I'm the one who called it), I feel like I have an advantage just because I've seen this tournament so many times.
2. People knew who was going to win the Main Event
When ESPN broadcast Chris Moneymaker's WSOP Main Event win, I never even considered the fact that the tournament wasn't being broadcast live. Of course, if I thought about it at all, I would have figured it out. But I didn't know anything about how the WSOP worked when I watched that coverage in 2003, and there were millions of other people watching who were in the dark just like me.
But the next year, when Greg Raymer won, it was all over the news. I didn't seek out the information, it found me. That's a big reason I loved the coverage of the other bracelet events. I didn't follow the poker world that closely at the time, so I had no idea who was going to win. But by the time the Main Event coverage rolled around, it was kind of a buzz kill to watch because I knew how it was going to end.
1. Main Event field and prize pool
Everyone knew that Chris Moneymaker's win was going to have a big impact on the registration numbers for the 2004 Main Event, but I don't think anyone knew just how big. Raymer beat a field of 2,576 players, a better than three-fold increase over the previous year's 839 players. First place paid a whopping $5 million, twice what Moneymaker had won, and the poker boom was in full swing.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.