Liam Flood ( ed. – one of the fathers of Irish poker, champion of the Irish Open in 1990 and 1996 ) was very fond of telling stories. I've always listened with particular interest to his stories about Terry Rogers, the WSOP, and how poker came to Ireland. It all started in 1980, during the main event of the World Series.
It is quite possible that this was the best Main Event in history because it was in that year that Stu Ungar won his first bracelet of three. I often come across a photo of Ulvis Alberts in which Stu sits between 2nd place finisher Doyle Brunson and Jack Binion.
I will share my version of the events of that year. Most likely, everything was so, but I could have missed some details.
In the late spring of 1980, famed Irish bookmaker Terry Rogers stopped by Las Vegas on his way home from a business trip to California. He stopped at the Horseshoe Casino, owned by Benny Binion, because that was where all the action was—the World Series was about to start.
In the 70s, everyone associated poker exclusively with Texas. All the Main Event champions of those years – Moss, Preston, Pearson, Roberts, and Brunson – were from this state. Only in 1978 did the first "foreigner" win – Bobby Baldwin was born in neighboring Oklahoma. In 1979, Hal Fowler won (ed. – the first amateur champion ). He came from the East Coast, but everyone considered his victory pure luck. In addition, he beat the true Texan Bobby Hoff in heads-up. So nothing threatened the hegemony of the poker state itself.
However, everything changed with the victory of Stu Ungar. He was from New York, weighed 45 kg, and preferred a wide smile to cowboy hats. He came to Vegas with a reputation as the world's greatest gin player. He also learned to play poker quickly enough. According to rumors, until the start of the 1980 World Series, he did not play poker at all.
Terry Rogers and Benny Binion became friends from their first meeting. They were people of the same generation, perfectly understood the essence of gambling, and adored horses. Over the following years, Terry traditionally brought a whole group of Irish players to Vegas. One of them always personally handed Benny Binion a brown paper bag, which he put away in the safe.
Having found himself in the same place with so many gamblers who came to the WSOP, Terry did what he loved. He started taking bets on the winner of the main tournament. Benny didn't mind and allowed Terry to stay at the table all the time. Rogers organized the reception of bets right in the hall. Moreover, he had never even heard of Texas Hold'em before this trip. The best players of the time – Bill Baxter, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim, and others were already rubbing their hands in anticipation of easy prey. They were best at doing two things: winning at poker and beating the bookmakers. However, it turned out that there is one significant difference between American and Irish bookmakers. In the United States in those years, they mainly bet on duels between two opponents, choosing a handicap that equalized the chances of the players and allowed them to set approximately equal odds. And in Ireland, horse racing has made bookmakers specialize in betting on multi-runner competitions.
73 players took part in the main tournament. Terry was ready to take a bet on any of them to win. It turned out that 72 of them seriously overestimated their strength. If Stewie showed up in the tournament area today, people would turn their pockets inside out to bet on him. But not then. Not to say that he was received with open arms in the poker community. Ungar hadn't won anything yet, and didn't even look like a poker player. Therefore, the chances of his victory against the best representatives of Texas were estimated, to put it mildly, not very high.
Terry took bets both at the beginning of the tournament and at the end. When the tournament entered the decisive stage, almost nothing was put on Ungar. Terry Rogers found himself in a situation that any bookmaker dreams of. He practically did not risk anything, and the victory of one of the leaders of the tournament allowed him to rip everyone to the bone.
When the tournament went heads-up, all the Texas regulars began to bet even more on Doyle to get even. The man who wrote the most famous book on no-limit hold 'em, The Godfather of Heads-Up Poker against a kid who had no poker experience at all.
But Stu Ungar won. Amarillo Slim said about him: "He may look like a fawn, scared by the headlights, but in his veins instead of blood, rattlesnakes."
Stewie won the bracelet and took first prize, while Terry Rogers took everything else. Now, every time I look at that famous photo, I realize that Doyle's best friend Jack doesn't look so happy anymore. In fact, they both look like they're about to vomit. Brunson came just short of his third main event win, and the great poker state of Texas was put to shame by some New York upstart. But that was not all. The best gamblers of that time were robbed by an unknown bookmaker from Ireland.
This is just a tale. But I'm sure that's how it was.
In the right corner, behind Jack Binion and next to the guard with the look of a contented cat, is the same Terry Rogers. And what is he so carefully squeezing in his hands? A book in which he scrupulously wrote down all the bets.
After 1980, Terry Rogers did not miss the World Series. He always brought a whole delegation of Irish players with him. We recently talked about Terry's role in the development of poker in Ireland in an article about Noel Furlong.
Jesse May posted a page from Rogers' 1992 betting book. At that moment, there were 27 people left in the main tournament. Their stacks are listed, their odds are listed, and each name is accompanied by a brief commentary.