Stan’s Lists – 1980s Poker Festivals

[SS] “Short-Stacked Shamus’s historical recreation of a report on the 1973 World Series of Poker made me nostalgic”, Stan the Stat waxed. “For a long time, the World Series of Poker was the only major poker festival in the world. The Granddaddy of Poker stood alone from 1970 to 1978 until Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker entered the scene in 1979.

But poker grew rapidly in the 1980s. There were actually nine other poker festivals in the decade1 that had at least one tournament, usually the Main Event, with a $5,000 or higher buyin.2

Major Poker Festivals of the 1980s

Festival Years Location (Creator/Host)
America’s Cup of Poker 1983-89 Vegas World (Bob Stupak)
Celebrity Poker Classic 1984 Continental Inn, Aspen, CO
Diamond Jim Brady festival 1985-94 Bicycle Casino, Los Angeles (George Hardie)
Grand Prix of Poker 1984-87 Golden Nugget (Steve Wynn)
Hall of Fame Poker Classic 1988-92, 1994-95, 1997, 2002 Binion’s Horseshoe (Jack Binion)
Jack Straus World Match Play Championship 1983-84 Frontier (Jack Straus)
Knights of the Round Table 1986 Tropicana, Atlantic City (Sam Gamburg)
Stairway to the Stars 1983-86 Stardust (Bob Thompson)
Super Bowl of Poker 1979-91, 1996 various3 (Amarillo Slim Preston)
Triple Crown of Poker Classic 19854 Frontier
World Series of Poker 1970-present Binion’s Horseshoe5 (Jack Binion)

[RR] “Wow, I’ve never heard of most of those”, Roderick the Rock admitted.

[SS] “Unfortunately, they’ve mostly been lost in the cobwebs of time.

Not surprisingly, all of these were in the U.S., with seven in Las Vegas (including the Super Bowl, which also spent time in Reno and Tahoe), one in Los Angeles, one in Atlantic City, and one in Aspen(!).”

[RR] “What about the Irish Open? Doesn’t that go pretty far back?”

[SS] “Although the Irish Poker Open debuted in 1980, its buyin was too small to qualify until 2008 when the €4,200+300 buyin was worth about $6,620.”

[LL] “So there’s a World Series from baseball, a Super Bowl from football, America’s Cup from yachting, a Grand Prix from car racing, and a Triple Crown from horse racing. What about a Grand Slam from tennis and golf or a World Cup from soccer?” Leroy the Lion inquired.

[SS] “There’s actually been a Larry Flynt Grand Slam of Poker since 2002. There have also been various Masters events (1989-90 in Reno and 1993-98 in Gardena, California) and even a Kentucky Derby Poker Championship (2008-09). All of those festivals had smaller buyins though.

The World Cup of Poker wasn’t a festival but an international team competition that PokerStars ran from 2004 to 2013. Its preliminary rounds were played online, but the finals were held in casinos.”

{ to be continued… }


  1. The main sources for this information are the Hendon Mob database (see other years as well) and old issues of Poker Player newspaper, which have details of several tournaments missing from Hendon.
  2. If we lower the cutoff to $2,500 buyins, a few other festivals make the grade: the Plaza Poker Tournament (1983: main event won by T.J. Cloutier), the 1st Annual Poker Week (1984: Johnny Chan), and the Super Stars of Poker (1987-90: John Esposito, Jack Keller, Sam Grizzle, and John Bonetti).
  3. One of the downfalls of the Super Bowl of Poker was that it kept moving around. After starting at the Hilton Las Vegas in 1979 it moved to the Sahara Reno from 1980-81, the Sahara Lake Tahoe from 1982-84, the High Sierra Lake Tahoe in 1985, Caesars Lake Tahoe in 1986, Caesars Las Vegas from 1987 to 1990, and the Flamingo Laughlin in 1991 before a last gasp at the Bicycle Los Angeles in 1996.
  4. The Triple Crown of Poker Classic was also held in 1986, but the main event buyin was dropped to $2,500.
  5. The World Series of Poker was held at the Horseshoe until 2005, except for one final table on Fremont Street in 1997. It moved to the Rio in 2006.


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