Predicting the future can be fun.
We love speculating about what is going to happen next — say, who is going to win the NBA title, or who will win the presidential election, or who will win the Sunday Million 14th Anniversary on March 22 — then waiting to see if we were right.
A different, though somewhat analogous exercise is to try to reimagine the past. Poker players in particular are good at this sort of thing, especially after an opponent hits a two-outer to knock them from a tournament.
As the big Sunday Million draws near, we at the PokerStars Blog found ourselves engaging in this type of “what if?” thinking, wondering what the tournament might have been like had it run 50 years ago.
But wait… the Sunday Million is an online tournament, right? Indeed, through its long history PokerStars’ “Milly” has been not only a signature tournament for an online poker site, but the most famous regular tournament in the history of online poker. And that history only goes back a little over two decades, not even close to 50 years.
There are certain elements of the tournament we have to set aside, then, in order to proceed. It would have to be played live, not online. Nor could it allow players from dozens of countries all around the globe to play against each other from the comfort of their own homes. They’d all have to go somewhere, pony up a buy-in, and play face-to-face.
We’ll imagine the tournament happening in United States, as that’s where poker would have been the most popular in 1970. We’ll also imagine the players congregating in Nevada somewhere, most likely in Las Vegas. After all, in 1970 that was the only place in the U.S. where gambling was legal, as Atlantic City was still a few years away from legalizing casinos (and many years more before poker was made legal).
Speaking of that buy-in, what would it be in 1970?
The Sunday Million 14th Anniversary will cost $215 to play, with a guaranteed prize pool of $12.5 million. As we all know, inflation has made the dollar worth less over time, relatively speaking.
Estimates vary, but most who study such things will tell you a 1970 dollar could buy you close to seven times as much as a 2020 dollar can. That would make an equivalent buy-in a little more than $30 to play the 1970 Sunday Million.
But wait… it’s called the Sunday Million, right? The Sunday Million got its name from the fact that it sported at least a $1 million prize pool. In our thought experiment, then, if the 1970 Sunday Million had a $1 million prize pool, that would be worth about $6.8 million or so today!
Hmm… let’s see… if the buy-in were just $30, that would require 33,334 players to enter to make a $1 million prize pool. That ain’t happening in 1970… nor in 2020, for that matter. If an event that large were to happen today, it would probably require starting flights at multiple casinos, all ultimately coming together at the Rio or some other convention center, perhaps, to complete.
Maybe we should set aside talk of buy-ins and prizes. We’ll just say it would have featured a buy-in that for players would have made it worth their while, and featured a prize (and prestige) that also would have made it worth battling over.
Poker tournaments weren’t really much of a thing yet in 1970, so here we are challenging our imaginations quite a bit. They didn’t even play a tournament at the first World Series of Poker in 1970. When they did start making the Main Event a no-limit hold’em freezeout the following year, the first couple of tries were one-day affairs, although with the number of entries in single digits, that made sense.
We’ll imagine the 1970 Sunday Million would have also been played as a one-day tournament, starting in the early afternoon and lasting well into the evening.
Levels in today’s Sunday Million last 20 minutes. Players start with 20,000 chips at 50/100 (or 200 big blinds), with antes starting right away.
For the 1970 Sunday Million, why don’t we start the players with 10,000 at 25/50, and make the levels one hour. It depends on how many show up, but that ought to make for a longish Sunday of poker.
Who would those players have been? As it happens, the WSOP got started in 1970, so it stands to reason we might look back at who showed up for those early WSOPs at Binion’s Horseshoe when guessing who might have played in an imagined Sunday Million.
Such a line-up would have to feature a number of Poker Hall of Famers. Lucky for us, just about all of them already have great “online” usernames, too.
I’m referring, of course, to players like Johnny “The Grand Old Man of Poker” Moss, Doyle “Tex Dolly” Brunson, Jack “Treetop” Straus, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Walter “Puggy” Pearson, Bryan “Sailor” Roberts, Crandall “Dandy” Addington, and T. “Blondie” Forbes.
We could throw a couple of more PHOFers, Bill Boyd and Joe Bernstein, in there as well.
Others such as Alvin Clarence “Titanic” Thompson, Fiore “Jimmy” Casella, “Suitcase” Sam Angel, William “Billy Baxter, and Howard “Tahoe” Andrew might have taken part, too.
So might have Aubrey Day, Jay Heimowitz, and Bob Hooks.
That’s just drawing from the list of players known to us today thanks to their having participated in those early WSOPs. There would obviously be others unknown to us who would have taken a shot as well, a group that would likewise have included some contenders and perhaps plenty of pretenders, too.
Well, there certainly wouldn’t have been any instantaneous tweeting or online live updating. And set aside any thoughts of televised coverage of the event — there was practically none of that during the 1970s, with one documentary shot from the 1973 WSOP for the “CBS Sports Spectacular” a notable exception.
Judging by how other early 1970s poker tournaments were reported, we might get a feature article summarizing the action with some quotes from the winners.
We have to assume the 1970 version of the Sunday Million would have been a bit like those first WSOP Main Events. It would probably feature a modest-sized field comprised of the game’s top talent along with a smattering of unknowns, with a lot of excitement and history generated by the outcome.
Given what we know about how the next half-century of poker history went, Doyle Brunson would have to have been a favorite, yes? It seems a world away, but the game would still have been poker, and as such you’d have to think he would be right there at the end. Let’s imagine “TexDolly” beats “GOMofPoker” heads-up for the win.
What do you think? How else would the Sunday Million circa 1970 have looked?
Photos courtesy UNLV Center for Gaming Research.