World Series of Blackjack

Unfortunately now defunct, the World Series of Blackjack (WSOB) consisted of a four different Blackjack tournaments which were only open to those players who had been invited to play or who had won their seat via a series of satellite tournaments.

The WSOB ran every year from 2004 until 2007 when it closed its doors for the last time and was televised annually on the cable network GSN.

While starting slowly, the tournament grew to be fairly successful. Games were played following standard blackjack casino rules, although a couple of interesting variations were thrown into make things more exciting for the watching TV audience.

Each game was based around a six deck shoe and players started off with $100,000 worth of chips. Limits were set on the minimum and maximum bets ($1,000 and $50,000 respectively) and players were allowed to double down, split and even insure themselves for less than the price of their initial stake.

What’s more, players were able to Double Down on any combination of pocket cards (not just those that matched) and could surrender at any time for half the price of their bet.

Natural Blackjack’s paid out 3:2 and dealers were asked to stand on any cards valued at soft 17 or higher.

Any player who couldn’t afford the minimum stake was automatically eliminated from the competition with the overall winner being the person who was left with the most chips after 25 rounds.

The tournament also included a number of rules that were unique to the WSOB and helped to give the tournament a special twist.

For example, a Knockout Card was included in the deck and when it was dealt on to the table, the player who had the smallest chip stack was frozen out of that round.

To even things out, all players were awarded a ‘Power Chip’ at the beginning of each game. This chip allowed players to swap one of their cards for the card that was next in the shoe.

The final unique rule gave all the players who had finished as a runner up at their respective tables a ‘Second Chance’ by inviting them to a special Wildcard Playoff with the overall winner being given their tournament seat back.

In its inaugural season, the WSOB attracted 25 players and was won by Mike Aponte – a member of the famous MIT Team, which was later to be immortalized in the Hollywood blockbuster 21 due to the huge amount of cash that they won from the casinos during the early 90’s.

Aponte returned to defend his title in 2005, but was eliminated early and the title of World Champion went to the equally famous Ken Einiger who went home with a cheque worth $250,000.

After that second season, the number of players included in the tournament increased to 40, meaning that the guaranteed prize pool went up too. The main beneficiary of this was Dr Jeff Bernstien who walked away with the first prize of $500,000 in Season 3.

Ironically though, it wasn’t until the fourth (and ultimately final) season that the WSOB seemed to really catch the public’s imagination. For the first time, celebrities such as actress Shannon Elizabeth and Baseball star Orel Hershiser turned up to play. They were joined by future poker-player Tiffany Michelle and Celebrity Blackjack champion Caroline Rhea.

Ken Einiger and Jeff Bernstein were also there looking to re-claim and defend their titles respectively, but it was actually Alice Walker who was announced as the tournament’s winner and she received half of what turned out to be a $1m prize pool.