The Poker Boom

In the past, poker was a game reserved mostly for men who played in smokey casino card rooms and underground games. However, due to a “perfect storm” of events over the past decade, poker has undergone a surge in worldwide popularity from the late 1990s until today.

That’s when the number of regular poker players went from a few thousand to several hundred thousand worldwide. This phenomenon has been aptly called The Poker Boom.

The poker boom consists of three major components.

  1. Televised poker & poker movies
  2. Internet poker
  3. Amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker winning the WSOP Main Event

Poker on T.V. & in Movies – Poker Games Become Mainstream

One of the earliest and most popular references to poker games in pop culture actually comes from music. The one poker song that even non-players know is Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”. The mournful tale of a dying cardsharp has taught millions of people poker’s fundamental lessons: “Know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em”.

But the real poker boom began with televised poker tournaments. On television, the biggest poker event anywhere is ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Viewers see a variety of games include seven-card stud and Omaha, but the big draw is the no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, where multi-million dollar first prizes are given.

As early as the late 1970s, each year the World Series of Poker final table was televised; although viewership was mainly limited to veteran gamblers and other regular poker players.

It wasn’t until the invention of the “pocket cam” or hole cam in 1997 that poker games on T.V. really started to increase in popularity. The pocket cam is a tiny camera that shows each players’ cards (or hole cards), giving viewers a chance to be a part of the action.

Before the hole cam, the only time you knew what the players held, was when there was a showdown.

That small device would eventually lead to other poker T.V. shows that helped popularize the game.

The most popular poker T.V. shows include GSN’s High Stakes Poker, where popular poker pros like Daniel Negreanu, Barry Greenstein and Jen Harman buy in with $100,000 – $1,000,000 and compete in one of the world’s largest No Limit Hold’em cash games, and The Travel Channel’s World Poker Tour, which has proven so popular that it’s now available on several channels.

Poker Movies

The classic poker movie was The Cincinnati Kid, starring Steve McQueen in the title role playing against the supposed best poker player of all time, Edward G. Robinson’s Lancey Howard in New Orleans. This film is also noted for its outstanding supporting cast of Ann-Margret, Karl Malden and Rip Torn.

The Old West tradition of poker is characterized with great humor in the 1994 poker movie – Maverick, in which Mel Gibson learns the game from the original TV Maverick, James Garner, and they travel with Jodie Foster to a five-card draw, winner-take-all game on a riverboat.

But the most influential film on poker is 1998’s Rounders, featuring Matt Damon and Edward Norton playing in various poker games but mainly No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. Rounders is widely considered the best poker movie ever made.

In the movie, Matt Damon plays Mike “McD” McDermott, a skilled poker player who makes a living and pays for his law school tuition with poker winnings. Even though Mike wins enough to make a comfortable living, his dream is to beat the largest cash games and eventually the World Series of Poker main event.

The story in Rounders is inspiring for anyone who takes an interest in poker. Many of today’s new poker pros attribute the movie to their desire to play poker for a living.

That’s when many new players decided to try the newest craze – internet poker.

The opportunity to watch poker on television and in movies has boosted the game’s popularity enormously and made Texas Hold ‘Em poker the dominant version of the game.

Internet Poker Games

Timed perfectly with the release of Rounders, Planet Poker launched the first real money online poker game in 1998. Other poker sites such as Pokerstars started soon after.

To tie in the popularity of live poker events such as the WSOP and WPT, poker sites began offering satellite poker tournaments where players buy in for a small amount and can win a seat to a major tournament like the $10,000 WSOP main event in Las Vegas.

Unknown at the time to the online poker rooms, these satellite tournaments would be a major contributing factor in what would soon be known as “The Moneymaker Effect”.

Chris Moneymaker and the 2003 WSOP Main Event

Because of the increased popularity of poker on T.V., poker pros were becoming celebrities. And the availability of Internet poker was spawning a whole new generation of die hard poker fans.

Due in part of satellite tournaments, the $10,000 WSOP main event was growing in entries each year. And ESPN was working hard on the 2003 production and filming of the event.

No one could foresee the outcome of the final table, or how this culmination of events would change change the face of poker forever.

At a final table full of poker pros, amateur player Chris Moneymaker, a Tennessee accountant, won first place and $2.5 million. And the best part was that he won his $10,000 WSOP seat through a $39 Pokerstars satellite tournament.

Suddenly, poker was a game that anyone could beat and become an overnight millionaire. The number of WSOP main event entries tripled from 839 in 2003 to 2576 in 2004.  Casino card rooms started becoming packed and online poker sites exploded with new signups from all around the globe.

At the time, the surge in new poker players was called “The Moneymaker Effect”. However, history now reveals that The Poker Boom began much sooner and required a number of events to fall into place.