Online poker is booming, and to be honest, it has been since back in 2003. It’s now one of the most played online casino games and is without a doubt, one of the most popular games to watch on streaming platform Twitch. But what is it about this game that we used to associate with smoky casinos in Vegas that makes it so popular?
The game itself hasn’t changed much in almost a century, and if we are to believe historical reports, it has been in existence for almost a thousand years. But why the massive rise in popularity right now? Well, the clue is in our title — the internet.
Where it All Began
Throughout the late 90s, people played online poker for fun, with the first real game held online taking place on January 1, 1998. Always considered an option for people who couldn’t quite hack it at live brick-and-mortar casinos, poker professionals didn’t want anything to do with online poker rooms and thought nothing of the players who used them.
That all changed in 2003. That was the year that a completely unknown player with the rather apt name of Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. Now, there’s nothing unusual about a relatively unknown player winning a major poker event, but the difference here was that Moneymaker had qualified through an online satellite event.
Yes, Moneymaker was the type of online poker player that all the old pros never took seriously. That is until he won. Moneymaker changed the face of online poker and gave heart to the millions of online players who now realized that if he could do it, so could they. Online poker platforms enjoyed an unprecedented boom with registrations surpassing anything the gaming community had ever seen before.
Since then, online poker has continued its phenomenal rise in popularity, and professional players now take the online community seriously. In fact, many WSOP Main Event winners started out their careers online. Some players have even carved out successful careers playing only in online events.
Online vs. Live Poker
Besides the obvious difference that one is online while the other is in person, there are some stark contrasts between the live and online versions of the game. Yes, they are practically the same game, but how you play them and even the etiquette involved can differ significantly. But there’s one aspect of the online poker community that makes it hugely appealing in comparison to its live counterpart — accessibility.
From free poker tournaments to high-roller events, there’s a place at an online poker table for everyone from every walk of life. As an inclusive game, this makes it appealing to almost everyone. Age, gender, culture; none of these things make one bit of difference to the online community. People see usernames and avatars, and they don’t care about anything else.
In the world of live poker, even now, women are in the minority. There are, of course, many successful female poker players, but it’s still rough for them at the casino tables. But as we already mentioned, in the online community, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.
Then there’s the fact that for some people, getting to the casino to play poker may not be all that simple. For those living in rural areas, it might mean the need to stay in a hotel overnight. Imagine having to pay to stay in a hotel so that you could play a game of cards. But online poker ended all that and brought poker to the masses. Suddenly, people who could only play at home with their family or friends could now play in global online tournaments for real cash. Not only that, but they could also play on their phone or tablet anywhere they wanted.
Poker Goes Mainstream
Photo Credit: Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0
Thanks to some good publicity and live TV shows, poker became more of a sport than a game played at the casino. Audiences would watch tournaments on TV and marvel at how players managed their game. The WSOP also started to become more of a mainstream event with plenty of publicity leading up to the events painting the poker community in an extremely positive light.
That was, of course, helped by the many rags-to-riches stories of players who came from nowhere to win events or become accomplished pros. Now that millions of people online played the game, those who didn’t play it looked on it in a completely different light. It was now a game that people understood required no small amount of skill and that luck played no part.
While we have yet to reach a point where poker pros are household names, the game does have a certain celebrity appeal to it. And who knows, maybe one day, the likes of 2017 WSOP Main Event winner Scott Blumstein will be someone that your grandmother knows. Well, perhaps not that likely, but still not impossible.
What the Future Holds
So, if it’s not quite the scenario where players become household names, what can we expect for the future of online poker? The simple truth is that the boom shows no signs of letting up. The online poker community grows bigger by the day while poker providers add more innovative features to make the game easier and more convenient to play.
What we can expect for the future is more of the same. More people who play online poker on the train to work. More online tournaments with massive prizes. And more players making the move from online to live tournaments such as the WSOP. There’s no doubt that online poker has slowly but surely taken over the world of gaming, and that’s not a bad thing at all.