It seems like just yesterday that poker became a “sport” and was a major hit on ESPN, that in turn lead to people playing home games all over the world, and multiple poker websites popping up that allowed people to gamble from the comfort of their own homes.
But as quick as poker rose to the top of the sporting world, it just as quickly went away because, SHOCKER, people who run gambling sites do some shady shit. Today, we remember poker! One of the great leisure time activities turned popular.
The game took off in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker, who has one of the all-time great gambling names, came from out of nowhere to win the World Series of Poker Main Event. Literally, the guy was an accountant before winning the WSOP, and won a tournament that cost him all of $86 to enter, which got him a seat at the main event. He then turned that into $2.5 million and the game took off.
In my view, the game took off because a regular guy could do it and win, and of course when you see literally stacks of cash sitting on the table for the winner, you want to do that. It’s a bit like curling at the Olympics, the people playing it don’t look like amazing athletes who are in great shape, so you also think you could easily do that and make it rich with a little bit of luck. Little do most of the people at home know that these pros spend almost every waking moment playing poker and honing their craft.
I remember after Moneymaker won (I was 15 at the time it aired) that the game took off among people at school. If you had downtime in class, you played poker to dealt yourself practice hands. Nearly every kid in my group of high school friends had a set of poker chips and some sort of table to play on in their basement, and we had games almost every weekend that were nothing more than $5 to buy in. Even at that low price, we all still did the shit we saw on TV, wearing hats and sunglasses to make us feel like we were real poker players.
Hell, people had favorite players like they did favorite baseball or football players, everyone from Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson. These guys were household names for sitting at a table for hours on end and hoping the cards came their way.
There was and still is a tour that formed because the sport got so popular, the World Poker Tour, which was on regional sports networks, and offered huge prizes on its weekly shows. It was basically the NBA or whatever other league you prefer, but with poker. And it still exists to this day.
After Moneymaker won his online tournament, the game blew up thanks to the internet. Sites like PokerStars, Party Poker, Pacific Poker, Full Tilt, and others grew into a more than a $2 billion industry. And why not, you were playing for real money, with buy-ins as low as a dollar in some cases, or in others offering free entrance into other tournaments where big money or a trip to the WSOP was on the line. You could literally sit on the couch, play online poker for money, and watch whatever you wanted on TV.
This all lasted until 2011, eight years worth of poker, before “Black Friday” saw the US Department of Justice seize PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker, freezing the money on those sites when it was found that Full Tilt was basically a Ponzi scheme that had duped players out of more than $300 million dollars. To give you an idea of how much money these sites were taking in, PokerStars was able to immediately pay of $1 billion in fines. B as in Billion.
So yeah, here’s to you poker. While you may not be as cool as you were back when I was in high school, we’ll never forget how much money you cost us growing up. Man, I miss poker.