With Saturday’s WSOP Final Table almost upon us I’ve decided to take a look at just how poker got to the point that we are seeing $9 million awarded to the WSOP Champion, 5 or 6 major poker tournament series running around the globe, and literally tens-of-millions of people playing poker around the world.
In my estimation the current poker climate is a result of a perfect storm of events that started in 1997 and culminated in 2003. The three key events were the release of the movie Rounders in 1997; the advent of Internet poker in 1998; and what I call the Moneymaker Effect, which took place in 2003.
Honestly, without Rounders it’s unlikely that the droves of young players we now see in the game would exist. Rounders made poker sexy, eliminating the old portrait of a bunch of 50 year-old men sitting around smoking cigars, and replaced it with a dramatized, but still the most accurate portrayal of the poker world.
The second cog in the poker machine was the capability to play online poker. Before online poker, learning the game was a very expensive proposition when you consider that the lowest stakes you’re likely to find in a brick & mortar card-room were $2/$4 Limit Holdem, if you were fortunate enough to live anywhere near a card-room. Now these young players that drawn to the game by Rounders could hone their skills playing for quarters in the comfort of their own home.
The final component was Chris Moneymaker and the 2003 WSOP. Everything came together perfectly in 2003: The online poker rooms and players had grown to become an entity in their own right by this point –after all the 2003 attracted 873 players before the Moneymaker Effect! And with the addition of the Hole-Card Cam, poker was a powder-keg ready to explode; all it needed was a face. And a face it received in the guise of Chris Moneymaker. Moneymaker typifies the everyman, and gave every online poker player hope, not to mention creating a legion of non-online poker players that suddenly flocked to the Internet poker tables.
Moneymaker was used brilliantly by ESPN, showing how a little bit of guts, luck, and moxie could turn you into a world beater, capable of taking down the pros. Moneymaker showed his guts with a fearless call against Dutch Boyd; he showed how luck can rule the day with the 2-outer beat he laid on Humberto Brenes; and his moxie was on display when he bluffed Sammy Farha heads-up. Malcolm Gladwell would call 2003 a “Tipping Point” for poker.