Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Remember the old sitcoms with the guys smoking cigars and playing poker? Poker isn’t your granddad’s game anymore. Thousands of new players are entering the poker nation. Universities are becoming breeding grounds for the next group of professional poker players. Bars and Restaurants host weekly tournaments, casinos are opening poker rooms, and home games are a dime a dozen these days.
Ask any player about why poker is so hot and you will hear one of three fundamental reasons. Number one is Television, Number Two is the Internet, and Number Three is the World Series of Poker. These three vehicles have propelled poker into what many people are calling The Golden Age of Poker. The interesting thing is that the three vehicles are all intertwined with each other, such that without anyone of them, poker probably would never have reached the popularity it garnishes today.
ESPN has been filming the World Series of Poker for many years. The series would usually air late at night when ESPN needed to fill air time. It was boring programming to watch as we could only speculate what each player was holding unless there was a showdown. Watching poker was kind of like watching grass grow. Truly, the filming of the WSOP was not what brought about poker popularity…..or was it?
Enter: the table video camera. Contrary to popular belief, the World Poker Tour is not the first television series to use a camera to reveal the players cards to the audience. The first television show to use this concept was Late Night Poker, a British poker television show which first aired in 1999. The WPT began airing on the Travel Channel in 2003.
The use of the camera allowed the audience to “sweat” a player’s hand, analyzing how he plays relative to the information available to him. The viewer now had a “stake” in the game. In fact, it was more than that. The viewer now knew what all of the cards players were holding.
Thusly, the “secrets” of the pros were revealed. We could see when a player was bluffing, or when he was slow playing. I think it was like when a magician gives away the secrets of a few tricks so you will come back for more. We could see how someone can skillfully affect the outcome of a hand. Viewers were able to learn how a bluff in one hand will win a pot but in another hand might cost a player a lot of money.
The WPT might not be the first show to use the table cameras, but it can take the credit for catapulting Poker into the spot light. I believe the cameras were a large reason that the show is successful, but I also think the hosts need to take some credit. Late Night Poker had the camera, but British commentary is considered very boring in the United States and wasn’t received with as much gala as the WPT. Think what you will of Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, but they have been a well received team and are in no small measure a rationale for the shows success.
While television has brought the high stakes game of poker in to every living room across the country for us to watch, it is the internet that has been responsible for getting all of those players together to play. With the advent of online came instant player pool. You could play from the comfort of your own home with players from across the world. The greatest thing about the internet is there is ALWAYS a game at ANY TIME you want to play. Additionally, you have the largest choice of the type of poker game you want to play from triple draw low ball to the evermore popular, Texas Holdem.
The internet made playing tournaments a breeze. There is no easier way to run a large field of players than to do so using the internet. No one ever would have believed that 4000 players could be playing simultaneously in the same tournament. The internet made that possible. As more and more players log on, tournaments buy ins were reduced to affordable levels with large pay offs. A $30 buy in could now net you thousands of dollars for a first place win.
World Series of Poker.
The WSOP has been happening since 1970. There have been a lot of changes since then, but the biggest change of all is the ability of the average Joe winning the big one. It used to be that the $10,000 buy-in was so enormous; it prevented the average or even an above average player from entering. That all changed Chris Moneymaker turned $40 into $2.5 Million dollars. The on-line sites began running satellite tournaments that allowed players to earn a seat to the WSOP with a small investment. Moneymaker was one of 839 entries in 2003 $10,000 buy-in main event. Since Moneymaker, the number of entries has exploded such that in 2005 there were an unprecedented 5619 entries in the main event. No one has ever hosted a live tournament with so many entries. The sheer volume of players makes running a tournament of this size a logistical nightmare. But the popularity of the tournament shows no signs of slowing down and early estimates are that 2006 will exceed 8000 entries.
As you can see the three vehicles are intertwined and continue to propel Poker to the forefront of recreational activity. Don’t believe me? Go look at PP, PS, and UB sites right this minute. I don’t care what time of day you are reading this, there will be thousands. In the evenings, the numbers are staggering. Flip through your television guide and you will find dozens of poker programs during the week. Watch the television commercials and you will notice that a significant number of them are using a “poker theme”. Poker has arrived. The question everyone wants to know though is, how long will it last?