It’s hard to imagine that at one point, poker was a game played only in casinos or between friends at the kitchen table. But the incredible rise in popularity of the game over the last decade has seen poker step out of the smoky casinos of old and into the mainstream. But why is it so popular these days, it’s still the same game isn’t it?
The answer is yes and no. But we’ll get to that later.
To understand the reasons behind this rise in popularity, we first need to look at a few common misconceptions about the game of poker.
There are quite a few misperceptions or what you might call myths about poker, and here are a few of the most notorious.
It’s a Game of Luck
Tell any poker player that he or she was lucky to win a pot and you’ll likely find yourself on the receiving end of a cold death stare. The fact that someone would have the nerve to suggest that a player’s hard work and efforts were nothing more than luck merely displays their ignorance of the game.
You see, poker is a game of strategy and skill, and while the rules may seem straightforward enough, learning how to play is no simple task. Yes, you may understand the rules, but it takes years of hard work and practice to master the various intricacies of the game. Reading a player’s actions and reactions, learning how to switch strategies when the unexpected happens and knowing when to quit versus play are skills that only the best players have mastered. So, saying that it’s a game of luck is a little misguided at the least.
It Costs A Lot of Money to Play
While you may remember Matt Damon and Ed Norton playing for high stakes in the movie “Rounders” or 007 playing for his life in several James Bond flicks, in the real world, poker players rarely play with so much money on the table.
In fact, the most successful poker players set a budget for their games and stick to it while many others adopt a low-stakes strategy, which involves playing for low stakes, making small wins. The upside to this is that when they lose, they lose small.
Nope, poker doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money to play, and if you adopt the right strategy, then a night at the tables will likely cost you as much as a night out at a club or possibly even less.
You Need a Cold-as-Ice Poker Face to Play
Perhaps in a casino you do, but if you’re sticking to online poker rooms, then you can wear a clown mask for all anyone cares. There was a time when only the coolest of the cool could hope for success at the poker tables, but thankfully, the game is now open to all. Yes, even those of us that blush furiously at the slightest provocation.
Caption: Now that’s a poker face!
So now that we’ve blown those myths out of the water, let’s look at online poker rooms.
The Internet Takes a Seat at the Table
We have so many online poker rooms in 2018 that it’s difficult to imagine that there was, in fact, a time when poker was a novelty on the internet. No one played it, and the poker pros didn’t take it seriously, but all that changed in 2003.
That was the year that Chris Moneymaker made his mark on the poker scene, winning the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Vegas after spending the months before the event grinding out wins in online poker rooms. It opened the floodgates, and would-be poker players soon realized that the online rooms were the perfect place to hone their skills against high-quality players before stepping into live games.
As you can see from the graph below, it took less than a decade for online poker to grow from a $300-million to a $6.7-billion industry.
The online poker boom from 2003-2012. |Credit: Statista
This boom coupled with the public success of several players that got their starts online resulted in a significant shift in the public’s perception of the game, dispelling some of those myths we mentioned earlier.
We’re not quite at the point yet where everyone is fully accepting of poker, but we’re on the right track. Online players such as 2017 WSOP winner Scott Blumstein have opened a whole new chapter in the world of poker. A new age where successful poker players are average people that dedicated themselves to mastering a skill and succeeded.
Live events such as the WSOP, live poker streams and of course, coverage on national television have done a lot for the game, instilling a sense of awe and wonder in the public as they watch the skills of these average men and women who play pro poker.
Last year’s WSOP Main Event was broadcast live by ESPN and pulled in 615,000 viewers. Now that might not seem like a lot, but the idea that any poker game could have brought in more than half a million viewers would have been laughable just a decade ago.
But the most obvious indication of a game’s move into the mainstream than celebrity endorsement, and no we don’t mean sponsored appearances and the likes. We’re talking about the fact that celebrities from a wide range of genres now feel that it’s acceptable to enter tournaments and have their photos taken sitting at a table.
And if you think this is a unique scenario, then think again, many celebrities who are skilled poker players showing up at live events and shining a positive light on the game. What was once a public relations taboo is now a hobby that footballers, movie stars and musicians unashamedly take part in and rightfully so.
Photo by Олег Дубина, CC BY
World Cup and European Championship winner Gerard Pique is a noted poker player.
The truth is that the reason poker is becoming popular is not just down to public perception and celebrity endorsements. The convenience of poker apps and online casinos make the game accessible to anyone who has an internet connection and at last count that was roughly 51 percent of the world’s population. Will it ever become as mainstream as football or horseracing? We’re not sure, but at the current rate, it’s hard to argue otherwise.