This poker blog started off in late 2009. As I’ve slowly but surely become more established as a member of the poker media since that time, I’ve often thought of what things must have been like in the famed “boom years” immediately following Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event win in 2003. I’ve read, watched, and listened to countless articles, videos, and podcasts of both players and poker industry members reflecting back on those “glory days”. They all seem to speak of those times with near-holy reverence. Many “survivors” of the one-two punch that was the UIGEA-Black Friday have wistfully clung to the hope that our game might someday boom again.
I say “survivors” because what happened on those fateful days back in 2006 and 2011 did, indeed, decimate wide swathes of our industry. Many players whose bankrolls had vaulted to tremendous heights courtesy of sponsorship dollars and endorsement deals saw all that beautiful, sweet money evaporate into thin air. Some never recovered, now languishing in poker purgatory or having left the game altogether. Operators took hits that either cut their legs out from under them or wiped them out entirely. Poker media outlets, once a full house, diminished to a mere high hand, with the remnant having played their cards incredibly carefully in order to have still stayed in the game.
“Poker is dying”, many wailed during the fallow years. “What happened to poker?” they lamented. “How do we get more people to play our game?” they wondered. “What can we do to make poker fun again?” they asked. Yet, alongside all of that melancholy, a phoenix somehow arose from the ashes.
The fact of the matter is that the tenacious ones didn’t just throw their hands up in the air and pray to the poker gods to save them. They got back in the lab and kept on grinding. They stuck their noses down and worked their asses off. They embraced new forms of media via which to actively try and grow the game. They toughed it out; that’s why they’re called survivors.
On top of that, a relatively small but enthusiastic and passionate new wave of people joined the ranks of the survivors – both players and industry/media – and injected new life into poker. Operators started to double down and invest more in the game, sponsoring deserving players once more and putting together new, fun live event series all over the world.
Notwithstanding all of that, a poker boom is not something you can create “artificially” via brute force; otherwise the game’s appeal never would have waned from its peak in the first place. Poignantly, perhaps the ebbs and flows of poker’s overall popularity are much like the game itself: sometimes you’ll run badly while other times you’ll run well.
My View from the Rose-Tinted Keyboard
I’ll never truly know what it was like to be a part of the poker world during the original boom years, but from my perspective, as someone who just started out at the turn of the past decade, the game of poker seems to be thriving once more.
A laundry list of phenomenal occurrences have jolted poker like a lightning bolt over the past year, including the emergence of PokerGO (a Netflix-like poker elixir for the masses) and Kevin Hart becoming a (dare I say the) mainstream face of poker. Tony G has gotten off his parliamentary bike and made a triumphant return to the game while Leon Tsoukernik has taken it upon himself to build a gleaming new European poker mecca in – of all places – Rozvadov, Czech Republic. partypoker, 888poker, Unibet Poker, and other more minor operators have thrown their hats in the ring to truly start putting on first-rate live events worldwide – with PokerStars publicly welcoming (even lauding!) the competition. The perhaps-traditional bellwether of poker’s health, the annual WSOP, seems to indicate our game is in fantastic shape, with ESPN having renewed their TV contract once more and as the Rio’s hallowed halls are overflowing with activity among vendors as well as sheer human foot traffic. High rollers are lining up to out-shark one another for nosebleed stakes both at tournament and cash game tables.
On the media side of things, content of the highest quality is being produced at an astonishing clip by an ever-increasing number of outlets not only of the traditional variety, but also by the players themselves. From kick-ass social media postings by pros with high follower counts, to hours-long live-streamed poker conversations (shout out to the ultimate PAPI, Joey Ingram!), to cutting-edge vlogs from legends like Daniel Negreanu and emerging superstars like Andrew Neeme, we’re officially in the age of poker information overload. I’m first and foremost a poker fan, consuming oodles of poker media content on a daily basis for hours at a time, and I simply can’t keep up anymore; there’s just too much great stuff out there!
It takes time and effort to produce buzz-worthy content and the fact of the matter is that everything going on out there in the poker world has fans buzzing big time. The people working so hard to create all of this buzz are highly intelligent; not the sort of people to throw good money after bad. They love poker and are intensely passionate about our game. So, in sum, there’s tons of positive energy driving poker’s current flourish.
And no, I’m not living in an alternate reality. I know that the state of the online poker world is a long ways from the supernova it once was. Nonetheless, while progress sadly remains slow on the legislative front, it is nonetheless being made. The future does in fact look bright, if painfully distant.
Take a Moment to Bask in Poker’s Limelight
So what, then, was the point of writing up this op-ed? What sort of argument am I making? What am I telling all of you reading this – avid poker fans and enthusiasts – that you aren’t already aware of?
I suppose that I’d just like to encourage everyone in the poker world to take a minute to stop and smell the roses. Poke your head up from the lab and look around at our beautiful game. Witness the phenomenal stories unfolding before our eyes. Watch the increasing masses come back to poker again, as well as the newbies signing up for poker training courses and getting rowdy on the rails for the very first time and smile, especially if you’re one of the “survivors”. You’ve made it out of the long, dark tunnel.
Poker is booming again. Let’s all enjoy the ride!