The game of poker saw a huge boom between the years 2003 and 2006 and while it was due to many factors, it arguably ignited with the famous story of amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. It then saw huge increases in the number of active players, both at land events and at online poker rooms and the game became the center of an industry worth billions of dollars.
Over the last few years, poker has been dropping in popularity and some believe that it is just the calm before the storm, with a boom building up and ready to take place in the next few years. However, looking at the current landscape a bit closer will reveal the fact that things aren’t so inclined and poker will most likely continue to decline in popularity in the near future.
The rise and rise of poker
Poker has long been considered a game of skill where luck plays a role only in the short term. It requires great patience and a set of precise skills in order to win and this made the pros seem unbeatable more than a decade ago. This changed when an amateur poker player by the name of Chris Moneymaker qualified for the 2003 WSOP Main Event from an online satellite while playing at PokerStars. He went on to turn that $39 ticket into a $10,000 buy-in and then into a $2,500,000 first place prize after besting a field of 839 players.
The feared professional players no longer seemed so strong and amateur players with decent knowledge of the game started chasing the dream that Moneymaker showed it can actually be a reality.
The number of players doubled every year between 2003 and 2006 and the World Series of Poker saw huge fields take to the tables and thus generating prize pools where multiple players would become millionaires.
Online poker also saw huge increases and most of the big poker rooms where based in the United States. This took a turn for the worse when the UIGEA was passed into law in late-2006 and several big sites where shut down by the Federal Government. If in 2006 the WSOP Main Event had a field of 8,773 players, in 2007 it dropped to 6,358; mostly due to the change in regulations.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the field was of 6,420 players this year, creating a prize pool of over $60 million. Needless to say that poker remains a very popular game but another boom remains unlikely.
Players have more and easier options available
With the internet growing and becoming a bigger part of our daily lives, potential poker players have a lot more alternatives on which to focus and try to make a living out of. Back in 2004, online poker was seen as the best option by far for those with the right set of skills to put in the time and effort in order to make significant amounts of money. The scales have certainly changed over the years and there are many more options, both for entertainment and for a real money-making career, which can be easier. Poker apps can easily be lost in the sea of options available online.
If a decade ago there were only a few good books to use to better understand the game, now there is a huge amount of information just clicks away. Those who stuck with the game over the years have improved their skills very much and casual players and newcomers don’t stand a chance anymore. The skill gap at online tables is very significant, even at the lower stakes, and it is much harder to play poker casually when the tables are filled with sharks.
Many believe that even a great poker player from 2003 would be destroyed by an average-skilled player from today. This in turn discourages new players from checking out the game and depositing more money after losing the starting bankroll.
Boom factors no longer plausible
Of course, the poker boom wasn’t just due to Chris Moneymaker winning the Main Event and he was just the popularized trigger. The truth is that there were plenty of factors which contributed to the fast growth of the industry; factors which don’t seem likely to be reproduced nowadays.
One of the key elements was based around televised poker and the use of table cameras that would allow the spectators to see the hole cards. With a delay for live streaming, this made the game much more exciting to watch since viewers could see the cards of the players while they were playing them and commentators could share their thoughts rather than just try to guess what cards they might be holding. ESPN made the decision to broadcast action from the WSOP Main Event around the time of the boom and even the 1998 movie Rounders helped the boom start as it reached cult status by 2003.
Other factors and looser regulations made it possible but they also suggest the fact that a poker boom is not in the cards right now.