Some of us who have been around poker a while still have fond memories of the period that came after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 big win in the WSOP Main Event. That win, which came after Chris defeated none other than Sam Farha heads up, triggered a craze for poker that no one could have seen coming.
The unlikely victory by an amateur in the field filled with professional players signaled that anyone could win with a bit of luck and a bit of skill. All of a sudden, thousands of people across the globe started looking to poker as a potential new career. If Moneymaker could do it, anyone could – they just needed their shot.
We’re now some fifteen years later and to say that the enthusiasm for poker has dwindled away would be an understatement. Some of those who caught the “poker bug” in those early days did manage to make careers and earn quite a bit money in the process but the rest moved on. Those glorious days of poker are now just a distant memory.
One can’t help but wonder if that’s it for poker? It had its day in the spotlight and that day lasted for quite a while but the momentum is now gone. There is no going back unless something happens that could trigger another poker boom, similar to the one we had during the mid-2000s. But, how likely is that to happen?
The Novelty Is Gone
One thing that really helped poker get to where it was for a long time was the novelty factor. At the start of the poker boom, people knew about the game but weren’t quite familiar with it. All the hype that ensued after the 2003 Main Event helped pique their curiosity and many hobby players started to discover aspects of the game (Texas Hold’em) unknown to them up to that point.
Advertised as a game that takes “five minutes to learn a lifetime to master,” poker has become a challenge. Was there a way to figure the game out and devise strategies that would give you upper hand at the tables?
The luck factor aside, were there things in the game waiting to be discovered, which would make one superior and make them a part of poker history (earning them heaps of money in the process)?
And back in the day, there was so much to learn about the game; there were things that even top pros had no clue about.
But that novelty is now gone. While serious students of the game still come up with new strategies and suggestions all the time, these are definitely minor adjustments that require thinking at the highest level. For most of those who tried poker, that initial excitement is gone. Some made it, most others figured it just weren’t their cup of tea.
Poker Is Not Dead – But It Is Stagnating
Oftentimes, people will talk about poker being dead. This is simply not true. Large tournaments still attract thousands of people from all four corners of the world. Largest online poker rooms still have dozens of tournaments and hundreds of cash game tables running around the clock.
People still enjoy the game very much but it has entered a sort of stagnation phase where the number of new players jumping in is definitely below satisfactory levels.
A problem with poker is that it isn’t really all that great as a pure hobby. It’s fine if you’re just playing against your friends in your living room, where everyone is on a similar level. But, if you decide to try your luck online, for example, unless you’re pretty good, your bankroll won’t last long these days. And, you won’t have that much fun playing, either.
For the most part, playing correct poker can be very boring. You have to fold a lot, you can’t afford to “keep people honest,” and rewards for playing a particular hand very well often aren’t that great. In the early days of poker boom, people seeking the thrill of gambling could find it at poker tables because many others were gambling it up as well.
These days, those looking to gamble will usually be bored to death as they’ll only get looked up when somebody wakes up with an absolute monster of a hand.
So, the game has reached a point where the “fish” is starting to lose interest. And without the fish, it is the game where the money moves around and it is really hard to win for anyone but a few of the best. This, in turn, leads to many formerly dedicated and solid players jumping the ship as well. Things just aren’t the same any more.
Could Poker Thrive Again?
With the current state of affairs, things aren’t looking that good for poker. Just recently, a player qualified for free for the PokerStars Players Championship, a $25,000 event. He ended up winning the whole thing, earning $5.1 million. He was certainly thrilled about it, but there was no media craze surrounding it. There was no Moneymaker effect.
Back in the day, poker was advertised as everybody’s game and that was what attracted people. The possibility of anyone having their day on the felt and taking home big bucks. These days, however, there are virtually no amateurs as such. People winning tournaments are usually professional or semi-professional poker players.
The guy winning that PSPC event plays $100 Spin & Go’s for a living. Although the tournament he won is well above his average buy-in, it’s not the fairy tale-like story to get people to dream about poker again.
So, what should happen for another poker boom to take place?
I’m really not sure. With so many big tournaments and big wins all over the place, people have become somewhat detached. Winning a cool million meant something back in the day. These days, there are dozens of high roller tournaments, every single one of them awarding more than $1,000,000 for the winner.
Poker Will Never Be Dead – But the Poker Dream May Well Be
If a regular Joe can’t get excited about the game, he or she will never consider it. The initial poker boom motivated armies of young people who looked to it as a way to build their lives and have a career that offers freedom and great financial returns. The youth of today is no longer inspired by poker. There is simply no mystique that surrounded the game back in the day.
During those early days, someone with a bit of dedication and some talent could easily take a small bankroll to one of many online sites and parlay that bankroll into a five, six, or even seven-figure sum. That’s just not possible today. To stand a chance at any serious level these days, you’d need to spend months learning and preparing.
Don’t get me wrong, it can still be done, but it’s definitely not easy.
So, the poker dream as such is gone. These days, to succeed in poker, you need to put in just as much (if not more) work as you’d have with many other jobs. Those willing to work hard and dedicate themselves to their choices can still succeed. But not many people dream of sitting in front of their computers ten hours a day, six days a week, just to make decent living.
Add to this the inevitable variance that comes with playing poker professionally and it really isn’t the dream career for most people. With a regular job, you may earn a bit less but you can also count on getting paid regularly. With poker, no matter how good you are, you’ll still have losing streaks you’ll have to deal with.
Live Games as an Alternative?
For those who still dream about making it in poker, live games are probably the way to go. Unlike the internet, which is filled with people who put in the work and aren’t there to give their money away, live games are still filled with people who are there just to have fun. Some of them have been playing for decades and still play the same way they did 20 years ago.
The problem is, if we were to ever have another poker boom, it just has to happen online. The live poker scene is just too limiting. Not everyone has access to a live poker room.
Furthermore, if you were to play live, you have to schedule your entire life around it. Games usually take place at night and play into early morning hours. You can’t fire up a sessions at one in the afternoon and be done before the dinner.
Conclusion: It’s a Gunshot Draw at Best
A new poker boom could still happen but it is very unlikely at this point. There were a few things taking place over the years that could help trigger it but it had never happened. At this stage, it is hard to envision a scenario where people would go crazy for poker once again the way they did in those golden days.
If regulated online poker comes back to the US (which is finally looking like a real possibility), it could definitely play a big role in fueling a new poker boom. With online poker being gone from America for so long, there is a huge untapped market there, which could mean a lot of fresh blood pumped into the game’s economy.
But the fact remains this won’t happen because of events that took place 15 odd years ago. A good marketing strategy could perhaps do the trick and pique the interest of those completely new to the game. Whether that initial interest can grow into something more serious is another matter entirely. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.