The exact origin of Poker is a debatable topic. Some say it started as an American spin on the Persian game of As-Nas. Many game historians have disagreed with this traditional view since the 1990s. Whichever side is true, poker has indubitably existed for nearly two centuries now. So, from dimly lit salons and crowded bar tables to multi-million dollar tournaments, it has been a long journey dotted with milestone moments. Here are a few of these important events that would charter the historical course of poker:
1970, The World Series of Poker is Born
The path of poker to mainstream prominence in the U.S. was waylaid by none other than Benny Binion. Lifetime gambler, entrepreneur, and career criminal, Binion was the patriarch of Horseshoe, a downtown Las Vegas casino. Some of the credit for WSOP’s birth goes to Tom Moore, owner of Holiday Casino in Reno, Nevada. Alongside gambling visionary Vin Vickery, Moore would hold the ‘Texas Gamblers Reunion’ in 1969 by inviting the biggest poker stars to Reno. This also turned out to be the only Texas Gambler’s Reunion to be held. Binion’s Horseshoe held the first-ever WSOP the next year, modeled after the Gambles’ Reunion, with grandiose ambitions for its future.
The 1970 WSOP was a de-facto championship held outside Vegas. It garnered little to no media attention. It was merely a week of high-stakes poker games among aficionados. In the end, the winner, Johnny Moss, did not win a ‘championship’ as such. His prize was the figurative laurel of ‘all-around best player’ agreed upon by his peers.
Poker caught mainstream public attention thanks to the 1972 WSOP champion ‘Armadillo Slim’ Preston. Riding his conquest, he personally took the initiative to do publicity tours. By 1980, he would go on to appear in talk shows, star in movies, and write a best-seller. Media attention on poker catapulted further in 1973. This year, the CBS aired the WSOP main event and the four preliminary events. It would open doors to more people taking an active interest in poker, including a previously uncovered demographic: women.
1998 New Year’s Eve, Poker Goes Online
With the media attention gradually soaring, online poker was an outcome waiting to happen. So it happened with Planet Poker, the first-ever cardroom in history involving real cash. Planet Poker is the brain-child of navy veteran and engineer Randy Blumer. Blumer had the foresight to advertise his website preemptively in 1997 on Card Player magazine. When Planet Poker launched in 1998, it had already amassed a customer base eager to play immediately.
There were a handful of technical handicaps for an online cardroom in 1998. The Internet itself was a novelty. Aside from geographical outages, the customers used unstable and slow dial-up connections. Despite these growing pains, Poker Planet hit an immense milestone within the first month of its launch. In February 1998, a long game of online Texas hold ’em took place overnight and continued till the next evening with players rotating in and out. So, Planet Poker would continue to balloon in popularity throughout the year. By the end of the millennium, its popularity had given rise to several competitors, including the overnight success Paradise Poker (founded 1999).
2003, The Moneymaker Effect
The World Series continues to grow exponentially, largely thanks to satellite TV coverage. It had become popular enough within the first two decades for its champions to achieve celebrity status.
Even so, the common man saw WSOP entrants as a niche. It was just 800 then. Among these eight hundred was a certain Chris Moneymaker. An unknown comptroller from Atlanta, Chris had no verifiable previous ties to the pro-gambling scene. He won his seat at the World Series through an online PokerStars tournament with a $86 buy-in. Little did anyone know that Chris would win the grand prize of $2.5 million.
The rags-to-riches narrative of Moneymaker’s Triumph globally-inspired millions of people to try poker themselves. Thus, the resultant rapid growth of interest in poker was later dubbed the ‘Moneymaker Effect’ by the press.
2011, The Black Friday
However, not all milestone moments have a positive note. April 25, 2011 marked the indictment of PokerStars in the infamous US vs. PokerStars et al civil case. In addition, US vs. Scheinberg, it linked major players in the online poker industry (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the Cereus network) to several breaches of the UIGEA, bank fraud, and money laundering. Thus, this loss and the $3 million asset forfeiture left a permanent dark spot in the history of poker.
The professional poker scene is only past its infancy of a few decades. The emergent AI technology marks the future of Poker. Pluribus’ flagship Poker AI beating five players in a six-max game is only the first breakthrough. We still have ages of professional poker to look forward to in the future.
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