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The Boom and Beyond

Most people can remember the iconic image of Chris Moneymaker sitting behind those thin, darkened shades, a table separating him from Sam Farha, and a monster robbery in progress on the felt.  As it turned out, Farha flinched first and was bluffed out by Tennessee’s most notable accountant, and his resulting victory unhinged the floodgates on the modern poker boom.  As I thought about a third segment in poker’s history, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just Moneymaker who contributed to the so-called Moneymaker effect.  Subsequent Main Event victories by Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, Jamie Gold, and Jerry Yang had most of the world believing that the dream of winning the Main Event could be theirs, too!  The question remaining was, “How do I get there?”  The answer was and still is being found in the online qualifying series that almost every notable online poker room has been holding for the better part of a decade.

In reality, the final chapter of poker’s history cannot be told without the internet and the players who have grown up playing on the digital felt.  Its hard to guess what might happen if the best online players today were matched with the best players from the backrooms in Texas, but the point remains that you need both groups to tell the whole story of poker.  Online players have learned to process information faster, make more rapid decisions more often, and how to use complex software programs to chart their results and the results of other players.  Still, the game itself remains the same as the one that was played slowly, deliberately, and with very particular rules of etiquette in riverboats and saloons across the American West.  How poker is being played has changed, but the game itself remains intrinsically the same.

What is most interesting to note in the modern history of poker are the trends that we believe will likely continue for years and decades to come.  Some of those are, in no particular order:

1.  Tracking Software/Programs. No matter how they are used, the reality is that data-mining software has built a very math-conscious breed of young players, and they learn to read statistical tendencies based on long-term use of the programs.  Our guess is that even as the software changes, their approach will remain more or less the same.  They will stay highly aggressive, highly analytical, and capable of making rapid decisions for longer periods of time.

2.  Players who specialize in Tournament Play.
It used to be that players like Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Barry Greenstein, Chau Giang, and others would show up at casinos hosting tournaments not to play in the tournaments themselves, but to reap rewards from the inevitable cash games that would spring up as players busted out.  Nowadays, though, players are growing up more focused than ever on tournament-specific concepts.  Twenty years ago, it was unthinkable that a player would ever be able to sustain a professional’s income solely from tournaments.  It will not be uncommon over the next twenty years to find young players who are generating most of their income from tournament play.  There is more action and opportunity than ever in tournaments, and younger players are beginning to cash in on it.

3.  A Fluctuation of Poker’s Popularity in the Mainstream Media. In the early to mid 2000’s, you could barely watch ESPN without a WSOP commercial or episode coming on.  As time has passed, so has poker’s televised popularity, but that isn’t to say that no one is watching.  Poker shows are flourishing on other networks, including GSN’s High Stakes Poker and NBC’s Poker After Dark.  Those shows tend to give visibility to lesser-known cash game players, and it is easy to believe that other shows like them will spring up in the years to come.  Poker will probably wax and wane in terms of its mainstream popularity, but at the same time its core base of fans/players will increase as television exposure goes up.

4.  An increase in Mixed Game formats, particularly in Live Play. The all NLHE, all the time players have figured each other out, and once you factor in the inevitable rake or seat rental it is fast becoming a negative sum game, even though their skill level has remained more or less constant.  What is happening as a result is that players are learning new games, or in some cases younger players are finding out what some of the “old games” are all about!  You can find players online learning both forms of Lowball (A-5 & 2-7), Badugi, 5 card draw, and other games that aren’t what they initially cut their teeth on.  They may be learning the games online, but they will no doubt take their skills into live play, and our prediction is that not too long from now, it will be mixed game tables that begin competing with Hold Em-only tables on the live casino floor.  Players are simply getting more diverse, that’s all there is to it.

As players who have the chance to play this game in 2011 and beyond, we have no choice but to be thankful for our past and the players who made it possible, but we’realso excited about our future!  There are a lot of unknowns in the future of poker, but what we do know is that wherever a few friends can find a deck and pull together the stakes to play over, there will always be a poker game going somewhere, and we are grateful for that.  I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them, and as always, Good Luck at the Tables!!