Online poker is an industry that has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in a very short amount of time. It’s safe to say that the spread of internet access across the world and the general appeal of the game are the two main things that contributed to the success of online poker.

However, during the years that online poker has been around, it has undergone massive changes. Here are the top 10 innovations that propelled the game to where it is today.

10. Online Tournament Series

Nowadays, there is an online tournament starting every minute, but most of them don’t offer the possibility of a really big score. Most of the major tournaments across all networks have been traditionally reserved for Sundays when the influx of players is at its peak, but the introduction of tournament series offered players daily tournament action lasting for weeks in a row.

The earliest and still the most famous series is the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). It was introduced by PokerStars in 2002 and its popularity soon gave rise to numerous other tournament series. Today, big tournament series are still highly anticipated events across all major networks, bringing in huge amounts of players to compete for massive paydays.

9. Live Event Satellites

Before online poker, the idea of satellites to major live events was not that widespread. With the absence of online satellites, searching for satellites to a big event wasn’t an easy thing to do, but once they were added to the line-up of online offerings, they became an instant success.

Players could now qualify to events all around the world from the comfort of their own home, which was pretty amazing considering the effort it took just a few years prior to that. Perhaps the biggest advertisement for live event satellites came with Chris Moneymaker when he won the WSOP Main Event after qualifying through a $39 satellite on PokerStars. After that, it was hard to imagine how people could resist them.

8. Guaranteed Prize Pools

In the very early days of online poker, offerings were slim compared to modern day networks. Many poker rooms only offered one or two game types and the ‘high stakes’ cash games were the $2/$4 games.

While rooms were still developing, guaranteed prize pools were obviously not their top priority, especially considering that they don’t actually do anything. Very rarely will a tournament fail to reach its guaranteed prize pool, and since the overwhelming majority of tournaments do reach their guarantees, poker rooms don’t lose a single cent.

However, guaranteed prize pools became a big part of online tournaments when poker rooms realized that seeing a guaranteed amount in the tournament prize pool was a huge deal to many players. Nowadays, the vast majority of online tournaments feature guaranteed prize pools and it’s hard to imagine that this will ever change.

7. Multi-Tabling

One of the main advantages of online poker over live poker is the ability to play multiple tables at the same time. Online poker rooms began realizing this pretty early on and began expanding the number of tables players could open at the same time exponentially.

While the addition of multi-tabling is undoubtedly one the biggest innovations that led to the expansion of online poker, some poker rooms view it as a double-edged sword, preferring to limit the maximum number of tables players can open at the same time. Despite arguments for and against unlimited multi-tabling, statistically, poker rooms that allow virtually unlimited multi-tabling have been much more successful in attracting vast numbers of players.

6. Play Money Poker

It’s probably safe to say that many, if not the majority of players who have ever played online poker for real money started out by trying it out on the play money tables. It easy to see how new players may be intimidated by jumping into the real money games straight away and risking their hard earned money. So play money tables are a crucial stepping stone, allowing players to get comfortable with the online games.

Nowadays, play money tables are still as popular as ever, so much so that most major poker rooms sell play money bundles for real money and rake the play money tables just like the real ones.

5. Rakeback

Rakeback is one of the few online poker innovations that did not come from the poker rooms themselves, but rather from the affiliates that they worked with. Since affiliates received part of the rake that players generated for referring them to the room in the first place, they began to offer part of their profits to players as rakeback.

This was a huge game-changer for online poker. Many players were not able to grind out a profit without actually beating the games. While eventually this proved to be a controversial thing for the longevity of online poker in general, it was a very good development for a lot of players, who amongst other things could quickly build up their bankrolls thanks to all that extra cash.

Nowadays, many poker rooms have integrated rakeback into their VIP reward systems, cutting the affiliates out of the equation, but the core of rakeback still remains, providing many players with much needed extra cash.

4. Tracking Software

For years, some players have been saying that tracking software has ruined online poker, and some poker rooms have even agreed with them, banning any kind of tracking software. This argument has rarely been taken seriously by most poker players and the only certain thing is that tracking software has had a major impact on the way online poker has evolved.

It’s safe to say that most people don’t use tracking software, but if you are a professional poker player, it’s hard to imagine that you don’t have Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker. For poker pros, tracking software has changed everything, allowing them to analyze games in detail, which was not possible prior to this type of software being developed.

All in all, the debate regarding tracking software being bad for the games can be summed up in the same way as multi-tabling. Currently, all the top online poker rooms have no restrictions when it comes to tracking software and that fact probably helped them to rise to where they are today.

3. Mobile/Tablet Poker

When smartphones took over the world, it was inevitable that sooner or later online poker would transition to this new medium as well. Once it did, it became a big game changer, attracting lots of new players to the game.

The impact of mobile gaming can be observed best on PokerStars, where players who are logged in from their smartphones or tables have corresponding icons next to their avatars. As Donald Trump would say, the number of them is ‘YUuuge’, and it’s hard to imagine any downside to this innovation.

2. Fast-Fold Poker

Hate it or love it, fast-fold poker is perhaps the single biggest innovation in the history of online poker. Fast-fold poker instantly became a huge moneymaker for online poker rooms because this style of play is a great attraction for action-hungry recreational players and, coincidentally, a great thing for pros who were able to adapt to these games.

Even though nothing has changed about the basic premise of the game, the simple fact that each hand in a fast-fold format is dealt at a completely new table with new players changed the dynamics of the game beyond recognition. Fast-fold poker became a game in a league of its own, a completely separate game from the traditional cash game which it emerged from.

1. Lottery Sit & Go’s

In early 2014, the French poker room Winamax introduced a new type of sit & go called, “The Espressos.” The basic premise of these sit & gos is the introduction of a lottery factor into the game. In less than a year, these lottery sit & gos spread like wildfire and are now the hottest thing in online poker.

The whole premise of these games is fiercely debated among poker pros, but the fact remains that these games are a major hit among recreational players. With the possibility of winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes, it’s easy to see the appeal, just like it’s easy to see poker pros’ dissatisfaction with the new format, especially considering the elevated rake that comes with them.

The way spin & gos will impact the games is not fully clear just yet, but one thing is certain, lottery spin & gos are here to stay and, in some time, they might be considered the biggest innovation ever introduced in online poker.

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Top 10 Most Important Innovations in the History of Online Poker
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