What were you doing in 1999? Did you have Internet access? If you did, smart money says you weren’t playing online poker. While the global online-gaming industry keeps growing and poker moves into more and more homes around the world, it’s kind of strange to think that just 10 years ago you could only play cards in a casino or at your kitchen table. What’s even more astonishing, though, is that in just as much time all the major online poker rooms we know and love have come into their own. Now, online poker isn’t just a thriving industry. It’s an Internet renegade, loved by some and spurned by others. How did all this manage to happen in such a short time? For that answer, we need to go back to the very beginning…
The Early Days
Technically, you could’ve played online poker 11 or 12 years ago, but since it was really only being played by a select group of computer geeks, chances are you didn’t. Back then, the graphics were certainly laughable by today’s standards, and A.I. was virtually non-existent. In fact, every single one of these early online poker games was played in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) rooms, in a text-only format more reminiscent of “Hunt the Wumpus” than Playstation III.
Even when advances in software technology finally did make a reasonable replication of a live game possible, there wasn’t exactly a race to the virtual tables. Hardly anyone noticed on that fateful day in 1998 when Planet Poker became the first online poker room of its kind, and it was almost six month before the site began attracting players. Online poker hadn’t yet experienced the explosion that was just around the corner, but the buzz was definitely building. Other sites, like PartyPoker.com, began entering the fray in 1999, and a few people on Wall Street and the London Stock Exchange began to take notice of the potentially booming industry. Meanwhile, many of the game’s early pioneers—guys like Greg Raymer and Chris Ferguson—continued to play a huge role in the its development and were now beginning to reap the benefits.
The Golden Age
As poker started to move into the homes of more and more players, word of the Internet’s new poker-mania spread rapidly thanks to the launch of televised poker in 2001. At first, nobody thought poker on TV would be much more than a way for ESPN to fill up time slots between baseball and football coverage. But televised events like the World Series of Poker proved extremely popular almost right away. One of the developments that led to this newfound appeal was the advent of the “hole camera,” which allowed viewers to see players’ cards without compromising the game. In doing so, it gave amateur players a glimpse of the inner workings and mindset of top players and greatly aided the personal development of those watching from home.
All the while, the people behind these sites were becoming increasingly successful and unbelievably rich. At one point, even before the official boom, PartyPoker.com was reportedly netting more than $1 million per day! In turn, reports of these massive profits led to a massive influx of new sites. It now seemed that every poker hobbyist and his dog wanted a piece of the pie. And, while many of the shoddier sites did fall by the wayside, many more prospered and went on to help shape the market we have today.