As 2009 prepares to fade into the pages of history, it will also close the doors on a decade that has been like no other for the sport of poker.
When the Third Millennium began a short ten years ago, poker could arguably be said to be on life support. A poker room in a casino was hard to find, there was only one prominent tournament schedule on the poker professional’s calendar, and the game had no place in the media. Poker was reviled as a pursuit of degenerate gamblers; those considered to be the best at the game had very little attention paid to them.
A decade later, the situation has completely reversed itself. Even the smallest casino, wherever it may be in the world, has a poker room. Bookstores have dedicated sections to house their wares of poker books and poker programming airs daily on television. Instead of just one tournament schedule, there are several offerings that require players to choose which one to participate in. Finally, poker pros are respected as adventuresome mavericks whose abilities, education, and intelligence are critical to their success.
With this in mind, Poker News Daily decided to look back at the last decade in an attempt to figure out what were the catalysts for such a return to prominence and what nearly derailed it.
10. Poker Rooms Make a Comeback
At the start of the 21st century, casinos across the United States didn’t consider poker to be a moneymaker for their operations. With that in mind, poker rooms were closed and slot machines began to invade their territory.
By the end of the decade, poker rooms, which had been near extinction only ten years earlier, obtained a greater prominence than they ever had in a casino. The live poker room should continue to be a staple of the casino world in the future.
9. Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker Superuser Scandals
The ugly head of corruption and scandal arose when two of the most popular online poker rooms in the industry, Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker, succumbed to “superuser” cheating rings. These cheating scandals allowed players to see their opponents’ hole cards, making it impossible to lose a hand. These rings – the Ultimate Bet group, which was allegedly led by former World Champion Russ Hamilton, and the Absolute Poker team allegedly led by former employees Scott Tom and A. J. Green – took millions of dollars off of unsuspecting players and gave ammunition to anti-poker zealots in the war against the game.
After outrage from the online poker community, both organizations made financial amends to those affected, but didn’t prosecute anyone for the operation of either scam. Today, the two sites are part of the same network and have seemingly recovered some of their former respect (including the recent certification from eCOGRA, the online gaming watchdog). Still, the scandal could have had a devastating effect on the online game and it has cast doubt as to the legitimacy of online poker, much like the Mississippi riverboat games of centuries ago almost stopped poker from becoming what it is today.
8. Amateurs Dominate WSOP Main Event
Throughout its early history, poker, and in particular the World Series of Poker (WSOP), it was the bastion of professional rounders willing to live life on the edge, to take thousands of dollars out of their own pockets and risk that they were the greatest poker player in the world. With the advent of satellites and online poker, where a player could get into a tournament for a significantly smaller fee, amateur poker players began to take a shot at the upper echelons of the game.
Since 2002, an amateur or previously unknown player has won the $10,000 Main Event at the WSOP and been crowned World Champion. Some, such as Jerry Yang and Jamie Gold, have stayed on the peripheral of the poker world and have arguably not done much since their victories. Others, such as Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, and Chris Moneymaker, have continued to be at the forefront of the game, advocating in political circles for the regulation of online poker as respected professionals in their own right. Whether they have experience or not, amateurs have become a part of the WSOP.
7. New Blood Infuses the Game
All forms of business need an infusion of new customers to continue to drive their endeavors. Poker is no different. For some time, older players, mostly men, populated the game and the required influx of “new blood” was seemingly missing. Through the development of online poker, new players, both male and female, have made their marks.
In what was perhaps the most stunning tournament win of the decade, Annette “Annette_15” Obrestad’s victory at the inaugural WSOP Europe Main Event made her the youngest player to win a major championship and demonstrated that the youth movement in poker had arrived. In the last two WSOP Main Events, Phil Hellmuth’s longstanding record as the youngest ever champion has been eclipsed twice. As we look at the next decade, young players will continue to make their names in an arena that previously had been dominated by the “Old Guard” of the game.
6. Twice is Nice – Dan Harrington, Mike Matusow, and Jeff Shulman
With the growth of the WSOP Main Event, the odds of a player repeating as champion, as Johnny Chan did in 1987 and 1988, are nearly infinitesimal. The feat of making two final tables is nearly as difficult, but three men – Dan Harrington, Mike Matusow, and Jeff Shulman – managed to pull off the feat. While none won the tournament, the ability to make two final tables during the decade, against such sizeable fields, is definitely a significant achievement.
Harrington’s feat is arguably the best of the three players. Battling through, at the time, the two largest WSOP Main Event fields ever, the 1995 champion nearly captured his second title in consecutive years (2003 and 2004). Matusow announced his presence on the game with his first final table in 2001 and marked his resurrection as a poker player by returning in 2005. Shulman finished seventh in 2000 and came back in 2009 with a fifth place finish.