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The History of Online Poker – a Recap of the Last 12 Years

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Poker has been around for ages, but the Internet and online poker are relatively modern inventions. If you traveled back to 1995, you would not be able to sit down and play online poker. In fact, you would find that poker as a whole was not nearly as popular as it is today. What a difference 10 years can make.

Online poker really took off in 2003 and 2004, but this was not the beginning of poker on the Internet. Years prior Planet Poker took the poker felt to the virtual world, and they experienced their fair share of success. Oddly enough, most online poker players have no clue what Planet Poker is or what role it played in the development of online gaming. Online poker grew from modest roots, but today it attracts millions of players worldwide.

1998 – When It All Started

Poker History PictureThe first real money hand of online poker was dealt in 1998. Planet Poker was the lone option when it came to online poker, and soon after its launch, the site exploded. However, Planet Poker’s launch was not without its fair share of stumbling blocks. 1997 was a year of planning for the company, and 1998 was a step into largely uncharted territory. Playing poker on the Internet was one thing, but incorporating real money meant a whole other set of obstacles to overcome. Problems and growing pains were to be expected, and Planet Poker certainly had more than enough issues to deal with it, be it technical or otherwise.

Keep in mind, this was only 1997 into 1998, and gaming itself was quite simplistic compared to its 2010 counterparts. The fact that almost all players were on dial up internet connections made it quite a challenge to keep games running smoothly. Planet Poker truly was an innovator in the gaming industry and they helped to pave the way for the online gaming giants of today.

1999 – Then There Were Two

In 1999, Paradise Poker entered the online poker industry. One of the most remarkable aspects of Paradise Poker’s entrance into the industry was the fact that it was unannounced. Before Planet Poker knew what hit them, Paradise Poker was growing their player base with consistency. It wasn’t long before Paradise Poker had more players than Planet Poker.

As is the case with most industries, competition helped to improve the quality of card room. Both rooms now had to make sure that they were on par, or better than, their competition. Paradise Poker, unlike Planet Poker, would hang around to prosper after the boom in the early 2000’s.

Early 2000s

The early 2000s was when online poker really began to take off. Huge players started to control the action, with brands like PartyPoker and PokerStars wiping out the competition. Everyone was trying to get in on the game at this point. Small poker rooms were popping up like weeds, and a large portion of them inevitably failed. With those failures, however, came great success for the poker rooms that are around to this day. PartyPoker and PokerStars remain two of the biggest online poker rooms in the world, though only PokerStars continues to accept US players.

The Moneymaker Boom

Chris Moneymaker PictureWhen Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, online poker took a turn for the better. The industry was growing at a record pace, but no one could see what was about to come. Moneymaker’s story was plastered all over various media outlets and on the Internet. The everyday guy from Atlanta, Georgia was able to overcome a massive field of poker professionals for the largest prize in WSOP Main Event history.

Beyond this, Moneymaker earned his Main Event seat through a satellite at PokerStars. After seeing Moneymaker’s sudden success, players from every corner of the world began playing poker on the Internet. Everyone had aspirations of winning their own World Series bracelet, and some were able to see their dreams come true.

Easy Games and Printing Money

After Moneymaker won the 2003 Main Event and online poker was spread to the masses, online games were more populated than ever. Higher limit tables seemed like they were being introduced daily, and there was tons of money to be made. At this point, training sites and the like were nonexistent. Because of this, the experience players were able to run over the never ending streams of “fish.” Solid players, even decent players, were making money hand over fist.

Everyone was so bad that even the most fundamental approach to the game would yield profitable sessions on a regular basis. In fact, the games were so easy that many players were able to go many sessions before they experienced a loss. In time, however, the games got much tougher, for a variety of reasons. Many players state that the 5/10 No Limit Texas Hold’em games in 2004 and 2005 were as tough as the .10/.25 (that’s cents) games in 2010. This exemplifies just how much better players got after they were able to work with some experience under their belt.

2006 – The UIGEA Rocks the Poker World

In 2006, the UIGEA was introduced in the USA. The Bill, for all intents and purposes, aimed to dramatically reduce the number of people who played online poker. It did not make playing online poker illegal, though many people interpreted it this way. Instead, it simply stated that banks were not to knowingly process online gaming transactions. The UIGEA also applied to sports betting, online casinos, and anything similar, with the noted exception of horse race betting.

The UIGEA pushed PartyPoker and a number of other online poker rooms out of the US market. The rooms that left the US did so on their own, though many decided it was in their best interest to keep operations going in the US. PartyPoker, Pacific Poker, PokerRoom, and bet365 were three notable sites who backed out of the US market, with a handful of other networks jumping the ship overseas. Things turned out great for sites like Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, as they went on to dominate in the United States with relatively little competition.

After the UIGEA became public, many players were spooked and decided to quit playing online poker. Most of the players who quit were casual players, as they had the least to gain from playing online poker and the most to lose. This, in effect, made the games tougher. The fish pool dwindled, while other players continued to get better.

2006 – Today

Today, players can participate in some of the biggest games in the world at Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars. Nosebleed games have allowed poker fans to watch the action right from their computer. Top high stakes players regularly battle for hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. Notable nosebleed players include names like Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, Ziigmund, Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Phil Galfond and many others. Some of the pots in the biggest games have topped 1 million dollars, and massive swings have become a regular occurrence.

For the everyday player, online poker is still in a great place. US players can play without fear of any legal repercussions (and with plenty of easy-to-use deposit options), and non-US players have more options than ever. There are always hundreds of thousands of players online at any time, and the game is still growing at a rapid pace.

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Written by Jonathan Wanchalk on June 30th, 2010

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