The popular perception of poker includes a strange contradiction of luminous casinos and darkened backrooms. In the seventies and eighties, it was either a game you played beneath bright casino lights, surrounded by strangers and croupiers, or one in the privacy of a friend’s living room on a Friday night.
In either case, poker was somewhat an exclusive club of expert players, pros, and close-knit groups of friends and coworkers. The game didn’t really gain much traction with the wider public until the early nineties, when the internet became more accessible and events like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) turned the game into a sport.
Poker has never really changed though – even in 2016, it’s still pretty much the same game it has always been – so how does poker retain its popularity year after year?
Poker’s longevity owes a great deal to how well it transfers away from the physical table to modern media like mobiles and websites.
Forty years ago, there were only 70 poker tables in Nevada. Considering that the state has Las Vegas, the modern home of gambling, in its extreme south, it’s a statistic that’s hard to believe. In 2016, there are probably four or five different devices in every household that can host poker tournaments.
Beginning with titles like Poker (1983) on British gaming console ZX Spectrum, the world’s favorite card game made the leap to PCs and from there to mobile devices and some of the best casinos online. This year, it made the transition to the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear headsets with Casino VR Poker, a non-cash social gaming experience.
Modern poker players can hold the title of professional athlete in an official capacity, given that the game is recognized as a sport by the International Mind Sports Association and has been for the past six years. It’s not hard to see why; poker players spend their careers devising strategies and learning about the psychological aspects of the game
With annual tournaments, huge prize funds, celebrity players and knock-out style events, poker is as much a mix of entertainment and businesses as international soccer. However, arguably the most important development in the history of poker as a sport occurred way back in 1973, when American station CBS broadcast the WSOP on TV for the first time.
If there’s one thing that all professional sports have in common (and can’t survive without), it’s an audience. The final day of the 2015 WSOP Main Event attracted viewing figures in the region of 1.1 million on ESPN; in comparison, 1.2 million people on average tune in to watch the UK’s Manchester United play on a Saturday.
Finally, the surge in the number of casinos that accept cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin) for their video poker is the latest technological shift in the history of the game. It’s perhaps ironic that a game that has hardly changed in the two hundred or so years since its inception embraces technological change so readily.