What's up with poker popularity?

Two years ago I’d never heard of Texas Hold 'em. Now I can’t walk through a pharmacy or toy store without seeing Hold 'em sets, complete with cards, chips, and a vidoe tape. Every other TV show is a poker tourney. And poker sites are popping up all over the web. One would think that anyone who has not heard of this game must be living under a rock.

Is it my imagination, or has this game recently experienced a sudden surge in popularity? What would account for this?

What causes any fad? Remember the mid 90’s where martini-bars and swing dancing had a brief resurgence? MTV and other music channels were showing a lot of videos from neo-swing bands. Most every dance club had a swing night? there were classes everywhere?

I wonder if anyone has done any research on group dynamics relating to fads.

Nothing to account for it more than any other fad, I wouldn’t guess.

There seems to have been a slow buildup perhaps kicked off by the 1998 movie [/url=“http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0128442/”]Rounders.

It wasn’t until around fall 2002 when I first noticed poker tournaments being shown on TV (not ESPN yet, though, and not yet the World Series of Poker). However, I believe the debuts of the major poker websites predate televised tournaments considerably.

From what I can tell, it seems that online interest in poker (circa 2000) may have begotten interest in the television programming and in a resurgance in home poker games.

Once more … with feeling:


Even here in traditionally not that poker-enthusiastic Europe, TV stations have started to televise poker tournaments. And when the profiles of outstanding players are stated, it’s often said that they had started playing poker seriously only in the past few years. I myself play poker only occasionally with a few buddies (and certainly at a rather modest level), so I’m not an expert here, but I think the popularity is definitely growing - and, interestingly, the variant that got the largest portion of this rise seems to be Hold’Em indeed.

Don’t know why, though. Maybe it’s just one of those waves of things that used to be funky decades ago undergoing a revival (as it was with cigars); Hollywood might have something to do with it, maybe the online gambling heyday of the late 90s.

I must have been living under a rock until last Saturday. Lost a hundred pesos crawling out from under that rock.

I’ve seen but not watched poker all over the place for like the last year.

Two “wild guess” theories:

  1. The last three World Series of Poker champions, IIRC, were all amateurs at the time of their wins. There is an element of “Even YOU can win this!” connected to the poker boom, and the current success of the amateurs demonstrates this.

  2. Starting in 2003, ESPN has given more airtime to the World Series of Poker than it has in the past, and, in turn, other networks have increased their coverage of poker. It could be a case of increased exposure equalling increased popularity.

ESPN coverage definitely addeed momentum to the Hold 'Em movement, but my memory is telling me that ESPN was not at the vanguard of televised poker. I want to say it was the Travel Channel or another of that ilk.

Probably because everyone thinks they can do it.

Let’s see, how can I get rich and famous?

Am I smart? No, I never finished high school.

Am I good looking? No, I’m pretty homely.

Am I athletic? No, I’m shaped like a pear.

Do I have any talents? Nope, I work third shift at the 7eleven.

Wait! I know how to play cards. I can get some sunglasses. Here’s my poker face :cool: . Okay, where do I sign up? I want my millions.

For Hold 'Em, adding the cameras that could show the hole cards probably helped. I think I read (or maybe heard) an interview with a poker commentator about when they’d do coverage before they had the cameras. I have a feeling that this was in an in-flight magazine, so good luck tracking it down, other than I can say it was in American’s, Southwest’s, or US Air’s magazine within the last 12 months.

As for why poker is popular to play? It is the best bet in a casino–you don’t have to deal with a house advantage, just the rake and the toke (the money the house takes every hand and the tip to the dealer by the winner, generally one chip.) The only better bet would be some of the wild video pokers, but you need an absolutely perfect strategy or you lose what little advantage you get. You can sit there for hours on a relatively small buy-in and keep playing with a little luck. When you’re playing Hold 'Em at a full table, you have to put in money at a minimum of twice every ten rounds, meaning that if you get eight sets of hole cards that are nothing but junk, it won’t cost you even an ante. There is both strategy to the game based purely on the numbers–like, say, blackjack–but also a psychological element. Hold 'Em is fun because the game is different from the old 5-card draw you might be used to. Omaha is probably even harder to play, especially hi-lo (Otto, do you want to comment?) and works on some of the same ideas as Hold 'Em. By its nature, Hold 'Em is more volatile and wild than stud or draw, but easier than Omaha.

Apparently this has become a big problem around in Upstate NY colleges with kids spending time playing poker instead of studying.

I’ll see if I can find a link.

Yeah, and you gotta keep an eye on those students from NM as well :wink:

TV is the real cause for this trend. Yes Rounders, gave everyone a sneek peek in to the dirty underground of poker, but poker had been on TV before that. But it didn’t really take off in popularity until someone somewhere decided to put a ‘lipstick’ camera in the rail and show the home-audience when someone was bluffing or walking headlong into a bad-beat. This made the shows interesting and even exciting.

Texas-Hold 'em is the game of choice because of, IMHO, the inflexibility of the cards dealt. In any Draw or Stud game, if someone folds, the order of the cards coming out of the deck are changed. Community card games don’t have that issue, and, I think, are thus easier to follow. Those are just my opinions though, YMMV.

Who knows, maybe it was just that some game had to be picked, and Texas Hold-'em is easy to show on the screen. Only two cards for everyone, and up to five community, is a pretty small # of cards.

ESPN has been covering at least the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event for over a decade. I think 2002 was the first year they started expanding the coverage beyond an hour (that was the year Robert Varkonyi won and Phil Hellmuth got his head shaved). They broadcast seven hours of Main Event coverage in 2003 (Moneymaker’s year) and for 2004 they had ten hours of the Main Event and also covered several of the smaller buy-in events. The Travel Channel in IIRC 2002 showed its first tourney, which was the Party Poker Million (won by Kathy Liebert, making her the first woman to win a 7-figure tourney). The World Poker Tour debuted in 2003 and is now in its third season.

I didn’t see the article but I have seen coverage of tourneys from before the advent of the hole card cam and while I still find it interesting (and a good exercise in trying to read the players) it’s not as interesting as being able to see the cards and get some insight into the players’ thought processes. Also, a lot of the earlier televised tourneys had Dick Van Patten as a commentator and that’s just not good for anybody.

Hmm. Is hold 'em easier than Omaha? I never really thought about it. I seem to have something of a natural talent for Omaha hi/lo (haven’t played a lot of Omaha high) so it doesn’t seem that hard to me.

Here’s my linky.

The Tipping Point is a good book about why trends like this take off. It is by Malcolm Gladwell.

Real 5 card draw can only be played with one deck. If you can draw 4 cards, you can have at most 5 people in a game, so large groups of people tend to play games with community cards.

Both 5 card stud and 5 card draw are very fast games. There is not the time to build up the suspense on camera that you get with games like Texas hold em and it’s infernally slow continually flipping over more and more cards.

Real cowboys in the wild wild west would never play texas hold-em. 5 card draw is the only real poker. Everything else was made up by drunk frat boys.

I think once you understand the importance of starting hands in Omaha (more so than in Hold 'em) the game is easier. It’s a game of nuts.

Dunno, but I’d like to take this opportunity to plug a science fiction book by Connie Willis named Bellwether. It is centered around fads, and is both wildly entertaining and killer funny.

You may now resume discussion of which game is real poker.

I’ve also heard credit for the rise in popularity given to the development of the cameras that show the cards of each player.

I personally find the trend bizarre, and the huge amount of interest to be ridiculous. I’m looking forward to it going away and joining boy bands, and slap bracelets in the realm of stupid things that took off in pop culture. However, I don’t think it’s going to happen. In a back-and-forth column on ESPN.com, Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman talked about poker’s popularity. Klosterman pointed out that while it is sort of a trend, it is likely to have more staying power than the average trend, due to the fact that it involves gambling.