Surprising & Unexpected Poker Growth – How Did It All Start?

surprising poker growth

3 minutes

Last Updated: August 27, 2022

Some say that the ‘boom’ of the poker industry was generated by the cult success of the 1998 movie Rounders, while some credit it to the launch of Planet Poker’s inaugural online poker room – though it ceased operations in 2017.

Nevertheless, there are several online poker rooms that have stood the test of time since the mid-2000s.

The likes of PokerStars and 888poker have retained a solid player base, with the latter proving particularly popular among casual, recreational players due to the softer games up for grabs.

The 888 brand is no stranger to the iGaming scene and creating fun gaming experiences online, with its 888casino sister site proving equally competitive. In fact, it’s home to one of the top-three most recommended promotions for new customers.

Although Rounders and Planet Poker played an integral part in bringing poker into the mainstream, there is no doubt that the lightning bolt for the poker industry came in 2003 at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.

The WSOP Main Event has been one of the most revered live poker tournaments on the planet since its inauguration in 1970. However, the 2003 Main Event boasted a narrative that would take poker to heights few considered possible.

It was one of those events that no one could really script better even if they tried. It started a series of events that would forever change the course of poker history and bring the game to the center of attention worldwide.

Enter Stage Left – Chris Moneymaker

The 2003 WSOP Main Event was not expected to be anything out of the ordinary. It was staged at its usual Binion’s Horseshoe venue in Las Vegas, Nevada.

However, the rise of online satellite events – whereby casual players could qualify for the Main Event from their own home – meant that the 2003 Main Event boasted 839 players, 200 more than the previous year.

This was the result of many people worldwide deciding to put a few bucks on the line to try and get a seat in poker’s greatest event. The risk was well worth the potential opportunity to rub elbows with the best poker players for a few days.

One of those lucky satellite qualifiers was a man named Chris Moneymaker – a very apt surname indeed.

Moneymaker won a satellite tournament at the PokerStars online poker room for an entry fee of just $86 – a drop in the ocean compared with the actual $10K entry fee.

The first prize for the 2003 WSOP Main Event was $2.5 million. Moneymaker made relatively quiet but steady progress in the opening days.

unexpected growth of poker

However, when he made the final table, the poker media were whipped up into a frenzy. He was one of only two players at the final table not to have cashed at a WSOP event before.

In fact, it was Moneymaker’s first ever live poker tournament, and he was surrounded by sharks. If you could bet on it, no bookmaker would give Moneymaker very good odds of winning.

But miracles happen sometimes. He controlled his emotions superbly to become the first online qualifier to win the Main Event. In the final skirmish, he defeated Sammy Farha, one of the game’s legends, making his victory that much more memorable.

After the win, he quit his accounting day job and became the face of online poker.

Moneymaker has rarely troubled the final tables at the WSOP or the World Poker (WPT) ever since. However, he demonstrated the possibilities for online players and encouraged more to consider the game as a career rather than a pastime.

Let’s all raise a glass to his tremendous success and to the “Moneymaker Effect.” Without it, poker would not be what it is today – a game loved and played by tens, if not hundreds, of millions worldwide!

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