If you play online poker, you’ve undoubtedly heard of or read about the poker boom. Occurring between 2003 and 2006, the online poker boom was a period when poker, particularly Texas Hold’em poker, reached unprecedented popularity around the world.
During the boom years, the number of people playing poker games online at least doubled every year. So, what caused this exponential popularity in one of today’s most loved casino table games? Who were the most famous players during this period and what made the numbers decline again? Read on to find out.
What Caused the Poker Boom?
Although the boom peaked in the early 2000s, the seeds were already planted in the late 1990s. The film “Rounders” was released in 1998. It was a huge hit and started to drive up poker’s popularity. Planet Poker introduced online poker for the first time in the same year, which gave many players the kind of access they didn’t have before.
These events created a demand for more poker content, which was periodically produced through telecasts of the “World Series of Poker Main Events,” recorded and broadcast a few months later.
However, the two biggest triggers came in 2003. World Poker Tour’s first season was shown on the Travel Channel of American cable television and gave people a closer look at poker than they’d ever had before. This caused a massive increase in the number of people looking to learn how to play poker.
The boom was consolidated in May 2003 when amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, turning his $86 satellite poker tournament seat into $2.5 million. He was one of 839 entrants in 2003. The very same event had 2,576 entrants in 2004 and 8,773 in 2006.
Why Did Poker Numbers Decline?
Poker player numbers started to drop again in 2006, as they did with most online casino games at the time. This was due to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) was promulgated in the US. The Act led to an exodus of online poker companies from the US, with attendance at the 2005 WSOP main event dropping by 28% in 2007.
Poker is still the most popular table game, with online poker tournaments happening around the world all the time. However, numbers have never quite recovered to boom levels, despite remaining higher than they were pre-boom.
Who Were the Poker Boom Legends?
Many players made their names during the poker boom years, but these were the most famous of them all.
Of course, Chris Moneymaker is known as the man who started it all; it was his first win at the 2003 WSOP main event that catapulted him to fame. He went on to be relatively successful, with the following being his most notable games after the 2003 event:
- Runner-up finish in the 2004 WPT No-Limit Hold ’em Championship for $200,000.
- Runner-up finish in the 2011 NBC National Heads-Up Championship for $300,000.
- 11th place in the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event for $130,000.
Given that Moneymaker has a net worth of around $16 million, it’s safe to say that he probably made more money from sponsorships and other lucrative deals off of the table. He still plays poker today, but the 2003 event was undoubtedly his career highlight.
Daniel Negreanu is the most famous poker player of the 21st century. The Canadian won his first two big US events in 1997 at the World Poker Finals, where he was named player of the tournament. He got five big wins in 2004 alone and has gone on to become one of the biggest and most successful poker players of all time.
Negreanu has a net worth of around $46 million, two WPT championship titles and six WSOP bracelets to his name. He is the only person to have won WSOP Player of the Year twice. Although he still plays in tournaments and has featured in a couple of films, he spends the majority of his time writing on his personal blog, where he covers events, analyzes games and teaches others how to play. He also demonstrates the power of poker coaching and how it can positively influence beginners.
When he was young, Ivey used to sneak into poker rooms with a fake ID to play up to 15 hours of poker. He would perfect his hand, keep notes and monitor how other players dealt with various poker hands and scenarios.
His first significant win came in 2000 at the Jack Binion World Poker Open, where he won $53,297. Ivey went on to secure his first WSOP bracelet in the 2000 event and a prize of $195,000. He has now garnered well over $20 million on Full Tilt Poker and has also walked away with millions in baccarat.
Ivey has $26,250,000 of prize money from tournament wins and 10 WSOP bracelets. His most notable cash prize win came against billionaire Andy Beal when he won $16,000,000 playing heads-up. He still regularly participates in tournaments and had a few good results in 2002.
Hellmuth is one of the most famous players on the poker scene and has won so many titles that he’s been dubbed ‘The Poker Brat,’ although that’s also down to his petulant character. He has a record 16 WSOP bracelets, the most notable being the Main Event of the 1989 World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the Main Event of the 2012 World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE.)
As of January 2023, his winnings were in excess of $28 million and he’s authored several bestselling books. His biggest prize from a live game came in the 2012 Big One for One Drop when he walked away with $2,645,333.
Although Hellmuth is yet to secure a WPT title, he has appeared in five WPT finals tables and was runner-up at the Legends of Poker held at the Bicycle Casino in 2017. He’s still incredibly active on the poker scene and it won’t come as a surprise should he add this last title to his name in the coming years.
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