First Online Poker Room
On January 1, 1998, the first online poker room was opened. Planet Poker, as it was called, was founded by Randy Blummer and Mike Caro, author of the book Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.
However, it was not an overnight success, with only a modest pool of players joining in. It was not until February when a single cash game ran all night. The game was riddled with technical faults, due to differing internet speeds, connections and other server problems.
Chris Moneymaker Wins World Series of Poker
In 2003, the World Series of Poker’s main event was won by Chris Moneymaker. An accountant, Chris got a seat amongst 839 of the world's best poker players for a relatively small $86 buy in, after winning a qualifying online poker tournament. The prize for the WSOP main event was $2.5 million and was the largest ever at that time.
With no background as a professional poker player, Chris went against all odds to progress to the finals, where he would play the fan favourite and Poker legend, Sammy Farha.
With a little luck, Chris beat Sammy and became the first ever champion to have qualified online. This feat did not go unnoticed; the idea of qualifying with a small buy in for events that had a $10,000 buy in was too good for players to miss out on and online poker rooms were soon flooded with newcomers.
Televised High Stakes Poker
2006 was the year in which poker was brought to the masses. High Stakes Poker was a show that televised exclusive nosebleed cash games. The show invited some legendary players to take party, such as Sammy Farha, Eli Elezra, Doyle Brunson, Barry Greenstein and Jennifer Harman, to name just a few.
The format of the show was not to play entire tournaments but rather quick high stakes games. These games went on for a collective 24 hours, which were then edited to 13 episodes per season; these were simpler to follow than tournaments because it allowed the audience to follow poker strategies and watch players have a free-for-all over an extended period of time.
The game was Texas Hold‘em, with some of the highest blinds at $400/$800 and a minimum buy-in of $100,000. The series was highly praised and went on for 8 seasons spanning from 2006 - 2020.
A Major Cheating Scandal
In 2008, there was a cheating scandal on Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, where a user known as POTRIPPER was able to see other players’ hands. The user apparently could see the IP addresses of the players and third party viewers who were following the game online. To this day, it is still a mystery as to how POTRIPPER had access to all this information.
It was not until a player complained about the user, how gameplay seemed like it was rigged, and after further investigation the servers realized the mistake.
The scandal was finally rectified when Absolute Poker paid back $1.6 million to affected customers.
The Mystery of Isildur1
In 2009 online poker was well into its golden age. There were a number of popular high stakes poker rooms, including Absolute Poker, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to name a few. Many of the best poker players were using online rooms; this included professionals, rich enthusiasts and even sponsored pros.
One player who suddenly made a name for himself went under the alias “Isildur1”. He had a large bankroll and was willing to play against anyone. Players such as Phil Ivey, Partik Antonius and Tom Dwan took him on, but Isildur1 kept winning.
Public interest grew in him, as he was seen as a mysterious young player who had such a flair for the game. But finally Isildur1 was brought down by several pros who started sharing his hand histories, which caused some controversy.
Isildur1 was revealed to be Viktor Blom, a high stakes poker player who once signed with PokerStars and had a long poker career. He played on many sites before he went to Full Tilt Poker, which is where he started using the moniker Isildur1 and sparked popular interest.
Poker’s Black Friday
April 11, 2011 is a date that still appears in the nightmares of online poker fans. Domains of some of the most prominent online poker rooms, such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Ultimate Bet, were seized by the FBI.
The letter that was displayed on the website had two badges at the top, from the FBI and Department of Justice, and then went on to say that illegal gambling is a federal crime.
“For persons engaged in the business of betting or wager, it is also a federal crime to knowingly accept”, ”Violation of these laws carry criminal penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000”.
Panic broke out amongst online poker players, as suddenly they found their finances were lost and they could be facing criminal charges.
It took a whole 10 days before users of PokerStars were given access and could withdraw their funds, but those who were using Absolute Poker were not so lucky; after promising that they would pay out the damages, Absolute Poker finally went under, and people lost their money.
These events had a massively adverse effect on the reputation of online poker throughout the world. Many players were scared of the idea that the government could seize their hard-earned cash.
PokerStars and several other bigger casinos attempted to buy the sites that had gone under. Full Tilt Poker was a popular site but after the crisis, it was left completely devoid of funds with no possibility to reimburse players who had lost everything. The following year, in 2012, PokerStars successfully acquired Full Tilt Poker and started to pay customers back their savings; however, the US market still had to wait until 2014 because of difficulties with the paperwork and jurisprudence.
While most players finally did see their earnings reimbursed, it was still a long and painful ordeal, with some players still having not received anything to this day.
The First $1,000,000 Buy-In Tournament
In 2012, the Word Series of Poker launched a new event with a $1,000,000 buy-in; it was called the Big One for One Drop. The event was started by Guy Laliberte, who was the founder of the One Drop foundation. The foundation was a charity aiming to supply clean drinking water around the globe, and the poker tournament announced that a certain amount of the buy-ins were going to One Drop.
There were a limited number of seats, and many famous poker legends were keen to try to get in. The event was broadcast on live TV for the millions of fans tuning in to the WSOP.
The tournament was won by Antonio Esfrandiari, pocketing a massive $18.3 million. Amongst the high rollers were the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Brian Rast.
The event became a huge success and brought popular interest in high stakes events. Suddenly, there were events everywhere with buy-ins starting from $50,000, $100,000 or even $250,000, with the offer to re-enter if they lost all their money early on.
This started a new generation of poker players, the high rollers, who could afford to play at high stakes tables where winnings could amass to seven figure numbers. TV shows were also showing their interest as they could benefit from the exponentially increasing popularity of poker.
Online Poker Returns
To this day, the US online poker scene has never really recovered from the events of Black Friday. In 2013, the first state recognized poker room went live in Nevada. However, the room was only available to people who were based in that state. While several other states now also have their own online poker rooms, the US has yet to reach the peaks of the game pre 2011.
It will require regulations at a federal level to allow sites to operate in the whole country.
Poker still attracts global interest through its reputation as a game of chance that also requires skill and the ability to read people. Many people attempt to make their living through online poker, as it provides players with a chance to play against anyone in any part of the world.
During the pandemic, there has been a boom in online poker, and it looks as though the online game might be entering its second golden age.