We’re now living in somewhat of a renaissance period for the live poker scene. While it has been well and thriving for over 15 years, it is over the last couple of years that more and more players have been attending live games and live tournaments in person to take on fellow players face to face. This trend of live poker has even more potential players looking to get involved in the exciting game, so we’re here to provide you with all of the facts, such as why poker is so popular in the modern day, everything that you need to know before you play at a live poker tournament, and the correct attire to turn up in.
Why is poker so popular in 2018?
Poker has always been popular in many social circles, as a themed game night at clubs, bars, and casinos, and at the pinnacle of the sport, the World Series of Poker always draws attention. But, it wasn’t until the poker boom from 2003 to 2006 – the second of poker’s two booms to date – that poker really hit the modern mainstream. In a perfect storm of events, live poker, particularly at the highest level, went from a moderately attended and followed game to new heights of previously unfathomable popularity. The origins of the poker boom are said to date back to 1998. While free online poker had been available in the fledgling years of the internet, it wasn’t until 1998 that the first real-money online poker game became available – taking place on January 1.
From there, poker grew online, with the ease of play, accessibility, and ability to win real-money helping to fuel the popularity of the game and create a huge online audience, some of which, naturally, spilled back out into live poker games, having accumulated experience of the game in online rooms. Another element that is seen to have had a knock-on effect to result in the boom is the release of the Matt Damon and Edward Norton movie Rounders in 1998. Even though it only managed a total domestic gross of $22,912,409 and wasn’t met by much critical appraisal upon release, it’s developed a cult following that is said to have helped to warm up audiences for the incoming poker boom.
Although the World Series of Poker’s Main Event has been televised before, 2003 saw the World Poker Tour enjoy its inaugural season on the Travel Channel, with the use of hole cameras making it into a sporting spectacle, further enhancing its reach. Then, at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, the seemingly impossible occurred. Previously, people thought that the World Series of Poker was an exclusive event for just the very best poker players to bet big-money, all but excluding your average poker enthusiast who wasn’t in the right circles to play regularly. But then, amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker, who qualified for the World Series of Poker via an $83 online tournament, made it to the final two of the Main Event, bluffed to put his opponent Sam Farha on the ropes, and then finally brought in a full house to win the $2.5 million jackpot.
The final hands of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, which contributed to the massive poker boom. Chris Moneymaker bluffs and then claims a full house for the victory that changed poker forever.
Moneymaker’s victory caught headlines all over the world, via the internet and standard publications, suddenly awakening the world to the fact that anyone could develop the necessary skills of playing poker online, putting them in contention to win big at major live tournaments. With poker now incredibly accessible via the internet, online poker legitimized by a live poker champion who came from an online tournament, and it being made into an exciting spectator sport, its popularity boomed, with an evident impact on the World Series of Poker’s entrants.
When online poker was first launched in 1998, the World Series of Poker saw 350 entrants for its $1 million prize. That number more than doubled in 2003, when Moneymaker won the Main Event, showing how online poker had influenced more people to enter the prestigious event. But in 2004, just one year after Moneymaker’s emphatic victory over Farha, the number of entrants skyrocketed to 2,567 for the $5 million Main Event prize. In 2005, the number of entrants doubled yet again, with 5619 entering. Then, in 2006, the World Series of Poker, the 36th official tournament, put up a monster prize of $12 million, earning them their biggest entrants count to date with 8,773, which amateur Jamie Gold took away with a pair of queens.
Another amateur wins the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2006, with Jamie Gold landing the tournament’s biggest-ever prize following years of increased entrants in the poker boom.
From 2007 through to 2016, the World Series of Poker’s entrants count leveled out, averaging 6,667 entrants per year, seeing a floor of 6,352 in 2013 when Ryan Riess won $8,361,570, and a peak of 7,319 entrants when Canadian Jonathan Duhamel claimed $8,547,042 in 2010 – the tournament’s 40th anniversary. These years are considered to be post-boom, but many other cultural aspects helped to keep live poker and online poker immensely popular with the masses, such as the remake of the poker classic movie The Gambler in 2014, starring Mark Wahlberg, as well as the late 2006 release of the James Bond movie Casino Royale, which was Daniel Craig’s first film in the iconic role and also starred Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green.
Now, online poker is still going strong, but live poker has seen a resurgence in popularity, with the World Series of Poker in 2017 and 2018 seeing a steep increase in entrants. In 2016, the tournament saw 7,221 entrants – the third highest number ever – and then the most recent tournament in 2018, which saw John Cynn win the $8.8 million Main Event, boasted the second-highest player field to date with 7874 entrants. While this isn’t another poker boom – as far as we can suspect – it’s clear that more people seek the thrills of playing live poker as it is an entirely different experience to playing online.
What do you need to know to play live poker tournaments?
Playing poker live gives the added benefit of being able to see and read your opponents, with the games often being easier to follow and more predictable than some that take place online due to the accountability of being face to face with your opponents. Many of the best live poker tournaments in the world are the multi-table tournaments, which is where bigger prizes and larger pools of players tend to assemble. For advice as to how to tackle this form of live poker, wunderkind Dominik Nitsche has accompanied other greats in Martin Jacobson and Chris Moorman to create a list of key strategy tips to help those looking to join the trend of playing live poker tournaments.
Dominik Nitsche became the youngest player to ever claim three bracelets at the World Series of Poker, aged 23-years-old at the time, and went on to win a fourth at the 2017 World Series of Poker Europe for €3.5 million in the High Roller for One Drop event. He says that one of the key methods of getting ahead early is to be punctual. In live poker, you want to get to your table on time to gain an edge through draining weaker players of their chips – which they shall do with haste. Another key element of live poker is honing the reads of your opponents. Nitsche suggests not calling someone due to a simple physical tell but instead waiting until you’ve had two or three showdowns with them before judging the strength of their tells. Of the many tells that weak players possess – thus easier tells to exploit – one to keep an eye out for is the glance, according to Nitsche. Be it Texas hold’em or Omaha, when you have a position in certain situations of live poker where you suspect the opposition of having a decent hand, if they glance at their chips or reach and retract, you know that they have a weak hand.
The psychological side of the game becomes far more important in live poker, but also adds another level of skill and reward when you’re game plans and strategies come off. One way that you can gain a psychological edge is through the way that you dress for a tournament.
What you should wear at a poker tournament
As is the case in any social situation, your attire will give your opponent an immediate prejudice of your character. In live poker, as much of the strategy comes down to someone’s read of you, giving them a prejudice to have in their mind before the cards have been dealt can give you an edge. For example, coming into the game in a cheap suit could show that you’re a bit short on cash, not very good at the game and perhaps quite new to the scene, which could factor into their decision to call your bet later in the game.
When watching the World Series of Poker’s highlights, you’ll notice that many of those at the final tables will be wearing sponsored polo shirts because they are seasoned professionals. While you can’t just get yourself a sponsorship, the choice of attire does elude to professional players choosing comfort over style, perhaps caring little for the impression made by their clothing. In fact, in many games, the most commonly seen dress code is that of sunglasses and a comfortable branded hoody. The glasses mask any tells that may be picked up on by experienced live players, while the hoody keeps you comfortable, thus helping you to seem relaxed in all situations.
Live poker continues to grow in popularity, proving to provide a new level of competition that online poker can’t. So, if you’re one of the many players looking to join this exciting trend, be sure to have your live strategies locked down and use your dress sense to your advantage.