In 1998 internet poker began with the launch of the site Planet Poker. Not many people had heard of, or indeed played on, Planet Poker but it only took one more year until 1999 when the much bigger and successful Paradise Poker opened up for business. In 2001 Party‐ Poker started and this would later become the biggest site for online poker (before the government passed anti‐gambling legislation in 2006). In 2003 Party’s revenue was slightly over $100 million, but by 2005 it had peaked at well over $800 million. Even though it was big in 2003, it wasn’t until as recently as 2005 that it really took off.
The same phenomenon of very recent growth has occurred in the arena of live poker. The World Series of Poker started in 1971 with a number of entries you could count on your fingers. By 2003 it had grown to 839 entries – a fair amount of growth, but that was as noth‐ ing compared to the next period of expansion where by 2006 there were 8,773 entries, which amounted to a first place prize of $12,000,000 when Jamie Gold happened to win.
Meanwhile the World Poker Tour scheduled a full twenty $10,000 tournaments for its season six schedule of 2007. All of these live tournaments go out on TV with the recent additions of poker shows such as High Stakes Poker, Celebrity Poker, the Professional Poker Tour and so on. The numbers do not lie and the facts cited above illustrate that though poker has existed for a long time, it has not existed in its current form – where it is orders of magnitude more popular and a part of popular culture – until very recently.
Because it’s new people don’t understand it
All of this is of more than academic interest. Because poker is such a “new” game, the general level of understanding is quite low. Couple this with the following facts: a lot of people play poker and people play for a lot of money. Maybe the best word to describe the situa‐ tion that exists is “opportunity” or perhaps two words that describe it even better are “tremendous opportunity”.
This popularity has led to the increasing inclusion of poker in popu‐ lar culture – for instance a $10,000,000 poker tournament was used as the setting for the James Bond movie Casino Royale. In this film, Bond’s arch enemy Le Chiffre declares, “All in. I have two pair and you have a 17.4% chance of making your straight”, as if he has made a supposedly good play. According to conventional wisdom, this is apparently the math involved in the game – the type of skill re‐ quired to play in a ten million dollar tournament. Naturally, the re‐ ality is somewhat different.
Perhaps an even better example from Casino Royale is where Le Chif‐ fre says, “You changed your shirt Mr. Bond. I hope our little game isn’t causing you to perspire”. Bond replies “A little. But I won’t consider myself to be in trouble until I start weeping blood.” Bond has apparently picks up a “tell” on Le Chiffre that when he cries blood it gives away information about his hand. However, the un‐ derlying idea is that the key to psychology in poker is looking at a person’s face and figuring out what they have. Again, the reality is somewhat different.
For example, in a baseball movie if someone said, “Okay Slugger, you have big muscles on your arms. Use those to hit that ball far, real far and then we can win the game”, this would be analogous to the Casino Royale dialogue about poker. The difference is that people take the Casino Royale dialogue more seriously but would realise that the comparable baseball dialogue is nonsense because baseball has been in popular culture for a comparatively long time.
If the skills cited by Bond and Le Chiffre were the true skills needed to master poker, they are so basic that everyone could be a poker expert in a couple of weeks. It is true that the two keystones to poker are psychology and math but those two terms actually mean some‐ thing much more profound than most people think. This will be ex‐ plained in great detail in this book.