So What Is This Online Poker Thing?

Playing poker online is a blast. No one can tell you how to dress, that your music is turned up too loud, or that your play fails to meet a certain minimum standard. More spe- cifically, if someone does try to tell you anything you don’t want to hear, you can muzzle the moron with a few deft mouse clicks. Online poker has come a long way since the early days, but you’ll appreciate the game more if you know from whence it came. 

A Potted History of Online Poker 

The first true Internet poker game, which started in 1994, was run on an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) server, irc.poker.net, where a software program administered Omaha, Hold ’em, Stud, and Draw games. IRC was a precursor to instant messaging and was text-only at the time, but Greg Reynolds wrote a graphical front end named Gpoker that interpreted the text into graphics and let you play without memorizing dozens of commands for the games. You can still find information about the IRCBot dealing program and Gpoker at www-2.cs.cmu.edu/ People/mummert/ircbot.html, but even Reynolds’ graphical interface couldn’t keep the IRC server from being overtaken by World Wide Web sites with more attractive designs. 

♠♥♣♦ Note 

If any readers were on IRC poker from 1994–1995, Curt played under the user names cfrye and wildcat. 

If you were a hard-core tournament poker player, you could also play in the World Rec.Gambling.Poker Tournament (WRGPT), which was run by e-mail. Most of the Web pag- es about the tournaments are lost to antiquity, but you can still find Curt’s table assignment for the second round of WRGPT 5 at http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/usr/sippy/ www/Poker/Assignments/B.html. No, he didn’t finish “in the money” in WRGPT 5, 6, or 8 (whatever that means in an online tournament played for etherbucks and pride), but he did have fun. Ron Duursma wrote the e-mail server program that made it possible for hundreds (and later thousands) of players to share their love for poker, regardless of the time zone they called home. If you’re curious to see what the players went through to have some fun over the Internet, Ron’s instruction manual for using the e-mail server is still on the Web at http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/usr/sippy/www/Poker/rules.server. 

The Web became popular in the mid-1990s, so it wasn’t long before the gambling com- munity offered ways for Internet users to play for real money. Internet Casinos, Inc., launched their first Web casino on August 18, 1995; they offered 18 casino games, but poker wasn’t one of them. The first online card room, Planet Poker, opened for play money games in August 1997, before turning on the taps and enabling players to play for real money on January 1, 1998. Since then, dozens of online poker rooms have appeared and disappeared (one online resource lists 209 online card rooms as of this writing), but a few rooms have flourished and continue to draw new players. 

Online Poker Is Taking Over 

Poker, particularly Texas Hold ’em, has exploded in popularity over the last three years. You can find Late Night Poker on the air in England, the World Poker Tour on the Travel channel in the United States, and even ESPN, a sports-only network based in the U.S., has expanded its World Series of Poker coverage to include the Razz, Stud, Omaha, and other tournaments in addition to the $10,000 buy-in main event. Dan Goldman, the vice president of marketing for the popular online poker room PokerStars, said in a September 2004 interview that his best guess was that between 50 million and 60 million people worldwide play poker at least once a month. 

How many people play online poker? It’s hard to tell, mostly because it’s difficult to associate an Internet identity with a person’s real name, but online card rooms do note the number of players on their sites. Figure 1.1 shows what that note looks like on PartyPoker. 

PokerPulse, a Canadian site that tracks the player and wagering statistics published on the most popular online card rooms’ home pages, estimated recently that during one 24-hour period 7,341 players played for real money in online tournaments, 7,072 players wagered real money in ring games (games that continue at the same limits and without eliminating players from action when they lose a set amount of chips), and that more than US$141 million was wagered in online ring games during that 24-hour period. That’s a lot of poker hands and a lot of money changing hands! You can find out how many people are on the most popular sites or view the free industry-wide statistics for the last 24 hours at www.pokerpulse.com. 

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