The Long Run… (Chapter 1)

Poker B.C. (“Poker Before Chris”)

This book is very much about forecasting (and then shaping) the future of poker. So it only seems right that we at least take a quick look back to see how we got to where we are today- sitting on an enormous bubble (in my most objective opinion).

What follows/Chapter 1 is a very brief—and very loose—history of poker before the NL boom, before “poker as we know it” was even born–> “Poker B.C.” [“Poker Before Chris (Moneymaker)”] if you will.

To those who used to get bored to tears in History class as a kid, I feel you. I barely made it through those lectures myself. Thank God I’ve always been a pretty big space cadet/daydreamer…

Skateboarding, girls, basketball, girls, surfing, girls, driving a badass truck to the beach fish-tailing all the way on a dirt road, girls- Mrs. Robinson, with that badass attitude and that petite Asian figure teaching me Biology this morning…

I’ll try to make this chapter/this poor man’s history lesson as painless as possible for everyone. And I promise I won’t call on you just to embarrass you if I look over and see that you are sleeping on your desk- or you are awake but have that glazed over look of mentally being somewhere far cooler (or hotter) than in this class… I just feel like I have to cover “Poker B.C.” a little, just to provide some much needed context for the rest of the book… And honestly, I can just wake you up when we get to “Poker A.D.” (“Poker After Doyle”) if you want.

(No lie, I would totally just skim this chapter if I was the reader)

“Another genius move, man, telling your readers the chapter they are about to read- the very first chapter of your book, is going to bore them to tears.”

Well, you have to know your history in order to fade making the same mistakes over and over- everyone knows that. It just really, really sucks learning it- for some of us at least…

Note: most all the “facts” in this chapter come directly from Wikipedia- don’t hate. Please try to not get hung up on any potential bias/slight inaccuracies in the storytelling. History is always told with bias/slight inaccuracies- in fact, it’s impossible for history to be told any other way (if you really think about it)…

AKA “Let’s just get through Chapter 1 as quickly as possible!”

 

The roots of poker go back ~1,000 years to a Chinese Emperor (one that had heart obviously). The game was then, is now, and always will be a combination of gambling and strategy (a lot of players forget that poker is gambling, once they dive in/have some success/start living on the right side of variance)…

For the first ~99% of its existence, poker was a social game that was primarily played in private settings (at the kitchen table after dinner, in a friend’s basement on “poker night”, at the country club after a round of golf, at the office after hours, etc), and it was played primarily with family, friends and acquaintances/peers- people you knew…

There were only a handful of professional poker players in all the world right up until ESPN beautifully broadcasted Chris Moneymaker beating Sammy Farha heads up to win the 2003 Main Event of the World Series of Poker (this of course was sparked by the invention of online poker- Moneymaker won his way into the Main Event via a $40 entry online satellite tournament, and he wasn’t the only one that binked his way in–> the Main Event field was 33% bigger that year than it was the year prior). So while there have always been favorites and “still learning” players at poker tables- and zillions upon zillions of dollars had been exchanged at poker tables all across the globe prior to 2003, poker was hardly considered an occupation until 2004/its most recent ~1% of existence (“Poker A.D.”)…

Note: a Two Plus Two forums member/friendly acquaintance of mine that has been around forever messaged me recently to correct the above statement (I made the same one online)- that poker wasn’t really a profession before the NL boom. He says there were “hundreds” of poker pros before the NL boom.

While I always appreciate jrr63’s insights (sincerely), the one thing almost all poker pros did until very recently (when us smart ones realized it had become all but a 10k crapshoot) is play the Main Event of the WSOP–> the total number of entries each year (up until very recently) simply must be > the total # of poker pros in the world at the time, and likely >>>, given that so many wealthy recreational players play every year/so many enthusiasts bink their way in.

And there were never even 400 Main Event “runners” until the year 2000…

 

Poker started out/grew pretty much as a “gentlemen’s game” (athletes played, actors played, Presidents played- everyone type of man played poker). And then—once gentlemen stopped being so dumb and realized women are their equals (at least)- some women started joining the party too.

Important note: many more women would play poker if the environment weren’t so gross. We are going to fix that in this book, don’t worry…

Today, poker is seemingly thriving across many demographics. Not only is it being played in public and private settings around the clock all over the world, but cash games and tournaments alike are being broadcast in droves on ‘PokerGo’ and other networks. People simply love (to play and watch) poker- and for good reason; it’s the most complex and fun (well, it used to be fun/it can be fun) way to gamble– and it really feels like you control your own destiny when you are running hot

Just one quick strike of that horse that I massacred in the intro (because it is very relevant to the rest of the book/it’s been a few pages since I belabored anything): It is my contention that nearly everyone that plays poker has great misconceptions about what leads to the results of each hand/session/career, and that no one (myself included- after over 20,000 hours of study) even comes close to having a grasp on all the complexities of variance in No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em (aka “poker”).

 

A) The First Boom

During the late 1960’s, there were a few traveling poker players in the United States. They drove from private game to private game, basically playing in any and all games they thought they could get into and were worth playing. They were poker’s first professionals, and they were much more “hustlers” than “wizards” back then, because that was the much more required skill set to make it. Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim were two of these pros. Each has described the private game circuit back then in their own books as exciting, memorable, but also extremely dangerous…

(If you haven’t read Super System, shame on you!)

Just prior to 1970, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim decided to stop risking their lives on the road and settled in sunny/sinny Las Vegas, NV. In Vegas, Doyle and Amarillo (and I believe a few others) were suddenly able to play poker in regulated card rooms at reputable casinos like Binion’s Horseshoe and The Sands. No longer did they have to worry about being cheated every time they sat down, robbed every time they won a big pot, or murdered every time someone went on tilt. They quickly introduced “Hold ‘Em” (their variant of choice from their days back in Texas- before they started traveling) to a small but budding Las Vegas poker scene…

In Hold ‘Em (it wasn’t called “Texas Hold ‘Em” until later- at least that’s what Wikipedia says!) public poker had its first fast-paced, adrenaline pumping variant that could be learned quickly and enjoyed by just about everyone. It also had (especially when Hold ‘Em was played as “No Limit” or “Pot Limit”) its first popular variant where there was A TON of edge available…

The roots for “the first boom” were spreading rapidly, growing deeper and deeper into the Las Vegas ground- and spreading sideways as well…

While Hold ‘Em quickly became the game of choice in Vegas after Doyle and Amarillo arrived – and there was a considerable buzz over this new and exciting variant, poker didn’t really “boom” right away. It did kinda “bam” though, if you will. Most notably, Benny Binion founded the World Series of Poker in 1970–> poker suddenly (and forever) had an official mecca for players from all over the world to start visiting annually to test their skills (and their luck obviously- whether they acknowledge that or not)…

Fun fact: the inaugural World Series of Poker was actually just one timed tournament held at Binion’s poker room. 7 reputable players (including Doyle and Amarillo) were invited to play in the tournament by Benny Binion, and at the end of a pre-determined amount of time each player voted (via secret ballot) for whichever player they thought had played the best- and those votes determined the first ever Main Event champion (Jonny Moss).

Crazy, right? I love that Benny Binion didn’t use actual results as the metric to decide the winner- so very, very far ahead of his time with regards to understanding variance in poker!

In its second year of existence (1971), the WSOP consisted of 5 tournaments, each one a different variant of poker. Each of these tournament was played down to a single winner (these are called “freeze-outs”), and the “Main Event” that year was a 5k buy-in No Limit Hold ‘Em tournament…

In the third year of its existence (1972), the WSOP made the “Main Event” a 10k buy-in No Limit Hold ‘Em tournament… While preliminary events have varied greatly from year to year (there was only one prelim even in 1972; 73 of them in 2017), the WSOP Main Event remains a 10k buyin to this day…

Despite the recently (and genius-ly) founded WSOP and the emergence of Hold ‘Em as the “new game” in Vegas, poker realistically could not “boom” until Hold ‘Em was to be available publicly outside of Las Vegas [and it couldn’t truly “boom” until “No Limit” (aka “The Cadillac of poker”) was to be available publicly outside of Las Vegas- that’s next chapter though, let’s stay on track- thanks for staying awake so far!]. The vast majority of poker enthusiasts/would be regs/pros in the world simply could not play the game they wanted to play (in a safe, public environment) outside of once or twice a year when they visited Las Vegas.

Nevertheless, those poker roots kept spreading deeper and more sideways below the surface, all across the United States (and beyond)…

The WSOP drew increased media attention each year. It started being broadcast on TV in 1973, and the winner that year—Amarillo Slim—went on the Johnny Carson Show afterwards<– a huge step towards putting poker on the mainstream map. Fun fact: Amarillo Slim later collaborated with Kenny Rogers on the classic song “The Gambler”. Also, some of the best known poker players (including Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson) started writing poker strategy books.

Unlike almost all recent strategy media, the early poker books were phenomenal for the game. They gave poker (essentially viewed as a dirty card game played by unsavory characters) some much needed sophistication in the public eye. And their presence on bookshelves in the “Games” sections of bookstores everywhere spawned a much needed intellectual/working professional segment of the poker population. The big yearly poker summit in Vegas would never again consist of only hustlers, degenerates and outlaws.

(have some coffee, there’s more)

In the 1980s, poker continued to grow in American culture. It was shown as a respectable hobby in many movies and on popular television shows…

In 1987, California legalized Hold ‘em (and Omaha and Stud). Finally, poker had its first boom…

(clap, clap, clap…)

Poker in California grew rapidly.

“Duh, you already said it was a boom.”

For the first time ever in the Golden State there were quick, exciting games (yes, back then Omaha and Stud were quick and exciting too- compared to Draw, the only game that was being spread prior/a game your Grandma might like to play but no one else in your family would likely drive to a card room for) for the public to play. And the card rooms in CA—especially The Bicycle Casino and Commerce Casino, in Los Angeles—were suddenly viable businesses with many customers.

Note: card rooms all across the United States also became viable businesses around this time- and of course the casinos in Atlantic City became poker hot spots. There was also undoubtedly a serious influx in public poker in many other parts of the world as well- just neither Wikipedia or I know too much about it. Sorry.

“No Limit” wasn’t spread nearly as much as “Limit” was/hardly at all actually (card rooms likely viewed the increased edge available in No Limit as bad for business?). But as they say, Rome was not built in a day. At least there were finally busy card rooms and poker players everywhere. Still hardly any pros though…

In 1988, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed and beautiful casinos with poker rooms started sprouting up all over the United States on Indian Reservations. This was the last ingredient/the grand finale to the “first boom” in poker. Poker was officially a popular public game in America; Limit Hold ‘em on the West Coast and 7-card Stud on the East Coast (not sure exactly why that discrepancy existed, but it did). There was suddenly a very sizable pool of poker players. Still hardly any pros though…

Poker would plateau/remain about the same in all ways for the next 15 years…

 

B) Tiny Fields

“Johnny Moss won back-to-back WSOP Main Events in 1970 and 1971, and then he won it again in 1974! I guess variance wasn’t as big a deal back then, huh DGAF?”

You again…

Well, I never played with Johnny Moss (or any of those really old school legends), but you know how big those fields were that he navigated? Well… the first year he had to beat 6 players errr earn their votes in a secret ballot to become champ. The second year he had to beat 5 players (in what was very likely the first 6-max freeze-out in history) to get the bracelet. And then in 1974 he had to wade through a sea of 15 opponents. My God, that’s barely even a heater compared to the stuff I see every year at the tables in Las Vegas and California. Nothing against Johnny Moss, but an aggro fish could have done that- no problem. Seriously…

Here is a list of all the WSOP Main Event fields in history. It is both interesting to look at and important in understanding poker’s history in my opinion.

7 invited players in the first one in 1970, then 6, 8, 13, 16, 21, 22, 34, 42, 54, 73, 75, 104, 108, 132, 140, 141, 152, 167, 178 (Phil Helmuth), 194, 215, 201, 220, 268, 273, 295, 312, 350, 393, 512, 613, 631, 839 (2003, Moneymaker) –> 2576, 5619, 8773, 6358, 6844, 6494, 7319, 6865, 6598, 6352, 6683, 6420, 6737, 7221, 7874 (2018).

“Ok well those numbers since Moneymaker don’t suggest poker is in any danger, man…”

Bubbles don’t often deflate; they burst. Also, those field numbers were provided merely so people could see how big the boom was and realize how relatively new poker is as “a thing”, an occupation, a massive industry that could go away very soon.

Main Event field numbers are not a good barometer of poker’s overall health, in my opinion, rather just an indicator of its size at any point in time- one pretty good metric of that (in my opinion). *The actual best barometer of poker’s health is the status of actual “big games” (NL or PL cash games with a $5 big blind+)…

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, class. Chapter 1 is merely a brief—and loose—history of poker prior to the boom, mostly pulled from Wikipedia (I said don’t hate!). It’s simply a quick background for those who maybe came after the boom, some context for the rest of the book/something for me to reference in future chapters…

I did not list all the Main Event field numbers to discredit the old schoolers who won bracelets (you can only beat who shows up obviously). I did it merely to help illustrate that poker was hardly the monster it is now until very, very recently (it’s most recent ~1% of existence–> “Poker A.D.”)…

 

C) “The Big Game”

I played a lot of poker before the NL boom. The movie “Rounders” (which I will discuss later) got me and many other young people hooked. Didn’t matter it turns out that Mike McD and Worm were playing NL in that movie (in the important scenes anyways) and the casinos we were playing at were only spreading limit- us Rounders fan-boys were MF poker players. We played whatever game the casinos spread- and we played A LOT.

I read every poker book I could get my hands on back then (Rounders came out in 1998). The idea of making money (possibly even a living) playing a GAME was one I quickly became obsessed with. I became fundamentally sound in Limit Hold ‘Em and Stud in no time. I also had incredible discipline and work ethic- as people often do when they find something they truly love. Lastly, I just have some natural attributes that make me a great fit for any social, competitive setting…

(not bragging- at least not intentionally…)

I was the best player every time I walked into a card room- usually by a wide margin. I was the baller. I mean I played “the big game” pretty much every day, and I was the only baby face assassin in it (my friends didn’t have my confidence/gamble to sit in “the big game”). Dealers were impressed, floor people were impressed- everyone was impressed. I mean, it was “the big game” ffs- at big and popular card rooms in Southern California…

That’s right, I played $8-$16 Limit Hold ‘em. Bought in for $200 (out of my wallet- there were no rubber bands back then) and won about twice the minimum wage at the time- when I played my absolute best and ran even

^^^ was the pinnacle. There was nowhere else to go (in most all card rooms). Poker had boomed with the legalization of new games and with casinos popping up on Indian reservations everywhere- boomed like bottle rocket, one you would let your little kid set off on the 4th of July and hardly be anxious at all, because it couldn’t really hurt a thing…

With all due respect to the off duty taxi drivers, retirees and trust fund folk who liked to brain drain with me everyday for a small price (in terms of EV), poker was still a pretty big joke- even after its first boom. I was the boss back then in the card rooms I frequented. I was a huge joke. Poker just wasn’t a game that was really played for profit or great competition or mental stimulation- yet…

It was pretty popular though. And the card rooms were big and nice and there were dealers in place and all that. So that was good…


Pre-order “The Long Run…”

AKA “Light a fire under my ass to finish this book!” I will donate $1 to the Las Vegas homeless for every pre-ordered book. All purchases will be refunded in full if the book doesn’t get published for any reason. It will be an Ebook or an Ibook (or both). Cancel and get a full refund at any time.

$20.00

 

*Follow me on Twitter to receive updates on my books.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close