[toc]After years of wandering in the desert it appears poker has found its promise land.
The 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event injected some real excitement into the poker world. There was a lot of chatter about the John Hesp-led final table, as well as the other “fun” players who made deep runs like Mickey Craft and Jonathan “Superman” Dwek, who livened up the game.
— David Tuchman (@TuckonSports) July 21, 2017
Easily the most fun poker I’ve watched in years. Well worth being dead tired tomorrow.
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownM2) July 18, 2017
There was also the antics of Barstool Sports, which made a lot of headway in recapturing the general public’s fascination with poker.
— seefs (@JustinSef) July 23, 2017
— Rob Lev (@Roblev125) July 23, 2017
— Joshua Blier (@Blier2488) July 22, 2017
The Tweets above are a clear indication that there was a different vibe to the 2017 WSOP. Now one has to wonder if it will spark a mini-poker boom, and help poker continue to grow in the coming years.
Repackaging poker as a fun game
For new players, the 2017 WSOP coverage made poker look fun.
Instead of selling it as the ultimate test of wits against top practitioners, and a way to make a living, playing poker simply looked like a good time.
But more than appealing to new players, the 2017 WSOP reconnected with lapsed poker players, the people who fell by the wayside during the boom years. For these players, the 2017 WSOP, Barstool Sports, and people like Craft and Hesp provided a come-to-Jesus moment.
That epiphany is: I don’t have to be a professional poker player to enjoy playing poker.
Reactivating the boom players
During the poker boom, young dreamers flocked to online poker sites and brick and mortar card rooms. They came with the goal of making some easy money, and perhaps becoming a pro.
Most of them grew disillusioned with the game for a variety of reasons. As a result, they moved on to other things. There are hundreds of thousands of these people, and importantly, they’re no longer bright-eyed 21-year-olds with unattainable dreams and limited bankrolls.
Ten-plus years later, most of them are grounded 30-somethings. Many have families, jobs, and bills to pay. Attempting to become a professional poker player is in the rearview mirror. It probably seems like something they did a lifetime ago.
Their previously held belief that poker was a ticket to fame and fortune probably elicits a chuckle. They look back now and realize how naive they were in thinking poker was an easy path to riches. Beating the game is hard.
However, as the above Tweets demonstrate, following Barstool and watching the jovial Hesp probably brought back the good poker memories. They likely thought back to playing poker with friends, the excitement that surrounded their first trips to a card room, or their first big win.
Will fond memories lead to renewed poker interest?
It’s not out of the question that the recent, positive exposure will rekindle their interest in poker, just in a different way, and with different motives for playing.
In a strange way, the next “poker boom” won’t be about attracting new, young players, or as Norman Chad would call them, a kid with a dream. Instead it will be about reengaging with the players of a previous era. However it will be selling them a different, more realistic vision of what poker has to offer: competition, socializing, and entertainment.
Frankly, these are the players the game wants and needs.
Poker doesn’t need teenagers and early 20-somethings who want to make a living playing poker. After all, those people will find the game no matter what.
It needs people with disposable income who will play just to play and have fun, and will do so within their means.
People like Hesp, want to have a good time and spend time with their friends and meet new, like-minded people. Whether they win or lose, or make the “correct” play isn’t the point. Like all forms of gambling, in poker there is a chance you’re on the right side of variance and walk away a winner. Just ask Hesp.
Not surprisingly, it was Hesp who summed up this mentality best:
“I play poker recreationally, and I will continue to play poker recreationally… Before I came here, I wasn’t a multi-millionaire in any way shape or form, but you don’t have to have lots of money to be rich in life. I was rich in life before I came here, and I’m even richer now without the money.”
The recipe for a poker boom
There’s a lot of mitigating factors that go into creating a poker boom, so it’s hard to single specific things out as key contributors.
In 2003 we had the hole-card camera, the growth of online poker, Rounders, Positively Fifth Street, the dissemination of information on the Internet, and more. Remove any one of those things and who knows what happens?
2017 isn’t the perfect storm 2003 was, but there is already a solid base of players, and plenty of lapsed players.
Because of this, I see several reasons to be somewhat optimistic that some poker sparks might be lit. The WSOP Main Event attendance could continue its upward trajectory.
- Online poker legislation is making progress in several states.
- Scott Blumstein seems like a great ambassador for poker.
- PokerGO’s coverage of the Main Event and its ongoing content plans.
- Places like Barstool Sports that have an audience that fits into the “poker is fun” narrative.
- The Qui Nguyen effect.
- The potential for a John Hesp effect.
- The increasing popularity of bar poker leagues.
- New, casual-player-friendly poker tours and programming, such as Poker Night in America’s made-for-TV events, and the recently launched PIFT Poker, which stands for “Poker Is Fun Tour.”
- The World Poker Tour is making player-friendly changes.
Gauging the individual impact of each of these things is difficult. But, like the first poker boom, they could all be contributing factors.