According to best estimates, there are 60 million regular poker players in the USA and well over 100 million across the globe. Those figures are, however, only estimates and in fact, the number of people enjoying poker games around the globe is likely much, much larger.
But what is it that makes the relatively simple card game so popular? How has a game invented 192 years ago managed to stand the test of time and remain popular throughout the decades? In short, why is poker a global phenomenon? Read on to find out.
The majority of games that we play to pass the time have no financial element to them beyond their initial purchase. Poker, however, is a game that has always and will always have money at its very core.
Since its invention, players have been wagering money on the outcome of their hands and attempting to pull off audacious bluffs to scoop the prize pot. This financial element is one of the main reasons that poker has remained relevant throughout the decades.
In other games and sports like football, financial rewards are usually reserved for those who successfully master their craft and turn professional. To win money playing poker you don’t have to be a professional or even that good at the game.
If you play against people of a similar skill level, you have as much chance of winning the prize pot as a professional does when they sit down at a WSOP table. The potential financial gains of poker are also what initially draws in a lot of players, who then go on to fall in love with the game.
There is a now-defunct theory that if you were to train at anything for 10,000 hours you would become sufficiently skilled to compete with the world’s best. If that were the case, then the thousands of hours spent in childhood playing football by the author of this piece would have him playing for Real Madrid rather than writing this article…
Excellence in sports and the majority of games usually comes down to natural talent above all else, but in poker, this is not the case. Anyone can go from playing online in a small stakes game to battling it out at the WSOP because poker does not have a skill ceiling.
If you want to get better at cards you can do so very easily by studying hands, probabilities, and strategies. In this way, hard work trumps natural talent which makes poker one of the most egalitarian games out there.
Take Chris Moneymaker, for example, a man who at the turn of the millennium was making a living as an accountant and playing poker in his spare time. 3 years later, in 2003 he pulled off arguably the greatest bluff of all time against seasoned card-shark Sammy Farha to win the WSOP.
His transformation from nobody to global sensation was the result of fastidious self-improvement and online practice. He couldn’t have gone from amateur tennis player in 2000 to Wimbledon winner in 2003, but in poker where success stems from hard work rather than natural talent, he could do the equivalent.
Undoubtedly one of the main draws of poker is that it is a social game that brings people together. Whether you’re a casual player or an aspiring pro, poker can be a great way to connect with your friends or to branch out and make new connections.
There’s nothing better than going round to a friend’s house on a Friday night after a tough week at work and sinking a few beers whilst playing Texas Hold ‘Em. Likewise, if you play online you can keep in touch with friends in other towns or cities and also meet new friends.
Whilst games of poker in official tournaments and at high-stakes tables can be super serious and full of suspense, games between friends can also be light-hearted and played at a much slower pace. It is perhaps this flexibility that has allowed the game to live on as long as it has.
The reason that we all love sports like rugby is because of its ability to consistently throw up shocks and suspense including cricket, despite all signs to the contrary and the same is true of poker.
Even if you know the probabilities inside out and you have fine-tuned your strategies, poker can still make you look a fool.
One turn of a card that was statistically improbable can completely change the outcome of a hand and send a kingpin tumbling. At the very top level where the margins between success and failure are so minute, luck can play a massive part in the game.
This level of jeopardy makes poker fun to play but even better to watch, especially when you’re invested in the fortunes of a particular player.
Poker is Hard
The majority of games that we play are hard, but poker is just the right level of hard. It’s not easy enough for a beginner to pick up in a couple of minutes and start dominating at, but it is sufficiently hard enough to capture the imagination.
That’s because it is not only a test of your mathematical problem solving, but it is also a test of your resolve and amateur psychology. There are relatively few games out there that pose as many different challenges as poker does.
This makes winning matter, a lot more than in other games because when you do win a hand you know that you have been truly tested. Poker’s trickiness also gives players a clear pathway to progression as your practice and research almost always result in better performances and bigger wins.