Full Circle – Putting the Poker Boom into Perspective

Something amazing just happened on March 6th, but first, let’s look back to what started it all. Most people credit Chris Moneymaker’s win in the 2003 WSOP main event as the beginning of the poker boom. I would argue that his win just accelerated the poker boom, but that is a discussion for another time.

Let’s take a more detailed look at that event. In 2003, the WSOP main event had 839 entrants who came up with the $10,000 entry fee. Most people remember that Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million for his 1st place finish that year as it was telecast over and over again on ESPN around the world. It was an amazing victory as amateur poker players around the world now felt like they could take on the pros. And indeed, the event is unique since anyone with $10,000 can mix it up with the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey. The prize pool that year was a little over $8 million dollars.

Back in 2003, online poker was really just starting to get ready for its boom. Online poker had been around for a few years, but no one expected the boom that happened in 2004 and 2005 where thousands upon thousands of players joined poker sites hoping to be the next Chris Moneymaker.

Flash forward to 2011.

On March 6th, 2011, something amazing happened. 59,128 players around the world ponied up $215 to play in an online poker tournament at PokerStars. The winner would win $1.6 million (actually, a deal was made but 1st place would have been $1.6 million), better than Sam Farha’s 2nd place finish in 2003 for $1.5 million. But to put this online tournament in perspective, the prize pool was 40% bigger than the prize pool of the 2003 WSOP main event! The poker boom has truly come full circle.

The live event that accelerated the online poker boom is now not even as big in terms of prize pool as an online poker tournament. The tournament took only 14 and a half hours, which means a player was eliminated about every second. I beat 56,000 players, and only managed to double my buy-in. Beating 56,000 just wasn’t good enough as I needed to beat 59,000!

To put this tournament a little more in perspective, it was just one year ago that PokerStars broke records when the Sunday Million had 36,169 entrants. In one year, they have increased the number of entrants by over 60% increase. It makes you wonder how far the online poker boom can really go. Will we see a $200 tournament with over 100,000 entrants? If so, we could see a $200 online tournament with a 1st place prize greater than the $2.5 million Moneymaker won in 2003.

The numbers are truly staggering. This all goes to show that live poker helps online poker and vice versa. The World Series of Poker has played a crucial role in the growth of online poker. Conversely, online poker has played a crucial role in the growth of the WSOP. Nowadays, we are seeing record numbers in both live and online tournaments. This is no coincidence. Players learn their trade online to prepare themselves and give them the confidence to participate in the higher buy-in live events.

What does this all mean for us poker players? Cash games in general are getting tougher and tougher to beat as the players become more sophisticated. This is the same in tournaments, but tournaments are especially attractive for amateurs in search of the big pay day. When a tournament has almost 60,000 players willing to pony up $215, you know that the field is extremely weak. I have always preferred tournaments to cash games so I do have a bias, but I think in today’s online environment, tournaments still represent the best value for the average poker player.

The poker boom has come full circle – enjoy the ride.