Three Factors that Triggered Canada’s Passion for Poker

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Canadian attitude towards poker was largely ambivalent. Yes, there were a few serious players and a few serious games to be played, but these were mostly behind closed doors until Canada started opening casinos in the early 1990s.

For most Canadians, however, poker was more associated with the big screen, from games in Wild West saloons to James Bond duking it out at Europe’s top casinos. Then, however, something happened that triggered a new interest in the game and saw not just keen new amateurs giving poker a try but a new breed of Canadian poker pros arriving on the scene.

What was it that happened? Well, actually there were three main factors that drove Canada’s passion for poker to the state it is in today. Let’s look at each of them in turn.

The WSOP Lent Poker an Air of Respectability

In 1973, CBS decided to take a gamble on poker as a spectator sport. They pitched up at Binion’s in Las Vegas and viewers were able to witness Main Event winner “Puggy” Pearson defeat 12 other entrants to scoop the $130,000 pot.

10 years later, the number of entrants had risen to more than 100 and the World Series of Poker was a sporting highlight of the year, broadcast not only in the USA but also Canada. Suddenly poker was transformed from a seedy pastime to an exciting TV sport, alongside games like pool, snooker and darts, which were also starting to seduce TV audiences.

Fast forward another 40 years, and the WSOP is a highlight on the global sporting calendar. This year’s Main Event has attracted more than 10,000 entrants, quite a change from the days when Puggy held court, puffing on his huge cigar!

The Internet Added Accessibility

More than 100 of those 10,000 entrants come from Canada, and all but a handful are enthusiastic amateurs as opposed to full-time pros who play poker for a living. Anyone can play in the Main Event, provided they can stump up the $10,000 buy-in and the fact that so many Canadians do so demonstrates the popularity of the game in the Great White North.

30 years ago, getting a game of poker in Canada meant paying a visit to Winnipeg, Niagara Falls or Montreal to visit one of the country’s new casinos. It was fine for anyone who happened to live in those areas, but the vast majority of Canadians were not lucky enough to have a casino on their doorstep.

The internet, and specifically the advent of online casinos, has provided the opportunity for every Canadian adult to play poker and other casino games for real money. Maple Casino provides a useful summary of the different online platforms that are available at Suddenly, poker became accessible to all, from absolute beginners learning the basics of video poker to people like Jonathan Duhamel, who appeared from nowhere in 2010 to become the first-ever WSOP Main Event winner to hail from Canada.

Kid Poker’s Rise to Fame

Respectability and accessibility are a good start, but poker still needed one more component to really take off in Canada and that was someone to give it that X-factor. Seven or eight years ago, the successes of Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic caused tennis to surge in popularity in Canada. Back in the 1990s, Jacques Villeneuve had the whole nation obsessing over Formula 1.

As for poker, there is one man who has become a household name and he’s from the Toronto suburbs. Daniel ‘Kid Poker’ Negreanu is to poker as Tiger Woods is to golf. Every sports fan has a soft spot for a Cinderella story, and Kid Poker’s biography has all the classic elements. Negreanu’s meteoric rise saw him go from rags to riches as he moved to Las Vegas to seek his fortune – and then back to rags when he overreached himself and returned home penniless.

Like every great fairy tale hero, he never gave up, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Every Canadian knows Negreanu and every Canadian poker player takes inspiration from his story – and from his $51 million career winnings so far.

The WSOP, internet poker and a kid from Toronto who is now pushing 50 – these are three ingredients that have combined to trigger a passion for poker that you will struggle to find anywhere else in the world.