Poker in the Media

POKER’S RISE
THROUGH THE MEDIA

FROM FILMS AND TV TO
ONLINE STREAMING AND FACEBOOK

When poker was first created in the 1800s, the game was primarily confined to border towns and saloons in the Old West. Even the most famous players were mostly unknown outside of gambling circles. A hundred years later, poker was still relatively unknown and went largely ignored by the wider population.

That all started to change with new types of media like movies, television and later streaming platforms. First portrayed in fictional films in the early 1900s, poker eventually enjoyed regular broadcasts on television, various books were written about it, websites were created, and streaming platforms and various other forms of media began offering poker content. Poker went from a game on society's fringes to a global phenomenon, and the best players started to enjoy celebrity status.

POKER THROUGHOUT FILM

Films were one of the first forms of media where poker was shown to a broader audience. A lot of the early westerns played fast and loose with their portrayals of the game for dramatic purposes, but later films took the time and effort to research poker and are some of the most realistic poker scenes on the big screen.

FICTIONAL POKER FILMS

SMART MONEY (1931)

Smart Money was one of the first films to have a plot solely based around poker. The 1931 movie has Nick the Barber (Edward G. Robinson) leave his sleepy little town to make it as a poker player in the big city. After a few misadventures, he finds himself in the glitz and glamour world of high stakes gambling. The movie is very old, but it still has all the prohibition era's charm and marks the only time Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney appeared together on screen.

THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)

Steve McQueen plays Eric Stoner, a talented poker player looking to knock off the best poker shark in the city. The 1965 film might be little aged, but it is still a timeless classic that shows poker in one of its best portrayals on the big screen and has a valuable lesson, the hero doesn't always win.

ROUNDERS (1998)

You can't talk about poker movies and not mention Rounders, arguably the best poker film ever made. Matt Damon stars as Mike McDermott, a reformed gambler who is dragged back into the high stakes poker world he has been trying to leave behind. Rounders has some of the most accurate poker scenes ever shown in a Hollywood film, from the opening scene where Damon's character explains all the rules for Texas Hold‘em, to the final hand against the film's villain, Teddy KGB, played by John Malkovich. Rounders is widely credited as helping introduce poker to a new generation of players, and was one of the sparks that eventually saw the onset of the poker boom a few years later.

CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Casino Royale, the 2006 version, is the third adaption of Ian Fleming’s classic novel about super spy 007. James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, sets out on his first mission to foil, Le Chiffre, a villainous banker, played by Mads Mikkelsen. Poker only takes up a small part of the movie, but it is one of the best poker scenes ever caught on film, the climactic high stakes Texas Hold‘em tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro.

NON-FICTION POKER FILMS

When the poker boom hit in 2003, the game enjoyed an unprecedented spike in popularity, and as a result, all poker content became a hit with audiences. Non-fiction poker movies and documentaries detailing famous poker players' exploits, and significant events in poker history suddenly started being enjoyed by people other than die-hard poker players. Non-fiction movies have never been as popular as fictional ones; but they still contributed to introducing poker to a wider audience.

TELEVISED POKER

Television was one of the first forms of media to show live poker, which contributed significantly to the game and the player's popularity. There have been hundreds of poker shows over the years, many have long since been cancelled, but a couple have withstood the test of time and are still making episodes to this day. Streaming platforms are starting to erode television ratings, and some shows have shifted to the online format, but there are still plenty of poker TV shows broadcasting every week.

THE WORLD POKER TOUR (WPT)

Starting in 2003 at the beginning of the poker boom, the World Poker Tour revolutionized how poker was shown on TV. Tournaments were hosted in America and shown to audiences with in-depth commentary explaining all the action. In another first, the WPT also had small cameras in the tables so viewers could see the players cards. Nearly every televised poker tour that came after borrowed ideas from the WPT. It's one of the few that can claim the honor of being consistently on the air from the beginning of the poker boom until the present day.

HIGH STAKES POKER (HSP)

Debuting in 2006, High Stakes Poker had a very different premise to every other show that had preceded it. HSP focused solely on high stakes no-limit Texas Hold‘em, and for seven sporadic seasons showed the world's best players duking it out for the prize money.

Games were mostly high stakes cash games and buy-ins ranged from a few hundred thousand up to one million, a kingly sum for poker's early days. Several famous poker moments happened on HSP that are still discussed today, like Daniel Negreanu getting destroyed by Gus Hansen's quads, or Brad Booth pulling off the mother of all bluffs against Phil Ivey.

The final season of HSP aired in 2011; the show later went on hiatus after indictments were brought against several poker businesses in the wake of the Black Friday Raids. Fans were devastated at the loss of HSP, and for years it was among the top shows that people asked to be revived. In 2020, an eighth season was commissioned and is expected to air sometime in 2021.

CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN (CPS)

Celebrity Poker Showdown was produced during the poker boom; each episode had five celebrities playing a no-limit Texas Hold‘em tournament for a chance to enter the championship game. The winners of the five qualifying rounds won a competitive poker chip and entry into the championship game. The overall winner took the grand prize that was donated to a charity of their choice.

The show was popular at the time, not necessarily for the poker, but for the chance to see celebrities interacting in a similar format to reality TV. The series had a limited run of five seasons, and there have been no plans to revive it, but it was a large contributor to poker's popularity during the early years and still has a strong following of fans.

CROWN AUSTRALIAN POKER CHAMPIONSHIP (AUSSIE MILLIONS)

Held at the Crown Casino in Australia, the Aussie Millions advertises itself as the biggest tournament in the southern hemisphere. For years it has served as a smaller illegal version of the World Series of Poker aimed at Australian audiences. Introduced in 1997, the first Aussie Millions tournament wasn’t held until 1998, television coverage followed in the 2000s. The tournament has evolved with the times and new technology and is now streamed online through Twitch and PokerGO.

HEARTLAND POKER TOUR (HPT)

In 2005, the Heartland Poker Tour established itself as one of the biggest locally based poker tours in the United States. The Syndicated poker TV show airs 52 weeks a year on hundreds of stations across the United States and is also available to view in multiple countries worldwide. As of 2020, nine seasons and over 230 episodes have gone to air.

POKER AFTER DARK (PAD)

Poker After Dark was among the most successful poker TV shows during the poker boom and helped increase the profile of top name poker professionals. Like the Celebrity Poker Showdown and High Stakes Poker shows, PAD brought together some of the game's best poker players to play a six-person freezeout tournament.

The format changed over the years, with cash games, heads up and high stakes events, but the standard game was a $20,000 buy-in tournament with $120,000 on offer for the winner. Unfortunately, when the Black Friday raids floored the poker industry in 2011, Poker After Dark lost its primary sponsor and was cancelled. It took many years, but the show was eventually revived. New episodes are filmed at the PokerGO Studio at the ARIA Resort and Casino and distributed on video streaming service PokerGO.

WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP)

Last, but by no means least, is the World Series of Poker, one of the world's biggest poker events. The WSOP started small, with broadcasts on CBS, and the discovery channel, but everything changed in 2003 when unknown amateur Chris Moneymaker won the main event, helping spark the poker boom. This one broadcast alone has done more for poker than any other event in the history of the game. It showed that anyone could win the main event, and suddenly millions of people around the world took an interest in learning poker. New sponsorship deals and offers to broadcast the WSOP came flooding in as a result, looking to cash in on the surge in popularity.

TRAILBLAZING POKER STRATEGY BOOKS

Poker books have been around for a long time, way before the game was a mainstream success. Within the pages, players would reveal their hard-earned knowledge and strategies. Initially, physical copies were the only option available, but with new technologies, many have made the jump to eBooks and other electronic forms.

THE BODY LANGUAGE OF POKER BY MIKE CARO

Poker professional Mike Caro has authored countless articles on poker over the years, but among his first publications was The Body Language of Poker. The book was ground-breaking at the time and one of the first to focus exclusively on body language at the poker table.

Within the 277 pages of photos and explanations, Caro argued that the cards are irrelevant and that to win poker games requires a solid understanding of your opponents, and their body language. The Body Language of Poker has lost a lot of its appeal and relevance since first being published in 1984, but it still has an important place in poker history and is still worth a read.

HOLD’EM POKER BY DAVID SKLANSKY

Published in 1976, Hold‘em Poker has the distinct honor of being the first widely available book to be exclusively written about Texas Hold‘em. At the time, Hold‘em hadn't achieved the status it does today. The first edition is very dated, but Sklansky updated his book in 1997 to account for some of the rule changes brought in since it was first published. The book is only a light read at best, and there are far more compressive books on the subject, but Hold‘em Poker’s status as a ground-breaking publication ensures it will always be remembered.

THE THEORY OF POKER BY DAVID SKLANSKY

Another book by David Sklansky, The Theory of Poker is regarded as a definitive poker dictionary. It contains all the basic strategic fundamentals and a lifetime of well-researched and painstakingly debated poker concepts. At 276 pages and 25 chapters long, the book is considered a benchmark for all other poker strategy books.

SUPER/SYSTEM BY DOYLE BRUNSON

Two-time world champion Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson was one of the first professional poker players to give away all his poker secrets in a book. Published in 1979, the 600-page tome details strategies and anecdotes from Brunson about his long and legendary poker career, from the back alley clubs he used to play in, to the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, which he won twice.

The Super/System was also the first book to contain contributions from other top players. Co-authors included David "Chip" Reese, David Sklansky, Joey Hawthorne, Mike Caro and Bobby Baldwin. A second book, Super/System 2, released in 2004 but failed to capture the same popularity level as the original.

EVERY HAND REVEALED BY GUS HANSEN

Authored by Gus Hansen at the height of his success as a three-time World Poker Tour champion, Every Hand Revealed is aimed mostly at no-limit Hold‘em tournament play. Hansen is known as an unorthodox player, and his book reveals his thought process for each stage of a poker tournament, from the first hand to the last. His unconventional approach to poker has seen Every Hand Revealed enjoyed by both professional players and amateurs alike.

POPULAR POKER TRAINING SITES

When the poker boom hit in 2003, a whole new generation developed an interest in poker, and many new training sites started to appear to teach the nuances of the game. Some have shut down or gone out of business, but new training sites are created every year, filling the void when the older ones drop off.

RECPOKER

RecPoker is a website boasting a vibrant community eager to connect and learn from each other, along with training content for poker players. Started as a podcast by founder Steve Fredlund in 2017, RecPoker has since grown a vast membership. Some of the content is free if you create an account, but more is hidden behind a paywall. There are also chances to sign up to a weekly poker newsletter, forums and offers to join events and community discussions.

RUN IT ONCE (RIO)

RIO is a coaching site that has been running since 2012 and offers poker material from seasoned professionals, and a massive video content library. There are also articles on improving poker skills, and forums where players can join and talk about poker topics. The website offers two types of membership, free and paid.

POKER COACHING

Started by Jonathan Little, who is well known for providing tons of free quality poker strategy tips at PokerNews and on social media, Poker Coaching offers both free and premium content. The website encourages members to apply what they've learned through the videos and training courses in tests and homework.

Little is the head coach and breaks down poker tournament strategy in general terms that new and experienced players can understand. Along with Little, other poker pros involved with providing content for Poker Coaching include James Romero, Bert Stevens, Jonathan Jaffe and Matt Affleck.

UPSWING

Launched in 2015 by Doug Polk, UpSwing is one of the newer poker training websites, but it has quickly gained a vast community of members. Along with Polk, a group of other professional players contribute to the site's coaching services, including videos, the 'Upswing Poker Lab', and a complete poker library of poker modules. Membership can be quite costly though.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND POKER STREAMING

Social media is relatively new, with most modern platforms going online in the 2000s, but the last decade has seen a massive influx of content on various subjects. Poker experienced a huge drop off in popularity after the end of the poker boom in 2006, but through the efforts of streamers and social media content creators, poker content is steadily gaining traction on a wide variety of social media platforms.

FACEBOOK

When a Harvard sophomore named Mark Zuckerberg launched his small social media website called Facebook in February 2004, nobody could have predicted what it would become. By December of 2004, it had over one million users and only after a few years of business, it had become a global leader in social media.

Facebook has countless international pages and groups devoted to poker, sharing everything from tips and videos, to promotions and poker scenarios. Some are exclusively for people living in a specific region or country, but many are happy to accept players worldwide. Facebook remains one of the top social media platforms for poker. Even online casinos have started getting proactive, creating their own pages for players and members to join where they offer promotions, deals and information on their services.

RUN IT UP AND TWITCH

When Twitch first came online in 2011, it was primarily for streaming video game content. That all changed when poker player Jason Somerville decided to capitalize on the new social media platform. He was the first to create a channel on Twitch exclusively devoted to poker called Run it Up.

A community formed around the channel that numbered well into the hundreds of thousands and Somerville became the first of many to create poker content for Twitch. The success of Run It Up inspired other players to create additional channels, and before long, poker became a viable streaming option on Twitch.

Sponsorships from high profile poker sites soon followed, and the poker community received a considerable boost and another platform to exchange ideas and watch content. Run it Up eventually became so successful, Somerville created a poker series which is still running as of 2020.

YOUTUBE

YouTube was initially just a small video sharing platform where people could upload their videos for everyone to view. Like Facebook, YouTube would prove a hit with audiences and redefine an industry. As of 2021, YouTube has billions of videos with 500 hours of extra content uploaded every minute. Poker videos are only a small drop in the ocean of content, but as the game grows in popularity, more content creators are showing poker on their channels offering tips, game analysis, tutorials and poker news.

POKER’S FUTURE IN THE MEDIA

Poker and media are forever linked now. New films about poker are rare, but there are still plenty of TV shows broadcasted every week. Social media and the internet were big game-changers, providing unprecedented access to content. Audiences are slowly starting to shift away from traditional media like TV and film for the cheaper options on social media and streaming platforms. They will likely become the primary medium for poker content in the near future, as more businesses look to invest in the booming streaming industry. Regardless of what form it takes, if there is a demand for poker content, it will always have a role in all present and future media platforms.

This is a reference article to poker and the media in general. It is for information and entertainment only. It is not related to, nor a reflection of, Global Poker, its products, content, or its games.