The History of Poker—21st Century



By the end of the 20th century, poker had thoroughly planted itself in the cultural ethos of the United States. There were several iconic poker venues in the West and in cities like Atlantic City on the other side of the country.

However, the true poker boom would come in the next century, driven by significant changes to the game, such as the invention of online poker and an increase in the popularity of televised poker.

This article looks at the key developments that genuinely propelled the game into the mainstream and kicked off a golden era for its players.


In general, there were two significant reasons for the extraordinary growth that poker experienced in the early 21st century. The first was the introduction of online poker. Instead of being limited to specific physical venues, people could play poker with others online from the comfort of their homes!

The first online cardroom was Planet Poker which launched in 1997. For the company, it was uncharted territory as nobody had tried to create an online poker game for real stakes yet.

At first, there were only a handful of players, but the games started running longer over time. By 1998, a game ran for 24 hours as players rotated in and out. It was considered a significant milestone for online poker since most games usually would not run for long, and a continuous one was basically unheard of.

At that point in time, the internet was still a relatively new technology, and there would be several issues faced by the pioneering web company. Then there was new competition in the market, such as Paradise Poker and Party Poker, which would eventually dominate the industry.

Yet, in the early years of the 21st century, online poker was a fresh new idea to millions of people. As the online card rooms kept on getting bigger, more and more players would log in. The online poker boom would continue until 2011, when the UGEA and Black Friday finally prohibited Americans from playing at online poker sites.


By the early 21st century, the World Series of Poker was already established as one of the biggest poker tournaments in the world. Since it brought together the best poker players globally, there was also considerable interest in watching the game as a spectator.

However, there was a challenge. Poker isn’t really an exciting game to watch when you do not know the hole cards of all the players. Since the information cannot be revealed publicly, viewers would be left guessing as much as any other player on the table.

The genius solution to this problem was the invention of the hole-card cameras. Hole cameras, or pocket cams, would be first seen in 1999 and would become commonplace by 2003 after being used for the WSOP and WPT broadcast streams in 2002.

With hole cameras, viewers could know all the information about the game without compromising the player’s hand. This effectively turned poker into a spectator sport and made it extremely interesting to watch.

Professional poker players would slowly become mini celebrities, like Phil Helmuth and Daniel Negreanu, and frequently feature on poker television shows.


As online and televised poker kept growing in popularity, something happened in 2003 to pour gasoline on the fire.

The final table at the 2003 World Series of Poker’s Main Event featured six people—five of them were professional players, including the 1995 World Champion Dan Harrington. However, one of them wasn’t a professional poker player at all.

In fact, he was an accountant, and his name was Chris Moneymaker. Instead of paying the 10,000 buy-in, he won a seat at the Main Event after winning an 86-buy-in online satellite tournament. Even reaching the final table would have been a huge story, but Moneymaker remarkably managed to win the title that year after beating Sammy Farha heads-up.

His win would serve as inspiration for countless others and create a new craze for poker, both online and live. Often referred to as the “Moneymaker Effect,” the early 21st century saw a demand for poker like never before in the United States.


In many ways, there were some similarities between the gold rush and the online poker rush. Tons of people were willing to take a risk for a chance to make a fortune. Only this time, they did not have to travel to faraway places and have wild adventures. Instead, they could just log in and play against hundreds of thousands of others just like them.

However, the story of online poker was only beginning. A storm was already brewing; the government was preparing to put a stop to this new trend. In the next series of articles, we follow online poker from its conception to where it stands today, including Black Friday and its consequences.

Note, this article is intended for interest and entertainment only. It is not related to, nor a reflection of, Global Poker, its views, its products, content, or its games. Just enjoy it.