The History of Poker—Online Poker—PokerStars and Full Tilt



PokerStars is a big online poker site. It was officially launched in 2001, at a time when online poker was still in its infancy.

In 2003, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event, a tournament he entered by winning a free ticket at a PokerStars online satellite tournament. His story led to a massive surge in online poker's popularity over the next few years, and PokerStars was right at the center of the action.

This article looks at how PokerStars launched and thrived as the "Moneymaker Effect" took hold of the country. We also look at Full Tilt, an extremely popular online poker cardroom from this era that later became infamous for its legal troubles.


PokerStars' story began in the 1990s when its founder, Isai Scheinberg, wrote the software which was the first iteration of the online poker cardroom.

By 2001, the site was ready for its beta launch. Initially, only play money was allowed to be used in the games, but by December 2001, it was possible to play poker for real money on the site.

When Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003, it began a gold rush for online poker. The media latched on to the story and made his name known to households all over the country.

What made his story special was that Moneymaker was an amateur poker player and had won a free entry to the tournament by winning an online satellite tournament at PokerStars. This proved to be a pivotal moment for the site, as new players registered on the platform in masses, expecting to replicate Moneymaker's legendary journey of turning $39 into $2.5 million.


While PokerStars was one of the pioneers of the online poker industry, there were several other reasons behind its success. Along with offering several types of poker games like Texas hold'em and Omaha, the site became known for its massive tournaments, with several record-breaking tournaments held since its inception.

The brand also worked with professional poker players like Lex Veldhuis, Liv Boeree, and Chris Moneymaker to promote the brand and had a special celebrity team that included personalities like Usain Bolt, Kevin Hart, and Cristiano Ronaldo in its roster.

However, PokerStars was not the only online poker cardroom in the market. There were other sites like PartyPoker and Full Tilt Poker that would serve as tough competition.


Full Tilt Poker was started by Ray Bitar and Chris Ferguson, a day trader and a professional poker player with multiple WSOP gold bracelets. The idea for the site was conceived in the early 2000s, and the site was open for real-money play in July 2004.

One of the biggest draws of Full Tilt Poker, which made them stand apart from the competition, was that professional poker players like Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, and Andy Bloch would act as ambassadors and play on the site too.

For the first time, average players could have the opportunity to play and interact with the best players worldwide, giving credence to its motto of "Learn, Chat, and Play with the Pros."

The company also advertised heavily on television poker shows like High Stakes Poker. It was worth signing up for some players just to observe live poker games played by the professionals they were used to watching on the television.

Nosebleeds—games with extremely high stakes—were commonly played between the professional players at Full Tilt Poker. Along with PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker became one of the biggest poker sites in the USA.


The online poker craze was at its peak in 2006, with US players making a significant percentage of the overall pool for most online poker sites. PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were at the top of the list by this time, competing for more market share.

However, the US government passed a now infamous bill known as the Unlaw Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 or the UIGEA. Once passed, this law prevented financial institutions in the country from dealing with online gaming sites. Since it was meant to regulate financial institutions and not the poker website themselves, there was a lot of margin for interpretation.

Some poker sites like PartyPoker pulled out of the USA market after the bill, while some had no option but to shut down. However, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker refused to leave the industry and decided to keep operating.

With reduced competition, these two sites captured an even more significant market share. Yet, the success didn’t last long, and Full Tilt Poker slowly crumbled into a financial and legal mess as the regulations tightened.


In the following article, we follow PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker through the mid to late 2000s. During this time, the government introduced regulations and eventually seized the most significant poker websites in 2011.

While both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker offered the same service and started simultaneously, their stories ended differently. One of them became a big online poker brand, and the other crumbled.

Note this is a reference article on the history of online poker in general. It is for information and entertainment only. It is not related to, nor a reflection of, Global Poker, its views, practices, products, content, or its games.