The History of Poker—Online Poker—Pre-2000



Before online poker, the only way to play the game with others was by visiting a casino or a poker room. For new players, this meant they had to travel (often long-distances) for the opportunity to play poker in a "proper" setting.

To make matters worse, many casinos did not open a poker room. Unlike popular casino games like slots or roulette, poker didn’t generate much revenue for the establishments, as only the rake was taken.

However, online poker would soon change all of that. It would also boost poker's popularity exponentially and make it more accessible than ever before. This article looks at the very origin of online poker and the first iterations of online poker games.


IRC Poker was the precursor to online poker. Even though its legacy might not be well known, it was popular in the late 90s. The program would allow poker players worldwide to compete against each other, albeit for fake currency called "etherbucks."

Players could choose between no-limit and limit Texas hold'em, limit Omaha hold'em (Hi-Lo), and tournaments. The games were played over the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol with programs acting like dealers and managing the game.

Despite playing with a made-up currency, it wouldn't be fair to say that it wasn't competitive. To play, a user would have to create an account and could get 1,000 free chips every day. The program would keep note of the score, and players would fight for positions on the leaderboard.

One of the players on IRC poker was none other than Chris Ferguson, who would win six WSOP bracelets (including the main event in 2000).


Even though IRC Poker was exciting and fun, it couldn’t offer real prizes to its players. The first online cardroom to do so was Planet Poker in 1998. The site was founded in 1997 by Randy Blumer, and the team included popular names in the poker-verse like Mike Caro and Roy Cooke.

The first online poker game for real prizes took place on Planet Poker on 1st January 1998. At that time, there were only a few players who were willing to participate in the games. Over time though, the number of players increased.

By the summer of 1998, continuous games were running on the site with players rotating in and out. As the size of its operations kept growing, Planet Poker had to work hard to keep up with the demand. The internet was still a new technology at that time and was plagued with glitches and errors. Even tiny problems could result in Planet Poker going down for days.

Additionally, players would also demand more features that were expensive and time-consuming to implement. At this point, it seemed like Planet Poker had bitten off more than it could chew, and competition was at its heels.


For one week in 1999, Planet Poker saw a downtime that stretched to several days. In a strange coincidence, a new poker site called Paradise Poker launched during that same week.

Offering a more robust infrastructure and better features, Paradise Poker would siphon several Planet Poker customers. Over time, Paradise Poker would overtake Planet Poker as the biggest online poker cardroom.

Even though Planet Poker and Paradise Poker would co-exist for the next few years, Paradise Poker was the clear industry leader. Unfortunately, the success would also invite more competition like Party Poker, which eventually dominated the online poker scene.


Poker IRC and Planet Poker might have been rudimentary compared to the gaming options we have available today. However, just like the adventure seekers in the Old West who loved the game, they were pioneers too.

While exciting things were happening in the late 1990s for online poker, it would be nothing compared to what was about to come over the next few years due to the "Moneymaker effect."

Note this is a reference article to 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.