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The Way the Cards Fall

by Garrett Rasko-Martinis

Like Lady Gaga, many players
are putting on their poker faces to play.
Chris Moneymaker sat with Sam Farha at the final table of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event Tournament in the Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Everyone in the poker world, audience and participant, knew who Moneymaker was now. He was an amateur in a room of what was a fairly secluded group of veteran poker players. He was a player who won the entry $10,000 fee by winning online poker tournaments.

His father was in the audience, watching in anticipation as Farha bet all his remaining chips. Moneymaker called the bet with his full house, the superior hand. The entire poker world was stunned as the final card could not help Farha, the seasoned veteran, defeat the rookie Moneymaker. This victory by an unknown online poker player would pave the way for the total overhaul of this poker event.

Thousands on internet-bred poker players heard of Moneymaker’s success, and felt that they too might have a chance to defeat the world’s most famous and skilled poker players. For a few years, poker’s popularity spiked, mostly because of Moneymaker’s victory. In 2003 there was only 839 entrants, but in 2004 that more than tripled to 2,576 participants. By 2006, the number of players had increased to approximately a staggering 8,000. However, what renewed poker’s popularity has also diminished it in recent years.

“He made it (professional poker) big, which was a good thing,” said Mike McLoughlin, a recent poker fan who was attracted to the game by Moneymaker’s success. “He made it seem like anyone could do well. It was initially why I started to get into it, and I think it was the same for a lot of people. But what he did kind of poisoned the game as well. People who didn’t really take poker seriously started to play, ruining for people who either played serious or were tying to.”

At first, the excitement of Moneymaker’s championships run drew in a much larger crowd, and eventually many more competitors. While this increased the size of the first place prize drastically, it also made it beyond difficult to win. Where once there was hundreds, now there were thousands of players.

These players were young dreamers, trained in the poker rooms of the internet, much like their predecessor Moneymaker. In 2004, it was less noticeable, and poker fans, new and old, watched as another newcomer, Greg Raymer won the televised main event. It gave the new fans the chance to get acquainted with the poker personalities, and pick their favorite players.

Unfortunately for them, as poker got more and more popular, an increasing number of amateur players would join the World Series of Poker. With the number of rookie players far overshadowing the professionals’ ranks, it has become nearly impossible for anyone of any poker stature to steal the top prize in the most coveted poker game in the world. Even if a poker player is the greatest at his trade, the odds are still incredibly stacked against him or her besting thousands of other players.

Luck is a major aspect of poker and the more players there are, the even less likely it is that a major poker personality will win the Main Event, let alone do well. While the majority of poker’s fans would probably never have known about poker if not for Moneymaker’s “Cinderella Story” victory, it is the horde of players who have come in his image that has now destroyed their interest in professional poker by making it nearly improbable for their favorite poker players to win the Main Event.

“There’s no one to latch onto anymore,” said Vinny Dimino, a former fan of professional poker who has not watched it on television in two years. “So many guys who just sat online and qualify there and spend a lot of money have flooded the tournament. By day two of the Main Event, they’re like the only people left. There are hardly any pros, or personalities to watch or cheer for. It’s hard to follow it.”

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