What the Next ‘Poker Boom’ Will Need to Be a Success

money sponsorThe next Poker Boom needs players with disposable income.

Before Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP win the vast majority of the poker world was made up of middle-aged or older men. These were the people who no longer could compete in sports and had the disposable income (read as: decent jobs) to play the game in a casino where the smallest stakes offered were usually $1-$3 Stud or $2/$4 Holdem.

What we should be striving for is a return to a poker world where the majority (not everyone) of players fit the description above. I want players that lose a couple hundred dollars every week or two and shrug it off as no big deal, because poker is their tickets to the theater, or night out drinking, or dinner and a movie: It’s their entertainment budget.

Where the 2003 Poker Boom went wrong

I have always been of the opinion that the initial Poker Boom simply wasn’t sustainable.

The Poker Boom, along with the onset of online poker a few years prior, brought an entirely new demographic to the game, young men. Poker rooms were hopping, and the game was more popular than ever, but itg was also extremely cannibalistic.

Now that poker’s star is waning, and the poker ponds are no longer being stocked with fresh fish, we are seeing the smaller sharks being eaten by the larger sharks.

Poker is no longer seen as a money-printing machine for any relatively smart young kid, so these same players that were turning to poker a few years ago are now pursuing other avenues for success; poker is a dog eat dog world when there aren’t massive amounts of weak players around.

If, and this is a serious if, another Poker Boom is to occur it will need to appeal to those middle-aged players who used to inhabit the games (hopefully both men and women this time) and not simply to the younger crowd.

We need the players who once drove the poker economy but view the current poker world as a bastardization of the game to return. All these players that now see poker as a young man’s endeavor where money is the only motivating factor, and want nothing to do with being talked down to because they don’t happen to take the game all that seriously.

To these people it is “Just a game.”

Poker as a pastime or as an enjoyable way to spend an evening seems to be dead (at least in the minds of this crowd), but a second Poker Boom, with an emphasis on bringing middle-aged people with disposable incomes back into the folds could give us the best of both worlds.

Young players are good in the short-term only

The influx of young players into the game was both good and bad.

On the one hand, you had a massive influx of players coming into the game, but on the other hand, not many of these “kids” had the disposable income that allowed them to simply enjoy the game, even if it meant being a consistent, but not substantial loser at the tables.

A secondary problem was that these young players all had dreams of making a living playing poker so they studied and worked their asses off to get better.

The third problem with the young demographic was online poker allowed them to get their feet wet playing for just a few dollars at a time.

Basically, the young players drawn to poker during the Boom years had very little money or resources; wanted to improve as players and were given the tools to do so; and were able to learn the game cheaply.

These “savants’ decimated the old guard and essentially reshaped the game.

Poker was no longer a place where people would play thinking, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose; poker turned into some strange Darwinian experiment where the prey was suddenly very aware they were prey, and because of this a lot of them lost interest.

A perfect example of this is the Seniors Tournament at the WSOP. A lot of people point to this event as a sign that older players are still a robust part of the poker world. I would posit that it shows just the opposite. It shows that the older crowd doesn’t really want to compete with the younger crowd. Not necessarily because they can’t, but because it’s not why they play poker.

Why are there 4,000 entrants (over 50 years old) in a $1,000 buy-in tournament, but this demographic has gone way down in card-rooms across the US?

Ideas for making poker appealing to new demographics

So how do we bring these middle-aged customers back to poker?

Make the game recognizable live and online

What I mean by this is to bring some of the kitchen table type rules these players grew up with into online poker world. Games where the dealer (button) is allowed to select a wild card, or perhaps a simpler split pot game like 7-Card-Stud-Chicago, would give the player a sense of having more control over the game, and would also give it the gambling atmosphere we should want a poker table to possess.

In casinos we need to devote more space to the games these players like including 7-Stud, Omaha 8, and so on. At least make these games a viable option and not something you need to create a special list for.

Make the game comfortable live and online

This is going to take movement on a number of fronts. Players are going to have to tone back the “donk” language and stop talking about how inferior other players are; sites are going to have to clamp down on third-party software; and perhaps most importantly, we need to make the games simpler. Enough with these super-duper-bubble-busting-turbo-bounty-2R+1A tournaments, poker is best when it’s simple enough that a trip to UrbanDictionary.com isn’t needed.

Make bad decisions less costly

I touched upon this recently in this column, but now I think I’m ready to take those earlier comments a step farther and make a couple of recommendations. The only way to make the decisions less costly is to do one of the following:

  1. Make the equities closer when all the money goes in
  2. Cap the betting at a predetermined amount

Personally I prefer Limit betting structures, but I don’t know if the game will ever come back into favor after a decade of No Limit dominance. Fortunately Andreas “Skjervoy” Torbergsen offered up a potential middle ground game to me on Twitter; PLO.

The only issue I have with PLO as the “savior” is a bad player is at an extreme disadvantage in PLO. The game definitely lets poor and mediocre players hang on to their chips longer than NLHE, but when it comes to the terrible players they have a hard time folding any starting hands and are likely going to be drawing dead or close to it in big pots –I’m using my 2005-2006 experience on Party and the Crypto sites, when people were terrible at this game, to form this conclusion.

Still, I don’t think there is a perfect option, and I think PLO is a terrific replacement game for NLHE in casinos. I don’t want to see NLHE go the way of the dodo, but I would love for it to not dominant the entire room.



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