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5 Ways for Poker to Get Big Again

Professional poker is still very much alive. But from the fan’s perspective, we sure do feel like we’re a long way from the 2000s. Back then, poker tournaments were regularly shown on major sports networks like ESPN, CBS Sports, and even the Discovery Channel. Top players like Phil Ivey, Sammy Farha, Daniel Negreanu and more attained a sort of pop culture status akin to that of sports stars. Amateurs latched onto the action and started trying their own luck in online games. All in all, poker — and Texas Hold’em in particular — became a legitimate phenomenon across the U.S.

Nowadays the pro circuit remains active, with the 2021 WSOP Main event boasting over 6,650 entries — and a lot of the same players are still playing. Those with a particular interest in high-level poker can still find and stream tournaments, and actually some of the ratings are better than one might expect. And yet the spotlight is smaller, and pro poker feels far less influential.

How, then, could poker get big again? It may be that it never will, and the mid-2000s phenomenon will live on as a bizarre, glorious snapshot in time. But there are a few things that might just help to raise pro poker’s profile once more.

1. A New Moneymaker

In 2018, ESPN’s coverage of Chris Moneymaker on the 15th anniversary of his legendary World Series Of Poker win asserted that said win had “changed the poker landscape forever.” This is a common belief. Moneymaker entered the WSOP as an amateur player and won it all, and had much to do with the fact that legions of other amateurs then took an interest in high-stakes poker. It may be that a poker “boom” was always going to happen in some form or fashion, but Moneymaker undoubtedly sped up the game’s momentum. So, naturally, one might expect that a new Moneymaker would do the same. An amateur triumph will never be as shocking or impactful as his was in 2003, but a similar story would certainly draw more attention back to pro poker.

2. Fresh Celebrity Involvement

Think of celebrity poker players, and chances are you’ll come up with the same bunch who have been known for playing the game for years: Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire, Shannon Elizabeth, Scott Ian…. There’s a sort of club of enthusiastic celebrity players who have been making the rounds in all sorts of games for the better part of two decades now. It’s always fun to see or read about them in action, but one would have to believe some fresh celebrity involvement would lend the game a boost also. We just can’t say who the new celebrities might be (though we have made note of PSG star Neymar’s interest in poker!).

3. Changing Up the Game

This is perhaps a radical suggestion given that pro poker as we know it has revolved around Texas Hold’em. But switching to other variants would represent a bit of innovation, and it would be easy for players and fans to adjust to. This beginner’s guide to poker from Poker.org shows that poker variants like Five Card Draw and Omaha poker are close relatives of Hold’em, so to speak, with just a few rules and details differentiating the two. Five Card Draw Poker is said to be the most popular form of poker played before Hold’em emerged in the 2000s poker boom, and if anything, Omaha might be a little more interesting (or at least introduces a bit more variability). If the folks behind pro poker ever decide they need to shake things up, it would be worth considering. In fact, major tournaments like the WSOP and online poker tournament WCOOP have already opened events for these variants, as well.

4. A Switch to Crypto

We’re beginning to see some cryptocurrency poker tournaments and celebrity events emerging, and further progress in this direction would probably help pro poker moving forward. Simply put, crypto is trendy, and it has a built-in fan base. We’ve also previously covered how crypto exchanges like LocalTrade now provide next-level security, with features like two-factor authentication and real-time support giving users peace of mind when trading crypto-to-crypto or fiat-to-crypto pairs. As a result, a lot of people who are interested in crypto or want to see more uses for them in the real world will likely tune in for poker tournaments revolving around digital currency — even if the same people might not ordinarily consider themselves to be poker fans.

5. Legalization

More even than the possibilities above, full legalization of online poker in the U.S. would work wonders for the game at the pro level. If one thing is clear from the “boom” days it’s that one reason pro poker got so popular was that viewers felt they could play along and imitate the professionals at online sites of their choosing. This is now only true in a handful of states, though there is positive momentum. That number of states has grown in the last five years, and just this past spring a report on casino industries by USA Today revealed that while casino activity plummeted during the pandemic, some online activity continued to provide revenue. That’s a pretty good testament to the public’s enthusiasm for online poker, and may help to incentivize more widespread legal change.

We may never see a pro poker scene like we saw in the 2000s. But any or all of these changes would help to push things in that direction.

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