Thoughts on Poker: How to Grow Poker’s Popularity and Global Appeal: Final Thoughts

Keith Woernle : October 12th, 2016

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The economy of poker is like an iceberg. 90% of that iceberg is comprised of amateurs – who lie beneath the surface and help support the professionals. It’s only 10%, the professionals, that are keeping their heads above water.

Now envision this iceberg in the shape of a pyramid. When you slice a layer off the bottom, a brand new pyramidal iceberg is formed, but the iceberg has to sink a little to balance. 10% of the total new iceberg still remains above the surface. But parts that had previously been in that top 10% have now fallen below the surface. Formerly winning players have now slipped underneath and become losing players. If players that are barely keeping their heads above water want to stay dry they need more players to be added to the bottom so that more of this iceberg rises above the water.

Pros need amateurs to stay afloat. Add more amateurs to the bottom of this iceberg and more winning players surface. The underlying goal of every professional player should be to attract more amateur players to the game. That should be his or her job.

A friend recently asked me why I’m taking the time to write these articles. It’s very simple. I enjoy writing and I want poker to grow.

And so I wrote (a lot).

Now it’s not like I expect these articles to go viral and cause some sort of global enlightenment in regards to how people perceive poker. That’s not going to happen. In all likelihood, these articles will only be read by a couple thousand people or so. But if one of those people is in a position to bring about a positive change to the game then I think it’s worth it.

You almost can’t turn on the television anymore without being pummeled by ads for fantasy sports betting – for FanDuel and DraftKings. It reminds me of a time when those commercials were for PartyPoker and FullTilt. Of a time when the Main Event was the Main Event. When poker players were kings, when poker rooms were overflowing, and when every college kid with a computer believed he was good enough to win the Stars Million.

Will poker ever get back there? Doubtful… but there’s still hope.

I think that hope is dependent upon creating a paradigm shift in the ways professionals see amateurs. And the way the industry brands the game.

And it all circles back to the same theme – start appealing to your customers. I’m addressing you, the winning or serious poker player. Appeal to your customers, i.e. the losing poker players. They are the reason you have most of your money. They are giving money to the business of you. Hell, we even call losing players customers. Make them happy. And try to think of what they want before you think of what you want.

I think live poker, televised poker, and online poker have to incorporate some of the policies that made them such a success in the first place during the Golden Age of Poker. Before the UIGEA scared us and we implemented so many changes.

I think live poker can be improved by reintroducing required-entry satellites, increasing the amount of table talk and simply putting the fun back in the game. I think televised poker should return to more of a documentary approach and discourage hoodies, sunglasses and headphones at final tables. And I think online poker needs to be fun again too. For everyone. And that means less HUDs, no script-seating, and less stat-tracking. Make it so that the amateurs don’t get destroyed quite so quickly.

Everyone complains that poker is getting harder, but no one wants to do anything about it. So let’s go do something about it.

Finding success at the poker table is incredibly easy in the short term and incredibly difficult in the long run. Such is the nature of gambling. But having fun at the table, enjoying yourself, and creating a positive experience for others – that can happen every session. Poker is a game with luck. Poker works because of luck. And as a result, amateurs get to win sometimes. If poker was only skill-based, then it would be chess. Then no where near as many people could play professionally because there just wouldn’t be enough losing players to make it profitable.

But poker’s different. It’s skill and luck. And because of that poker has two crucial, amazing features in its favor. Features that no jurisdiction or judge can impose on or eliminate.

Anyone can win and win big.

And anyone can play against the best in the world.

Maybe the game will never go back to the way it used to be. Maybe the game will just get harder and harder, reach its plateau, and never find the audience it once had. Nothing much will change and the story of poker will be one of a game that had its time in the sun, but is now delegated to only diehard fans and adamant professionals.

However, if you pay very close attention, you can now start to feel the change coming. Archaic thinking is being replaced. Better, smarter legislation is just beginning to edge its way into our law books. Fewer and further are those who perceive poker to be degenerate gambling. Quite the contrary. More are taking it up as a profession, as a sustainable supplemental income. And as a way to provide.

If you pay close attention, you’ll see the game is primed for a comeback.  The economy’s better. The players are smarter. Many of the corrupt have been weeded out. And now the whole world knows the game that was once just America’s pastime.

No matter how they try to squash it – no matter how many home games they raid – or bills they try to pass – or online sites they try to block, the game will endure. And if poker players are smart about it, the game can do more than just endure, it can thrive. It could be the game it once was. Perhaps it could even be better.

Poker may be an underdog to reach mainstream popularity again. It may be. But with a little work, dedication, and maybe a little luck, the second Golden Age of poker may be closer than we think.

Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. He likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on twitter @WoernlePoker.

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