Thoughts on Poker: How to Grow Poker’s Popularity and Global Appeal Part 9: Online Poker

Keith Woernle : October 6th, 2016


Before online poker, everyone was terrible at the game. It’s such a complex game and they were playing tic-tac-toe… when they were trying to play chess.

-Justin Bonomo

When Benny Binion conceptualized the World Series of Poker in the late 1960’s, he never would have dreamed that it would eventually grow into the international event it has become. Similarly in the early 1990’s, when the first players began playing poker on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), none of them would have dreamed that some day tens of millions of people around the world would all be united by one common game.

Online poker made poker what it is today. The Moneymaker Effect receives all the attention, but without online poker, there is no Moneymaker Effect. Without online poker, many amateurs never ascend to the pro level. Without online poker, many of us would never have come into the game at all.

Online poker allows many of us to put one toe in the water first.

It lets us play with anonymity, without embarrassment, and for stakes we can afford. Online poker lets us dream of low buy-ins with huge scores, and lets us play with our friends from across the world. Online is faster and easier and has made us all better players.

Online poker was what poker had been waiting for all along… without even knowing it.

With PokerStars making a return to the U.S. earlier this year, there is no better time than now to talk about online poker. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important to the growth, expansion and health of the game in general than online poker. Articles one through eight combined equal the importance of this last one in the series.

Regulation and the widespread acceptance and accessibility of online poker is critical towards the growth of our game. And here, in my opinion, are some of the reasons why.

1. Online poker allows for infinitely larger player pools and prizes

Due to its accessibility to the entire planet, the online environment allows for substantially larger playing fields and therefore prize pools. This simply cannot exist in the live setting due to issues of physical size, staff requirements, and the like. But in the virtual world, tens of thousands of players can gather under one “roof” to play. In 2009 roughly 150 thousand unique players played in the same tournament on PokerStars. That’s a staggering number, and obviously impossible to replicate in the live setting.

But more importantly, the prize pools generated can create life-altering sums for their winners. $200 buy-ins where first is $1 million. $1 buy-ins where first is $50,000. These situations and countless others existed online, and for the most part would change someone’s life in a day. In the days of big online poker before Black Friday, several people each day would have their years or lives changed for the better simply because of the big scores that online poker allowed.

2. Global online poker has good games around the clock

Most poker rooms in casinos are open for business 24/7, but we all know the games are only best at night and on the weekends. Online, however, is a whole different ballgame. With worldwide online poker, it’s always primetime somewhere. There is around-the-clock action no matter when you want to play – be it 7 pm or 7 am. Juxtaposed with something like PokerStars in New Jersey where only a handful of people will be playing as the sun rises (no different than a regular brick-and-mortar casino).

3. Online poker allows for smaller stakes and less rake

Rake will always be cheaper online than live. Always. There is simply less staff that the online site has to pay out. There are no dealers, no floor-men, no custodians. And for this reason, games online can be played for micro-stakes. Outside of promotional gimmicks, no 2 cent/5 cent game can exist live because the rake generated wouldn’t be enough alone to pay the dealer, much less the rest of the staff. And that’s why, outside of promotions, you’ll never see a live casino game with blinds lower than $1. These small stakes are vital towards the growth of the game. And that’s because…

4. Online poker lets the amateur learn games the easy way

Here’s a true story. Three years ago a friend of mine named Lauren texted me. We hadn’t talked much since college, but she knew that I had been playing a lot of poker and had found some modicum of success while doing so. She had been playing poker for play money using an app on her phone. In her opinion, she had gotten very good, and now she wanted to go ahead and make the leap to real money. So she asked me which site I would recommend for online poker.

She wanted to play online poker.

This was well after Black Friday, mind you. And I had nothing to tell her. Nothing substantial anyway. I mentioned a few grey market sites, but I told her that her best bet was to find a live low-stakes game. Or to go to her closest casino and maybe play 1-2.

She laughed at the idea. She wanted to play $1 tournaments. She was nervous about jumping to one and two cent blinds; forget one and two dollars. She didn’t have $300 to sit down with at the casino, and she didn’t know of any home games.

And so she decided not to play at all.

And just like that, a potential player was turned away from the game. Possibly for good.

Because today, the average person, the average gamer has so many more options for what to play in their free time. Be it social apps or video games or streaming other people playing video games, the average person has more options than ever before in regards to gaming and escapism.

I don’t know what Lauren found to occupy her free time instead of online poker. Maybe she is on level 700 of Candy Crush. All I know is that she isn’t check-raising dry boards.

One of the biggest fears of opponents of online poker was that the cheaper fees and accessibility of games would deter players from playing live. And while I understand that concern, in fact I feel the opposite is true. Players from all over the world want to get comfortable playing certain games online before transitioning to the live arena. They get their feet wet online and then take the plunge live. I truly believe (all things considered) most everyone prefers playing live. Excepting multi-tabling and profitability, I think most would agree that playing live is more fun. I certainly think most everyone would rather win a live tournament than an online one.

Online poker when done right can be a feeder into the live venue. Do you remember the first time you played poker in a casino? Wasn’t it intimidating? It was for someone like me. Online poker allows amateurs to find their courage. They can play for low-stakes and learn basic strategy without fear of embarrassment. And finally, when they’re ready, transition from the virtual felt to the green one.

5. Online poker allows better satellites to live events

Without re-hashing examples from my first article, the satellite system can blossom online infinitely better than it can live. With so many more players, the satellite system can send people on the opportunity of a lifetime for practically pennies. This is the pull of something like ClubWPT. For essentially $20, the amateurs on that site attempt to win $10k Main Event seats to the LAPC, the Bellagio Five Diamond, and the like. There are no $20 live satellites. At least not into big buy-in tournaments. But with online, five dollar, five-thousand person fields can exist to send a few very fortunate winners to the arena with a chance to parlay their $5 into millions.

6. Technological advances like multi-tabling are only capable online

Outside of the occasional prop-better sprinting across the Rio, multi-tabling only exists in the virtual realm. It is one of several technological advances that online provides that live play can never hope to replicate. Stat-keeping, charts, graphs, Twitch-streaming your sessions with hole cards… the list goes on and on. Add in the fact that online poker deals individual hands at such an accelerated rate, well, it’s no wonder online players got so much better so quickly.

The speed and ease of online poker is one of the main reasons the medium took off in the first place. And while mis-clicking can almost never happen live, neither can making two final tables at the same time. Technological advancements heighten an important difference between online and live play and can absolutely bring more players into the game.

7. Online allows anonymity

Outside of a handful of big name online pros, no one knows who you are online. And because you don’t have to show your face, the online poker player is mostly free from embarrassment. I can’t stress enough how important this is to amateurs trying out the game for the first time. A poker room at a casino can be amazingly intimidating to those that have never set foot in one before. But online, a new player can really ease into the water. Outside of the notes taken on him or her, no one will remember them. With online, you can be whoever you want to be. And your opponents will never know if you’re a 21-year-old numbers-crunching whizkid or an 88-year-old grandmother of five.

- -

Online poker has been around for about two decades, and we all have a pretty good understanding as to the advantages and disadvantages that the medium allows. I only listed seven examples here, but this list could easily have 100

With online there are no misdeals, no cigar smoke, no dirty chips.

When you play online, you can play in your pajamas or on the couch or on your phone. When traveling to play, you can simply walk to your living room as opposed to driving to the nearest casino.

Online poker is just… easier.

It simply is. We all know that. Live poker may be more interesting to watch (and maybe even to play), but online poker is so much more practical.

So wouldn’t it be great to have both? We once did. And I think someday we will again.

For a brief time online poker caused a divide. There were the online players and there were the live players, and the two often didn’t see eye to eye. They resented one another for a multitude of reasons. Each thought the other inferior, and that the one couldn’t truly compete successfully in the other’s arena. But the line that divided those two has become so blurred these last few years that it’s barely there at all. And only in the last couple of years have the two begun to respect one another.

I think one hand washes the other when it comes to online and live poker.

One doesn’t need the other to survive. But when one flourishes, so does the other.

Online poker is the missing piece to the puzzle. Online poker puts the game back in the mainstream, puts money back into the poker economy, and brings so many more people to the table. And I can’t stress enough how important its return is.

So those are my two cents, and a long-winded two cents at that. This last article concludes the ‘Thoughts on Poker’ series. If you somehow managed to make it through all of these articles, thank you so much for reading. Hopefully you enjoyed them. Hopefully they made you think. And hopefully you agreed with at least some of what I had to say. But even if you disagreed, you still made it this far, which means one thing for certain: you’re as equally passionate about this game as I am and you want it to grow just as much as I do. This won’t be the last time I write for PartTime Poker, but this particular series is finally complete. So until next time – thank you again and as always, good luck out there.

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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