First of all, how did we get here?
In 1999 49 players were invited to play a televised tournament called Late Night Poker produced by Presentable Ltd based in Cardiff for Channel 4 as a niche product for their insomniacs.
There were many players who openly opposed the idea. They thought we were sell-outs and show ponies providing the game with no added money while being prepared to let others see our hole cards.
Others, like myself and Barny Boatman, thought this was the future which may eventually lead to sponsorship. We gave it our full backing.
The final of Late Night Poker had 1.3 million viewers at 2am!
In Series 2 appearance money was paid as well as expenses but more importantly, there was added prize money and for the first and only time the winner also got an entry into the $10,000 World Series of Poker sponsored by Binions, the famous casino in downtown Las Vegas.
I was fortunate enough to win this series and all of a sudden there was list of reserves for the next four series including all the original knockers!
For some reason America was slow to pick up on this idea of televising poker, but by 2002 the World Poker Tour was created and of course, they now credit themselves with bringing poker to the masses thorugh TV.
Its ironic how they now refer to the peep cameras as World Poker Tour inventions when both Late Night Poker and the Poker Million use under the table cameras. The concept of peep cams has been in use for four years at the World Heads-Up Poker Championship.
Back to World Poker Tour. They recorded the first series and after hitting the US the second series virtually trebled. For example the $25,000 event went from 111 the first year to 343 this year.
Then along came appropriately named Chris Moneymaker and the rest, as they say, was history!
Moneymaker embodied the American dream parlaying $39 internet poker investment into $2,500,000 after winning the 2003 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
The growth both in internet and land based poker events was spectacular and much of this can be attributed to Moneymaker’s rag-to-riches story. Incidentally Moneymaker won his entry into the WSOP on Poker Stars, who also provided the winner of the 2004 event (Greg Raymer) from a record 2,576 entrants. All of a sudden even movie stars such as Ben Affleck (the winner of a recent $10,000 event) and Spiderman, Toby Maguire, were playing regularly. Poker had move from the smoky-filled rooms of the underworld into a socially acceptable mainstream card game.
But what does the future hold for the world’s favourite card game.
First of all there is no sign of a slow down. The four biggest internet sites combined for 84,000 players on a single day last week and tonight there is the World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars.com – the event is $500 No-Limit and has 1,642 entries and a prize pool of $821,000!
The Hendon Mob were the first team to gain sponsorship and having proved successful for Prima Poker signed a second deal worth in excess of $1,000,000. This opened the door for several other players such as Peter Costa, Dave Colclough, Dave Welch and Steve Vladar who all have deals.
I am proud to be sponsored by UKBetting.
There are so many TV shows that are feeding an ever-growing audience. The reality will be determined by whether we have peaked or can truly become a recognised global sport with major corporate sponsorship.
If this happens I am sure the sponsors will insist that the best players and most colourful characters are invited to compete. As in all sports they want viewers to associate with their favourites stars and watch them every time they play.
I predict this will happen and that also that new forms of making poker TV friendly will develop.
Heads up is already a proven vehicle but a show that pitches the best against each other – star names already in the public’s consciousness – would be a huge ratings winner whatever the format.
Imagine a final with Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliot, Surinder Sunar, Martin De Kniff, Phil Helmuth, Gus Hansen , Erik Seidel , Daniel Negreanu , TJ Cloutier and Chris Ferguson! And there are many other permutations of great players.
Sure there will always be open events but for poker to succeed on television long term, the best players and most exuberant characters need to be promoted . There’s even a place for Tony G!
Don’t be surprised if one-day Devilfish appears on Question of Sport or Jonathan Ross. I hope to be a part of it informing you all here for many years to come.