Poker: America’s New Favorite Past-Time

By Scott Carnahan

You were friends with this person across the table just minutes earlier and you will be friends again shortly after the turn card comes down, but right now you each try to outplay the other and take down the pot.

This scenario plays out every night at casinos, on computer screens and at kitchen tables around the world. Poker has been a favorite past time of people hoping to strike it rich for decades, but it is now more popular than ever. One singular event has started this phenomenon, according to Dale, a support manager for Pokerstars.net.

“In 2003, Chris (Moneymaker) entered a $39 satellite on Poker Stars and won. This gave him a seat in a larger satellite, one that had a World Series Main Event package up for grabs. Chris won that too, and was soon heading off to Las Vegas to play in what was to be his first live tournament. The rest really is history. Against all odds, Chris made it to the final table and went on to claim the gold bracelet, winning prize money of $2,500,000,” Dale said through an e-mail interview.

That story changed popular culture and has made a generation of people believe that they to can earn riches through poker. How popular has the game become? Poker Stars is among the most popular sites, and they have reportedly dealt over 26 Billion virtual hands of poker since their inception in 2001, and they are just one of countless sites offering internet poker.

Most of these Internet poker sites offer many varying styles of game play. Poker Stars, for example, offers players both a .net free play site and a .com pay-to-play site, each with large tournaments and opportunities to win cash prizes, according to Poker Stars website.

Despite all that one can win on sites such as Poker Stars, the most prestigious prize in poker is, according to Dale, the World Series of Poker (WSOP). The WSOP takes place over several months every summer, according to worldseriesofpoker.com, and features several individual tournaments encompassing all the varying games of poker, including Omaha, HORSE, and the most popular variety, No Limit Texas Hold’em. The World Series paid out over $15 Million during the last calendar year, and expects that total to rise again this year.

But its not just people who devote their lives and bankrolls to poker who enjoy and love to play it. Males aged 21-30 make up the largest demographic on Poker Stars, but as Dale said, “pros such as Isabelle Mercier and Katja Thater show that women are also a large part of the game.”

It is very easy asking around most college campuses in America to find a private poker game in somebody’s kitchen or basement. Steve Hoch is a current student at Penn State New Kensington who said that he has been playing poker for “about the past 4 years.” Hoch often plays with another college student, James “Vern” Buterbaugh, who has played the game for over 10 years.

“There is a rush that you get when you take someone’s money by out-smarting them or making better plays than them,” said Buterbaugh, ”And I like money.”

“I like the mix of strategy, reading people, and luck,” said Hoch, “And also the chance to make money.”

The common misconception that those outside of the poker playing community have is that people, especially college students, are losing scores of money playing poker, but the reality is much different. Sites such as Poker Stars and Full Tilt offer players the chance to play the game for free, and Hoch and Buterbaugh each said that while they have played with buy-ins of $100, their usual game is for only $5-$10. These low-cost games aren’t played online or even in casinos.

“I only play online because it’s easy and accessible. If I (want to) play I can,” said Buterbaugh, “but I prefer to play live games.”

“I usually play at friend’s houses. I like the social aspect of the game,” said Hoch. “Plus I like taking (friend’s) money more than I like taking a stranger’s money.”

Poker is a phenomenon for many reasons. The game has a social aspect that is reached in few other games. People can be competitive while still chatting with friends. And when anyone wishes to try and take their game to another level, they can always try what Chris Moneymaker did.

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