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The Final Table: Pokers Lure


It should come as no surprise that Texas Hold 'em poker is responsible for the dramatic upsurge in online gaming profits. After all, one only has to turn on the television most any weeknight, and a poker tournament will surely be showing somewhere. The exposure these days is relentless.

The draw, of course, is the thrill of the final table and the riches that come with it. From poker's roots in dusty Old West saloons, to dazzling casino rooms, to the home PC, it is everywhere today. According to the research service PokerPulse, more than 1.78 million poker players made real money wagers online in January. That number is only expected to increase as tournament prize money continues to grow. On most any given day, an online 'hold 'em' tourney will reward those "in the money" with purses of $100,000, $250,000, even $500,000.

Certainly $2,500,000 is a large sum by anyone's standards. And that's just what a young fellow by the name of Chris Moneymaker from Tennesse won in the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP). That princely sum was parlayed from a $39 investment in a "qualifier" at an online poker room. His overnight success story aired countless times on cable television, and suddenly, poker was hot.

Not to be outdone, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer turned a $160 "satellite" entry at the very same poker site into a seat at the 2004 WSOP. Raymer's result? Champion! And a staggering first prize of $5,000,000. Online poker had arrived.

Consider that in January 2002 the industry gross 'rake' (or fees collected) per day was around $100,000. Today, it's near $2.5 million per day. An estimated $16 billion was wagered on internet poker sites in 2004. And, as new devotees enroll in mind-boggling numbers, it's difficult to gauge an industry consensus on just where the limit lies.

Though the poker resurgence began in the U.S., it may be growing faster overseas. Britain, already a gambling-crazed country, accounts for roughly 80% of the European poker market. Germany and Austria have burgeoning poker clubs and communities, while the Scandinavian population may be the ripest emerging new market. Also, it's interesting to note that 30-40% of new European players are female.

The phenomenon of women in poker may hold the key to explaining poker's rapid ascent. In the past, poker was viewed more in the Old West sense. That is, that poker was a game for males conducted mostly illicitly and in less than pleasing surroundings. In fact, up until just a couple of years ago most Las Vegas casinos had gotten out of the poker business. A handful of poker rooms on old Fremont Street were essentially the only games in town.

The internet, however, changed all that. It offers anonymity, is safe and hassle-free, and presents the opportunity for copious rewards in exchange for relatively modest entry fees. What more could a girl want? If she (or he) has the skill, it's possible to compete alongside world-class players and actually win.

But is it extraordinary skill which will get you to the final table? Perhaps. Numerous authors have written on the subject of the perfect poker strategy. The odds, the hands, probabilities, you simply must know what you're doing they say. Just don't tell that to Chris Moneymaker though. He'd never even read a book on poker prior to winning it all.

Nick McFadden has been an avid poker player and student of the game for more than 20 years. He is a contributor to the website "Global Poker" ( http://www.global-poker.net/ ), which offers tips, strategy, and resources for poker players.


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