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A Story of How Poker Transformed From a Simple Game into One of the Most Popular Sports

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An overlook of how poker managed to grow from a family game into one of the most popular sports on the planet.

The debate whether poker is a game of skill or a game of pure chance is still going strong. Especially in those jurisdictions where there online poker gaming is still restricted as it is under American gambling laws in the majority of states. However, all who play poker agree that there’s more to thinking in the game than it is to being lucky. Thus players are considering poker to be a sport, not a gambling game.

Sports have been a part of human lives almost from the very beginning. Think of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, where people were coming together for millennia to compete and best each other. From the ancient discus and javelin throw to modern hockey and baseball, sports are usually what drives performance and competition among humans. Moreover, sport isn’t going anywhere in the years and centuries to come.

In recent decades more and more “soft sports” are gaining momentum. Darts, billiards, intelligence games, and of course poker are starting to gain popularity and taking their fair share besides football, athletics, and other main sports.

Poker was usually considered one of the easiest ways to pass the time or steal some coins from friends. But recently it has grown into a full-blown sport, enjoying extensive TV coverage, celebrity attention, not to mention enormous prizes transforming ordinary players into instant millionaires. Poker tournaments TV coverage can gather audiences comparable with today’s major sports around the globe. Moreover, the popularity of the game is still growing.

But just how poker managed to become a full-grown sport with millions of faithful followers, players and fans? Let’s take a look at the game’s history and try to find out for ourselves what has led to the enormous popularity of the game.

The humble beginnings

How poker transformed from a game into a sport

• An overview of poker history from the early years to modern times

• The first ever WSOP tourney was held in American poker room in 1970

• Poker is now one of the most watched sports on TV

Although the point in time when poker has been created cannot be defined for sure, lots of experts and historians say that the game came into being from Poque. This was a French game which gained popularity in New Orleans in the 18th century. It then moved up the Mississippi river and conquered the continental United States in the 19th century.

At first the game was played with a 20-card deck, the 19th century variant already used the 52-card one, which is still the case nowadays. The games was constantly evolving gaining more rules and complexity to become what it is today.

Poker popularity growth

Poker was already popular in the Midwest, which in turn created the well-known cultural connection between the game and Wild West mythology. However, only in 70s poker has become a game of national proportions. The first tournament in the series was held in 1970.

What was the driving force behind the sudden rise to popularity? Well, the World Series of Poker, naturally. Before the tour came into being, poker was mostly played at home among family and friends. Casino and bar games were also frequent, and there were some tournaments held on a regular basis, but they were nothing of the WSOP proportions.

WSOP produced such renowned champions as Puggy Pearson, Johny Moss, and Amarillos Slim, who also enjoyed lots of popularity outside the world of poker. It was only natural that CBS network started televising poker tournaments capitalizing on their fame in order to increase rankings. And this was the starting point of the modern era of poker.

Huge spike in popularity

The World Series of Poker has become an addictive phenomena during the 80s. Note that during those times TV viewers weren’t able to see players’ hole cards. Still millions of viewers were tuning in to see the game coverage on their TV sets. NBC Sports produced the 1981 WSOP tournament, starting an upward trend in viewership, which is still going on today.

The hole cam was introduced in 1997, propelling the World Series of Poker televised events into a truly worldwide event. Starting out as a small professional tournament, the WSOP has become one of the most popular sporting events to watch on TV, naturally dragging the game of poker into the fame and fortune it enjoys today.

Why poker is now considered a sport

Today the World Series of Poker is still one of the most-watched televised sporting events on the planet. Everything including payouts, viewership numbers, and of course the number of participants, have grown exponentially since the famous 1970 event at the American poker room in Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.

Taking a look at the WSOP history, over $100,000,000 has been paid out in prize money over the years. The game itself has benefitted greatly from the popularity which was made possible by the televised coverage. It has spread through virtually every home on the planet, confirming its status as a sport.

Poker is confidently holding its well-deserved spot on the pop culture and sporting Olympus. More and more countries and jurisdictions are softening their approach to poker, changing their view from the game of luck to the game of skill. There’s even talk about including poker in the Olympics event program, but that time is still far away unfortunately.

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