Online poker was facing something of a turning point back in 2010. The industry had experienced a boom when amateur player Chris Moneymaker qualified for and won, the World Series of Poker via an online qualifier. That, along with the popularity of films such as Rounders, created a thirst for poker that plenty of online sites looked to satisfy.
Approaching 2010 the industry seemed to be thriving, with lots of rooms and options for players. Whilst they could play several poker variants across a range of sites, there were still issues bubbling under the surface. Some sites were forced to pay players to help fill tables, others offered free games until they got enough players subscribed before switching to a money option.
Whilst these were problems facing the owners, players had plenty of choices and still felt relatively secure when playing. That began to change around a decade ago; there had been numerous incidents of sites cheating customers which had dented customer belief in the emerging market. As confidence began to shake in the whole industry, Poker News reports that Black Friday arrived and instantly the three most popular sites in the industry were shut down. On April 15th, 2011, the US Department of Justice closed the mains sites offering to pay out to players in the US. The entire industry was crippled in a matter of hours.
That meant a wholesale change was needed in the way poker was played online. Only one provider remained after the cull, but from such a devastating blow a new, regulated form of online poker emerged. American states began to take the initiative and offer regulated games online. Unsurprisingly, Nevada was the first state to move towards regulated online poker in 2012. Delaware and New Jersey quickly followed suit. The first regulated hands of online poker dealt in the United States came on April 30th, 2013, just over two years since the Black Friday bombshell.
With regulation came safety for players in the United States and across the world and as the years have rolled by, poker players have found a host of changes to the way they play poker online. Thanks to the regulations they’re now safer, more secure and at far less risk of malpractice and cheating. There are four major ways in which online poker has changed since it emerged from the shadow of Black Friday, which we look at now.
In 2010, there were a handful of big players in the industry and smartphones weren’t quite as prevalent as they are now. This change has come around as much by the onset of digital technology as it has online poker’s own advancement. The number of providers has certainly increased, as has the method by which players can take part.
Statista reveals that iPhone sales alone went up from around 39 million handsets worldwide in 2010 to a peak of 231 million in 2015. With that technology comes more opportunity to attract new players and ease of access for those wanting to play. The sales of iPhone handsets have dropped since, but that’s not an indication of waning interest, more a reflection of the evolving digital world in which subscription services are beginning to take over from fresh technology.
For better or for worse, the skill gap between players has changed. Back in 2010, it was easier for experienced players to find a game in which they were much better than their opponents and take advantage.
Talal ‘Raidalot’ Shakerchi, a successful online poker player who Calvin Ayre suggests has well over $7.6 million in live tournament winnings over the years, claims it is now a much more level playing field for newcomers and experienced professionals alike. “It’s harder than before to label players in distinct groups as everyone has digested the same books, videos, etc. and now has at least some balance in their style,” he said. “There is also a much better range balancing than before and players understand better how to handle middle and weak hands post flop.”
There were far fewer video guides and skill tips available online 10 years ago, making the last decade one in which players became much savvier when starting out in online poker. Also, the usage of apps and HUDs to help understand your opponent has increased as technology has allowed, making it easier for lesser skilled players to increase their chances of winning.
Socially, online poker has developed at an alarming rate. Social media had only begun to introduce the idea of whole communities being linked online when Black Friday kicked in, meaning by the time online poker was back on its feet, it was a year or two behind most other online communities.
That’s certainly been one aspect of the genre that has developed rapidly over the last couple of years, with platforms now acutely aware that they need to offer something far more than a simple hand of poker. Players want to feel connected, not just to those who they find around tables, but to local players in their area. A recent Yahoo feature on PPPoker’s rise to prominence discussed how they are at the forefront of the social revolution, blurring the lines between online poker and the real thing. By offering leveled games and the opportunity to set up tables between friends, they’ve put the power back into the hands of the players, as opposed to simply set the parameters themselves.
The success of Chris Moneymaker is still a real driver for some new players and often online poker sites offer real tournaments aligned with their own platform. The chance to play against people online and then perhaps even test your skills around the felt for real is a huge draw and something that was only really in its infancy back in 2010 but is now commonplace.
With legislation comes regulation and since 2010 many of those problems with online cheats have been addressed and resolved. The online poker player of 2019 can feel more secure that the game they’re in isn’t weighted in someone’s favor because they’re utilizing software or underhand tactics.
With more players comes far less chance of facing those being paid to play and the big hitters in online poker now look to protect players by revealing if two online people are sitting close together in the real world. Having two people playing next to each other in real life can seriously affect the fairness of a game.
There are also more regulations around how sites can take cash from you and how you withdraw. Certainly, the bigger players in the industry are far more protected now and there’s much less chance of you winning big but not seeing the cash at the end of your session.
Since Black Friday, online poker has had to address its issues and evolve in order to survive. By becoming the subject of more stringent regulations, it has thrived once again and is quickly becoming the preferred way to play poker. With the range of games and options on offer, it is almost as easy to set up a game online amongst friends as it is to host one at your house.
Modern technology has also clued players into the skills needed to be a success and that’s resulted in a more challenging experience, as well as a safe environment too.
[Written by Gary Robinson]