Starting from its humble beginnings in the early 1990’s, online poker has gone from strength to strength, achieving its most significant breakthrough in the mid-2000’s and now enjoying tremendous popularity among online gamers.
This article looks back at the early stages of online poker -- the first websites that brought the game of poker into people’s homes on their computer monitors.
You could play free poker online as early as the latter years of the nineties and it was only natural that internet poker rooms offering games with real money would be the next step. In 1996 there were only 15 gambling websites, a number which shot up to 200 barely a year later.
Online poker was quick to establish itself on the scene as one of the most popular games among players. The impetus of the online gambling industry in a time where regulation still wasn’t strict, fuelled also by the enthusiasm of players, meant that poker websites soon became a hit among devoted poker players who were also computer users.
IRC Poker (late 1990s)
Image credit: PokerListings.com
To the untrained eye, the first ever games of online poker were more likely to be mistaken for a piece of software code rather than gambling. By way of example, IRC poker was a form of poker that was developed by Todd Mummert and Greg Reynolds to be played over the popular IRC chat protocol.
These early games were played with imaginary money, and to participate in a game you had to download a computer program that connected you to an IRC server. You could then play against other players by typing a series of commands that let you call, raise, check or fold.
Despite requiring more computer knowledge than the average user would need, IRC poker still attracted a sizeable and passionate following. Even real-life poker experts were joining in the online games and five-time World Series of Poker champion Chris Ferguson got his first break by honing his poker skills on IRC chat rooms.
IRC poker offered online players a variety of poker variants, such as Texas and Omaha hold‘em, and the system was flexible enough to allow user to create and run their own poker scripts with the IRC client itself. In fact, one of these scripts was called r00lbot -- a small computer program that could keep track of one’s winning record during play and also display funny quotes.
Planet Poker (1998)
Image credit: poker.wikia.com
Soon after the first online gambling licences became available in the mid-nineties to betting operators, the first-ever real-money online card room officially opened shop in January 1998 to offer poker enthusiasts worldwide the opportunity to earn real cash from their wins.
Planet Poker was founded by Randy Blumer, who in many respects was a pioneer exploring uncharted territory in the history of online gaming. The first Texas Hold’em games were held with betting limits between $3 to $6, and the website attracted a modest number of players at first. Hold’em, despite the growth of PLO, remains the most popular and well known online poker variant.
By Summer 1998, Planet Poker became a huge hit and credit card companies started allowing payments to be made by players to transfer money to and from their bankroll more easily. Back then, nearly all the players were depending on dial-up internet to play online and the website had to grapple with several problems due to poor connectivity.
The technical problems that Planet Poker was facing, coupled with a lack of sophisticated game features, cost the website its position as the predominant online poker outlet in the late 90’s. The same week that rival online poker room Paradise Poker was launched, Planet Poker suffered from several days of downtime which prompted users to switch over to its new competitor. Although the site still exists, it has retained operations as a free-to-play game only.
Paradise Poker (1999)
Image credit: Cruzino.com
When it opened in 1999, Paradise Poker cause quite a stir among the online poker community because of its smooth gameplay and impressive graphics. It delivered on the features that Planet Poker lacked, such as in-game animation, music, better chat options and even the ability to order virtual food and drink to your table.
The website offered players a wide variety of online poker games, includes 7 card stud, hold ‘em and 5 card draw. Some of the most unusual features on Paradise Poker was ‘Pineapple’ mode, where you could draw three cards at the beginning of the game instead of the usual two and later discard one of them, and ‘raise/fold hold’em’, where your only options at the table was to either raise the stakes or fold out of the game.
Although the website was very successful, this didn’t prevent it from falling in dark times due to changing gaming regulations in various countries and newer online poker platforms that offered a better gaming experience. You can still play online poker on Paradise Poker today, however the website is very different from what is used to look and feel like back in the early 2000s; something which prompted even veteran players, cheated of their nostalgia fix, to abandon the site.
Poker Room (1999)
Image credit: Lidholt.com
For nearly a decade, Poker Room was one of the internet’s premier online poker destinations. With its motto: ‘Meet them and beat them’, the website grew exponentially from its humble beginnings as a the brainchild of two Swedish poker players and a computer programmer to become one of the world’s biggest poker sites.
The distinguishing feature of Poker room was its innovative and superior software. Poker Room broke new ground in the online poker arena by being on the first sites to make available a Mac-compatible client, as well as Linux applications and later on mobile phone apps.
The website eventually was integrated within the PokerNetwork (later known as the Ongame Network) and this further boosted its reputation as one of the most recognisable poker sites on the internet. Unfortunately, after being passed along from owner to owner and running into several regulation difficulties, the website was shut down in 2009 by its final owner, bwin, a decision which came in the wake of big losses from Poker Rooms once massive player base.
Cards on the table
The meteoric rise of online poker in the mid-nineties foreshadowed the second wave of popularity that the game experienced in the mid-2000s. In both cases, the reasons behind the success were advances in technology that allowed people to connect more easily and quickly, as well as enjoying realistic games thanks to better graphics, sounds and controls.
The future of online poker is now brighter than ever; internet poker rooms account for the biggest share of revenue in the online gaming industry.
Game developers and betting companies are working together to create a more interactive and exciting online poker experience, one that is virtually unrecognizable from that driven by the software that existed during the early forays of online poker.
The progress of online poker seems to have no end in sight and with all the possibilities that mobile and 3D technology opens, online poker companies may still have several cards up their sleeve.