Despite record entries into the 2007 WSOP, this year marks the first time since 1992 the Main Event actually had less players (6,358) than it did the year before (8,773). A lot of people are wondering if it's indicative of how popular poker actually is.
Last year the Main Event had a record number of entrants and a gigantic $12 million first place prize. Interviews and pictures of winner Jamie Gold hit all the big dailies and national television outlets. Poker had finally arrived and could no longer be ignored.
To have less entrants in this year's event feels like the first setback in what has been an amazing time of growth for the great game of poker.
The past 10 years have obviously changed poker considerably. With the invention of online poker and hole cameras the game was taken from the back room and thrust into the limelight. In 2003 Chris Moneymaker proved an average Joe could win the biggest game in poker and it served as a catalyst to turn the game into a true spectator sport.
These days sponsors, endorsements, TV deals and hefty player contracts are all not out of the ordinary.
Not all has been rosy in the past year for poker, however. This year also marked the passing of a bill known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (or UIGEA) which had a distinct effect on internet gaming. The industry seemed forced into a consolidation mode and lot of the players were questioning how the act would affect them.
Harrahs decided this year that they could no longer accept entries from online poker rooms like PokerStars.com or Full Tilt Poker who would buy a seat for a player who won an online satellite. In other words it's already certain there will be no Chris Moneymaker story this year.
It's pretty depressing stuff but it's not all doom and gloom for poker. This year the WSOP attracted a record 54,288 players overall and the paltry 6,358 players in the Main Event still make it the second largest tournament ever. The year also included the single busiest day in WSOP history, which saw 3,151 players participate in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Championship. Very impressive considering not a single player used a ticket from an online qualifier this year.
The home game scene seems alive and well with people tuning into ESPN and realizing they could play out their poker fantasies in their own living rooms. With the rise of female poker players like Katja Thater and Vanessa Rousso it seems like more women are getting involved in the game. It's exciting because poker already draws people from incredibly diverse ethnic and social backgrounds and sits them all down at the same table. That trend only seems to be continuing and it's fairly obvious that poker is a one of the most universal games in the world because, quite literally, anybody can play.
Has poker's popularity peaked? Perhaps, but that might not be such a bad thing. I see poker remaining in the public spotlight for at least the next 10 years and beyond that there will always be a group of players who sit down together to decide who has World Champion bragging rights. Maybe we will see less ridiculous antics (I'm talking to you Mr. Hellmuth) and less silly marketing campaigns (I'm talking to you PokerWater, PokerSocks and PokerUnderwear).
Heck, if anything maybe the game of poker itself will take more of the spotlight. That can only be a good thing.