My own personal journey through the last few years of tournament poker history tells me that the game is going to do nothing but continue to grow, regardless of whether people are watching the game on television.
I got my start in this business back in 2005 at the WSOP Circuit in Tunica, Miss., when I covered the entire two-week run on my own blog. I followed up each day's coverage writing articles at night for a Web site that paid me just enough to cover my expenses, a gig that came my way via my friend Paul McGuire.
Basically I broke even on the trip, but I got a lot of invaluable experience. I jumped in head-first and learned everything as I went. It was a wild ride where I met a lot of WSOP staff and players I still know to this very day.
On the flip side of things, I didn't meet a lot of media. Only two other reporters - Sharla Lehrmann and BJ Nemeth - showed up, and even BJ only came in for the main event. They both helped me out a lot, and it was easy to approach them because there wasn't the throng of media outlets on the scene that we have at tournaments today.
In the end Gregg Merkow won the 179-strong tournament and I graduated from the equivalent of a poker tournament reporter's boot camp. That experience eventually landed me a reporting job, which became the head of a trail that ends (for now) with me covering my third WSOP here at PokerListings.com.
From there, my journey into the world of poker has been a blur of tournaments around North America and (now) three years of work at the WSOP.
Over the course of three years my trips for poker tournaments have normally been very similar: lots of time spent indoors regardless of the location, watching 12 hours of poker a day, and meeting lots of new people everywhere you go. What has really changed since I got started in 2005 is the sheer number of people involved.
Not only is almost every particular major tournament bigger than it was in 2005, the number of tournaments on the annual schedule has blossomed and new tours are popping up all around the world in previously unexpected places. That means tens of thousands of people worldwide playing preliminaries and main events who weren't involved in poker just a few years ago.
The scale of things in poker is completely different just three years after I got my start, and the WSOP is the perfect example.
In 2005 there were only 42 bracelet events on the schedule, and now there are 55. Every year I've come to the WSOP a new attendance record for the largest non-Main Event tournament field has been set in a $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event, sometimes more than once a year.
And even if the Main Event isn't the largest ever this year, it will most likely top last year's number, and numbers everywhere else at the WSOP this year are up as well.
One of the things that's most encouraging to me is how the game has grown internationally. In 2005, only six players from outside the United States won bracelets; this year we've already seen eight international players win and we still have another 13 or so bracelets to hand out.
It's things like this, along with new tours in Europe, Asia, and Latin America sponsored by online poker rooms like PokerStars, that make me think the idea that the game's popularity might be declining is way off base.
People who say poker is on the decline just aren't looking at things from the right perspective. Whether or not any particular poker show survives on cable has nothing to do with the popularity of the game. New tours around the world mean new players, and the continued steady attendance at the WSOP despite changes in the landscape of the American tournament scene means that the game is as popular as ever - if not more so.
That's what I firmly believe after being in the middle of it all for three straight years. All the signals point to the continued growth of the game, and I look forward to continuing to watch poker's evolution from a seat in the media room.