When people talk about the first online poker room, they're usually referring to Planet Poker - the brainchild of Mike Caro and the site that dealt the first ever real-money online poker hand on Jan. 1, 1998.
What most people don't know is the idea for online poker had been around and functioning for years before then.
In 1988, Finnish programmer Jarkko "WiZ" Oikarinen invented IRC (Internet Relay Chat). IRC was the first online "chat room" allowing anyone to set up an IRC server and anyone on that server to create his or her own chat rooms (or channels as they're known).
Over time IRC grew in size and functionality, eventually allowing users to do things like send files and, more importantly, create and run scripts - basically computer programs that operate within the parent program itself.
IRC Meets Poker
In the early 1990s, Todd Mummert and Greg Reynolds created a server and script that allowed IRC users to play poker games and poker tournaments online.
Since IRC requires a greater understanding of computers than that of the average user, IRC was (and still is) almost exclusively populated by geeks and computer nerds.
This translated into the only users of the first online poker room being programmers, mathematicians and software engineers.
The server ran the following rooms:
#7stud - 7-card Stud high/low (8 or better)
#7studhi - 7-card Stud high
#botsonly - 10-20 Hold'em (reserved for bots)
#h1-nobots - 10-20 Hold'em (reserved for humans)
#holdem - 10-20 Hold'em (the original channel)
#holdemii - 10-20 Hold'em
#holdem1 - 10-20 Hold'em
#holdem2 - 20-40 Hold'em ($2k minimum buyin)
#holdem3 - 50-100 Hold'em ($5k minimum buyin)
#holdempot - Pot-Limit Hold'em
#nolimit - No-Limit Hold'em
#ohlpot - Pot-Limit Omaha high/low (8 or better)
#omaha - 10-20 Omaha high/low (8 or better)
#omahahi - Omaha high only
#omahapot - Pot-Limit Omaha high only
#ptourney - Pot-Limit Omaha tournaments
#tourney - No-Limit Hold'em tournaments
Although all play on these servers was for fake money, and any player could log in and receive 1,000 chips per day, the overall standard of play was much higher than the play-money games found on major online sites these days.
Because of the types of players and the small number of total users on the system, people took the game very seriously and very strategic poker was the norm.
IRC Poker Was Purely Text Based
Between 1995 and 2001, more than 10 million hands played on the servers were also recorded by a program named Observer, written by Michael Maurer. All of these hands have been saved in the IRC poker database.
This database has been used for running numerous queries on poker statistics and other mathematical tests. This was also the first time any person had access to millions of hands of data, opening the door for players to look for trends or build graphs out of poker hands.
The servers were taken offline in 2001, mostly as a result of real-money online poker becoming legitimate and accessible.
For the first few years of its existence, IRC Poker was purely text based. The picture at the top of this article is an example of what it looked like to play.
Simply as a nostalgic novelty, it's still possible to download IRC poker scripts and set up your own tournaments. To do this you just need a couple of things:
- Download and install an IRC client, such as mIRC.
- Download and install a poker script. I used this one for the photo example at the top (how to install this script can be found in the included readme.txt file).
- You need to log in to a server such as irc.efnet.info, but any server will do. To log in to a server just type /server irc.efnet.info
- Once you're logged in you need to join a channel or create a new one. To do this type: /j #channelname.
- When you're in the channel you just need to right-click to access the poker script. This will let you change some variables and choose to start the tournament.
- The instructions on screen will tell everyone in the room "Type add to play." Once everyone who wants to play types "add," you must right-click and tell the tourney to begin.
- When the action is on you, type your actions to play.
- Bet ##
- Raise ##
- All in
If you're a geek who likes to play poker and you want to experience what is was like to play the first online poker ever created, do it up.
If you want an almost empty server for playing some games, I recommend this server to create your own games on: ircpoker.com:6667
In the main IRC window, type: /server ircpoker.com:6667