The last 10 years have defined the modern day poker industry.
As 1999 drew to a close the field at the WSOP Main Event was still under 400 players and online poker was in its infancy.
Over the next 10 years the poker world experienced a boom that no one could have predicted, changing poker from a popular card game into a multi-billion dollar industry.
With 2010 nearly upon us it seems like a fitting time to count down the top 10 biggest stories of the last 10 years:
#10 - WSOP Final Table Gone Till November
Although massive fields in the 2000s changed the WSOP, it wasn’t until 2008 that Harrah’s decided to fundamentally alter the tournament’s structure.
It was then organizers decided to play down to a final table and then take a four-month break.
The final table players were renamed “The November Nine” and organizers hoped the delay would help create a mainstream buzz about the WSOP finale.
The poker community was torn about the decision with many players fiercely opposed changing a tournament that had been successful for years while others saw it as yet another opportunity give the game even more publicity.
The jury is still out on the November Nine but it was, without a doubt, one of the biggest news stories in poker in the 2000s.
#9 – Annette Obrestad Wins the 2007 WSOPE Main Event
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Annette Obrestad won the 2007 WSOPE Main Event title for $2 million.
The 19-year-old female online player winning the Main Event was perhaps the last sign that poker had indeed moved on from its smoky backroom beginnings with characters like Puggy Pearson, Jonny Moss and Doyle Brunson.
No one represents the paradigm shift the poker world experienced in the last 10 years better than Obrestad.
#8 - PokerStars Starts the EPT
Inspired by the success of the WPT and WSOP, John Duthie and PokerStars saw a unique opportunity for a prestigious poker tour in Europe in 2004.
The first event was a €1,000 buy-in tournament in Barcelona, Spain, on Sept. 18, 2004, that drew a modest 229 players with the winner taking down €80,000
Since then the tour has turned into an international sensation that rivals the success of the WPT and regularly awards millions of Euros to its winners.
The EPT is Europe’s premier series and because online rooms can actually run satellites for EPT events it continues to sell out major casinos around the world.
The WPT opened the door but, for the time being, the EPT appears to be the future.
#7 – Two World Championship Titles for Carlos Mortensen
There have been some amazing individual tournament achievements over the last 10 years but it’s hard to think of anything more impressive than Mortensen winning two separate world championships.
In 2001, Mortensen outlasted 612 players to win the WSOP Main Event for $1.5 million.
Not content with just one world championship, in 2007 Mortensen outlasted 638 players to win the WPT World Championship for $3.9 million.
With the WSOP Main Event now drawing over 6,000 players each year it’s doubtful Mortensen’s achievement will ever be matched.
A little known fact about Mortensen is that he also came in 11th in the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. If Mortensen had won he would have become the first, and most assuredly only, player to win the three main events of the three largest poker tours.
#6 - The Ultimate Scandal
The online poker world was shook to its very core on Oct. 21, 2007.
It was then that online room Absolute Poker released a statement that finally admitted the integrity of the site had been compromised by an insider using some sort of hole card technology.
The very next year UltimateBet admitted it had also had problems with cheating and the person allegedly responsible was none other than former World Champion Russ Hamilton.
Even mainstream media sources were jumping on the story and in 2008 CBS aired an episode of 60 Minutes that put the scandal into the spotlight.
Both sites fully reimbursed the players who were cheated but the damage was already done to the image of the online poker industry.
Since the scandals both Ultimate Bet and Absolute have had full investigations and eventually made the decision to merge into the more secure CEREUS network.
#5 - Rise of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker
When the Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006 it created a unique situation for privately owned rooms like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
There was a huge void in the industry created by the departure of PartyPoker from the U.S. PokerStars and Full Tilt took advantage, perhaps more than any other room.
Full Tilt concentrated more on high stakes and signing big-name pros while PokerStars focused on massive tournaments and ambassadors for every region of the world.
These days PokerStars is breaking attendance records on a monthly basis while pot-sizes on Full Tilt recently broke the $1 million mark.
It’s hard to argue with that kind of success.
#4 - The World Poker Tour Starts
With the sheer amount of poker programming available on TV these days it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always that way.
When it launched in late 2002 the World Poker Tour was truly one of a kind and thanks to early victories by the likes of Gus Hansen and Howard Lederer it quickly developed a devout following.
Although experienced poker players sometimes criticize the commentary provided Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, the pair did an excellent job of educating the TV audience about poker in the early days of the WPT.
The WPT quickly developed into the only real competition for the World Series of Poker and gave players a series of big buy-in tournament to play the rest of the year.
It’s possible there wouldn’t be an international poker tournament circuit if it wasn’t for the WPT.
#3 - Harrah’s Buys the WSOP
It was obvious in 2004 that Binion’s Horseshoe had something with the World Series of Poker brand.
The WSOP’s popularity had been steadily building since the early 2000s and the combination of Chris Moneymaker and online poker rooms had made the brand red hot.
Major gaming corporation Harrah’s saw the potential of the brand and decided to buy Binion’s Horseshoe and the WSOP in 2004. Harrah’s quickly sold the hotel and then moved the WSOP to the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.
It was at the Rio the WSOP would achieve truly extraordinary numbers from 2005 and onward.
You can argue all you want about Harrah’s decisions since acquiring the brand but the fact remains the series had gotten to the point where it needed a large corporate owner.
#2 - UIGEA Not Just a Weird Acronym
Poker was on such a high in early 2006 it seemed that almost nothing could bring it down. The WPT seemed unstoppable, the WSOP drew record numbers to create an $82 million prize pool and online poker rooms were flourishing.
The music stopped, or at least got a bit fainter, on Oct. 13, 2006.
That was the day President Bush signed the Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act into law.
While the law didn’t completely bring the poker industry to a halt it did cause all publically traded companies, like PartyPoker owner PartyGaming, to pull out of the U.S. market.
The end result was that for the first time since 2000, WSOP Main Event attendance dropped when compared to the previous year.
The industry remains strong and poker advocates like the Poker Players Alliance continue to push for legalization but UIGEA brought the poker boom back down to earth.
#1 - Shake Your Moneymaker!
If there is one central catalyst for the poker boom of the mid-2000s this would be it.
You can debate all you want that if it wasn’t for Chris Moneymaker some other online qualifier like Greg Raymer or Peter Eastgate would have kick-started the poker revolution but the fact remains - it was Moneymaker.
In case you didn’t know (how did you get to our site again?), Moneymaker was the unlikely hero at the 2003 WSOP.
Moneymaker was not a pro and, in fact, qualified for the tournament online for just $39. He went on to outlast 837 players, beat seasoned pro Sammy Farha heads up and claim $2.5 million for the title.
This was important because: 1. Moneymaker was the first online qualifier to win the WSOP Main Event. 2. He showed that you didn’t have to be a pro to win the Main Event.
The next year Main Event attendance nearly tripled and it didn’t slow down until 2006.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is what we like to call “The Moneymaker Effect.”