Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Poker Boom

I spent about five hours last weekend watching poker on TV. Pathetic? Of course. But it could've been worse: I could've easily watched ten hours, high off the buzz of my $200 win last Friday night. (I basically got lucky on draws on big hands.) What's frightening is that you can cobble together a all-Poker cable channel on any given night: ESPN, Bravo, the Travel Channel, and Fox Sports all run pro poker programs. Nowadays I see Howard Lederer's mug more often than John Edwards'. And even the NY Times is getting in with a poker feature story today.

Are we at the saturation point? I know a surprising number of guys who play online poker, either on PartyPoker or Poker Stars. And I get the sense that poker tournaments are held on every block, especially in the Asian neighborhoods. It looks like the fixer-upper boom, a bubble just about ready to burst. But I'm betting there's still more room for poker to grow. The game's pull is too great: (1) it looks deceptively easy (an amateur shlub, Chris Moneymaker, won the World Series of Poker last year) ; (2) nothing feeds the ego like outwitting somebody with a bum hand; and (3) poker is competitive capitalism in its purest form.

And now, with round the clock poker programming, they've created genuine celebrities. (I got load of the excitement generated when Minh the Master showed up at a club my cousin promoted. With all the buzz in the room, you'd think J.Lo dropped by...bottomless.) People want to play like Gus Hansen, and look as intimidating as Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and learn all the cool chip tricks. The most tempting thing is you don't have to have a 40 inch vertical to make a great poker play.
In short, the poker boom shows no signs of abating. If I had money and connections, first thing I do is open a poker room.