Joe Hachem, winner of 2005 World Series of Poker main event
In 1998, the movie Rounders starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton gave moviegoers a romantic view of poker as a way of life. Texas hold ’em was the main game played during the movie and the no-limit variety was described, following Doyle Brunson, as the “Cadillac of Poker”. There was also a clip of the classic showdown between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel from the 1988 World Series of Poker incorporated into the film.
CommanderBond.net reports that the centerpiece card game in the next James Bond film, Casino Royale, will be no-limit Texas hold ’em instead of Baccarat as in the original Ian Fleming novel.
Hold ’em first caught the public eye as a spectator sport in the United Kingdom with the Late Night Poker TV show in 1999. The popularity of the show led to lipstick cameras also being used for American poker programs.
In 2003, hold ’em exploded in popularity as a spectator sport in the United States. This was due to several factors, including the introduction of lipstick cameras that allowed the television audience to see the players’ hidden cards. ESPN’s coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker featured the unexpected victory of Internet player Chris Moneymaker, an amateur player who gained admission to the tournament by winning a series of online tournaments. Moneymaker’s victory initiated a sudden surge of interest in the WSOP, based on the egalitarian idea that anyone – even a rank novice – can become a world champion.
In 2003, there were 839 entrants in the WSOP Main Event. In 2004, that number tripled. The crowning of the 2004 WSOP champion, Greg “Fossilman” Raymer, a patent attorney from Connecticut whose trademark holographic sunglasses have become legendary, further fueled the popularity of the event among amateur (and particularly internet) players. In the 2005 Main Event, an unprecedented 5,619 entrants vied for a first prize of $7,500,000. The winner, Joseph Hachem of Australia, was a semi-professional player. The runner-up, Steve Dannenmann, an amateur from Maryland, opined that he was only “the fourth or fifth best player” in his regular home game.
Two additional hold ’em series debuted in 2003, the World Poker Tour and Celebrity Poker Showdown. All three of these shows are still currently in production and garner a large and loyal viewership.
With the ability to edit a tournament that lasts days into just a few hours, ESPN’s World Series of Poker focuses on showing how various star players fared in each event. Key hands from throughout the many days of each event are shown, and similar, highly edited coverage of final tables is also provided.
The World Poker Tour does not offer general coverage of the multi-day poker tournaments. Instead, WPT covers only the action at the final table of each event. With aggressive play and increasing blinds and antes, the important action from a single table can easily be edited into a two hour episode. Although the tournament fate of fewer stars are chronicled this way, it allows the drama to build more naturally toward the final heads up showdown.
Celebrity Poker Showdown coverage is a single table like World Poker Tour, however, the players are much less skilled and are invited to participate instead of winning their way on.