In 2003, Chris Moneymaker made himself a household name by winning the World Series of Poker Main Event–a victory worth US$2,500,000. He won his place online, paying a meagre $39 to obtain a seat valued at $10,000. His victory spawned the “Moneymaker Effect”, sparking a frenzy of card-playing, and an explosion of enthusiasts flocking to join online poker action.
The aptly named Moneymaker’s achievement reflected a natural transition from computer gaming to poker. In the years preceding his win, video games established themselves as a force in the entertainment industry, rivalling traditional sectors, such as films. The popularity of gaming titles, including Doom and Quake, had moved the industry beyond its niche beginnings, with Counter-Strike‘s subsequent success prompting the formation of numerous gaming communities.
As competitive gamers had played their chosen games for years, they were open to new challenges. Gamers began to emerge in the poker scene, competing with drifters from the card game Magic: The Gathering, competitive bridge and chess players, casino regulars, and racetrack gamblers. One of the most famous gaming converts is Bertrand Grospellier, a former StarCraft professional known by the alias of ElkY. Grospellier’s rise in online poker was eclipsed by his live exploits as he claimed titles on the World Poker Tour and the European Poker Tour, with tournament prizes amounting to $5.7 million. His online accomplishments include two bracelets (wins) in the World Championships of Online Poker in 2009, and being the first player ever to reach Supernova Elite level on Pokerstars – a milestone he achieved in four and a half months. Other Counter-Strike professionals may be found in online poker rooms, such as shaGuar, tr1p, mangiacapra, and cogu.
Competitive gaming and poker share a number of characteristics that encourages gamers to make the transition, particularly online. A competitive fire is essential to win money in the often brutal world of poker–bad beats, coolers and setups can dampen the spirits of enthusiastic competitors. The mental stamina acquired by gamers from hours of play allows them to focus over long sessions of cards. In poker, a momentary loss of concentration is the difference between maximizing profit or letting a large pot slip away. For those with sharp reflexes, playing multiple tables and handling more information in online poker is a far easier adjustment compared to players accustomed to sitting at a single, slow table in a live setting.
Most importantly, the best competitive gamers don’t just possess excellent hand-eye co-ordination, stamina and focus–they are intelligent. While speed and economy of movement, or twitch aim, are important in overcoming the opposition in online gaming, the most crucial aspect is the ability to analyze your opponent and decipher likely moves they could employ ahead of time. The essence of poker is playing the opponent, anticipating their actions and responses, and manipulating them to win pots of real money or tournament chips. Gamers like ElkY already possessed the skills they needed to be successful in online and live poker, they just needed to familiarize themselves with the advanced strategies and options of poker. With the single-minded drive and focus that made them into successful gamers, it was just a matter of time.