In Prospect last month, David Flusfeder explained the poker boom and the battle between the small poker clubs and big casinos. The modern era of poker, he wrote, can be dated to 2003, when the gorgeously named Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The Main Event, also known as the Championship Event or the Big One, began with six players in 1970, and is now the most important fixture in the poker calendar. Moneymaker was the first person to win the Main Event after qualifying on the internet, a rags to riches story that boosted the game’s popularity and confirmed the merging of the online and live versions of the game. In how many other sports can an amateur enter the top professional event and have a chance of winning?
I was grateful for the education Flusfeder provided, for I knew very little about poker before reading his article, and I suddenly had a need to know more. My youngest brother Chica had inadvertently got himself a place at the Main Event in July by winning a small-stakes game on a poker website. He was going to Las Vegas, expenses paid and his $10,000 buy-in provided. How strange.
My brother graduated a year ago and has since found that playing online poker—with its tax-free earnings, flexible working hours, sofa location and the thrill of the game (though he says it’s diminishing)—is preferable to a normal job. And he’s rather good at it. But playing poker online is a whole different story to playing for real, with its tells and fake tells and poker face. “Internet qualifier” is an epithet often used dismissively at the Main Event. Our mother, who vaguely objects to poker on moral grounds, found herself suggesting that he should get some experience in a casino.
Never mind if you get knocked out in the first round, we said, what an achievement to get there, what an experience to be there, you’ve got nothing to lose. But then he got through Day One (of which there were three, to knock out the first few thousand players), and then Day Two. Was this to be a Moneymaker story? On Day Three he came unstuck. But he did himself proud. He came 389th out of 6,358. And he flies back to England tomorrow a richer man (the top 621 players end…