Thursday, June 13, 2013


One hundred billion hands. What is that, like 14 or so hands per every living person on the planet? Such is the milestone PokerStars will be hitting at some point this afternoon.

It took the site about 11-and-a-half years to reach that total, although the curve has turned upward sharply over the last couple of years.

It took almost five years, in fact, for PokerStars to deal 5 billion hands, the site hitting that mark in late May 2006. Almost exactly one year later the site made it to 10 billion hand dealt, then they reached 50 billion in September 2010. It has taken less than three years more to deal the next 50 billion.

All of the various prizes and associated hoopla connected with the milestone are interesting enough. Rick Dacey’s running narrative about the big countdown over on the PokerStars blog is providing some fun stories as well. But the event also helps highlight in a less specific way how much online poker has affected ideas of game play, most particularly volume and pace.

Having been around for more than a decade, the online game has presented an invitation to players to think of the game as being essentially without limits when it comes to the number of hands a person can play, or the speed with which hands can be dealt. Obviously there are still limits per se, but the difference between what an online site can provide and what happens in live poker rooms or in home games is so vast as to make comparisons seem hardly worth pursuing anymore.

Think of how long it would take to deal 100 billion hands of live poker. It’s silly. As Sweet Brown would say, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Just to make the math easier, let’s say it takes two minutes to deal a hand of poker. That adds up to more than 380,000 years to reach 100 billion.

Say there are 5,000 casinos in the world, and pretend every one of them has a poker room with a half-dozen tables at which hands are constantly being dealt without interruption. It would still take more than a dozen years -- i.e., longer than PokerStars has been dealing hands -- to reach an overall total of 100 billion hands dealt.

Not unlike the way all of the “super high roller” events, those huge games in Macau, and the nosebleed games that continue to turn up online present us with examples of poker being played for stakes that are essentially hard for nearly all of us to relate to, so, too, does an online site reaching 100 billion hands dealt remind us how different -- and in some ways, unrelateable -- online poker is to the live game.

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