Monday, August 04, 2014

The Hunger for Poker

Been involved in some interesting conversations over the last day or so regarding poker and its current state of popularity, particularly in the U.S.

Last week I noted how ESPN had started its 2014 World Series of Poker broadcasts, discussing in particular those first couple of hours’ worth of coverage of the “Big One for One Drop” and the hand involving Cary Katz and Connor Drinan that saw both players all in before the flop with pocket aces and Drinan ultimately lose to Katz’s flush.

By the time I wrote that post Tuesday night, ESPN had already published a clip of the hand to YouTube (and thus I was able to embed it in my post). Within three days the clip had 4.5 million views; today, not even a week after it was first posted, the clip has nearly 6 million views.

I wasn’t the only one writing about that hand last week, of course, as several mainstream outlets picked up the story and embedded the clip as well. Social media was probably the biggest reason for all the views, with folks passing it around on Twitter, Facebook, and by other means.

Then today I saw that Carl’s Jr. -- known as Hardee’s around this part of the country -- had inserted Phil Hellmuth into a commercial. It’s a non-speaking role, with Hellmuth described simply via caption as “Texas Hold’em Champion.” The captions also suggest we “double down with smoked brisket on a black Angus burger,” a line that not only betrays a lack of understanding of poker but a reckless disregard for nutritional recommendations.

Poker is clearly still firmly in the mainstream when it comes to popular culture. Certainly the number of new players coming to the game has slowed considerably since the “boom” years, but that period did succeed in making more people aware of poker than ever before. Awareness of poker remains high, and interest in the game, the players, and game’s colorful history continues to be there.

For many whose livelihood is connected to poker in some capacity -- as players, as employees of casinos or tours or other poker-centric venues, as members of the surrounding “industry,” etc. -- the emphasis on growing the game via the introduction of new players is understandably central.

As an academic, though, I also find it intriguing to consider how the game’s cultural influence continues to grow, capturing the notice not just of players but of others, too. Even if there aren’t a lot of new players -- and certainly nothing close to the increase of players that was happening 8-10 years ago -- poker continues to attract a lot of attention both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Thus while the “boom” may be technically over, its effects continue with many more interested in and/or aware of poker today than was the case in the early 2000s. To borrow another fast food chain’s old slogan, the game continues to serve the interest of millions.

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