A look back at the early days of Poker

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Throwback Mondays

With the World Series of Poker Main Event commencing thousands of players make their way hoping to take home the million dollars coveted prize. Its yester years were humble, but have some interesting lessons that resonate till today. Today we take a walk down memory lane to where it all began with just a single table at a downtown Las Vegas hall.

The Binion’s Hall is an iconic part of poker history. It was the spot where the inaugural event was bagged by Johnny Moss in 1970. “To sit there and think it started as a single game in the spot there between the two bathrooms and expanded to what it is, it’s phenomenal,” said Tim Lager, general manager of Binion’s. Today, the spot is an office for casino hosts.

Benny Binion opened the casino in 1951, and it remained within the family till 2004, until former Harrah’s Entertainment bought it and the World Series of Poker. Harrah’s promptly sold the property to MTR Gaming Group, but retained the World Series of Poker and Horseshoe brands. Today, the property is owned by TLC Casino Enterprises, owner of the downtown Four Queens.

“The Binion’s Horseshoe (changed names with change in management) days were special, because it was a lot different than the big corporate shindig that it is now,” Negreanu said. “Everybody knew everybody. Today, you sit down at the tournament with 6,000 people and you’re lucky to know somebody even close to your table.”

Poker star Phil Hellmuth, who played in his first World Series of Poker at the old Horseshoe in 1988, said one of his favorite memories is going up against fellow poker Hall of Famer Johnny Chan.Hellmuth moved all in with pocket 10s and was called by Chan, the returning champ, who had pocket jacks. Hellmuth lost the hand.

“Afterwards, one of my friends was shouting at me, ‘How could you do that? You’re never going to have an opportunity to win this again,” Hellmuth recalled. “I shouted back, ‘I’m going to have a chance to win this every year of my life.” And he was damn right! He had his own Hollywood ending the very next year, beating Chan heads up for the championship and taking home the top prize of $755,000.

In 1972 Main Event winner Amarillo Slim Preston and Benny Binion went on the Merv Griffin and other talk shows. This gave the Horseshoe and the WSOP half-hour prime time and the kind of coverage led to the tournament’s rapid expansion

Another major landmark that made every unsung poker players fantasy come true was when the first amateur player, Hal Fowler won the main event in 1979. The WSOP went onto swipe the market when the legendary Chris ‘Moneymaker’, who had previously played only poker online, won the tournament.Today it pays at least $1 million, plus hours of prime time exposure, during which logos on hats and shirts can yield tens of thousands of dollars in revenue.

With poker now on the world map and 90 World Series of Poker bracelets a yearto compete for, the World Series of Poker’s Main Event remains one close to the heart and in every poker players dream.

MOVING ONTO THE SUBCONTINENT

The Origin of Poker in India

Ancient India was the birthplace of the game of playing cards and has since sprouted a plethora of card based games which are played all across the world. Playing cards was a matter of royalty and nobility was also one of the favorite hobbies of Indians in ancient times.

The game was formerly known as Kridapatram or Ganjifa in the middle ages. According to Abul Fazal’s description of the games, the deck had similar four suites, compriing of Ashvapati ‘lord of horses’,Gajapati (lord of elephants), Napati, a king whose power lies in his infantry and Danpati, the lord of treasures.

These cards were made of cloth and depicted motifs from the ancient scriptures. All  of them were hand-made and painted in the traditional style. This required considerable patience and hard meticulous work which only commissioned painters by the King were able to carry out.

Img_Src: collections.lacma.org

This art of handmade, hand painted cards which had survived for hundreds of years gradually faded and became extinct with the introduction of printed paper cards by the Europeans in the 17-18th centuries. With this came an adapted version that the Indians began to play.

The Indian poker variant of Teenpatti then began to be a part of most leisurely evenings, played with friends and family. Since it was one of the most popular card games of all times, it was a matter of time before it garnered the attention of Indian masses. With the advent of digitalization, many India companies tapped into the popularity that its variant, poker had begun to capture. Thereby develop online platforms for playing the card games.

A 2016 Nasscom report  says 8% of games being developed in India are casino-based card games. This shows the growing importance of card games in Indian families, explaining why the online version is replacing the offline version.

The rest is history as traditional card games such as teenpatti, poker and rummy have taken the mobile gaming industry by storm and card games on social networks find wider acceptance in India, the second largest smart-phone market in the world.

Future Challenges

Game monetization in India is yet to peak; is swamped by existing challenges in infrastructure, payment channels and low spending habits.

The product lifecycle in markets like the US are in the midst of a shift from a download phase to strong app usage and revenue growth, whereas, emerging markets like India are still experiencing hyergrowth in the app download phase.

While convincing users to spend money on games remains a challenge in India, another challenge is to also make the masses aware of two categories stand out for solid strategy and skill in social card games.

Article source credits: App Annie and Nasscom report, economictimes.indiatimes.com and forbes.com

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