While poker used to be played on the felt at casinos and poker clubs, the internet has changed the very nature of the game.
"The game has gotten much more aggressive, and it has made it even more of a chess game than it was before," said Daniel Negreanu, a professional player who has earned the nickname "Kid Poker."
Negreanu, a native of Toronto, began playing in the 1990s in casinos, ranking among the top professional players within a couple of years and making millions. Like most of the professional players, he has also branched out into the internet and attached his name to Full Contact Poker, where players can sit down at the online table and play with him. And, as Negreanu has noticed, the online play is a godsend for players who want to get involved in the tournament scene.
"Not everyone has a free $10,000 [for the entry fee] lying around," says Negreanu. "What online poker does is allow anybody, for as low as $1, to compete online."
The online competition has flooded the tournament scene with players. The World Series of Poker, which bases its first prize on the number of contestants, has increased its numbers to the point that thousands of players are entering, and the grand prize for 2006 was $12 million - part of a prize pool that totaled $82.5 million and set a world record for a single sporting event.
While players entering the conventional way have to pay a $10,000 entry fee, a player can win his way in by winning an online tournament. Under certain conditions, a player can get into a larger tournament through what is called a "freeroll" - a competition where the website pays the entry fee.
Poker has never been so accessible as it is now. However, while there are advantages to learning and playing game online, there are disadvantages too.
"When you play online you have nobody staring you down, no added pressure of people watching you," says Negreanu. "When somebody is staring you down, it's a lot more difficult to execute those plays."
While this weakness places players who have only played online at a disadvantage at a real card table, it also gives them an advantage over many players who have learned in the conventional way. Playing poker online is easy. You see your cards, wait for your turn and then bet, call or fold. But while players may not know how to make a play under pressure, the online game provides a perfect training ground for learning the mathematics of play.
But, when it comes to the game as a whole, this does not necessarily give the online player the overall advantage over a real-world player. While the mathematics are important, it is even more important to be able to play the other players, and to do that you need to read body language. This gives a live player an easier time picking up online play than vice versa.
"In live poker, the focus is in betting patterns," says Negreanu. "And online poker is nothing but betting patterns. [But when it comes to] simple people-reading skills - they lack people-reading skills. They're not as good picking up on how people look, or picking up on their tells. A good top player like Doyle Brunson will look at the guy and say, 'He doesn't have it - I don't care what the math says, he doesn't got it.'"
While the player pool has changed with the online revolution, so has the profession itself. The World Poker Tour turned poker players into celebrities, but online poker helped turn them into a brand.