Why Many Turned to Poker During the Pandemic

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Poker’s been through a few phases in the last few decades. In the early 2000s, it roared out of smoky backrooms and onto sports networks, with major TV coverage and a great deal of hype surrounding the most recognizable pro players. Soon thereafter, however, the game had largely gone online; no longer did people have to make their way to the casino card room or to friends’ “man caves” to get games going. Throughout much of the 2010s, the game then retreated a little bit, in part due to legal prohibitions on real-money internet play.

Recent years have seen a fresh resurgence in online poker, however –– and during the pandemic, it became a go-to activity for a lot of people stuck in home lockdowns. Indeed, even legendary pro player Phil Hellmuth made note during a “hybrid” 2020 World Series Of Poker (which blended online and in-person competition) that more people were spending time online during the pandemic. It was a trend Hellmuth identified as being good for poker.

But what ultimately led so many people to turn to poker that even the pros took notice? Here we’ll look at a few factors that really did make it the perfect activity for many during the pandemic.

Ease Of Access

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These days poker really can be played anywhere that one can connect to the internet. Not having to rely on being somewhere specific (or with anyone else) and still being able to have a couple hours’ entertainment has been essential during lockdowns. Additionally, it’s a game a lot of people found they could really stick to over time. After all, it does take some time to learn the hands, work out pot odds, study probabilities, and so on –– and with such easy access to gaming platforms these are all things people have been able to dive into throughout the pandemic. Poker has almost been as much a project for some as it has been a game (in a good way!).

Something To Look Forward To

Almost without exception, poker sites and apps (whether with cash games or virtual stakes) stage scheduled tournaments and bigger “special” games, ass opposed to simply quick games people jump into immediately upon logging on. Particularly when our lives were more completely “paused” in the earlier days of the pandemic –– and events from school graduations to pro sporting competitions were being put on hold –– special gamers like these gave people something to look forward to. Indeed, this little perk is somewhat reminiscent of another winning game of the pandemic era in Pokémon GO. While this game’s outdoor format fundamentally meant it could be played successfully throughout the pandemic, the “special events” it presents also gave players reasons to stay engaged and excited.

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During lockdown, the opportunity to socialize with friends was another reason many turned to online poker. Lots of poker sites have live chat features, and some even support webcams and sound –– ultimately making for a decent substitute for in-person activity with friends (consider also how Zoom pub trivia quizzes briefly took over the internet!). For that matter though, even when you sign in to play a public online poker game –– as in not with your own friends –– socializing is not only possible, but encouraged. Chat features remain available, and networking with other players is considered to be one of the best ways to improve your poker strategy in general. It enables you to discuss games, take in feedback, and bounce ideas off of more experienced players. It is not at all uncommon for people to make new friend through these conversations as well.

Psychological Outlook

This is the first (and hopefully only) pandemic event that the vast majority of us have ever had to live through. So, naturally, most of us had no earthly idea how to handle it. Well, it may actually be that poker helped some people with the psychological side of this issue as well. Psychologist-turned-poker pro Maria Konnikova has a theory that poker may help us deal with the hand we’re dealt in life, so to speak –– in that we always have to examine the data before us and act accordingly. This isn’t something we always think through in a conscious manner in the “real world.” But Konnikova –– who won more than $100,000 in her first 18 months playing competitive poker –– sees risk assessment and rational judgment as key ingredients to coping with the pandemic. These are things poker players are used to, and they can in fact make it easier to accept and thus cope with challenging realities.

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For these reasons, in addition to pure entertainment value, poker has proven to be an ideal pandemic activity for a great many people.

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