The Real Deal: Poker by the Numbers

Jeopardy Answer: 50 to 80 million.

Jeopardy question?

(a) How much money has Phil Ivey won in cash games in the last few years?

(b) How many Americans identify themselves as poker players?

(c) How many hands are dealt in on-line card rooms on a daily basis?

I'm not sure if (a) and (c) are true, but (b) is a lock.

Non-news flash: Poker is here in a big way.

I'm asked all the time: "is this poker thing a passing fad or is it here to stay?" I base my answer on the hundreds of emails I get from people around the world every week… take these jewels randomly selected from my inbox this week:

From "sonofthegridiron":

Hey Phil I read your book and I watch you on WPT all the time. You and Chris Moneymaker are my favorite players. I watched you and him play on WPT awhile back and it was great. I'm 15 years old and play poker every week with my friends here in NJ. I guess I don't have a question but I would just like to tell you that I hope you are the 2005 WSOP Champ. I'm pulling for you, and I know poker is a game of skill not luck so I won't wish you luck.

(Note to sonofthegridiron: I hope I am the 2005 WSOP Champ, too.)

From "Dixie and son":

My son (who is only 4) and I love to watch you on Celebrity Poker Showdown. He sits with his own deck of cards and pretends he is playing right along with everyone. When I ask him what he likes to watch he goes back forth between celebrity poker and NASCAR!

(Note to Dixie: Your son probably plays better poker than at least half of the celebrities on the show. If he turns out anything like Dennis Rodman, I'm not to blame.)

From "Melissa in Brazil":

Hey ya! My name is Melissa, and I'm 23 years old!

I'm sending this email just to say that I love the poker shows... I've never played poker before, but I'm learning a little with you and trying to play it on internet!
I think that in Brazil poker is not a legal game... that's too bad, 'cause I think that's sooooooo cool!!

Anyways, good luck in everything you do... You're the best, man!

Bye........... Mel : )

PS1: your voice sounds just like Nicolas Cage's voice... LOL

PS2: sorry... my english is very bad : (

(Note to Melissa: Please send pictures.)

In the last year, I've received questions and email from nearly every corner of the planet. A quick review of my archives reveals that poker has spread to Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Lichtenstein, Sweden, Spain, Vatican City, France, Finland (taunting email from a fan of Juha Helpi, the guy that crushed me in the WPT Aruba championship a few years ago), Thailand, Hong Kong, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and every state in America.

The Great Equalizer

First, a brief journey back to hell: I grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a small suburb of Atlanta. 20 years ago, I was a 6'6" 150 pound ninth grader. I was so uncoordinated that I could barely walk straight. About half way through the school year, I broke my tailbone in two places and walked around bent over at the waist. I sat on a rubber inner tube for two months. I had no chance to make the basketball team, football team, baseball team, cheerleading squad, student council, or even the woodshop team. I was the school's biggest geek.

But, even then, I played poker. I played and won. I beat the captain of the football team. I beat the other geeks. I dumped chips to the hottest girl in school so she would like me. I beat the leading scorer for the soccer team who was getting it on with the hottest girl in school. I beat the student council vice-president like a drum.

Poker players compete on a level playing field, with only our minds and our hearts to guide us. And that, I believe, is the greatness of poker and why it will be around for many, many years. The cards and the chips are "The Great Equalizer". Dads can play and compete with their 12 year old sons and daughters. Coal miners can complete with investment bankers. Superstar athletes can compete with the physically challenged. High school pariahs can compete against the most popular and cool kids. Anyone in the world with enough courage can compete at the highest level and have a chance to win.

For the social outcast, the fame (and fortune) promised by being a great player is unparalleled and unmatched by any other pursuit. College kids and teenagers of today see poker as a way to make their mark in the world. They see the "young guns" like Dave Williams and Scott Fischman win oodles of money at the World Series of Poker on ESPN. They can visualize being at the table, making million dollar decisions, and taking home the fame and fortune. Everyone in the world can identify with the superstars created by poker success.

The bottom line is this: just a few hands of Texas Hold'em separate the most ridiculed and downtrodden from fame, fortune, and freedom.

Take our last three World Champions of Poker: Greg Raymer (2004), Chris Moneymaker (2003), Robert Varkonyi (2002). Does anyone think that any of these guys had a chance in hell at fame and fortune in any other pursuit except for poker? Were any of them crowned "most likely to succeed" in their high school yearbook?

And yet, somewhere in America, there is a jock telling a story about Chris Moneymaker and how he used to sit beside him in Algebra. The high school cheerleader with three kids and a deadbeat husband that used to make fun of Greg Raymer is now regretting her unfortunate choices. Greg and Chris now have high-paying endorsement contracts. Chris has been on David Letterman. Greg's face adorned the glossy cover of Cigar Aficionado and countless other magazines. They've gone from unknowns to household names in the blink of an eye.

And, yet, the fame and fortune attained by those former world champions will pale in comparison to the champion of this year's World Series of Poker. With an estimated 5,000 players (I'm taking over 5,000 players if anyone wants to put a bet down) and a $50,000,000 prize purse, the winner will likely walk away with a cool $10,000,00, their very own bobble-head, a book contract, and autograph requests from Dixie's 4 year old son, Melissa from Brazil, and sonofthegridiron.

Poker is growing and is here to stay. Poker has a long and healthy future ahead. Ten years from now we'll be navigating through a field of 20,000 at the World Series of Poker, tuning in to the Poker Channel's broadcast of the European Championship live from Luxembourg, and still praying for Phil Hellmuth, Jr. to take a bad beat so we can see him explode on camera.

And now, so you won't think this column will be all-fluff-all-the-time, some mandatory poker content, excerpted from my upcoming book, "The Little Green Book of No-Limit Hold'em" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, September, 2005):

Hands to Bring to War

When I flop a very, very good draw, I am likely to go to war, especially against a player who I believe has only one pair. In almost all of these cases, I will make the best hand more than 50% of the time. Moving all-in or even calling all-in with these draws against one pair is almost never "wrong."

I am very, very aggressive after the flop with hands like these:

With these hands and flops, I almost always make a big bet or big raise. Even if my opponents call, there is a great chance that I'll make a winning hand by the river.

Phil Gordon is host of Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown, a World Poker Tour champion, and plays at FullTiltPoker.com.