It’s often said that time flies when having fun. But in the case of the poker community, the same cliché applies when not having fun.
Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Department of Justice shutting down online poker and charging PokerStars.com, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker with illegal gambling, money laundering and bank fraud.
And given the popularity of online poker leading to April 15, 2011, the government’s move was comparable to watching in horror as an opponent spikes a miracle one-outer on the river.
Virtually everybody was caught up in the early 2000s poker boom, thanks largely to Chris Moneymaker’s improbable win at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. Moneymaker became the first player to qualify online for the tournament before winning the bracelet. He was an everyday person and people saw themselves in him, so they took to the virtual felt.
Still, there was more to playing cards online to earn a living or a chance to sit down at a table to test wills against anyone from around the world.
The legality of Big Brother’s decision to pull the plug aside, the fallout runs much deeper.
There was a camaraderie aspect due to the private “Home Game” feature at PokerStars.com.
As people moved or took on employment opportunities in other cities, PokerStars.com allowed friends accustomed to a weekly home game to stay in touch by taking the game online.
This was especially true in my case where the feature allowed me to reconnect with Army buddies and a former colleague and good friend, Chad Harberts.
For those outside of Kansas City, Mo., not familiar with him, Harberts is a former sports anchor for Time Warner Cable Metro Sports and on-air talent for 810 Sports Radio’s high school coverage.
He walked away from a successful and award-winning media career in 2009 to pursue a dream as a poker professional in Las Vegas. He’s currently living it while also working as a manager of a Vegas casino poker room. Even on the nights he couldn’t make it online for the home game, Harberts always made it a point to log-in for a minute or two just to say hello to everyone.
And if you can’t tell, I think very highly of the man.
Meanwhile, there was also a joy in inviting former Army brothers-in-arms to the online home game. Playing cards in the military is a large part of the culture as the acronyms. There was never a shortage of weekend home games throughout numerous duty stations.
At our online home game’s peak, we had more than 25 registered members from all walks of life: Media, a doctor, a professor, a sales executive, a friend from Canada, Army veterans and even a husband-wife team.
Outside of Harberts, who has played in the WSOP Main Event, none of us were professionals. We may have played like Phil Ivey – or thought we played like him – but we definitely lacked his bankroll.
Still, the gatherings were in good fun and it was often common to open more than one virtual table due to the turnout. Moreover, it was always good to “see” folks on any given Wednesday night.
The chat feature allowed the trash talk to flow freely and “How could you call that?” or “Ship it!” remained as familiar in typed chat when compared to what’s often heard in a live room.
This was a friendly home game and we chewed it up.
Unfortunately, our mouths no longer chomp at the bit to offer playful banter.
So a full year after Black Friday – as April 15, 2011 became known to the poker community – the Department of Justice did more than shut down the poker websites.
Playing the weekly private home game on PokerStars.com allowed friends to reconnect and enjoy each other’s company while playing a game we loved.
Unfortunately, the private poker room’s chat function has been silenced and every hand has been tossed in the muck.
It’s all gone.