Poker and Pop Culture: How Poker Became a Lifestyle
Poker was once just a card game that people played to pass their time. That’s not the case anymore as poker has now become an integral part of pop culture and lifestyle.
Once a game played by rough men in shady locations, poker has quickly evolved into a sophisticated global televised sports event and has been the subject of Hollywood movies, documentaries, and television series.
- Poker has been a part of our pop culture and lifestyle for decades.
- Music, movies and celebrities boost the popularity of poker
- Why poker is now considered a lifestyle and not just a game anymore
Poker players have now become highly respected celebrities, greatly admired for their skills.
How did poker become a part of pop culture? In this article, we will trace the journey of poker from its beginnings as a simple card game with a questionable reputation to its development into a sophisticated table game with a strong cultural influence.
Game of Vice in Early 20th Century Pop Culture
In the early part of the 20th century, poker did not enjoy the reputation it does today. It was a male-dominated game associated with smoking, drinking ad considered a vice. Despite this poor reputation, poker had found its way to the cultural mainstream and into millions of homes across the world.
Let’s go back in time a bit and see how poker started making its way into the mainstream.
Consider the example of Cassius M. Coolidge’s 16 oil paintings featuring dogs engaged in familiar human pastimes and activities.
In 1903, Brown & Bigelow, an advertising firm, hired him to do these paintings for their calendars.
The artist is well-known for nine paintings that depict dogs playing poker while smoking cigars and drinking whiskey.
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912) is a silent movie with a runtime of 12 minutes. Starring John Bunny as poker addict George Brown, who is constantly trying to figure out ways to play poker without his wife’s knowledge, the film presents poker as an illness requiring a cure.
Poker had also found its way into the popular songs of the time. The song “Who Played Poker with Pocahontas (When John Smith Went Away?)” talks about how a man teaches the girl he loves how to play poker.
The writers of the time also paid attention to poker as a game of vice. Bertolt Brecht’s short story “Four Men and a Poker Game or Too Much Luck is Bad Luck” (1926) is about the murder of a man who wins a lot of money playing poker.
Game Theorists Find a Link between Poker and Life
Although the reputation of poker improved in the mid-twentieth century, it was not the most popular game in America but it slowly started gaining popularity. According to the results of a 1940 survey by the Association of American Card Manufacturers, it was the second most popular card game among males.
After World War II, John McDonald, the staff writer for Fortune, wrote a couple of articles highlighting the similarities between American capitalism and poker.
Later, he published his studies and observations in the book “Strategies in Poker, Business & War“, establishing a connection between poker and life.
McDonald’s book explains game theory, highlighting the findings of Oskar Morgenstern and John Von Neumann, published in their book “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” (1944).
Besides promoting poker as a recreational activity for intelligent people, the book presents the game as a source of knowledge applicable to other aspects of life.
The book shows how game theory connects poker to other strategy-filled areas of life like war, politics, and business. It is a significant contribution to those curious to know how poker became a lifestyle and the various ways in which people started thinking about the game by the middle of the twentieth century.
If you want to understand the similarities between poker and life, this book gives you enough food for thought.
Poker - A Game with Fans, Communities, Role Models, and Success Stories
Poker sprang into the limelight with the establishment of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1970 and became accessible to many players when Planet Poker, the first online poker room, went live in 1998.
But the key incident that initiated the poker boom was Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP 2003 Main Event win. Moneymaker made history because he was the first average unknown American who became a millionaire at the WSOP after qualifying for the $10,000 buy-in main event through an online satellite at PokerStars.
His overnight success was broadcasted around the world and poker became the game that was capable of making anyone rich overnight, provided they had some skills and a little luck!
Once a widely played card game, poker gained cultural significance and slowly started becoming a lifestyle with key events taking place over a period of two decades. These key events are the establishment of the WSOP and the World Poker Tour (WPT), the Chris Moneymaker win, the launch of online poker and the release of a Hollywood movie Rounders in 1998 which was centered on poker.
According to a 2021 survey of 1000+ Americans on their favorite card games, poker turned out to be the most popular card game for home games with more than two players. Online poker, especially Texas Hold’em, tops the list of the most popular casino games.
Poker has millions of followers comprising of professional players, amateur players, industry workers and fans around the world. Although they may not play the game, poker fans enjoy watching televised poker events and listening to the commentary. Poker is now such a big part of daily life that poker fans have formed poker communities, to discuss the game on forums, follow poker vloggers, blogs and podcasts of well-known poker players, experts, and coaches.
Poker fans and aspiring poker players love their favorite poker pros, look up to them, and want to become like them. Pros are greatly admired for their ability to maintain a poker face, read their opponents like books, bluff their way out of impossible game situations, and make quick decisions based on imperfect information.
Even if you cannot become a poker pro or play regularly at a live casino, you can get a taste of playing poker by organizing games at home and inviting your friends to join you. Poker enthusiasts worldwide do this and make the game a part of their lifestyle. You can also play online poker provided it is legalized n your jurisdiction.
Poker in Movies, Books, TV Shows, and Music
Hollywood has played its part in boosting the popularity of poker as a number of poker movies have been released in the last two decades. There are also numerous books written on poker and poker players that let’s poker fans get a glimpse of the poker circuit and poker lifestyle.
We take a look at a few examples of poker’s influence in pop culture.
Even if you aren’t a James Bond fan, you may have heard of the movie Casino Royale, which many consider one of the top references to poker in pop culture.
The movie has an intense heads-up poker game between the villain Le Chiffre and James Bond.
Released in 2006, when the poker boom was at its height, the film became popular not only because it was a James Bond film but also because of its tense poker scene.
Friends (shown above), an American sitcom that aired on NBC from 1994 to 2004 revolves around six friends and turned out to be a massive success worldwide. Interestingly, these six friends are fond of poker, and the sitcom shows several poker nights throughout its ten seasons. Viewers who enjoy participating in home poker games will find it easy to relate to the Friends poker night episodes.
If you are fascinated with poker faces, we suggest watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It has a poker episode with the male android Data, who has an inscrutable poker face. You will wish you had Data’s poker face if you are a serious poker player.
The only way for Data to survive was by keeping a poker face that revealed no information while absorbing all the information around him, a skill essential for winning at poker.
If you love music, you can sway to numbers like Lady Gaga‘s Poker Face, which was a song on her debut solo album in 2008. The Daily Star reports her as saying that the inspiration behind Poker Face was due to the fact that she loves to gamble, has boyfriends who also love to gamble, and wanted to write a song her boyfriends would enjoy.
If you want a classic song, you must listen to Kenny Rogers’ version of The Gambler, released in 1978. The song, which topped the country charts, tells the story of a gambler who gives life advice to a younger player based on poker. Some of the advice includes you got to know when to hold’em and when to fold’em, know when to walk away know when to run. The song was part of a Kenny Rogers’ album titled “The Gambler” and won a Grammy Award. It also inspired a series of five television movies starring Kenny Rogers as the gambler Brady Hawkes.
Poker has become such an important part of our lives and culture because of the different mediums that make poker so appealing.
Massive poker tournaments, celebrity poker players, Hollywood movies, live streaming, vlogs and poker books will continue to inspire millions of fans around the world to not only play the game, but also follow the poker lifestyle!