I was on Skype recently with a couple of established poker pros and we were reminiscing over the “glory days” of online poker. We shared stories on everything from our first major scores to fast-paced forum threads.
After some consideration, I figure the best way to relay what the online poker world was like ten years ago is by highlighting some of the groundbreaking industry events that were taking place in 2006.
The following list draws on my experiences as a professional online poker player, forum moderator, and PocketFives podcast host at that time.
Guaranteed Tournament Overlays
If you had seen the tens of thousands of dollars the big sites (PokerStars, PartyPoker, Paradise Poker) were throwing at all players every week, you would have gotten interested in online poker as well.
The big Sunday events routinely got overlays and there was no shortage of winners as a result. It was a great time for online poker tournament specialists because you had a substantial percentage of players boosting their bankroll from $0 to $5,000+ with very little risk.
Bonus Whoring — Network Model Platforms
The incentives to get online poker players (and especially high volume grinders) to try out new sites were mouth-opening in 2006. Despite a clear signal that the Network Model had its flaws (PartyPoker – Empire Poker 2005) skins were offering easy-to-clear, positive expectation bonuses to new sign ups.
If you had a $1,000 to deposit onto a new site or skin, you could nearly guarantee you made money on the transaction barring an atrocious downswing. What’s more, sites bent over backwards to encourage grinders to remain loyal by awarding extra prizes associated with high volume play.
One of the online poker friends I made back in the day actually boosted his bankroll from $100 to $15,000 by taking advantage of as many sign up bonuses and rakeback opportunities as possible. I saw two email exchanges between him and PartyPoker, in which he complained about getting his Aces cracked and received a $100 reload bonus each time.
Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo became the focus of major controversy in 2006 when he was caught entering the same tournament on multiple accounts. Although the concept of a multi-entry event would later be embraced by service providers, the undeniable possibility of being seated at the same tournament table while on two or more accounts was devastating to Bonomo’s response at the time.
Bonomo would later apologize for his actions and reestablish himself in the industry, yet the story of exactly how ZeeJustin gained popularity in the online poker community is often overlooked.
For Sit & Go grinders like myself who were looking for a way to increase expectation, there was no greater authority than Justin Bonomo in 2005. Steve Badger and Shirley Rosario may have convinced me that money could be made playing poker, but it was ZeeJustin who sent me on a quest to focus on Sit & Gos via his blog.
Did you know that Bonomo was mass-tabling $215 Sit & Gos on PartyPoker for a Return on Investment (ROI) of more than 15 percent in 2005? Up and comers salivated over investing in a second monitor to accommodate more online poker tables and used Bonomo’s blog updates as motivation to move up in stakes sooner rather than later.
This is why the ZeeJustin controversy struck such a massive chord with forum contributors. He was at the top of the high stakes online SNG food chain and could obviously have a significant positive expectation in online poker games without running multiple accounts.
Chat Box Money Buy-In
Online poker site chat boxes during major events were something to behold ten years ago. Nightly you could find a couple hundred well known personalities who would rail each other on to victory when they didn’t happen to be at a final table themselves.
Since PokerStars had the largest guaranteed tournaments, the chat box was most alight during final tables there. However, there was one catch… you had to have enough money in your account to cover the buy-in of the event you were railing in order to be able to chat from the rail.
Throughout 2006, having your name show up in a chat box during a major online tournament was a not-so-subtle brag that you had at least a certain amount of money in your PokerStars account.
It may seem like a silly practice nowadays, but I routinely saw four figure sums exchange hands just so someone could show up as a railbird in a large buy-in WCOOP event.
Ah… “Tuff_Fish” Tony Sandstrom. I’d wager a lot of you online poker newbies have never heard of him. Another former PocketFives Podcast guest (who I was introduced to by none other than Taylor Caby) brought his own brand of comedy to online poker videos.
What StickyRice did for online poker and Twitch in 2015, Sandstrom did for online poker and YouTube in 2006. Running a modest bankroll up to around $15k, “Tuff_Fish” decided it was time to start making his own videos to share his knowledge with the world.
The result was a mixture of poor play and bad beats that sent the middle-aged online poker fan to the brink. When I interviewed Sandstrom, he told me that after seeing the success of his original videos, he made more but found it impossible to recreate the spontaneous tilting of his PartyPoker sessions.
Tony faded from online poker culture nearly as quickly as he rose to stardom, but was able to made a few thousand bucks off of t-shirt sales. His battles against EmpreMaker2 were epic.
Back in the day, professional online poker players dealt with a lot of resistance when pursuing the game as a full time job. Winning poker players were not only faced with convincing family members and close friends that what they were doing was a sound financial decision, but they also had to work out reliable methods for receiving payment.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) tightened restrictions on financial transactions within the United States that were linked to online poker. A year after the law’s passage, U.S. banks would very commonly refuse to disperse funds that were suspected to have online gaming ties, which made it much more difficult for pros to receive their poker funds in a timely manner.
Emotions ran high within the online poker industry in 2006 when the UIGEA was being lobbied for. Towards the end of the year, it appeared that online poker had dodged a bullet until an eleventh-hour political move tacked the bill onto the Safe Port Act. The November 2006 PocketFives Podcast episode in which Riley Bryant outlines the UIGEA’s ramifications remains one of the most highly rated shows of the weekly broadcast which ran for five years.
PokerStars VIP Club
High volume players like myself were treated like royalty by all online poker sites, especially PokerStars — which had quickly overtaken PartyPoker as the world’s largest site. As an American ex-pat living in Mexico, I was given the best customer service — which included customized week-long trips for my family. It was nothing to hit up Scott with a $2,000 bill from a stay in Acapulco and have it taken care of as part of the Supernova Concierge Service.
Built on the model of airline customer loyalty and frequent flyer miles programs, the PokerStars VIP Club revolutionized the way players chose which site to play on. If you look at an old school PocketFives forum thread from December 2005, you’ll notice that I had already become as informed as possible on the then-new rewards program. Eager to share my knowledge with “Gidders” (who would later end my short-lived reign as a $60 Turbo Sit & Go endboss), optimism was rampant among the community and the VIP Club benefits placed high volume players at the top of the pecking order.
Taylor Caby — CardRunners
Taylor Caby along with his college roommate Andrew Wiggins pretty much created the poker training site industry through CardRunners. The video strategy series published by Caby & Co. gained a cult following of more than 10,000 monthly subscribers and was openly recommended by poker forum contributors.
Training sites were responsible for a lucrative side industry in which poker pros could sell videos of their major online event wins for thousands of dollars. Some of the most epic online poker tournament victories in the history of the game can be found on training site libraries to this day, and it was CardRunners that established the poker training site business as a worthwhile tool for serious players.
In April 2006, Taylor Caby was the second featured guest ever on the PocketFives Podcast which I hosted.
Bax, Sheets & The Crew
What would online poker in 2006 been without Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy, Eric “Sheets” Haber, and “The Crew” which ESPN promoted during their World Series of Poker telecasts.
Haber and Josephy made online poker tournaments a science and in the process became two of the most highly respected poker instructors of their time via PokerXFactor.
Josephy’s historical significance was cemented by being one of the first mainstream online poker personalities to be accepted by the live poker world. This occurred in June of 2005 when he won a Seven Card Stud WSOP bracelet. What was so amazing about Bax’s achievement is that it was the first time he had ever played Stud, so the $192,000 first place prize made the #1 ranked online poker tournament player an instant hit with the live crowd.
Together, Haber and Josephy would head one of the largest poker backing businesses of the time and were behind the scenes in a number of prolific victories in major events.
The most highly publicized group of poker players a decade ago was The Crew, which included Bret “gank” Jungblut, Scott “emptyseat88” Fischman, and Dutch Boyd. Jungblut in particular inserted himself into the online poker community via forum activity, and was not your typical number-crunching grinder. The cult following he gained was based on his love of the game and willingness to converse with anyone in the community.
As we all know, nothing brings out emotions in poker players quite like a slowroll, and it was Jungblut who coined the term “ganktober” as a way to pay homage to poker’s equivalent of the Hot Potato. To this day, poker slowrolls make for some of the most compelling television. They still go over like a fart in an elevator, too. Try that one out and see what the smile to frown ratio is, and that’s probably similar to the response you’d get from a typical group of poker veterans after a slowroll.
Fold To Win Poker
New online poker players in 2006 were a different animal than they are today. The mainstream appeal of poker training sites was still a year away, so there was still relatively little information available for the flood of new players arriving on the scene.
You’d see things in medium stakes games in 2006 that you’d never see ten years later. Players committing 75% of their stack preflop and giving up when they missed the flop, getting trapped in multi-way pots with mediocre hands that were easily outdrawn, and going all-in every hand (known as a “flipament” at the time).
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to uncover that “Fold To Win” poker was an extremely effective method for guaranteeing expectation in low to mid stakes poker tournaments.
New poker players wanted action… every hand… because they weren’t multi-tabling. Basic Tight Aggressive (TAG) or even a “Rock” playing style was a sure-fire winner in most online poker events because you could often cruise to the bubble with a single double-up. There were certain players who weren’t getting involved without a premium holding when the bubble approached, and this was highly exploitable.
If you talk to most online poker pros who have been around for the past decade, they’re likely to tell you that one of the very first things they learned how to do in poker was to fold. All you had to do ten years ago was wait for a hand you were comfortable with and go head-to-head against someone who had no long term chance against your range.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and welcome any additions you’d like to make via the comments section below. Best of luck at the tables!