With the grand final of the PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tournament (APPT) rolling into Sydney this week attracting poker players from across the world to the Star City's brand-new poker room, it's an interesting time to reflect on how far poker has come in Australia.
Just 23 years ago there was no poker being played in casinos in this country. As one of the most high-profile and high-stakes casino games, poker is now so prevalent in Australian casinos that it's difficult to believe that it only first hit the floors in 1987.
Even Crown Casino, widely regarded as having the premier poker rooms in this country, only introduced the game in 1997.
Obviously we are yet to reach the heights of popularity that the sport has achieved in America, where every major tournament is televised and attracts thousands of live spectators, but the popularity and the competitors continue to grow.
For a professional player, I always hope we'll get to that point. The growth so far has been satisfying as the standard of the events available in Australia continue to improve, as we attract more international talent as well as retaining our best home-grown players.
I believe the popularity and exposure has come from the internet in the past eight years, as online poker is a great way to learn, polish your game, and even compete in some serious tournaments.
This has led to a culture of amateur and professional poker players coming home from work to practice a few hands, or squeezing in a turbo play game during their lunch break. It's made poker accessible, fun and fast for a wealth of people who may never have considered stepping into a casino.
Once players do make the move from online to live it's the tournament that is king. Australia's tournaments just keep getting better and better. We are finally boasting a schedule of tournaments throughout the year that can hold their head up among the internationals and give a professional a serious challenge. From the Aussie Millions and this weekend's Pokerstars.net APPT, (the largest poker tour in the region) to smaller events that still offer a genuine challenge like the ANZPT, a professional player could quite happily now play a full season in this country and boast an impressive record of events.
For the past two years an Australian has won the PokerStars.net APPT - in 2007 Sydneysider Grant Levy became the first Aussie to win a million dollars on home soil, then in 2008 another Sydney boy, Martin Rowe, repeated the feat.
I'm hoping that the improved tournaments will continue to nurture local talent, so I hope to be there at the final table taking place on stage in the Star City Sports Bar with full viewing capabilities, tomorrow. With more great local wins, more impressive local talent, more people throwing their support behind the scene and more challenging and exciting tournaments, who knows where we'll be in another 20 years.
Until next week, pass the sugar.
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