• The Beginning of the Boom by Chris Ferguson

    I think of myself as one of the first players to make the jump from online to professional. I used to play a lot of online poker back in 1989, 1990. I actually have a PhD in computer science. I was playing online, which is why it took me thirteen years to get my PhD. But I think most people would agree that my time playing poker was probably the most productive time I had at UCLA.

    It is kind of surprising, but there was a poker site back then. It was play money only. It was called IRC Poker, but there were people there who took the game a lot more seriously than play money players do now. The fact that you could play 30-40 hands in an hour, it just made people learn so much faster than they could before. One of the things that made IRC Poker great is that you weren't playing for money, but there was a lot on the line. They kept statistics of how much players made per hand, how they made bets per hand, and how well players did in tournaments. So there was a lot of prestige on the line.

    It was Interactive Remote Chat. It was basically a chat room and this chat room had bots in it and the bots would deal cards to each of the players to facilitate a game of poker between them. Of course, you could always chat with each other because it was a chat room. When you got your cards, the bots wouldn't show them to anyone else and the bots would keep score, knowing how many chips you had from beginning to end. It was very different from the poker rooms they have today. When they started out it was all text-based whereas today it's a lot more graphical.

    It was a text-based interface. You would see your cards and the flop. Text would move up, showing each person's action. You would actually have to read other people's actions as well as people's comments. But it was actually very easy to follow. I've always loved poker and never understood why everyone didn't love poker as much as I do, but I never thought online poker would grow as fast as it has.

    Back then, if you were a poker player and you were on the Internet, you basically knew about IRC, I guess mostly through the newsgroups. The interesting thing was you would create these really great friendships. They were amazing friendships I made from talking to people and playing poker against them. I used to play a lot and I guess I had a lot of friends in those days, but they were friends you never met in your life, which is a very interesting thing. I hadn't seen pictures of them, either. But they had this gambling extravaganza where every year in August a bunch of people from the online game would go and have a little convention. Basically I went to this one year and it was fascinating. You're meeting your good friends for the very first time and what I found is it's incredibly hard from having conversations over a computer to figure out what people look like. All my preconceptions of what people looked like were completely wrong. I was very bad at determining what people looked like based on conversations on the Internet. It was just amazing. It was just a wonderful experience.