There is the old classic joke
about the cowboy who plays
in a game he knows is fixed.
When asked why he plays in a
game he can't beat, his response is...

It's the only game in town!

The Rebirth of Poker

The game of poker greatly increased in popularity ever since the beginning of the 21st century.
This is sometimes referred to as the "Poker Boom." Before the boom, poker has settled into a comfortable status quo, in which the few people who still played the game were either old-timers or heavy gamblers.
There are many variations of poker, and in the days of the Poker Boom, one variation swept the world.
This is called "Texas Hold'em Poker."
Here are some of the events that caused the "Poker Boom" and the rise of "Texas Hold'em."

In Hold'em, each player is dealt two cards face down, that only he can see. All the betting (and bluffing) is based on the "hand" that the player makes using his two secret cards.
These are either called the "hole cards" or the "pocket cards". The "pocketcam" is a video camera that can see which cards the player gets.
So for each player at the table, there is a dedicated small camera that's placed in an angle to get a glimpse at his hole cards.
American sports channel ESPN has been broadcasting the World Series of Poker for many years before the Poker boom. However, it was a lot less fun to watch before they started using the pocketcam. Without the pocketcam, the viewers at home would watch the entire poker round, all the betting action, and didn't know whether the player were telling the truth or bluffing.
Only if no player has folded, and the "final showdown" arrived (meaning each player must turn his cards and reveal them) you would get to see what really happened, at the very end.
So in 2002, ESPN started using the "pocketcam" and suddenly poker on TV became a lot more interesting to watch. You could see right from the beginning what the players were doing, and get a feel for how the mind of a poker professional operates.

Pocketcam angle

"Rounders" is the title of a 1998 film starring famous Hollywood actors Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and John Malkovich. It was written by writing-duo David Levien & Brian Koppelman.
The movie focuses on Matt Damon's character, Mike. When the movie begins, we learn that Mike, a law-student, lost most of his money playing poker against John Malkovich's character ("Teddy"). Because of this he has no intention of returning to the game.
Then, Mike's old best friend, "Worm" (Edward Norton's character), is released from jail and slowly drags Mike back to the world of Poker. At the end of the movie Mike defeats his old nemesis Teddy.
The type poker played is the movie is "No Limit Texas Hold'em," and it was through this movie that many new players became aware of its existence.
As opposed to other previous Poker movies, "Rounders" featured long and detailed scenes around the Poker table, and showed entire rounds being played. This also helped introduce the game to newer audiences.
In retrospect, "Rounders" played an important role in the rebirth of Poker.

'Rounders' movie poster

An even greater "boom" that occurred at the beginning of the 21st century is of course the that of the internet. Thanks to web technology, people from across the world could interact with each other from their living rooms.
Meeting other people to socialize with, play games with, and even gamble with, became much easier. Several companies offered programs that you can download for free, and using your credit card play Poker with other real players in an interactive environment for real money. Since playing against other players no longer required the money and time you would need for a trip to Vegas, or even your next door neighbor, many people started playing online.
One of these people is Chris Moneymaker (b. 1975). Moneymaker (his real name!), an accountant, played online Poker as an amateur on one of the major Poker sites. One day he entered a tournament with an entrance fee of US$39. The winner of that tournament won a site at the 2003 WSOP (World Series of Poker).
The WSOP is open to everyone every year, but it usually costs US$10,000 to participate. Moneymaker got in by winning a 39 dollars online game, and went on to win the 2003 WSOP. The grand prize of which that year was US$2,500,000.
This created the "Moneymaker Effect," which means that anyone, even a part-time non-professional player, can win major tournaments by winning smaller online tournaments, and turn a small investment to a huge prize. Many people thought they have a chance as well, and even more people started playing online and in casinos, contributing to the Poker Boom.

Chris Moneymaker during the 2005 WSOP
Photo by larrykang
(CC-by-nc-sa license)