By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
February 26, 2013

The history of Internet-based poker forums is as instructive as it is colorful, from its raw roots in the late 1980’s at a forum dominated by zealous blackjack counters and systematic craps players to the latest debates by legal experts fueled by Howard Lederer’s storytelling about the rise and fall of his Full Tilt Poker site in interviews and follow-up full of fanfare.

Poker Forums: The world at large!

Today the lives and lifestyle of poker players and poker businesses are chronicled and dissected. They are subjected to all manner of online scrutiny, chatter, and commentary to the delight and chagrin of the industry’s inhabitants, part-time warriors, devoted enthusiasts, dedicated personnel and visionary entrepreneurs–around the world.

Increasingly poker forum participants are the first to shed light on a crisis or breaking news in the industry. Some ignite raging flame wars for sport, while others provide intellectual food for thought, and a few visionaries test their brainstorms and solicit feedback on their grand plans at their favorite forums.

The expanding breadth and depth of content has also attracted attention far beyond the community it was designed to serve, including investigators associated with federal and state government agencies,  the judiciary in developing opinions for court decisions, and legislative bodies responsible for making laws to govern gambling activity.

These days, poker forums provide regular reading for Congressional staff and legislators across the country, according to a survey recently conducted by Eolis International Group which has submitted a white paper to a law firm that advises the executive branch of federal government on online, commercial and tribal gaming matters.

At the end of the day, however, no one is consistently more interested in or intrigued by online poker forums than the poker world itself. From the early years of Wild West acceptance of “anything goes” to their emergence as hubs for research as well as sophisticated discourse and problem solving, these sites typically appeal to posters and lurkers with a zest for gamesmanship, confidence in their gambling skills, and an insatiable thirst for information on  happenings inside the perimeter of the poker universe. Today’s poker forums showcase the power, peril, and evolution of free speech in an Internet driven world.

A Big Choice Awaits the Forum Enthusiast

In this two part article we look at the anatomy of poker forums and shine a light on a small sample of them. RGP is highlighted as an originator; BARGE is spotlighted for its expanded appeal; twoplustwo demonstrates the results of harnessing a significant audience through the use of moderators; Wednesday Poker Discussion Group showcases the ability  of a forum to be combined with live events to enhance communication within a city and beyond it; and finally we get insights from which focused from the beginning on making sense of  forum contributors as much as the contributions; chasing down  “Who ‘s Who” among the most avid anonymous posters around the globe.

Who are the key players? Who are the moderators? Do moderated forums stymie free speech? Do they enhance civil discourse? Should anonymous posters be taken seriously? How do you follow a thread? How have poker forums affected industry movers and shakers—positively or negatively? Do flamers succeed in trouncing their prey? How does one counteract a smear campaign? Will the Internet veer toward lawlessness or more conventional rules applied to libel in the foreseeable future? Who’s posts should  you trust?  And, most important of all—how can you figure out who and what is reliable when you find the information at an online poker forum.

These are questions that have been asked and answered across the country in a six month nationwide probe into the world of poker forums—including conversations with founders of sites, well-known posters, moderators and lesser known participants as well as a world of savvy lurkers that rarely express their views for public consumption.

Poker Forums: Poker Strategy

Let us begin the journey with a tip of the hat to all of the forums that offer strategy discussions, coaching, and training and related videos as well as poker book reviews, general gambling advice, reliable referrals to accounting and legal services etc. All of the sites in our sample are known for these discussions, but for the most part we point the laser beam on participant involvement and commitment to inform, debate, advocate, and challenge poker businesses and poker poker players. As one sage poker forum poster quipped, “Beyond the insular community of my poker friends, I am  caught up in daily discussions about matters of money, reputation, and stature.” And so it is on poker forums!

The analysis of gossip and news on these forums is variably illuminating,  often transmitted from behind a curtain of hidden identity, rarely mistake-free, and too frequently presented as gospel—at least until the first vociferous critic takes the stage. But there is no denying that forums present myriad opportunities and used artfully have an abundance of merit.

PokerStars Respects the Online Poker Community

PokerStars is a prime example of a company that has taken advantage of the benefits. A uniquely enlightened small company, in its earliest days, Poker Stars saw the wisdom of following the conversations at the emerging poker forums, taking note of articulate and sound thinkers for roles in their nascent operations, including the company’s top executive in marketing.

Some ten years later, in a splashy brochure for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the Company cited the importance of feedback it received over the years and personnel selections it made from the this community. And even while in the midst of its feud with the US Department of Justice last year,  the Company  green lighted (quietly) the sponsorship of a lavish banquet  for online forum enthusiasts who had taken to a land-based  casino to party and talk poker, signaling its continued support of a vibrant interactive poker community far beyond its immediate market.

History of Poker Forums

Now, let us turn back the clock of time to trace a bit of history in the world of online poker discussion groups.   Rec.gambling. was established in 1989; it notably attracted hard core gamblers fixated on the development of winning systems. In the early 90’s it attracted to its ranks card aficionados beyond blackjack counters and gamers skillful at bankroll management. The poker players soon overtook part of the discussions, demanding a sub-set  which came to be known as around 1995.

In 1991, however, the first BARGE event was established—before it became known either as the Big August (or Annual) Rec(reational) Gambling Excursion. The excursions of  online forum members to brick and mortar casinos were an immediate success. BARGE has not only survived to become the poker forum with perhaps the broadest intellectual exchanges, but also it has spawned many regional members to plan special live events around the country with other “ARG” gatherings annually over the years.

By most accounts, however, it was poker author and theorist, Mason Malmuth who most effectively harnessed broad scale interest in moderated online poker discussions. He has grown the twoplustwo poker forum into a must read site for movers and shakers of the poker world, devotees of the game, mainstream media focused on the business of poker, and  government officials tasked with poker-based investigations.
While “RGP” posters may have gotten  their biggest publicity boost from a trio of cheaters who long monopolized the forum with criticism of casinos and players they themselves had taken to the cleaners, other forums gained steam with less volatile fare. Some emerged as great strategy discussion sites,others served special interests of an online poker gaming site to build a customer base. Others  have had more pointed appeal such as the Wednesday Poker Discussion Group which got its start in Atlantic City but later took up residence in the City of Las Vegas with a welcoming forum and land-based- events for its cultivated membership and guests from around the world.

And the initiative of a couple of other curious poker players interested in learning who was who among their forum  brethren on poker forums, opened up  with a dogged determination to build a loyal client base not just with interesting topics for discussion , but with more knowledge as to identity of  major contributors in the online poker forum world.

Next PPN Tips Off Readers on the Ins and Outs of Poker Forums

The value in a poker forum  lies in understanding its mission, its population, its most prolific speakers,  its controls and the quality of a given contribution. The devil is in the details!  Part 2 of this article  addresses these issues in the next edition of  PPN.