It’s almost 20 years since online poker took off in spectacular fashion, and with the poker boom a distant memory for some and another lifetime for many, Doug Polk reminisced about the “good old days” with CardRunners founder Taylor Caby this week.
Doug Polk discussing the golden era of online poker with Taylor Caby
“It was the true wild, wild west!” Caby explained of the earliest years of online poker. “Even getting your money online was challenging!” he recalled, once physically going into his bank branch in an attempt to get funds on the site to play with.
Caby was in there right at the beginning, playing the highest online stakes and founding CardRunners in 2005, which grew to become the biggest poker training website in the world.
In an online poker world nowadays where anybody and everybody can run ranges and stack sizes at the click of a mobile phone button, the idea that knowing pocket aces were roughly 80:20 to beat pocket kings was likely to make you money sounds incredible.
He told Polk, who arrived on the scene just a few years later: “There was no information whatsoever – forget about solvers, or software. Just knowing the hand rankings, or equities…there was like shitty sites where you could look up what hands won versus others…you were doing pretty well if you knew about that.”
This chat revolved around the year 2003, which as everyone will know is the same year Chris Moneymaker performed his online satellite to Main Event victory run.
The Moneymaker effect
That sparked the boom, and Caby was one of those who revelled in it, though it was clearly a different world back then.
“There was no social media, no YouTube, nothing like that…we’re doing this (online poker) because we saw people on ESPN…” he explained.
“The upshot is that there were tons of people who had no clue…but you had to work out how to play, the rules…a SNG was like a totally new thing.”
Starting out with $5 heads-up SNG’s because he “liked the action”, within two years Caby was playing at the highest stakes, $50/$100 ($10kHUNL) which he describes as “a wild ride.”
However, he claims that it was generally an easy ride, too.
“The variance wasn’t even that bad because of the skill gap between someone like me at the top and the average player…it wasn’t even that stressful…it was awesome.”
That wasn’t true for every player though, the chat turning to one of the most famous players in the early years, the legendary Tuff_Fish.
As Polk explains: “To get an idea of how the average player was in 2003, 2005, 2007, you absolutely have to go online and check out the TuffFish videos.”
“That captures the essence of the golden age of poker…”
Legendary Tuff_Fish videos
Caby, however, makes a remarkable claim: “He was probably a better than average player, at the time, so just keep that in mind. He actually came from the CardRunners forum…a member…recording videos so that people could, like, review his play and give him advice.”
“Someone messaged me and said, ‘Dude, you gotta see this guy!’ because he was just going on massive tilt.”
Close to two decades later and Tuff_Fish – rumoured to have passed away – is still regularly referenced, even by players likely way too young to have been around at the same time…
Tuff fish videos are still amazing. https://t.co/3gwYVMsREm
— Kevin Martin (@KevinRobMartin) July 11, 2020
Of course, poker players have improved massively over the intervening years, and much of that is down to poker software, though back in the day it wasn’t clear what was and wasn’t safe to use.
When the likes of PokerTracker, PokerAce HUD, and Poker Grapher appeared, Caby explains: “I remember downloading this stuff and thinking, ‘Is this a scam? Am I going to get a virus on my computer?”
“Just being smart enough to try this stuff out, not getting scammed (which was a huge problem), that was the game.”
Forums also helped, with Pocket Fives and 2plus2, allowing players the opportunity to ask questions and discuss poker strategies, and when the training sites appeared they “poured gas on that” as Caby describes it.
Polk, whose incredible online poker career kicked off in 2007, recalls playing the daily freerolls across various sites in a bid to build a bankroll.
That is one thing, at least, that hasn’t changed in the past umpteen years and if the trip down memory lane has whetted your appetite for some online poker you can check out the best deals in 2021 right here.
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