Drew Fairservice

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Pius Heinz of Germany holds up stacks of cash after beating Martin Staszko of the Czech Republic to win the championship bracelet and $8.7 million in prize money during the World Series of Poker main event at the Rio hotel-casino in Las Vegas

Tonight in Las Vegas and (near) live on ESPN, the final table of the World Series of Pokers’ Main Event begins. Though the tournament began in July, the “November Nine” resume play after a three month lay-off – competing for more than $8 million in prize money. This concept – whittling the full field down to a final table of nine, determining the winner live on TV in November – is a relatively new one, an idea unthinkable even ten years ago. Why would anyone care about the outcome of a single poker tournament so much as to wait months to decide a winner?

A lot can change in a decade. In the world of professional poker, ten years is enough time for a tidal wave of money to crash across the landscape – establishing poker as a sports entertainment force and changing the game forever. It took ten years for the poker bubble to stretch and expand across the globe before it finally burst. Slowly, widespread interest in poker declined, receding like the flood waters which forever re-shaped this pop culture juggernaut.

There is still solid interest in the World Series and professional poker in general but nowhere near the incredible heights it once reached. Attention has turned elsewhere. But why? The same factors that contributed to poker’s meteoric cultural rise undercut its popularity and eventually relegated it back to the margins where, fairly or otherwise, it belongs.

Across the last decade, the factors that fueled the unprecedented growth of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) contributed directly to its ultimate flameout. A classic bubble that progressed through all the stages before bursting in spectacular fashion. Before the 2013 WSOP Main Event champion is crowned, look back on the poker world’s trajectory and how the game borne from smokey casino cardrooms ended up as an area-style TV special with lights, analysts and months of all – filtered through the lens of one man whose interactions with the game closely follow a nearly identical trajectory.

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