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Happy 20th anniversary, online poker. The very first website offering online poker, Planet Poker, dealt its first hand on January 1, 1998. This might come as a surprise to poker fans, not just because 20 years sounds like a long time, but because it seems like poker sites would have mentioned it before.
It was an exciting time for the internet: Google Beta had arrived, people were starting to mingle on MySpace, and Amazon was selling The Matrix DVD. According to the Pew Research Center, only around 41 percent of adults were online by 1998, and very few of them were looking for poker. Planet Poker was very much a niche offering.
The stereotype of the “geek in the basement” to characterize early internet addicts was also born in the late ’90s, which probably does relate to a good percentage of first online poker players. Going back even further than the launch of Planet Poker, players were playing online for free, and they had to be at least a little geeky to get the game.
Planet Poker’s predecessor was IRC poker or Internet Relay Chat poker. Nowadays players have it easy – in-game commands are made with the click of a button. When IRC poker came together in the early ’90s there was no interface; the platform looked like a written hand history.
Players had to walk uphill both ways in the snow and to make an action in the game they had to type in an actual command. The launch of Planet Poker is an easy moment in history to pinpoint, but it was IRC poker that inspired pioneers like Randy Blumer to create real-money sites.