The Reduced Numbers Of Young Players In Poker IS Probably A Good Thing

July 25, 2017
The Reduced Numbers Of Young Players In Poker IS Probably A Good Thing


In an earlier column, I took a look at the diminishing number of World Series of Poker Main Event participants aged 25 and under, and what might be causing the downward trend.

What wasn’t discussed in that column is whether or not this is a problem for poker.

“The amount of players is not reliant on any demographic remaining solid,” Alun Bowden said in a subsequent conversation. “The 30-45 demo is going to have far more disposable income and be far more likely to contribute to a healthy poker economy than the 21-29 demo.”

I share Bowden’s opinion. The 21-25 demographic is the one group poker could do without and not miss a beat. If a 22-year-old is playing in the Main Event they either have family money, are a serious poker player, or most worrisome, are mortgaging their future by spending money they really can’t afford to chase a dream.

Regardless, there aren’t too many of them, to begin with and their numbers seem to be shrinking, and that’s probably a good thing.

In poker, age ain’t nothing but a number

The beauty of poker is there isn’t an upper age limit.

Poker isn’t basketball, where skills quickly decline at a certain point.

It may feel like a young person’s game at the moment, but I doubt we’ll be saying that in 10 years.

[i15-table tableid=20717][i15-table tableid=19346]

The current trend seems to favor players with a bit more experience, and in the end the best poker players will once again likely fall into the 29-45 demographic that has the right combination of experience, dedication to continuing to improve and still retains the physical and mental stamina to play for hours on end.

The recent age data from the WSOP Main Event final table illustrates this trend towards more experienced players quite nicely.

  • 2010 WSOP Average age of final table was 26.2
  • 2011 WSOP Average age of final table was 28.1
  • 2012 WSOP Average age of final table was 31.4
  • 2013 WSOP Average age of final table was 29.2
  • 2014 WSOP Average age of final table was 27.7
  • 2015 WSOP Average age of final table was 35.3
  • 2016 WSOP Average age of final table was 34.6
  • 2017 WSOP Average age of final table was 34.3

As I said in the previous column, unlike at the start of the poker boom, the young guns don’t have better weapons (online provided them with a wealth of experience far beyond their years) than the existing players of 2017 – who are by and large products of the boom or survived it.

Nowadays, everyone is using the same tools and armed with the same knowledge.

What happened to the 21-year-old wizards?

Not only has the average risen dramatically, but the “wizards” making the final table are no longer 22 and 23, they’re now in their mid to late 20’s and early 30’s, and the bottom age of the final table participants is on the rise.

Zero players under the age of 25 have made the WSOP final table in 2016 and 2017, compared to three in 2015, but none under the age of 24.

In 2014 there was a 22 and a 23-year-old. 2013 was an outlier of sorts, as it had a single 23-year-old.

Go back a bit further and it becomes even more evident that things are changing:

  • The 2012 Main Event final table had a 21-year-old and two 24-year-olds.
  • The 2011 WSOP final table featured two 21-year-olds and a 22-year-old.
  • The 2010 final table had seven players between the ages of 22 – 26.

Another reason why they’re disappearing

One of the reasons for this is the unregulated online poker markets pre-Black Friday, something I didn’t mention in the previous column.

Prior to Black Friday, it was relatively easy for a 15 or 16-year-old to open an online poker account. Offshore, unregulated sites still exist, but they’re not as prominent as they once were. In their place, we’re seeing regulated sites pop up in certain jurisdictions, and these sites do a much better job of restricting underage access.

That is resulting in a higher average starting age.

By the time the pre-Black Friday teenagers who were dedicating themselves to poker turned 21 they had several years of serious poker experience under their belts. The ones with $10k to spare were solid players who built up a bankroll that allowed them to play in the Main Event.

In 2017 and beyond the starting age for online poker players is going to increase. Regulated jurisdictions are spreading and preventing players from signing up in their teens, so by the time the hardcore player has enough experience and a bankroll to play the WSOP they’re on the north side of 25 rather than 21.

Because of this, when you ask the question, is playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event a healthy outlet for a 21-year-old? What you’re really asking is, is it healthy for a 16-year-old to not just play poker, but play the game seriously?

A better long-term player

There’s a reason gambling is usually made off-limits to people under 18 or 21 (depending on the jurisdiction) and it has to do with addiction. These aren’t arbitrary numbers pulled out of a hat.

The adolescent brain isn’t fully developed and lacks an adult level of impulse control and decision-making. Beginning to gamble during this phase could lead to some very negative long-term consequences. This isn’t to say every teenage poker playing is going to be damaged goods, but it does increase the chances of picking up some addictive habits.

According to research by UCONN Health, high school students show twice the rate of problem gambling as adults. Meaning, people who begin gambling in their teenage years are more likely to turn into problem gamblers.

“Several research studies have shown that 4 percent to 7 percent of teens have gambling problems. According to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, the rate of problem gambling among high school students is twice that of adults. (Right now, it’s mostly teen boys who gamble, but girls are starting to get in on the act.)”

Final thoughts

There’s a case to be made that the WSOP, and poker writ large doesn’t want a ton of 21-25-year-olds at its tables since it likely means they began playing as teenagers. Since poker doesn’t have an upper age limit, players who begin playing later in life will turn into “healthier” long-term customers.

As one industry person put it, “Let them find the game later in college, learn it, study it, play it recreationally for a few years.”

Privacy Policy