PokerStars History

2001: The Beginnings

PokerStars was founded by Isai Scheinberg and his son, Mark. In 2000, at the height of the Internet boom, Isai, who was a recreational poker player from a young age, became intrigued by the challenge of building an Internet poker software platform, especially for running large tournaments (which no other site had at the time). He decided to quit IBM and start his own software company for this task. He invited his son Mark, who was backpacking in Latin America at the time, to join and help develop the business together. Mark returned to Canada and the project started, with Isai hiring a few programmers for this new company – Pyr Software (named after the family Pyrenees Mountain dog).

As the software project progressed, Mark and Isai started to search for potential companies to partner with and license the poker application.  Not finding a suitable partner, they agreed that Mark would set up his own company to market the software, and PokerStars was created.

The PokerStars software went live on September 11, 2001, offering play-money games to a handful of online poker enthusiasts.  Its first event was a poker tournament in the evening of that day (when Isai and Mark came home that evening they watched the horror of the 9/11 events on TV). This tournament, which was the start of the modern online poker tournaments era, was an immediate hit, and generated an enthusiastic response in the poker community.

Greg ‘curtains’ Shahade opened his account that evening. “I desperately wanted to play poker tournaments online, but most sites at that time just specialized in cash games,” said Shahade in 2013. “PokerStars was intending to put a major focus on tournament play and this really excited me. Also, I loved the avatar system, I felt like it really added a character to each player on the site, instead of just a bunch of random nicknames.”

Early Growth

Isai Scheinberg reached out to the nascent online forum community to find early adopters for the software. In fact, the players in the first test tournaments were largely recruited from online bulletin boards such as on Usenet.

Here is a link to one of the oldest versions of the PokerStars website (this shot was taken in 2002).

In December 2001, real-money gaming was offered for the first time and PokerStars began attracting more and more players. At that time Mark established PokerStars management and customer support arm in San Jose, Costa Rica.

By that same month, PokerStars was offering seven real money tournaments in Hold’em, Seven-card Stud, and Omaha High-Low Eight or Better (all in fixed limit betting format).

This is a screenshot of the PokerStars client taken in late 2001:

2001 Client

PokerStars 2001 client

Here is a screenshot of the table. Note that they are playing Limit Hold’em.

2001 Table

PokerStars 2001 table

December also brought the addition of Pot-limit Hold’em, Pot-limit Omaha High-Low, and Pot-limit Omaha.

Notable Facts

  • The first account holder was Swedish player Oskar Hornell, whose PokerStars UserID is ‘pokermaniac’.
  • PokerStars was the first site to allow players to provide their own image to be used as their avatar at the table. Those images (along with PokerStars UserIDs) are vetted by the customer support staff for propriety before being used.