The debate over the direction poker is going, and what is good/bad for the game is still raging and actually growing –which I for one am extremely happy to see—but it’s also getting muddied as people are taking the topic in different directions it was never meant to go.
So I’m here to say: Houston, we have a problem. Guys and gals, we all want the same things, so it’s going to take compromise, or at the least a little empathy for the other side’s concerns, to get the game to a place we want.
Online guys, you can still be quiet, just not too quiet.
Old school players, you can still be chatty and critical of the new school players, just not too critical.
The good news is that a lot of people are not just chiming in on the “good for poker/bad for poker” debate, but they are writing full blog posts and articles on the topic. The bad news is that a lot of the commentary seems to be coming from a defensive posture or from a nostalgia that just isn’t reality, and they are falling victim to the “not see the forest for the trees” idiom.
What I mean is this: everyone is talking about specific players, or what drew them to the game, or what their motivations for playing poker are, or why such and such action or attitude isn’t all that damaging. But what we need to do is take a step back from everything and look at poker through the eyes of non-poker players.
We need to look at the entirety of the situation and not individual aspects.
We need to determine what keeps new players coming to the game, and unless I’m sorely mistaken, it’s not just going to be one thing or some quick fix.
Misremembering the Poker Boom
In the early 2000’s there were a lot of changes taking place in poker. People point to Moneymaker and the 2003 WSOP as the genesis of the Poker Boom, but in reality it was more of a tipping point. It seems like over a decade later we are experiencing what Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons call an illusion of memory in their book, The Invisible Gorilla.
Here is what I mean.
We forget that the WPT predates the 2003 WSOP.
We forget that Rounders was released in 1998.
We forget that 2+2 and forums started springing up in 2002.
We forget that James McManus drew mainstream attention to the WSOP with his final table run in 2000 and subsequent book Positively Fifth Street –or that Annie Duke’s 10th place finish the same year also created headlines.
We forget that the hole-card camera was already a few years old.
And perhaps most importantly, we forget that by 2003 online poker had been up and running for five years.
The Poker Boom wasn’t caused by a 27 year-old accountant with a kitschy name who won his way into the WSOP through a $39 satellite, anymore than a volcanic eruption begins when the mountain blow its top. The pressure behind the Poker Boom had been building for a good five years, and whether it was Moneymaker in 2003 or some other player that caught the eye of ESPN that year, or even someone in 2005, at some point poker was going to explode.
What I remember of poker before the Boom
I’m one of the couple hundred people that used to watch ESPN’s WSOP coverage back in the 1990’s (I used to tape them on VHS actually because they usually aired at 3 or 4 in the morning) as well as the USPC tournaments and whatever other poker programming there was.
I had been to the Foxwoods poker room in the late 1990’s and became a frequent visitor of the casino by the turn of the millennium. I was also an early adopter of online poker, having played at Paradise Poker and other sites well before the poker boom, as well as being a contributor at Rec.Gambling.Poker.
And I’ve been a part of the poker world in some capacity ever since.
This doesn’t mean my opinion should matter more than someone else’s, or that I think I’m right about this subject (the truth is that it’s simply too complex for anyone to “know” with certainty what is wrong), but I do have experienced both the pre- and post-Poker Boom poker world. I know what it’s like to be a live pro trying to rustle up a game in the back of a bar, and I know what it’s like to fire up 16 tables on my computer, and I know both of these types of people are coming from two different places.
But there is some room for these two dramatically different players to intersect, because in the end we all want the same thing: Good poker games and plenty of them.
The lessons I’ve learned
I’ve seen the best and the worst of both of these worlds and here are the impressions it has left on me that guide my behavior at a poker table and what I consider good and bad for the game.
- For 90% of people poker is first and foremost fun. They want to win, but more importantly they want to have a few drinks, compete, and get the hell out of their house for the night. If they lose it’s ok, as long as they had a good time.
- One rotten apple CAN kill an entire game. It’s one thing to be quiet (that’s completely up to you) but it’s an entirely different matter to make the entire table uncomfortable. That is simply unacceptable. Being belligerent, mumbling and grumbling, angrily flicking your cards and pitching them at the dealer in disgust, are the perfect ways to end a game.
- Additionally, one “live wire” [read as Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Daniel Negreanu, Sam Grafton] can entertain the entire table too. Not everyone has to be Mr. or Mrs. Personality, but you do need to be cordial, affable, polite, or whatever other term you want to use that means the opposite of jerkish. Like Patrick Swayze says in Road House, “Be nice.”
- Never talk shop at the table. By talking shop I mean getting into intricate analysis of a hand or poker theory, not innocuous comments like “I didn’t expect you to have that because you raised’” or asking someone who you feel is a good player, “would you have called there?” Where it crosses the line is when the person responds with, “You have to put him on AQ+, 99+, KQ, and maybe some random bluffs, so you have 46% equity vs. that range… yada, yada, yada.”
- Don’t just assume there will always be a game. This is the one I think a lot of the Internet generation simply doesn’t get; it’s not out of the realm of possibility for poker action to dry up over the next five to ten years. Before the Boom the highest stakes offered online weren’t all that high, and outside of a couple tables, the highest stakes live weren’t all that high either. Don’t just think there will always be a good game going; I’ve seen what it’s like when poker is waning, and it isn’t pretty.