Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Truth About The Next Poker Boom

Strip poker tournament
Remember when poker was this fun? Didn't think so...
you weren't old enough to gamble or have died of old age.

Sorry folks, but it ain't gonna happen. There are simply too many hurdles to overcome, but the most important one of all is the one that is probably the most difficult to measure scientifically: Americans just don't really give a shit anymore.

Those longing for a new Boom have either forgotten or never knew what the driving forces behind it were. Texas Holdem was a new cultural phenomenon.  Watching people play televised for hundreds of thousands of dollars in huge dramatic pots was exciting, and after rank amateur Chris Moneymaker parlayed a tiny satellite win into $2.5 million in the world's most prestigious poker tournament, it was poised as the latest and greatest get-rich-quick opportunity.

If the Boom were measured simply in terms of traffic and interest, the dollars generated by the industry would be scoffed at by today's standards. What made this time so magical was just how bad everyone played. I clearly remember the days when I was the only person sitting at a full ring $2/4 limit Hold'em table who knew it was possible to check raise. I also have the fond memory of reading a comment in one of the chat boxes back then saying, "this is a pretty good table- except for the PFR." It was explained to me that "PFR" meant "preflop raise", implying that my refusal to open limp was ruining an otherwise good game. It just now occurred to me that if the game was good *except for my raising, what exactly made for a better game?  An average of 8 players open limping instead of 6? Nowadays, your average competent player in a free pub tournament could have probably made a solid living during that tiny 2-3 year window.

More importantly, poker was fucking cool. In the early days, we had something to aspire to. Riches, fame, and perhaps even a ranking among the world's sexiest men, as was bestowed upon the somewhat-better-than-average -looking Gus "The Great Dane" Hansen, whose two early televised WPT titles apparently shrunk down his oversized ears and added about 4 inches of length and 2 inches of girth to his penis. We had out-sized personalities that made it fun for people to watch, even if those people had no idea what a kicker was.

We believed the fairy tales of the old poker road gamblers who spun great yarns of cheaters, robbers, and murderers in their autobiographies. They conducted themselves honorably- they never cheated anyone and always repaid their debts. That didn't even matter, though, as Rounders proved that even a slick and talented poker cheat pushing forward all his chips with pocket kings just to keep from having his legs broken was better than driving Joey Knish's delivery truck for an honest day's pay.

Yep, poker was cool...until we realized that it wasn't.

The Great Dane now holds the Great Debt, having the dubious distinction of being the first player on record to have documented losses that have crossed the $20 million mark, although to be fair, he still looks damn good in those jeans. Danny Robison, a longtime friend and gambling partner of the late Chip Reese, who was widely regarded as the world's best all around player, excitedly told postmortem tales of their past travails on the TwoPlusTwo podcast and made a passing comment on how they used to cheat. One of the podcasters said, "wait, you said you guys used to cheat?" Robison, seemingly blissfully unaware of how badly he was tarnishing the legacy of his dearly departed friend, said "yeah, we all used to back then!"

Though we haven't been able to connect any well known legend to a violent crime (as of this writing), we have since been struck with disillusionment on a worldwide scale on Black Friday, when a murderer's row of WSOP bracelet holders that included a gangly Main Event Champion bearing the reverent nickname of a religious figure bestowed us with a miracle of white collar crime of such magnitude that even Jesus himself couldn't undo.

One could probably fill an entire Bible just giving the Cliff's Notes to all the scandals that have happened before and since the Full Tilt Saga. America's confidence in the industry is never going to return to the days of the Neteller debit card cashouts, and even if we could be convinced of such, the notions of poker glory have faded as surely as that white line in the center of the road that the old timers speak of so fondly. Poker has been hijacked from American mythology by the pencil pushing geeks who found a way to make a living from subterranean dwellings who dare not step outside, lest their pasty skin get scorched on contact from a sun they haven't seen in the past three days.

Hyperbole aside, if you were hoping that American legalization of poker was going to rekindle the dying light of your poker career overseas, you are guilty of possessing an optimism so perverse as to be a delusion. A simple glance at of the abysmal traffic of the current legalized sites is just all you need to see. Barring a spray tanned guido invasion on the Jersey shore by meatheads with more money than muscle mass, the only thing that has the potential change any of this for the better is if California decides to jump into the sausage fest. Even so, what are the chances that they will offer to share their liquidity with the rest of the nation, let alone give a piece of that pie to the rest of the world, which, given the current state of affairs, has nothing of value to give in return? California may be the largest blue state in the union and home to millions of illegal immigrants, but I would bet my life that there isn't a politician in that state interested in providing welfare for poker players overseas.

American online poker is fucked, so don't hold your breath. Learn to play the Spin & Goes or try the good old Work 4 Pay. Those are your two options, sad as it may sound.


Alexis Montalban said...

One, you are a fucking great writer, excellent piece.

Two, there is one point you didn't mention about the original boom. Let us not forget that every stock market, real estate market, and every asset in the entire world was going up like clockwork every day for years on end. People were drawing a line to the moon when extrapolating their portfolio performance and home appreciation. There was so much credit sloshing around in world wide economies and such a wealth effect going on that people were gambling it up on poker like no other time in history!

Lorin Yelle said...

Tyvm :)

Sorry, I would have responded sooner but didn't realize that I wasn't getting alerts about commenters.

Your observation is true, and I agree 100%. I had given this some consideration, but for some reason didn't think to include it.

However, it is probably best that I didn't, since I tend to have some, ahem...heated discussions with other people about my opinions, and I wouldn't want to take the risk of having to wrangle down the natural , overly-optimistic retort of:

"But what about the economy comes back/corrects itself? There will surely be another boom then!"

To anyone who would say such thing, I'm going to just stand pat on my original assertion: it just ain't gonna happen :)