Today’s poker world is Serious Business

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Oct 18, 2012 Posted in Op-Ed | No Comments »

In a recent article, writer Donnie Peters rhetorically asked the question: What happened to poker? Peter’s questioned if the game he fell in love with, like so many of us, was still fun to play or even entertaining to watch, saying: “What I’m getting at here is that poker no longer seems fun. It’s not as fun for the players, it’s not as fun for the media, and it’s not as fun for the fans.” While Peter’s looked at where poker came from in the early and mid-2000’s to where it is today, he avoided sidetracking his article with the reasons for this change, which is something I’ll attempt to do now.

You can read Donnie Peter’s terrific Op-Ed Here:

Before I get started, Donnie’s article sparked some debate on Twitter as Olivier Busquet and Daniel Negreanu were among those weighing in. Some of the discussion centered on how “old-school” players were miserable, and how there are plenty of young players who have fun at the tables. But I think this misses the mark, as these are professionals that are being discussed (and outliers at that), not your average casino-goer or casual player. So, let me be clear that my thoughts do not reflect all poker players from the past or the present, but more of an overall vibe to the poker world. Alright, let’s get started…

You can probably trace the day poker saw a pinhole in the fun balloon to the day the first online poker wizard realized he could make money by not playing poker, but by teaching (and I’m not talking about writing a book). The advent of coaches, training sites, and other teaching methods made what was a poker world full of 90% of people who didn’t know too much about the intricacies of the game –nor did they care to know—into a poker world where 90% of players are now competent and a mere 10% willfully ignorant.

Suddenly it was no longer cool to play poker unless you “crushed” or were a “balla”, just playing poker for the sake of playing was no longer an option, and was met with scorn and criticism. The old adage of “don’t tap the glass” was thrown out the window, and with the Internet it was as easy as clicking a mouse to find out some poker strategies. Before the poker coach/training site era the information doled out to the masses tended to be very general (pot odds, starting hands, etc.) in fact I’d argue it made players easier to beat, turning them into ABC drones.

This scorn for ignorance and impatience with new players still persists today. If you want an example of this, just go to any online poker forum and post a provocative train of thought about a hand; it will be immediately met with derision from a legion of “top-level players” who are all up on the newest strategies and trends in the game. Any thinking outside the accepted theories and concepts of the current time is seen as antiquated or not grounded in solid theory. And for young, casual players this type of criticism is often over the top and off-putting. It makes the whole poker world walk on eggshells or face the scorn of 2+2. So you end up with a bunch of miserable grinders sucking the life out of the game for aspiring players.

Another problem is simply the shrinking edge players have. In 2004 it was possible to beat poker games handily without too much effort. Nowadays it takes full concentration and awareness to be a slight winner. If the increase in knowledge put a pinhole in poker’s fun balloon then the increase in player skill burst it; forcing players to stop talking and moving while they play, and cover every conceivable tell they could give off. Because of this they are little more than statues with working hands. Giving away any information through chatter or by not wearing the sunglasses, headphones, hoodie combo is seen as –EV.

Finally, the players of today weren’t brought up in a time when your personality may have dictated whether you could find a game, and all games were played at a real table, whether in a casino, bar or home. The new age of poker players learned the game in the confines of their house, not at a poker table filled with veterans, who played poker to win, but also as a means of socializing. And keeping the game fun was a major concern for these players.

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