Know when to walk away, know when to run
With smoke-filled card rooms giving way to near sterile casinos, transparent visors being cleared out for an abundance of hoodies and mirrored shades now preferred to a steely gaze, the game of Poker has undergone a more dramatic transformation over the last 20 years than Optimus Prime.
This metamorphosis has been brought about by the injection of a seemingly endless number of 20-somethings with too much pocket money and because of them the game of No Limit Hold has seen unprecedented growth. The number of entrants alone willing to fork out the hefty sum of $10000 USD just to take a seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event has swelled from just 393 in the year 1999 to 6865 this year and in the process the prize money for first has escalated from 1 million flat to a cool 8.7 million dollars.
Poker is the Chess of the modern generation, just with a few more Queens, loads more money and much cooler hats.
It is no secret that over recent times we have developed a tendency to live a larger portion of our lives in the semi fictional existence of cyberspace. Poker has followed suit (most likely spades) and in the process a mammoth online industry has been built through those who prefer the comfort and anonymity of their sofa to the grubby green felt of card halls. This online poker empire has paved the way for a new type of millionaire. Many now rake in a fortune without having to leave their domain typically filled with a plethora of flat screens and empty pizza boxes. I may be preying on the stereotype of young internet poker wizz here, but for those that follow the game you see the pattern repeated like that of a degenerate blowing next month’s rent money. These ‘kids’ in their hoodies have even developed their own language and also speak with pace only matched by the speed of their mouse movements. Truth be told most have us have got a better chance of following a conversation in Russian than making sense of “it was raised by a maniac under the gun and then 3 bet by the donk in the cutoff so I 4 bet shoved, they both mucked and I scraped the pot.”
But much like the internet date who has shown up to dinner with oversized hands and a bulging Adam’s Apple that you somehow missed in the picture ‘she’ sent you, it has turned out that the online poker world just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And for the initiated who know what a backdoor flush is, 2011 will long be remembered as the year Poker’s chip stack seriously diminished.
With the game enjoying an extraordinary level of success, some of the greedy entrepreneurs that founded online poker sites were accused of embezzling huge sums of cash. On 15th of April this year, a day which has since been dubbed ‘black friday’ (my vote was for ‘folded Friday’ but nobody listened) 3 of the biggest internet sites – Full Tilt Poker, Pokerstars and Absolute Poker were shut down by the US department of Justice (or DOJ to the hoodie clad masses).
To the amazement of many, the selfish money grabbers who run some of the world’s most profitable websites managed to slay the goose that sh!ts the golden nuggets.
In the process millions of players were left out of pocket, the game’s reputation was permanently soiled and those that play poker for a living in the US were left scrambling for an address in Canada like a Canuck chasing down the goalward bound puck.
Despite the online poker industry being predominantly built in the land of stars and stripes, it was a young man from Down Under who brought to its knees. Even though The ‘Lucky’ County produced the 2005 World Champion in Joseph Haschem, the Australian who will long be remembered for having the greatest influence on poker is Daniel Tzvetkoff. Funnily enough, he isn’t even a Poker player. Instead he carved his reputation in the world of internet finance, helping the directors of online poker companies such as Full Tilt Poker stash millions in accounts the IRS were not privy to and slicing himself a sizeable chunk of the pie in the process. He was picked up in Las Vegas by the Department of Justice, following a tip from one of the companies themselves after a dispute over funds. What this company didn’t predict however, is that with all the inside information on where the companies were hiding their millions, Daniel held the nuts (not his own, it’s a poker thing). He used this to bluff his way out of trouble and turn the tables on the internet poker giants by revealing the details of their scamming operation.
Full Tilt Poker’s slogan is, or more accurately, was “Learn, Play and Chat with the Pros” and most of Poker’s most successful thoroughbreds could be found in the Full Tilt stables. No surprises then that a few of them are caught up in the mix, namely former main event winner Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Howard ‘The Professor’ Lederer who are both on the sites board of directors. Between them they have over $13.5 million in tournament poker earnings although these figures pale in comparison to the millions of unearned cash they are alleged to have siphoned through the players funds deposited to the
All of a sudden, questions were being asked and when Full Tilt’s books were examined it appeared that although they held over $390 million in players accounts, they had only $60 million in the reserve coffers. This is a massive revelation and a warning shot fired to anyone whose ever deposited money through a website, with the US Attorney’s Office recently describing Full Tilt’s operation as “a global Ponzi scheme.” From the outside it looks as though Jesus has broken a commandment or two and the only Phd the Professor has is in embezzlement. Both of these former pillars of the poker community have completely vanished from the public eye, obviously following the immortal words of Kenny Rodgers of knowing when to run.
One positive to be taken from all this is the focus of poker been shifted to live play. At its jack of hearts, poker is more a game of personalities than faceless avatars. There have been some true characters over the years that have graced the felt – Scotty ‘Baby’ Ngyen, the eternal loudmouth Phil Hellmuth Jnr and the Granpa figure Doyle Brunson but to name a few. These personalities are what draws newcomers and their crisp paychecks to the game and the unique mix of personalities, body types, cultural backgrounds and nationalities is what makes Poker accessible to the masses.
Despite a strong mathematical foundation, Poker is predominantly about playing the man, not the cards and this element is sad omission from the online format. The true essence of Poker is found after you’ve shoved all your chips in the middle holding ‘air’ whilst your foe stares you down with a suspecting eye. Lady Gaga was onto something. The jugular pulse, the forehead sweat, the crossing of arms, the rocking of the chair – these are all key aspects of the game that can be picked up by opponents, or indeed simulated by a player prone to ‘hollywooding’.
And rest assured, there was plenty of sweat on the brow last Sunday as the 9 lucky (no wait, it’s skill isn’t it) players met to fight it out in Las Vegas for the final table of the World Series of Poker – Main Even. In a format that was switched to a few years back, there is now a 3 and a half month break between when the final table is set (that is 6865 players play down to the last 9) and when the first card is dealt to the final 9. This gives the likes of ESPN time to create some hype and buzz as, despite being almost exclusively made up of professionals, the final table players are often relative no-names even amongst the Poker community. This drawn out system certainly has it’s critics, who say it is much like a basketball game finishing in a draw and deciding the players should all come back the next day to play the overtime. But it does give these poker players a chance to go away, take stock and attempt to improve their game before sitting down for a session at the oval table that could put them in the history books forever.
Sunday’s play at the Rio Casino was intriguing to say the least. In a first for poker 7 Nationalities were represented amongst the 9 players at the table showing the global influence of the game and with 7 players under the age of 30, the quest for Poker’s Holy Grail appeared to be played around the fountain of youth. Six players felt the cold sting of the knockout. Now just 3 remain. They will resume again on Tuesday to see which player will be last man standing and winner of Poker’s most coveted prize.
The remaining players are American Ben Lamb – who has had an amazing world series and is a lock for the the player of the year award, Martin Staszko from the Czech Republic – who started the final table as chip leader but has now slipped to 3rd and the new chip leader Pius ‘Beans Means’ Heinz from Germany who is a fearless young gun with talent and chips to burn, and a mandatory hoodie no less. My money is on the young German and if he can maintain his advantage and go on to rake in the final pot, he’ll secure himself nearly a $9 million payday and a cement a place in poker history. Not bad for a few weeks work (10 days of play to be precise). No luck on the final table for Phil Collins, a young American who finished 5th, as he was busted after Calling In The Air of The Night.
In a tumultuous year for poker, there will be one person who will be sure to remember 2011 for something other than the online controversy as they take home the pot at the end of the Poker rainbow.