Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Poker Free Soul

Over the past 10 years the real game of poker has had it’s heart ripped out by the inevitable but rather dreary road to acceptability.

In 1998 I can remember a good friend of mine prophesising that “poker would be the new snooker”.

In the UK at that time poker had not hit the radar of the nation and only a few diehard fans watched “Late Night Poker” on Channel 4. It was on late too, which probably proves the point. That night we all looked up from our beers and busted flushes and laughed.

And we were right to laugh, because he was wrong. Poker wasn’t the new snooker, it turned out to be the new football! Men in suits smelled a profit and before anyone could fold a single hand, the corporate juggernaut was all in. Real poker died that day.

I had a dream back then to enter the World Series of Poker and play (and no doubt lose) at the infamous Binion’s Horseshoe. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to sit in the same seats where so many of the true legends of poker had done battle, men like Stuey Ungar and Johnny Moss. My heroes. Their spirits would be heavy in the atmosphere and I would suck in the air and worship at the poker altar. It was that exciting to me. Sadly it never happened. But I still dreamed, every time we sat down for a home game.

In 2004 the shareholders had a different dream. Unhappy with the number of dollars on seats at the Horseshoe, Harrah Group moved the venue across the road to a hotel casino. Under the guise of wanting to let as many people have the opportunity to enter. A very noble decision, and of course very profitable. Now the suits had their unlimited factory to drain wallets and encouraged anyone and everyone to play at their “World Series”.

Rival suits had already smelled a buck and in 2002 the corporate juggernaut that is the World Poker Tour rolled on.

No one bothered to add poker history to the balance sheet.

And so real poker was commercialised and controlled. Amongst the player ranks there are still a handful of exciting poker personalities, who can make more millions away from the tables. The rest of the poker professionals are just that, in it for the money, not the guts and glory.

I knew my dream was dead when I entered a national tournament a few years back. Sat to my right a lady explained she was a professional online poker player, unemployed and claiming benefits, occasionally seeing her children when she emerged from her spare room. Around the table I looked into the eyes of a sea of human calculators adding up a return on investment. No bluff, no bluster and no balls.
I left the table after 10 minutes, went to the bar and ordered a stiff drink. What have we done? We have ripped the heart out of poker.

We are a poker nation without a dream, a poker free soul.

Who is the Real Poker Man?

I admit it. I can't help it. I want to roll back the poker clock and pretend the commercialisation and globalisation of the game over the past 10 years was just a bad dream.

I also admit, that this is the mission impossible. Everything changes, usually because something in a dark room smells a buck, and there is no going back.

BUT that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. It doesn't mean I have to accept it.

Over the past 10 years I have watched an unprecedented and seismic change to the centuries old game of poker. Online poker, mass media coverage, oversized tournaments, new variations and of course merchandising. Is it any better?

Somewhere along the way the very heart of poker has been cut out, chewed up and spat out.

So who is the Real Poker Man?

The Real Poker Man is just an angry disillusioned poker fanatic, who can't change a thing, but sure as hell won't watch quietly as men in suits slowly and deliberately extinguish the true passion of poker.