Before I get started, for those who still check here from time to time or follow the RSS feed, I want to be clear: The tone of this post may be different, but it is all me. I don’t write often, but when I find something that captures my interest, it is nice to have a place to share it. So while I usually write about my personal experiences, today I wanted to discuss a story taking place in the poker media that got me thinking about the game we all love to play. Without further adieu:
One of the biggest stories at this year’s WSOP was the refusal of Daniel Colman, the winner of this year’s Big One for One Drop tournament, to give media interviews. Colman defeated one of the Holy Trinity of Poker, Daniel Negreanu, for the title, to win more than $15,000,000 (of which he will likely only keep a small fraction, with the rest to be distributed to his backers). After winning, media outlets sought his interview, but aside from an interview he supposedly gave to ESPN, he refused the media attention.
Naturally, this got the poker world abuzz. Most people don’t know the name Daniel Colman, but he is well regarded in the poker community for his skills as a heads-up no limit hold’em specialist. His general attitude, however, may not be as warmly received.
For most players, winning the Big One for One Drop would be a boon. There is the obvious benefit of $15M+, but there is also the added benefit of media coverage for the prestigious event, which can open additional doors for the winner. Antonio Esfandiari was able to parlay his win last year into a sponsorship deal with Ultimate Poker and if Colman were willing to play ball, he could potentially earn a sizable sum through endorsement deals that come with winning the highest buy-in tournament in the world against the best players in the world.
Beyond that, a lot of players think that it is imperative that players use the media to promote the game. Poker and its economy is dependent in some part on the influx of new money and players. When a pro gets some media attention, its in their (and every other pro’s) best interest to promote the game in a positive light. Colman was having none of that.
After enough pressure, Colman finally posted a statement of Two Plus Two. Wicked Chops Poker has a good review of why it was such a poorly written statement, along with the complete text. It can all be summed up by the first sentence, “I really don’t owe anyone an explanation but Ill give one…First off, I don’t owe poker a single thing. ” He comes off angry and defensive. He then derides the ugly side of the game, including the fact that most people lose. He likens it to alcohol or cigarettes, in that it should not be advertised. Finally, he shuns the idea of self-promotion before calling the game of poker, “a very dark game.” I love that quote.
My knee jerk reaction was that he was an ass. After all, he chose to play in this prestigious tournament, won (and generally wins) a lot of money playing the game, yet when he wins a tournament where media attention is all but certain, he refuses to play along and actually slams the very activity from which he makes his living. I then let it marinate and came to understand some of his points, if not his manner of communicating them. I have felt in the past that poker is a game where we prey on the weak, and that is not something that is positive in any sense. There are people who are problem gamblers and perhaps it is even noble to refuse to promote the game. Finally, I read Daniel Negreanu’s excellent blog post and came to realize that despite the common feeling I may share with Colman about some of the darker aspects of the game, there are many more positive aspects that should be promoted.
As a high stakes player, it must be very easy to see the negative aspects of the game. People could be playing with more money than they can afford to lose, or are living the “baller” lifestyle with little actual money behind it. Poker tends to intersect with other fringe activities, like drugs, drinking, and other forms of gambling. Walk though any casino and try not to feel depressed at the seniors turning into slot machine zombies, the broke drunk trying to find uncashed tickets, or the hookers hanging out looking for their next john. It’s damn depressing. But Negreanu did a great job reminding me (us?) of how poker is so much more than that.
Poker is a game that anyone can play. It is a social experience, where friends, old and new, can get together and compete for pennies, if they so choose. As Negreanu points out, for seniors, it may be an opportunity to socialize and the mental benefits of the game for seniors (and likely anyone) is important. It’s literally exercise for the brain. For me, growing up, it was something for me and my friends to do on a weekend evening in the safety of one of our houses, instead of hanging out in the park drinking underage. Now, its a fun past time, and a great way to meet new people, even if we are just friends at the table. And its still an excuse to hang with my buddies.
Negreanu also correctly points out that, yes, most people lose, but that does not mean that most people are losers. Negreanu uses the analogy of the NBA and PGA. Lots of people want to play at that level, just like lots of people want to play at the level of a top poker pro…but just because you cannot, does not mean there is no value in playing basketball or golf. Plus, those who are willing to push to get to those elite levels sometimes do pay a cost, physically or otherwise, but that does not make the thing they are pursuing somehow evil.
Finally, Negreanu points out that while there may be problem gamblers, they are more prone to go to the quick high of a slot machine or table game than the slow intellectual grind of a poker table.
So, I’m with Negreanu. Colman does not owe poker anything, but gratitude would be appreciated.
I am also with Negreanu that this is really a matter of integrity. If you have a problem with the game of poker, quit. If not, then play ball. Use that interview to talk about some of these darker aspects. Get your message across to the public. But taking your ball and going home, that’s some weak ass stuff.
I’m definitely of two minds on the subject, but when its all said and done, Daniel Colman was wrong, not because of his thoughts about poker, but because of his actions. His thoughts are perhaps incomplete, favoring the darker side of the game and ignoring the positive aspects, but I am not interested in being the thought police. But when you benefit so much from an activity and you enter an event that, if you win, will come with media attention, the least you can do is provide a couple of interviews. Or just don’t play the One Drop. No one wants to interview the online heads-up pro Daniel Colman, so stay there and play your “very dark game,” and let class acts like Negreanu handle the very well-lit game that comes with playing on the biggest poker stage in the world.
Until next time, make mine poker!