Forum Files: Arrogance

Alex Weldon : April 18th, 2016

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Here’s a hard truth: Playing poker profitably does not, in itself, benefit anyone except the player him or herself. As a category, professional poker players are of zero or perhaps even negative value to society, to the recreational players who share the table with them and maybe even to the businesses who run the games they play in. At best, you could argue that in the short term, their payments in the form of rake and tournament fees are of financial benefit to those companies, but economically speaking, it’s not clear whether having more seats filled in the present is positive, break-even or neutral in the long term when you account for the quicker depletion of the other players’ bankrolls as winning players remove money from the system.

That’s not to say that individual poker players contribute nothing to society. Many make poker-related contributions such as providing a pleasant social environment at the tables, adding to the global poker knowledge base by publishing books and videos, participating in streamed or televised poker-related entertainment, or donating a percentage of their winnings to charity. Some others treat poker itself as nothing more than a revenue stream, but use the resulting financial freedom to engage in other, more positive-sum pursuits.

For those who don’t find these sorts of alternative ways to contribute, it can be painful to acknowledge that their chosen career amounts to little more than finding ways to make sure that money which could have potentially been won by others ends up in their pockets instead. One sees this in other fields of dubious worth, as well: commodity speculation, telemarketing, paparazzi journalism, and so on. There are various strategies people employ to escape the cognitive dissonance that arises from wanting to believe one is being useful in face of evidence to the contrary; unfortunately, one of the most common is to overcompensate by hiding behind a veneer of arrogance and exaggerated self-importance…

…which explains about 80% of what’s written on TwoPlusTwo’s News, Views and Gossip (NVG) subforum.

Where have all the nice guys gone?
Thread: Have Poker Table Etiquette, Fun and Hospitality Decreased Over Time?

Obviously, like any other walk of life, poker has always had some friendly people and some less friendly people, but nearly everyone who’s been playing for more than a few years has noticed a change in atmosphere since the early boom years. What that is, is a question which comes up periodically on the forums.

Although even most forums regulars are willing to admit that this observation is true, most attribute it to the simple fact that there are more people in the game who are attempting to take it seriously. There’s also a tendency to justify one’s own sullen or even rude behavior with the excuse that being nice to someone while trying to take their money is fake and dishonest.

The poker media is blamed unfairly for a lot of problems in poker, but this is one spot where I’d have to say it’s our fault. Over the past decade, poker journalism, training sites, television shows and so forth have all contributed to convincing the world that being a winning player is virtuous, and being a losing player is shameful. Once upon a time, professional poker players were hustlers who had to masquerade as fun-loving, self-deprecating recreational players in order to continue being invited to games. But of course, people prefer to buy into narratives which flatter them, which gives us the situation now, that many have the impression that others should admire, rather than resent them for walking away from the table with more than they sat down with.

Being intelligent doesn’t mean you’re not stupid as well
Thread: Are poker players intelligent?

User “EnduranceWriter” begins this thread by asking a question which is pretty self-serving even by the standards of NVG. Like many self-serving questions, it has an obvious answer – yes, playing poker well requires intelligence – which also manages to mostly avoid the point, namely whether poker skill correlates with other, more socially useful abilities.

At a basic level, intelligence means mental aptitude, which just means being good at things, or having an easier time becoming good at things. A winning poker player must necessarily be good at poker, which in turn implies a certain level of intelligence. On the other hand, general intelligence – as opposed to specific, more limited talents – is a tricky notion to pin down, and psychologists have yet to reach any sort of agreement about what it really means to be intelligent.

EnduranceWriter himself seems, at least, to understand that there are probably multiple types of intelligence, since he talks about trying to define “the kind of intelligence it takes to be a winning player.” Most people who’ve responded to the thread, however, seem to be stuck on the outdated notion of intelligence as a singular, measurable quantity, leading to most answers taking one of two forms: “Yes, obviously you have to be smart to win at poker,” or “Umm, have you even read these forums?” Although both sides have a point, the interesting discussion we’re not having is how those two observations can be reconciled.

Maybe they could just skip the tournament and give everyone $7 million
Thread: Petition to WSOP

In one of the more extreme cases I’ve seen of poker players buying into their own hype, someone has started a petition on Change.org asking the World Series of Poker (WSOP) to stop charging players a tournament fee to play in its Main Event. Not only that, the petition calls for the WSOP to provide an overlay for its tournaments, by splitting its media revenues with the players.

It’s hard to know where to start with this. For one thing, the Main Event is hands-down the single most profitable tournament for professional players as it is, due to its high buy-in and the huge number of recreational players participating. There’s no need for an overlay to sweeten things any further. Basic economics also tells you that there’s no reason for the WSOP to reduce its profit margin if its product is doing well enough as it is, and indeed, thousands of people turn out for the Main Event year after year.

Nonetheless, the creator of the petition – who appears to run a poker-themed T-shirt business with 88 Facebook followers – and those who’ve signed it seem to believe the idea that poker players are akin to professional athletes, and should be treated as such. Well, for one thing, it turns out that there is now an organization paying some top players to play for an audience: it’s called the Global Poker League. At the same time, though, most people paying to enter the Main Event are less like Lionel Messi and more like me and my soccer buddies, who do in fact shell out money to play in a recreational league… and unlike poker players, we don’t stand to win several million dollars if we come out on top in the finals.

Cristos vs. the shot clock
Thread: WPT tournament of champions announces shot clock. Cristos threatens to undermine.

The subject of stalling in poker is one that comes up pretty frequently, and the World Poker Tour is going to be trying an experiment with a shot clock in its Tournament of Champions (ToC) this year, to see if that helps. US player Jordan Cristos is apparently so outraged by this that he’s threatened to use his full 30 seconds for every single decision.

This would be obnoxious even coming from an actual top player, but the irony here is that Cristos is pretty likely to be a below-average player in the ToC. He holds a WPT title, of course, but so does everyone else who will be allowed to enter; that’s the whole point. Meanwhile, that one win of his accounts for nearly half of his career winnings, whereas many of the opponents he’ll face have had considerably more consistent results. That said, Cristos did win a couple of smaller tournaments this February, which might explain why he’s feeling a little full of himself at the moment.

Fire that Matt Savage guy, says random internet person
Thread: Matt Savage needs to go

Although Matt Savage would get most people’s nomination for most respected tournament director in poker, Jordan Cristos is not the only one unhappy with him. Forums user “grindilocks” would like to see Savage dismissed from his position with the WPT, but not because of any of his tournament-related decisions. Rather, grindilocks’s grievance is that he doesn’t enjoy watching Savage in interviews. Do I even need to say anything about this one? I don’t think I do. I’ll get right on the phone with the WPT to flex my media muscle just as soon as I’m finished convincing the WSOP to stop charging tournament fees.

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