Fortune Telling Can Be A Curse
Seeing into the future is not always fun.
Okay, I can't really tell fortunes. At least, not in the mystical, Tarot card, reading palms way.
Mostly when I "predict" something, it is just by following a trend. For instance, when I told everyone last year that 2005 would be "The year of the Max," (regarding Max Pescatori), there was no magic involved. I saw how he was running, hotter and hotter. He has the stamina to travel around and play tons of events. He plays like there is no tomorrow. Sheer volume of tournaments alone plays into his success, as well as all of the other attributes he has. He simply has what it takes, in many ways. So it doesn't take rocket science to predict that as his results have climbed year after year, 2005 might be his best year yet.
Okay, so when is fortune telling a depressing thing? When the future doesn't look so bright.
I knew I was doomed almost from the moment I entered the "serious" poker world.
Let's take a look at my past.
My Mom owned a travel agency in a suburb of St. Louis for a decade. In 1993, many things conspired to work against the travel industry. A recession and a flood. A big, major, "let's get rid of all of the welfare trailer trash living by the river" flood. Oh, wait, that is half of Missouri. LOL, but I digress...
Anyway, making money on booking travel became tough. This is not even mentioning all of the other obstacles going on at the time. One of them was a little monopoly called "Stations Casinos."
Stations is the redneck version of Harrah's. They bought some dive in Vegas, off-strip (which at the time was virtual suicide) called The Bingo Palace. They turned it into Palace Station. It sits as a constant reminder of the beginning of Redneck Casinoland on Sahara.
Stations realized they could gobble up all of the trashy, redneck casinos that didn't quite make it. They did so with haste.
They built a beautiful, redneck riviera on the banks of the Missouri River across from St. Louis, in a little, welfare ridden suburb named St. Charles. My hometown. Where men beat women and no one really cares as long as the women keep giving head and dying of cancer due to inbreeding or 50 years of smoking.
Ah, home! I escaped as fast as I could, but I still have the cancer to prove I'm inbred.
(Many people ask me if I'm worried someone from St. Charles will stumble onto my journal and read what I've said about them. Or that someone in my family will find this and be offended by what I think about them. No worries, my family calls me names all the time because I "read." My brother brags frequently that he "hasn't read a book since high school." They think I have some kind of mental disorder because we don't have TV service in our house. So no, not only do I not CARE what they think in good ole St. Charles, but even if I did, I really doubt many of my inbred family would stumble across this journal, since they are "so much more intelligent than me, having figured out how to watch TV rather than read.")
Oh, but I love to go off on tangents, don't I? Probably some kind of repression I had while having to grow up in Missouri, where men should be heard, and women should be silent and barefoot, pregnant in the kitchen with their 12th illegitimate child and smiling while they collect that welfare to give to their "man."
So back to 1993. My Mom and her travel agency that went bust. One of the reasons it went bust is because Stations Casinos built the barge, used my Mom as their travel agency, then decided to make their own travel arrangements, keeping the agency and commissions "in house," in order to make an extra grand or two per year for themselves (after all, a grand means a lot in the redneck riviera).
They asked my Mom if she wanted to work for them. Eventually, they sent her to dealer's school to deal pit games. The first day there, they saw how personable she was (yes, we are complete opposites) and asked her if she'd rather deal poker. They said the tips were better and she had the personality to put up with poker players. She jumped on that, being very overweight and hearing she could sit down during her shifts.
Thus begins my life avoiding the poker biz.
Poker was nasty back then. My Mom got burned on the arm with cigars and cigarettes because players didn't like the cards she dealt them. She got drinks thrown in her face, slapped in the back of the head, kicked under the table, spit on and called every name in the book.
It is no wonder I refused to get involved with poker players. She always warned me against degenerate, full-time players and I listened to this advice. Even I have my limits. I knew if I got too involved with them, I'd end up in jail. She puts up with things I would never tolerate in my life. But that is the Missouri mentality, and she did her job well.
Vegas beckoned her very quickly, and she transferred to Palace Station.
At the time, poker was dying. The rooms in Vegas were closing slowly, one by one, replacing the floor space with slots.
I can't comment about the number of players, both recreational and full-time, because there is really no way of counting something like that. As an example, though, take the attendance at the WSOP. Over the years it had grown by leaps and bounds (certainly nothing like the recent boom we've seen, but definite, big growth for the day).
From seven players who voted Moss as the ultimate winner, down to three players duking it out, it rose during the 70's and 80's to around 165 players in 1989. The 90's saw a downswing (not by sheer numbers, but by overall population, and by the number of "gamblers" coming to Vegas versus players entering the WSOP). In 1995, they'd only gotten up to about 230, and that was even after promising first place a cool million. In 1999, they were staggering along at about 300. They were still only paying the final table. And this was the poker world's most popular event!
I remember that at one point, Vegas was down to about 11 poker rooms remaining. My Mom worked at the Monte Carlo by that time. Although a strip resort, she still spent many nights as the only dealer, dead spreading until management just gave up on a game and sent her home. She was lucky if they had one Stud table going, 1-5 limit, at any given time. She used to beg management to let her deal Blackjack, because poker was so dead.
Around the turn of the millennium, poker slowly started making a comeback. Some of it probably had to do with all of the money that Americans had at that time. Gambling was more accepted. Casinos were springing up all over the country, and the British were enjoying a huge, successful TV poker show, called Late Night Poker. The colorful personalities of Barny Boatman and Jesse May virtually guaranteed a hit.
During this time, in my life, I was still grinding away at AOL, as was Glenn. It was soon to be over, however, Steve Case having bitten off more than he could chew, lying about the stock price and buying Time Warner when he couldn't afford it.
When we realized we needed to get away from AOL or be fired, it was pretty much too late to get other employment. Even low level tech support type positions paying $12/hr. wouldn't touch us. We'd been overpaid, were overqualified and undereducated. Not to mention that hundreds of thousands of other out-of-work techies were looking for employment.
So we turned to poker to fill up time in our lives. We didn't need employment, although it seemed odd to be "retired" in our 30's. We definitely needed something to do. We played a lot, sometimes 90 hours a week. We played cash games and both preferred Stud. We played in Vegas and Atlantic City, mostly.
We liked AC better than Vegas. At the time, Vegas still tolerated a LOT of dealer abuse, AC didn't. Trop had an easygoing quality. The comps were good, the chairs were comfortable, the room was dimly lit, the players were mostly playing for fun and relaxation, not to hit each other over the head with their chairs if they lost a hand.
We stayed away from the Vegas poker community, although I did meet a decent FT player named Dr. Al Schoonmaker at the Excalibur, playing $2-6 spread limit Hold'em, which was the staple low-limit HE game in Vegas at the time.
I didn't know him as Dr. Al, I just knew him as Al, a low-limit rock grinder in Vegas, who liked the end seats, and put tons of cushions on his chair. He was the first "decent" full-time player we met. He did not invite us to the WPDG, which should tell you something about how he felt about us, lol.
Following my Mother's advice, I stayed away from the scumbag poker players. I didn't lend them money, I didn't give them a buy-in, I didn't get involved in their lives. They were the bottom of the barrel disgusting. Sort of like the scum I'd been avoiding in Missouri all of my life, lol.
I also didn't play tournaments. Until I got a freeroll, that is. And that would come back to haunt me, spending up years of my life trying to reclaim the dead money I'd lost in tourney buy-in's, by playing more lucrative cash games. Oy, vey.
Anyway, eventually we moved out to Arizona. And that is when poker really boomed, and Stud began a quick descent into death.
Stud was already on it's way out. There are several reasons for this, more than I could go into even if I wanted to. Someday I'll tackle that subject. Stud died for some of the same reasons games like Pan are dying. Not many people want to "work" anymore. The American mindset is "how much can I get without working for it? Or at least working as little as possible?"
A game that requires intense concentration for long periods of time is fading in America. Like reading, Americans would rather get their "higher education" by watching "books on TV." You know, movies!!! I truly knew America had become a doomed society when I heard people saying many times in the past few years, "You know, that movie they made into a book..." Then listing a classic, lol. The illiteracy of Missouri has spread like a cancer throughout the rest of the country.
But this has had an impact on poker, too. Why play "that game where I have to memorize all of the cards and look at everyone's board" when they can play "that two card game where I don't have to memorize anything, look at anyone's board, study their faces, or figure out where I might be in the hand, when I can just look at the community cards, figure out the best possible hand and proceed from there?" That's America. Why work when you can just step out in front of a car, sue for five million dollars and "get it for free?" We had many five million dollar cases of stubbed toes tripping up the stairs at AOL.
So that was the death of Stud in a nutshell. Who wants to work? No one in America, that is for sure.
And how does this tie itself into the painful ability to tell the future? Well, I've known for a long time that poker is becoming synonymous with one game: Texas Hold'em.
I remember sitting around at the 2004 WSOP. I was watching Ted play the HORSE event. I was on the bleachers not far from his table, and he would come over and chat with me in between playable hands.
A guy sitting next to me asked me what the players were doing, he couldn't understand why they were being dealt more than two cards, and why some of them were face up. He was clearly perplexed. He asked if this was some kind of qualfiying event for "real poker."
I tried to explain to him what HORSE was, and what was going on. He said, "You mean, not all poker is Texas Hold'em?" He went on to exclaim the doomed statement I've heard over and over again in the past 18 months, like a neverending nightmare in my head, "I thought 'poker' was Texas Hold'em!"
That statement has come back to haunt my dreams time and again.
Why should it bother me so much? Who cares if poker is all-hold'em, all the time? I mean, it's easy, it's simple, it's a cakewalk. I should just sit back, shut my trap and make all of the money that I can while it lasts. A simple way to get rich, sort of like working for AOL during the technology boom, or throwing my toddler out in front of passing cars and then suing for five million dollars like the welfare parents in East St. Louis (can't you tell how much I love my heritage?).
Because I CAN see the future, that is why.
And believe me, as much as I love Stud games and Omaha games, if poker were reduced to just one of those games, I'd be singing the same song right now.
Reducing poker to one game is not guaranteeing its success in the future. It's guaranteeing its failure. I've said it for years, and I won't stop saying it now. When the "boom" is over, nothing will push poker over the cliff faster than if we keep insisting poker is ONE game. Because there will be nothing to fall back on. We must keep the other games alive. There has to be something "more" in order to assure the success of poker.
I don't believe that when this boom is over that poker will ever fade back into the obscurity of the late nineties, please don't misunderstand me, but there has to be a peak, and then a fall of sorts. I don't want that fall to be worse than it has to be. I want there to be something for players to fall back on. If we kill these games, what will be left?
Right now it is simple and easy to be a poker specialist. Specialize in one game, one limit. Specialists can succeed in either tournaments or cash games, depending on their playing style. They can succeed by playing either limit Hold'em, or no-limit HE. It's simple and easy.
How simple and easy will it be in five years? These same new Hold'em millionaires will be declaring bankruptcy. Kind of tough to pay for that new Hummer when you find the Hold'em games drying up and becoming tough again. The mortgage on that new mansion will be mighty high when you can't beat even 20/40 and have absolutely NOTHING ELSE in your repertoire.
Now, if and when the fish dry up somewhat, when they realize they cannot win (long-term), and go back to Blackjack or other house games, how easy do you think your little Hold'em fishpond will be? How long do you think cash NLHE will last?
Call me a skeptic, but I'm from the Mason Malmuth school of poker, which says that NLHE cannot sustain itself as a cash game forever. He said it in the 80's, and his prediction came true. NLHE was virtually non-existent until the poker boom revived it as a cash game. Having poker on the Internet didn't hurt matters, nor did having caps on the maximum buy-in, but if you really think that there will be millions of unlimited fish that will keep cash NLHE games soft and juicy forever, you are living in a dream world. The poker boom will peak. The poker boom will start to fade somewhat, and the fish will realize that NLHE is not the way to keep their money around longest. They WILL return to limit Hold'em. If 20 years of history doesn't prove anything to you, I don't think what I will say here will convince you either, but do your own research and you'll find out the truth. Nothing that good lasts forever.
I, like Mason, predict that limit Hold'em will be the future staple in cash games. No mystical fortune telling here, I have lots of history to back up this claim.
So what will keep fish coming into the poker room rather than just the pit after the boom is over? Maybe some variety, instead of ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME? Do you know any fish who ONLY play Blackjack when they go to a casino? I don't. Not "regular" fish anyway. Sure, the once a year guy, maybe, but not the fish who come once a month or so to Vegas, Foxwoods or Atlantic City. They play some BJ, play Pai Gow, roll the dice, maybe check out Spanish 21. They place bets on Roulette. They do NOT spend around 250 hours on a casino floor per year playing ONE pit game only. And as interesting as poker itself is (compared to pit games), they will NOT spend all of their time and money playing one poker game, either. Not if they have an IQ above 80, that is.
The trend that I see these days in poker is that players who have been around for more than six months or a year are suddenly asking, "What else is there?" They are already sick of ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME.
Not surprising. Full-time, it can be a huge grind. A job, not fun. Real work, not relaxing. Yes, even Hold'em, lol.
When we were on the cruise, the staff was pushing the whole ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME, theory of poker. If anyone asked the board about other games, they got mocked and laughed at. If anyone approached the floorpeople about other games they were made fun of. This mostly kept them silenced, because one thing that most people hate is to be made a fool of.
Fortunately, I experience that everyday of my life. So I'm not affected by being laughed at. Just look at me, for God's sake, and you'll start laughing. Like Glenn says, "You're always willing to make a complete fool out of yourself in public at any given time..." Dat's me! Your friendly, neighborhood scapegoat. Okay, so I'm not so friendly...
I finally started pushing alternate games. And lo and behold, what did I find?
1) Many people had asked about other games than Hold'em
2) All had been told they were the "only ones" who wanted to play non-HE
3) All had been laughed at or mocked
4) Almost all of the board people refused to put a non-HE interest list up
5) Many indicated they were "sick" of ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME
And so what happened? Well, we DID get other games going. We DID start a low-limit HORSE game the day after I gave a small, free HORSE lesson up in the Lido. We started it regardless of the fact that almost everyone was laughing at us and putting us down (even the dealers, one who came to the table and said we were the ones "playing that STUPID game").
At one point a floorman said to another that he'd offer me 10:1 odds that we'd NEVER get a mixed game going. Unfortunately, I didn't hear him (he said it out of my hearing, because anyone who said anything like that within my earshot would have gotten a whole load of my wrath, and I would have reported it immediately to Jan & Linda). I didn't get to collect on my 10:1.
Because we DID get a game going, and almost immediately. And guess what? It filled up within about 30 minutes of the time we got it started (virtually completely by word-of-mouth, since we couldn't get the board to even WRITE IT DOWN!).
It not only started, then filled, but we had a LIST for almost two full days and nights!
And the one common theme we heard as people sat down to take their places?
"Thank God you finally got this started. I've been asking about it since the beginning of the cruise. I'm so sick of playing ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME!"
So you want to kill the virtually endless fishpond of easy money that has been coming your way for the past three years?
Easy. Keep insisting poker is only one game. ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME!