Sunday, October 15, 2006

Poker: The End of an Era

Yesterday I read a book about gardening and rural living written in 1933. Yes, 1933, not 1993 ;)

Oddly enough, it was extremely current and applicable. I expected to be totally out of touch with the USA of 1933 and the author. Instead, I had to check the publication date a couple of times, just sure I'd misread the date (it was obvious as I got deeper into the book that it really was written in 1933).

Yes, this post really has something to do with poker, albeit tenuously.

Although I got a lot out of the book as far as gardening and simple living is concerned, what I really learned from the book is that welfare doesn't work.

The author spent a couple of chapters discussing the "new" aid that was just getting ramped up at that time, during the depression. He predicted it would only make us a country of dependent, weak-willed citizens. And here we are, almost 80 years later. What have we learned? We have learned that our country "owes" us something. If we can't or won't work? It "owes" us a living. If we can't pick our eating habits for ourselves, it needs to pick and choose what we should eat, and make certain foods illegal, starting all the way from grade school and working it's way up to gourmet, NYC restaurants.

If we can't stop "gambling," it needs to protect us from our own vices, while not exactly blaming us for the problem we have to begin with. So there are supplemented clinics for addicted gamblers. The banks and gambling sites are given the onus of keeping us out, since we are obviously not to blame for being addicts, and we need their protection.

Although the author of said book is no longer alive (obviously), I'm sure he would have predicted this scenario with ease. He said it in not so many words many times during the last two chapters of the book.

Getting the unemployed off of the dole and back into self-sufficiency won't work if you just keep handing them money and aid, patting their backs and saying "poor you, poor you, it's not your fault." It will work if you give them a task, something to live for, and no free ride.

One thing I've always liked about the poker world, is that for the most part, their thinking aligns with mine. I fit in, in certain respects. Not many poker players, true poker players who are grinders and have been around for a while, sit in the poker room singing Kumbaya and praising theory of weakness. They are typically a more conservative bunch. Not politically conservative, necessarily, that is not what I'm getting at. But they aren't the type who whine all the time that they aren't getting enough government aid. They tend to be doers, not beggers.

During the past few depressing weeks on 2+2, I have noticed that an overall trend in the serious poker community has been, "What can I do?" rather than "Help me! How can I keep playing? Fix my problems for me!" The attitude is definitely not a poor-me attitude. And maybe that is why I've always fit in at 2+2, too. The go-getters outweigh the welfare seekers by far.

I know that an era has ended. I know that we are seeing the end of the poker boom. I'm not blind. I was there before the boom, and I'm here as it has reached it's peak. It did not end the way I predicted. I figured that it would simply reach a saturation point and peak, slowly creeping back down to something manageable, rather than out of control fadness. Instead, we kind of hit a wake-up call, a brick wall.

While I'm sure that poker won't slide back into the dark ages of pre-2000, forces who are seeking political acclaim and the need to "protect us from ourselves," have scared some businesses to the point of killing the boom.

It is sort of like smoking, IMO (and yes, I have discussed this with several smokers, all of whom have agreed, since I have no personal experience).

It's not that smoking IS illegal in the US, but they have slowly cut us off during the past 20 years, thus rendering smoking an almost illegal, and definitely socially frowned upon habit and/or addiction. Cigarettes in and of themselves are not illegal. However, you can buy them only at certain places. You can smoke only at certain places. You cannot smoke in public places. You cannot smoke on airplanes, trains, buses, most restaurants, some bars, most parks, etc.

Slowly, so slowly, they are deeming smoking illegal. But yet they haven't come right out and said, "That's it, smoke your last ciggy, cuz the end is now!" Oh, no, that would drive smokers out of their minds and create riots. But if we had a time machine and could go back 50 years and tell young people what the future held for smoking, they would be outraged and appalled. They would say that it couldn't possibly happen. No way the government was going to tell them when, where and how they could smoke! Yet we have accepted these things, mostly passively, because they happened so slowly, and over time.

This is what is happening to online poker. It's not that online poker in and of itself is illegal, but slowly, over time, we are being choked off from various sites and middlemen. We can always withdraw, certainly, but we can't deposit. There is the key, that is the krux of the matter. The fish and recreational players will swim away. So slowly, oh so slowly, we are being cut off from online poker.

And that is how the boom ends. It will have a trickle down effect into every facet of the poker world. Don't believe me? Oh, you are so wrong. First FTP says a satellite won by a US resident must be played OFF of USA soil. Then Harrah's steps in and says it won't accept WSOP buy-in's from online poker sites. If you think this won't trickle into the live poker world, you are wearing rose colored glasses. The poker world has become all about tourneys. They went mad for the instant riches that come with big buy-in events. They want it now, not over time. They don't want to work too hard for it. After all, since the depression, we have been supporting Americans. We have been babying them and giving them everything. So they see something like the lottery, like a bingo game, as the American way.

When I tell people about certain cash games or smaller events, I see the light go out of their eyes when they realize that the guy with all of the chips at the final table is NOT going to be winning millions upon millions of dollars. Somehow the fact that the chips are real cash, or that the tournament is a low buy-in one, is not as exciting to them as the prospect of this guy going home a millionaire.

When I was a child, the slogan I would hear often about America was that someone with nothing could come here, work very hard, and actually have something for their hard work. Perhaps in their birth country, they could have worked 12-16 hours per day their whole lives and just barely keep from starving. But not in America. They could live the American Dream and actually have something for themselves. Buy a house, have a small business. To them, this is more than they ever could have hoped for in their lifetimes. Something too be proud of, something to pass on to their children.

Now, more and more, I hear: "America owes me something!" America owes me a living. America owes me five million dollars because I spilled hot soup on my lap in a restaurant. America owes me because I was in a car accident and have whiplash. America owes me because I had four illegitimate kids and the fathers are deadbeats and I don't want to go to work and/or can't get a good enough job to support all four and myself on a minimum wage salary. America needs to protect me from myself. I can't tell if high sugar foods are good or bad for me, so you tell me. Either outlaw them, or I'll sue for five million in order to get an easy lottery score because I gained 100 lbs. eating five pounds of Oreos every day. It's not my fault, you didn't TELL me that sugar was bad for me, so you "owe" me five million to make it go away.

Poker is not a game for the weak willed. These people don't succeed, nor have any hope of it. Online poker somewhat evened the score, allowing weaker personalities to not only break even, but succeed due to the anonymity of the Internet. But even the more shy, weak personalities came out of their shells and learned that they needed to be more aggressive, more assertive, if they were going to make a big score.

Just Friday I was at the Riverside. One shy lady was told to post at the 4/8 kill game, even though we were playing shorthanded and trying to keep the game alive. Just a few minutes later a man sat down and was told by the same dealer than he didn't need to post. Now you know I was all over that one. The woman thanked me for speaking up. She said she'd been thinking the exact same thing, but was too embarrassed to say anything.

There is no "too embarrassed" in the poker room, people! While I'm glad to have shy, scared players there, there is really no place for such wall flowers in serious poker.

Not long afterwards, a man next to me complained that his beer was warm. He had just been served. I told him to tell the cocktail waitress. He wouldn't. I did. She apologized and said she would bring him another. He was so embarrassed about the whole ordeal that he tipped her AGAIN! And she gave him another warm beer. But did he tell HER? Oh, no, he told ME! I can't stand people like that, who want to whine and complain to everyone else, while doing nothing about their own, personal situation in life.

Poker is at the end of an era. Perhaps our country is at one, too.