I love poker, the game, the industry and the overwhelming majority of the people in it. If you're reading this column on PokerNews right now, there's a good chance you do to. I think it's important that members of the poker community, whether they be players, fans, industry insiders or media, do what they can to help grow this great game. I feel like we all have a responsibility to do that.
For the media, it's always easy to focus on negativity and controversy. Writing about these things draws traffic, increases hits and can help a writer build a following. But the truth is, controversy and negativity are low hanging fruit for a columnist and I think it's time I personally reach for something higher.
But the truth is, controversy and negativity are low hanging fruit for a columnist and I think it's time I personally reach for something higher.
In an effort to highlight positivity in the poker community, I've come up with a concept for a new column that PokerNews will begin to publish today. Every week, Good For The Game will look at the people, places and things in poker that are exactly that.
I'm not pretentious enough to think I'm the ultimate authority on what is good for the game, and so, from time to time, I will also look for some other people's opinions on the matter, as I have this week, to see if they concur.
As a reader, you're also welcome to agree or disagree with any and all of my takes on it in the comments section below. I welcome a healthy debate on the subject.
We're going to include interviews, stories and opinions with a positive slant, and with so many great people doing great things inside this community and out of it, this shouldn't be hard to do every week. To be completely honest, I'm looking forward to a new focus on writing about the kind of things that are good for poker, because I think that effort, in and of itself, has to be considered good for the game we all love as well.
Without further ado, we present the first Good For The Game:
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning last week, a 39-year-old Vietnamese-American gambler named Qui Nguyen shocked the world, winning the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event title and more than $8 million. In my opinion, it's something that has to be considered good for the game.
Nguyen, who has admitted he's more professional gambler than poker player, outplayed a final table full of professional players using an aggressive and relatively unpredictable style that seemed to perfectly counter the carefully measured tactics much of the rest of the table appeared to want to employ.
In short, Nguyen gambled his way to victory, effectively putting pressure on his opponents at every step and challenging them to make tough decisions. Of course, there's always some luck involved when you gamble and Nguyen was certainly lucky to have picked his spots correctly for the most part, avoiding the disaster that may have come with gambling at the wrong time and running into a big hand. Although he never really got it in too bad and sucked out, getting lucky in the traditional sense, the cards did seem to run out in his favor a time or two, and he certainly had the best of the deck heads up.
In the end, however, it looked like he handcuffed his opponents with a go-for-it strategy that, over the three days the final table played out, was unbeatable.
It also made for compelling television and the ESPN broadcast was the most engaging one produced in years. The relatively blistering pace of play combined with great characters and ultimately a classic David-versus-Goliath story line that had the gambler and amateur poker player taking on the big, bad math-based and game-theory optimal pros at their game, and winning, transfixed people.
It reminded me a little of Chris Moneymaker's historic 2003 win. Back then, when an amateur accountant from Tennessee took on the pros and won, it made the average American think they could do the same, kicking off a boom in poker the likes of which the game had never seen before. That boom isn't likely to happen again. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I think there's always a chance poker can see a small but significant surge in interest, stemming from something like Nguyen's win.
It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I think there's always a chance poker can see a small but significant surge in interest, stemming from something like Nguyen's win.
Whether they know anything about poker or not, anyone who saw the 2016 WSOP Main Event final table on TV, saw exactly how fun and exciting the game can be. Anyone who's ever pulled the arm on a slot machine, rolled dice at a craps table or knows poker hand values having played video poker, could see that with some basic poker knowledge and a boatload of heart, it's possible to gamble with the best professional poker players in the world and come out on top.
If even one player from that world gravitates to poker, and I suspect there will be more than one, it has to be considered good for the game.
Daniel Negreanu watched the final table from start to finish in his role as an analyst on the ESPN broadcast and wholeheartedly agrees.
"I think the whole final table was good for poker," Negreanu said. "The speed of play for one, and Qui Nguyen specifically, played a style that, for lack of a better term, was not the boring, fundamentally correct and game-theory-optimal style. He was fascinating and exciting, because at any moment he could just be all in. He was doing things that were outside the box and unconventional and I think that gives hope to people that are not 23-year-old grinders who have studied game theory. They think if this guy can win, then I can win too."
Although Negreanu is known for his own carefully measured small-ball style of play, he said he was happy to see Nguyen's approach work.
"I was really happy that he won because he played the game old school," Negreanu said. "He played based on feel, instincts and his reading ability. He didn't play fundamentally sound. His bet sizing was bad and he made plays that were outside the norm in terms of correct fundamentals, but who cares? He went with his gut, played his game, it was good enough to win and that's what we need more of."
He went with his gut, played his game, it was good enough to win and that's what we need more of.
Ultimately, Negreanu agrees that players like Nguyen finding success can do a lot to attract new people to poker and maybe even bring some old ones back.
"What has always attracted people to poker wasn't the fact these people knew numbers better than others," he explained. "It was the different personalities, the characters, the people reading, the 'I can see right through you' kind of stuff, the 'You think I'm bluffing' stuff, the table talk; that's what was exciting for people. Not the 'He has 12 big blinds so he's 33 percent effectively if this flop hits his range and the pot odds and da, da, da, the ICM calculations.' Most people don't give a fuck about that stuff. They don't care. Only the diehards do."
People want to be entertained.
"What's sexy about poker isn't that. It's looking at a guy and saying 'I know you're bluffing. I'm going to go all in, I don't give a shit if I got nothing.' Why do you think all the movies always romanticise that stuff? You never see James Bond talking about the equity he's getting in a certain situation. It's boring."
In the end, Negreanu agrees the 2016 WSOP Main Event final table will do more for poker than any other final table has since 2003.
"I thought it was great for poker, especially for live poker," he said. "I have been very concerned and thinking we can't keep doing this. The final table we had last year was kind of a disaster with Zvi Stern repeatedly taking three to four minutes with every decision. People just switched the channel. Did anyone from last year look at that and think 'This is interesting, I'm going to keep watching'? I don't think so. If anything, we lost players and fans."
Last year had a different tone than this year's play.
"I think this year was way more exciting," Negreanu said. "We happened to have some exciting hands, but mainly the pace of play was way better and we got Qui Nguyen. He's the closest thing to Moneymaker since then, in that this guy wasn't expected to win and played a totally unconventional style, bluffing all the pros. I think it was easy for people at home to identify with Nguyen and root for him and all that stuff put together has to be great for the game."
He's the closest thing to Moneymaker since then...I think it was easy for people at home to identify with Nguyen and root for him and all that stuff put together has to be great for the game.