Speaking for the New School

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Speaking for the New School

There’s been a lot of talk recently, sparked by comments made by Joe Hachem in an off-the-cuff interview he did with Bluff.  I mention that it was off-the-cuff because everyone has taken his words very seriously, and I think he should be cut a little slack for the fact that this wasn’t a written public statement, but rather a passion-inspired venting.

Daniel Negreanu gave his thoughts on Hachem’s interview, and the public’s response soon after.

The topic up for discussion is, more or less, the way that poker players carry themselves and the effect it has on the game as a whole- a very important discussion to have.

Some of the discussion has gone into specific recent world champions, and that’s something that I’ll leave alone, not only because I don’t view it as particularly important, but also because I am not in touch enough with everything that’s gone on with them to have an informed opinion.

The area I’d like to start with is a theme that’s been brought up before: New School vs. Old School

I think I’m approaching my last couple years where I qualify as a "New School" player, so I’d like to take this opportunity to try and speak as one before it’s too late.

Issue #1

To sum it up: The old school feels that the new school (in general) carries themselves in a way that isn’t good for the games or for the general popularity of poker.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Surprised?

Well, it isn’t really something that can be argued against.

Most "New School" players are talking advanced strategy at the table, not having fun with the recreational players, and playing slowly and silently on TV.

These are all things that intimidate non-professionals and make the game less interesting (to the general public) to watch.

It makes the players feel outclassed, unwelcome, and dumb.

If you're a successful businessman and you go to the poker table to blow off some steam, the last thing you’ll put up with is being made to feel dumb.  Putting myself in their shoes, I can’t think anything that would make poker less fun (within reason).

More on this later.

Respect

As lame as it may sound, I think that the first thing that needs to stop is the finger pointing and general resentment between the "New" and "Old" school.

Things have been getting better since the start of my career, but there’s still too large a lack of respect given by each generation to the other.

You can’t have a quality relationship unless it’s built on respect.  (And love. Let’s all be in love.)

(To be clear: Neither Daniel nor Joe said anything disrespectful or unreasonable to my generation in their recent interviews.  I am talking more generally.)

The Old

I can't speak as much to the Old School’s thoughts on the new generation.  I gather that there’s a lack of respect because of the way we generally carry ourselves at the tables, and a (very understandable) resentment for how it impacts the game.

I think there's probably some lack of respect for how easy we’ve had it (though many from my generation didn’t make it… you just don’t hear about most of them).

I think there’s some resentment over the fact that we’ve been able to improve so quickly with knowledge sharing and coaching and especially with study tools/software.

I think that many of the Old School players realize that a chunk of the New School has surpassed them in "skill" in the big-bet games, and they don’t like it.

The New

I honestly have no idea whether the Old School realizes this or not, but the New School has a huge chip on their shoulder.  A lot of them (including me, long ago) find it very frustrating that there are players (who they feel they could wipe the floor with) getting recognition, praise, fanfare, and the respect from the public, while they get none.

I've always felt that there was a certain level of dishonesty coming from those in the spotlight.  Some guys on TV talking down to younger guys, claiming to be the best, claiming the kids have no chance against them.

It made us feel like, "Well there are over 30 online guys you can choose from to play 300/600nl online or live with, and you don’t.  So obviously you don’t actually believe what you’re saying (which is indirectly about me) to the camera."

That frustration leads to an extra lack of respect for the poker skill of the "Old School," and a desire to "prove" our skill.  (By the way, each generation overestimates their edge vs. their counterparts.)

You can tell the New School to “get over it,” but you have to understand that they will never stop wanting their skill to be recognized.  So, what you get when you put them on TV and interview them about a hand is them sounding as smart and superior as they can, because it’s (finally) their opportunity to let the public know that they have talent that should be respected.

My Generation

The only thing that I think Joe got very wrong in his interview is that much of my generation actually loves the game of poker.  Almost all of the guys I know personally have a strong passion for the game, and take a lot of pride in it.

I watched poker on TV nonstop while I was starting to play, including every episode of Joe’s Main Event Victory.  I looked up to the players I saw, and I dreamt of one day being able to compete on a big stage (In the same way that I dreamt of being in the NFL when I was in middle school).

As soon as I was making over $30/hr from poker, I took out pen and paper and created a "plan" for how much I would play, what I’d earn, and what I’d do with it (Something I’ve since learned is very ineffective due to so much being out of your control).

What was the goal of my plan?

It was to hit a certain number of hours per week (while in school), and make $x/month so that I could spend it on $10k WPT & WSOP Circuit events while still covering my (very modest) living expenses.  I figured I could play four a year.  I was definitely in it for the glory and the love of the game.

Just this past summer, I came 2nd in the $25k 6-max WSOP event.  The difference between 1st and 2nd place was somewhere around 350k.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost > $350k in a day, and I usually get over it the next day when it happens.

That 2nd place haunted me.  I beat myself up daily over a few hands, again and again and again, for at least two months.  I still get a twinge of the regret from time to time.

I wanted the bracelet 100 times more than I wanted the money.

I would view winning the Main Event bracelet as an honor and as a responsibility (for me… not for everyone).   The day I bust the main event stings each and every year, just like it does for most of my peers.

I really do love the game of poker (for too many reasons to list) and I love the poker world (young and old).  I want the game to be respected and to thrive.

I know that I’m far from alone in my generation with how I feel about the game of poker. 

What The Old School Needs To Understand

My generation of poker players- the ones who rise to the top out of the hordes of people trying- often fit a specific mold.  90% of us are brainy introverts.  Or if you prefer, I’ll let you say it: Nerds.

It's not in our nature to be outgoing and energetic and talkative, and it doesn’t come easy to a lot of us.

When you see a top internet kid sit down at a table and put his headphones in, 5 times out of 10 it’s because he’s uncomfortable, not because he doesn’t care about being there.  Another 3 out of that 10 is because the boredom of 30 hands an hour is too much for his ADD.

When he plays slowly, (usually) it’s because he thinks you will get a read on him if he doesn’t.

Most importantly, when he finds another one of “us” and talks advanced strategy (I loathe this too, by the way), it’s because:

a) It’s interesting and there’s someone he can finally talk to, and
b) He has a chip on his shoulder and feels like he needs to prove himself to the table or (especially) to the cameras.

(I don't start conversations like these because I'm sensitive to making other people feel bad, but I also have trouble sometimes denying someone a response when they ask me a strategy question.  I guess I could figure out a better way to brush it off.)

A lot of what you're unhappy about is not really the fault of my generation (meaning it's very hard for them to control).  That doesn't mean we can’t improve it, though.

My Experience

I was invited to play on High Stakes Poker for the first time many years ago.  I don’t remember how old I was, but I couldn’t have been over 22 or 23.

I'm quiet by nature, but this was, in essence, a long time dream of mine that I never expected to come true. I'd played for high stakes online plenty, and even a tiny bit live, but nothing compared to this.

I didn't get a chance to speak to anyone before filming started. I had a couple friends there and I talked to them.  I sat down at the table, and there I was on one of the biggest poker stages in the world, next to a table full of the guys I've watched on TV for years!

They all knew each other, of course, but none of them knew me.

Everyone talked with each other, but very few people said much to me, other than to ask me my screen name.  The way I was, it would never even enter my mind to start a conversation with one of these poker celebrities.  So, I kept quiet, of course.

Did I make good TV?  No, I made terrible TV.

But to expect anything different of me in that situation (or the next generation of people like me) or to resent me for it, is almost ridiculous.

Being the Grown-Up

Is it the responsibility of the Old School to hold our hands and make things easier and more relaxed for us while we’re playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Of course not.

But if they don’t, they can’t expect that shy intimidated kid who’s never been in the spotlight to do anything but sit there and try to play his best poker and leave.

I believe that if the Old School guys take pride in the game and want TV poker to continue to be interesting, they need to realize that they are the ones who are actually equipped to help.

Most of the Old School guys are especially personable.  Using charm to entertain and hustle (I mean this in the most non-derogatory sense of the word) to continue to play in great games is a big element of live poker.  It helped a lot of them survive and thrive.

They went through a different selection process where most of the "fittest" have the quality of being outgoing and likable.  This is even truer because a lot of the guys who got more TV time and better sponsorship deals are the ones who are the absolute best at entertaining the table and the public.

So, in the sense that this sort of thing comes very easy for the Old School guys, I do view it as a responsibility of theirs to make an effort to put the kids at ease for the sake of a better table environment, and especially for the sake of a better TV table environment (if they care about the sport above everything else, as some claim to).

(That is, if you think the kids need to talk… there were several TV poker players 10 years ago who didn’t speak and still intrigued audiences… Ivey, Seidel, etc)

I'd have felt 20 times better on HSP if I had a half hour before filming to hang out with the guys at the table- for them to ask me where I'm from, what my parents do, what kinds of movies I like.

I also could have benefited from some Old School wisdom.  Playing high stakes on TV isn't about the EV from the poker game.  It was my first huge opportunity to build a brand for myself.  However, I was young and naïve and I thought that I could put my best foot forward (and make the most money) by playing my best poker (which happened to be a tight game when playing at a loose, eight handed table).

Genius does not equal wisdom.  (Something the New School needs to get better at is respecting the wisdom and experience of the Old School.  Very smart kids with no experience tend to think they know much more than they do.)

The truth is, often times the Old School guys don’t want New School kids at their table (for EV and table vibe reasons), and I think that’s a big part of why they don’t make more of an effort.

Just like you'll see a few internet kids talking strategy or about other poker news/gossip, leaving the casual players completely out of the conversation, the outgoing Old School will usually talk amongst themselves and to the recreational players, but not to the internet kids.

Some Old School guys have always done a great job of putting everyone (shy kids included) at ease.   When I played my first live poker tournament, way back when I was 21, I was lucky enough to spend all of Day 2 at the table with Daniel, who made the experience more comfortable.  He’s as good as it gets in making the whole table enjoy themselves, and sets an excellent example for the rest of us.

The point I'm trying to get across here (in 3000+ words, apparently) is that you Old School guys want the New School to do something that they just aren’t capable of doing on their own, at least until they’re older, and you’re resenting them for it.

I'm 29 now.  I'm extremely comfortable at a live poker table.  I know most of the Old School and I'm friendly with much of the poker world.  If HSP ran today, I'd be as comfortable and talkative as at least half the table.  Unfortunately I didn’t get comfortable in the poker world or learn my lesson early enough.

Let’s Work Towards Some Kind of Conclusion, Phil

How can we try to fix the problems?

The first step, as I said earlier, is that there needs to be less resentment and more respect between the two generations.  We can't work cooperatively for the good of the game if we don’t like each other.

New School:

Take any 21 year-old Physics major today and he’ll likely have a better understanding of Physics than Isaac Newton.  Should that 21 year-old get more respect for his Physics "abilities" than Newton does?  (not the perfect analogy, but good enough to make my point)

You've got a much better technical understanding of NL and PLO than the Old School.

So what?

If I dropped you into the poker world 20+ years ago, you wouldn’t have learned 1/10th as quickly as you did today.  There’s a very good chance that you wouldn’t have been able to make a living off of the game and that you would have quit by now.

The pros that have survived in poker for over 20 years deserve a ton of respect for it.  They are the best of the best from their generation.

If you can beat them at HU NL Hold’em- Good for you!

We've had a ridiculous advantage entering poker when we did.  The foundation was already built (by the Old School) and we added to it, with a big helping hand from technology.  The fact that many of them are still able to compete at a high level is a testament to their intelligence and poker prowess.

Five years ago, I was one of the top HUNL players in the world.  You can take any excellent $5/$10nl regular from today, put him in a time machine, and he’d have beaten 2009 Phil (at least for a while).  Does that mean I get no respect for being at top of the HUNL games back then?

I'm not saying that you shouldn’t be proud about being a strong poker player and surviving in the extremely competitive online and/or live poker world.  You should be. You just shouldn’t view yourself as superior to someone just because you are better than him at a specific game - especially if you had a massive educational advantage.

The Old School helped build the game into what you excitedly watched on TV, and what you’re now making a living off of.  Respect them.

Oh, and please, please stop talking strategy at the table!

Old School:

Last year, I visited my sister in college.  I was 28, she was 19.  I couldn't get over how young everyone was!  I thought I was a grown-up at 19, but I was looking at these kids thinking, "they're just babies."

I have no idea how you can be 35+ and look at that quiet 22 year-old at your table and not think to yourself, "he’s just a kid."

You're annoyed with him because he isn’t acting the way you want him to.  Cut the kid some slack!  For the most part, it’s not his fault.  No one taught him to entertain the table- he never had to.

On top of the lack of experience, the New School kids just aren’t wired well to do what you guys are so good at. They’re a different kind of breed.

I get that a lot of you don’t like that we are even here.  Poker is becoming more and more technical a game, and is getting nearer and nearer to being "solved" (still not close though).

I'm "New School" and I don’t even like it!  Poker is more fun when it’s about reading people, figuring out what their betting lines mean, trying to stay a step ahead psychologically. (Many of you Old School guys aren’t as familiar with my playing and teaching style, but the young guys will tell you that my game is built on psychology and logic much more than it is on any advanced mathematics and study).

The fact of the matter is, there’s a lot of money in poker, and people will keep getting better and studying harder.  That means more technical study, and it means the next generation will be significantly tougher to beat.

It's just how it is, and it’s not going to go back no matter how much you want it to.  Most importantly, it’s not some nice, sweet 22 year-old kid's fault!

On top of that, you have to respect the next generation’s skill (people do much more than they did six years ago).  It’s the lack of respect and recognition that makes them want to prove themselves even more, leading them to spew strategy talk whenever they get the chance.

Poker is a game full of big egos, and I think it’s going to take a lot of humility to coexist and cooperate towards a better game for all of us.

Unfortunately for you Old School guys… you’re the grown-ups here.  That means you need to be the ones extending the olive branch, being humble, and making the kids feel welcome.  It’s then up to the kids to follow suit.

TV, Rules, and The Powers That Be

The next step, after some mutual understanding, is looking at the way the game is played and the way it’s televised.  These are things that I wouldn’t know where to begin to make changes, just little ol’ me.

I hope I can start a discussion and be included in the discussions with players and non-players who have some say over things, as a (kinda old) voice for my generation. 

So, the issues:

Hachem said that poker on TV is headed in a bad direction- 

He doesn’t like how many of the kids are playing slowly and silently.  He thinks that it’s boring TV.   (Shot Clock rule!)

I agree.

He thinks that the masses don’t care about advanced strategy.

I (mostly) agree.

The challenge is balancing entertainment and honesty.

If you keep the young geniuses off TV, and lead the audience to believe they are seeing all of the best of the best, you're lying to the public, and you’re not being fair to the kids.  The resentment between generations will grow.

Still, a table full of quiet kids is no good.  So what are we to do?

I don’t have the answer, but I hope we can brainstorm together to come up with it.

They've tried to add some more advanced strategy to poker broadcasts, probably in an attempt to make the kid geniuses more interesting.

An audience likes a genius.  They like to see spectacular talent.  However, they want to see genius that they understand.

When the TV detective explains how he solved a case, the audience is excited by the detective’s genius, yet they can follow along with everything he says and not feel stupid.

(I can speak on the topic as an audience member, too.  Back when I started watching poker before I played, Dutch Boyd was all-in and said something about he or the other guy having 9 outs.  I was like, "wow, this guy is smart.  He’s the brainy one at the table.  I like him!")

I think that showing off a little bit of in depth thinking is a good thing, but it needs to be done carefully.  Explaining more advanced things to beginners in a way that they can follow isn’t easy.  If the guys producing the shows have it as a goal, they can curb the way we do interviews, as players.

I've been in interviews or "confessional" type settings on poker TV where I was to discuss strategy.  I always asked how advanced I should be.  Personally, I'm very good at speaking to beginners about advanced concepts, but each time I asked I was told to go advanced.

Now, it's been about 3 years since I was on a TV cash game, due to shows not being filmed as often anymore.  I'd probably disregard those instructions now and speak to the level of the audience, but I didn’t know well enough to do that back then.

I think the keys to making the kids more interesting are-

1) Make them comfortable

Let the table of players get together and have lunch before filming.   Old School- talk to the kids.  Give them your lecture on how we're here for the good of the game and for entertainment.  Explain why the opportunity is big for them, and how it has nothing to do with the cash they may or may not win at the table.

2) More personal interest stories on broadcasts

How in depth we wanna get with the stories, I don't know.

If you really want to try- Film the kids at their houses.  Interview their families or friends.  Spend a lot of time interviewing the kid, and you’ll get some good stuff out of him.

The next generation isn’t as outgoing or immediately entertaining, but they have personalities… many of them have very interesting ones.   You just have to know them- or in the case of a broadcast, give them the chance to open up.

I understand that the "turned $50 into $1 million" story is an old one, but there are more stories there.  I don’t remember hearing stories about how the Old School guys rose up through the stakes to get where they are.  The stories about them on TV were more personal, as should the stories about the young kids be.

New Formats

The next problem is keeping entertaining people on TV while making things somewhat equal opportunity.

Off the top of my head-

-Pokerstars could run a series of online tournaments (200+ events).  Then have a live high buy-in ($50k+) televised “playoffs” or final tournament where the stats from the "regular season" are shown (audiences like ways to keep score), and the top 8-40 players in points qualify for the playoffs (if they want to play).  50% rake from all the online tournaments is added to the prize pool.

You could make it a hybrid and have half the field of the tournament be invite only, and the other half qualify via online tourneys.  (Money added to the prize pool is extra important in this case because many of the entertaining faces might not want to buy-in against a field this tough without sponsorship money available)

-Some element of audience or player voting to incentivize and reward likability.  3 table (6 handed) shootout.  Top 3 winners advance, along with the other 3 the audience votes in.

I don’t think I’ve hit it out of the park with those ideas, but I just want to explain how we should all be openly discussing things to improve the game, preferably on an organized board of representatives from different areas of the game (let us be a part of important decisions). 

If only a select few like-minded people have influence, they’re often going to push their own agenda. 

The point is, the young generation can and should be part of a very entertaining TV broadcast (and potentially even part of entertaining live tables) if we make an effort. 

The New School is full of intelligent, quirky, kind, honest, likable kids who have integrity, good sportsmanship, crazy intelligence, and lead lives that their peers dream of.  Many of them are fun, funny guys who could easily entertain an audience if given a real chance (not one intimidating, short-lived opportunity).

There really is potential here, guys.

Plus, haven’t you heard? Nerds are in style.


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