There has been a great deal said and written in response to Joe Hachem's interview at the Aussie Million. Two pros whose opinions carry a lot of weight - Daniel Negreanu and Phil Galfond - have both responded at length and there have been numerous other articles and blogs inspired by the points Hachem made. This is because people genuinely seem to have concerns about whether the current crop of elite players have the ability to inspire future generations of poker players, they have concerns about younger pros conduct at the table both live and online, and they have concerns over the future growth of poker if the culture of the community doesn't change. These are some of my thoughts on the subject.
Hachem, Negreanu, and to a lesser extent, Galfond, all seem to agree that the old school pros who starred in High Stakes Poker and early WPT coverage as the poker boom exploded were more interesting and exciting than the generation that succeeded them. I'd like to take issue with this idea. I'd argue that many, if not all of the habits that the internet players are disparaged for have been taken from the best players of Hachem and Negreanu's generation. Indeed, a whole generations demeanour is modeled on exactly the behaviours they observed in the most successful pros of the poker 'boom'.
Let's think back to Phil Ivey, wearing a black hoody, rebluffing Paul Jackson with just Q high in the 2005 Monte Carlo Million. Wasn't it his ruthlessness, his control, even his quietude that set our pulses racing? He, like the internet kids that would try to emulate him, played from a very early age. He famously entered casinos on a fake I.D. and played out such long sessions he became known as 'No Home Jerome'. He didn't bring a colourful life story to those early years of WSOP coverage - how could he when his formative years were spent perfecting his craft? The importance of an almost monastic dedication to the game was part Ivey's bequeathal to those that came after him. Moreover, the black hoodie that Ivey wore while playing in Monte Carlo, alongside the emergence of Phil 'The Unabomber' Laak, was instrumental in creating a vogue for wearing hoodies at the table that is only just fading now. We still seem to be learning from Ivey to this day, with a number of top young pros imitating his trademark stare down, for a long time mocked of as a form outmoded theatrics, in order to intimidate opponents and acquire information.
Phil Hellmuth too displayed many of the traits that are supposedly the invention of the internet generation. Like them, he start at a very early age and was perceived as a precocious kid. He certainly talked strategy at the table (something Hachem claims the internet geniuses invented) and Hellmuth even went so far as to use his superior technical knowledge as a verbal club with which to attack weaker players. Similarly Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson, now of course a pariah in the community, was once the darling of the poker media exactly because of the qualities people find so objectionable in our contemporary notables. No one thought to attack his slow and analytical demeanour. Rather, praise was lavished on him for an approach that signaled to the wider public that poker required concentration and thought and could therefore be thought of as a type of sport.
The point I'm trying to make is that the stars of a decade ago didn't have traits that were somehow more marketable than those of the current generation. It's simply that their behaviour isn't being processed by the media in a different way. We made a hero out of Phil Hellmuth being fiercely competitive, supremely talented and occasionally petulant - does this not sound like Vanessa Selbst? Phil Ivey was intimidatingly robotic at the table whilst turning out results with unfathomable consistency - could this not be Mike McDonald? We have Kyle Julius, Tim Adams, Jake Cody, Melanie Weisener. These guys are huge characters and if this not being conveyed to the public it's a failure of the poker media and the site's marketing departments, not that of the player. A strange inversion has taken place where the current crop of stars and emerging players are being told to fit a certain model of behaviour that the public supposedly want. What needs to be emphasized is that it's the role of the poker players to be themselves and the role of the media and the corporate marketing teams to convey what's inspiring about them. It may well be that our excellent poker journalists need more time, money and resources to make this happen, but it can be done. Pokerstars frequently seem to want to bypass the pros altogether and take the seeming easier step of paying Rodger Federer six-figures to play a couple of high profile sit and go's. This I think is a mistake, one that in all likelihood is being made by a marketing executive who has never touched a pack of cards. You can't simply import the star power of Roger Federer, that won't excite people. On the court he is a god, but at the poker table he is no more remarkable than if Esfandiari were to don a pair of shorts and step onto a tennis court.
We need innovations in the way poker is marketed and investment in the people that do it. The videos focusing on the individual members of Pokerstars Team Online perhaps provides a model to follow. The media needs to go to the players and show their lives in all their complexity, not just how they play pocket tens from under the gun. Kristy and Sarah do a great job for Pokernews, and Marco's interviews in the hallway are great, but they can only convey a tiny fraction of what is happening at the WSOP through the summer. The Rio is absolutely overflowing with stories and personalities, but as a fan you get very little sense of it. I mean you can't even find how many chips your mate has when there's 18 left in a 5k let alone what's going on anywhere else.
High Stakes Poker is often seen as a high water mark of poker on TV and it certainly one of the things that got me into the game. What was so great about it was that it was a group of people – many of whom knew each other well – and the cameras followed them into their own setting. What I'm saying is that the TV company went to the players themselves, identified what it was that was unique and interesting about them as a group, and conveyed it to the public. Current TV models, most notably 'The Big Game' and 'The Shark Cage,' seem to be doing largely the opposite. They take poker pros out of their natural context and trying to turn poker into a glorified quiz show.
It's clear to anyone who competes in the modern game that the current crop of professionals can be as inspiring to the public as those that have preceded them. I am inspired by world champions like Pius and Greg, I'm inspired by Polish, Russian, French, and Lithuanian online pros who, like me, are trying to build a future for themselves in this game, and I am inspired every time I meet the warm and welcoming human being that exists behind an online screen name. Poker inspires me. We're as remarkable a subset of humans as you'll find in any sport. If we work together as a community and as an industry, and if we are truly open to each others' experiences, then poker can be bigger than we ever imagined.
Edit: this thread was empty before, but now it certainly contains content!
"We have Kyle Julius, Tim Adams, Jake Cody, Melanie Weisener." I stopped reading your seemingly good post when you mentioned a piece of scum that is representing Lock poker and still to this day has not left a company that owes players over $800,000.
I completely agree that shows like the Big Game take poker players completely out of their natural context. I loved watching shows like 2M2MM and HSP because you saw more than just poker.
I've rewatched the first few seasons of HSP, and those episodes are absolutely golden. The producers didn't put any pressure on the players, and everything felt like it was natural. During the late seasons, I was so sad when Gabe Kaplan was taken off the show. His commentary was absolutely hilarious, and by cutting it, HSP pretty much lost me as a viewer; It just wasn't the same anymore, it was too serious.
Same goes for Poker Superstars 3, where Gus went all in blind every hand of the tournament because he felt there was no way he could win (Click here to watch part 1). It's one of the most watched poker videos, and all that just because Gus was being himself.
We need more shows like Jason Somerville's Run It Up. It's funny, easy to watch, and always a good time. He also does interviews (hangouts) and they're always interesting, without much planning. I more shows were like his, we'd have a second poker boom.
Great article, Sam. You touched on some key points. Poker is a fantastic game. Aside from the money, it's about the players you meet and the relationships you form through your journey, along with the freedom this game can benefit all of us. I happen to be very optimistic about the future of poker. I believe there will be another boom of some sort, maybe not to the magnitude of the early to mid 2000's, but the tide is starting to turn. The passion is still there and this game is just too interesting to backfire on us, we just gotta be patient.Sam Grafton
I agree with what you that the game itself is so compelling. This is the basis for any future we build.
Great article, I really enjoy it!Sam Grafton
Great stuff, Sam! Spot on. People who claim u30 poker players are boring, haven't met many. I always thought there should be more entertainment in poker videos, and was happy to see betudontbet and samsquid here. Please keep being yourself. We come here to learn and to have fun, and balancing out the fun element is something only best teachers can do.Sam Grafton
Of course my points weren't directly about studying and improving your game, but your right that the best teachers do something enthuse and inspire those they teach. Phil's a great example of that.
Very well written article with interesting content thanks for sharing with us.
I couldn't tell if you were somehow trying to imply that poker players don't know tennis players or some other high level observation/joke or you really did confuse Nadal(the Spanish tennis player who pokerstars signed) with Federer(the Swiss tennis player who as far as I know doesn't play poker).
That irked me :(
Aside from that, it was a well written article.Sam Grafton
I showed a draught to Craig actually. He pointed out i'd written the wrong players name but i forgot to change it! Pretty annoying!
Well written article Sam. Personally I don't think it's a case of the players been more/less interesting in the 'new school' or 'old school', it's simply a reflection of the changes in society and more specifically technology. 10-15 years ago, there was a lot more table chat/banter simply because there was little else to do at the table except to get to know the players around you. Now everyone has smartphones/Ipads etc...more people stay in their own little bubble at the table rather than engage with the people around them. Invariably when I sit at a live poker table at least half the table will be immersed in their phone/Ipad or some other device...what do I do to break the tedium of sitting for hours at a table where there is no chat or banter, I pull out my phone or Ipad.Sam Grafton
Of course you're right. Sitting on a bus or coach was probably amore enjoyable experience in the past as i people interacted with each other in ways they rarely do now. Not much we can do about the march of technology but my point was that the industry does have the raw materials to work with (in terms of personality) if they are inclined to do so. Just gonna take some work.
While I agree with some of the points that Sam is making , I don't really agree with the player comparisons. There is a massive difference between Hellmuth and Selbst! They're both obviously very competitive and have big egos but whereas Selbst comes across as completely sane , Hellmuth just comes across as a raving lunatic - completely nutty. So when Hellmuth blows the lid and goes off on a rant berating someone's play, it usually plays for quite comic viewing to the audience , whereas when Selbst loses the cool and berates somebody's play it usually comes across as bitter and arrogant to the viewer. Selbst obviously has a lot more self awareness than Hellmuth and ultimately seems a lot more grounded, in general.... but this could explain why people aren't as forgiving of her when she loses the cool because they just think Hellmuth is crazy anyway. And anyway, he obviously has a really unique personality...he comes up with great one-liners (often accidentally so ) and when he is in a good mood his childish enthusiasm can be quite infectious to some , so I for one, can totally understand why he is such a love/hate figure amongst the general poker viewing public.
Comparing the cold Ivey stare to the cold Timex doesn't really work for me either. Timex is obviously an incredibly talented poker player but the reason Ivey has become such an icon is not only because he is also an incredibly talented poker player but also because he oozes 'cool'. And Timex simply doesn't. When the poker boom began, the way poker was sold to the public by the media was through the emphasis on how 'cool' it was. Think of all those full tilt poker ads of Gus Hansen with 6 different outfits taking the money each time, Ivey with his cool delivery reading a guys soul. They tried to appeal to the average Joe Soap's ego. How else would a tagline like 'play with the pros' work? Surely, the logical tagline to attract people who want to do well in the game would be 'Play with the fishes'! But Ivey is an icon to the casual viewer who doesn't necessarily understand the mechanics of the game because he seems so cool. And while Mike's stare might be intimidating to fellow poker players who know how good he is, it just doesn't carry the same sort of charisma in a broader sense. He still comes across as a bit of a geek. I think I can even remember a documentary where Tony Dunst was trying to show his fellow pros how to score women and McDonald was one of the guys who couldn't get laid. Now, there's nothing wrong with that. He seems like a nice guy and it's sad that we don't celebrate nice guys enough in society but the fact is they don't make for good idols...and everyone needs a hero.
Regarding the point about Chris Ferguson, I think the fact that he looked so distinctive and ultimately liked Jesus could have been the reason that the media chose to zone in on him at the start. It also seems more than possible that the likes of Ferguson and Howard Lederer had a big hand in the handling of the poker boom and the direction that the media played so of course, they would include themselves! Why else did Howard Lederer feature so much on Poker After Dark if only for his connection to FullTilt Poker? It certainly wasn't because the market demanded it. There may, of course, been a conscious decision by the media to show the variety of characters in the poker world and the variety of styles. Ironically, they probably chose to sell Ferguson and Lederer as the gentlemen of poker with conservative, calculating styles , especially considering how petulant and arrogant some of the other pros may have come across to those members of the public who didn't completely buy into the 'cool factor'! But it's no surprise that as Poker TV coverage evolved the likes of Ferguson and Lederer were being edged further towards the sidelines , particularly in the cash games.Sam Grafton
Vanessa is a hundred times the person that Hellmuth is I imagine. She's a remarkable individual in lots of different ways. The comparisons I make may well be somewhat shallow and you're right to point that out. The wider argument still stands that we have fantastic role models in out community if they're presented in the right way by the industry.smegmaniac
I didn't mean to come across as over-critical of Selbst as a person. I don't want to be the type of person to make judgements about people I don't know personally. I have heard a lot of great reports about Vanessa Selbst and I've heard that she has been involved in a lot of charity work also. And it's pretty obvious that she is a very intelligent , interesting person. I was only approaching your argument from the point of view of selling the game of poker to the public.
I think the comparison that you made between Hellmuth and Selbst is spot on but I still stand by my theory of why the public is more fascinated by a Hellmuth than a Selbst which if summarised is that Hellmuth comes across as a bit nutty and Selbst as completely sane! So even though Selbst may indeed have a lot more integrity as a person than Hellmuth, the public will always be more endeared by him because there is such a comic element to his nutty rants.
Regarding your point about the role models, once again it's hard to disagree. You mentioned Timex and from what I hear he is a really classy guy and would make for a great role model , for sure. But I'm just not 100% convinced that the general public want role models - I think they want heroes! They want people to worship more than admire. Charismatic figures who ooze cool...at least on a superficial level! I'm not saying it's a good thing...I just think that the public is fickle and if I was a TV producer trying to sell the game, I'd be looking for the madness of a Hellmuth, the cool charisma of an Ivey and the sharp wit of a Farha to sell my game to the public and I don't consider any of these guys to be great role models!
It doesn't mean that there's not players of the current generation who can't fill these roles and anyway, I don't think they should have to. It's just my thoughts on how to sell the game. More cash games are needed on TV , for sure! I really enjoyed the sky poker cash game . The poker was good and the banter was good. But I have a feeling the setting wasn't glamorous enough to appeal to a casual observer. I always cringed a little at all the hot girls hanging around the tables at poker after dark and High Stakes Poker because let's face it, it's absolute nonsense....but sadly, it probably works!
P.S....I hope I didn't totally misinterpret your argument!
But anyway, I believe that tournament poker isn't a good vehicle for bringing out the current crop of pros personalities! Cash Games are the way to go , and a format like High Stakes poker would be the perfect outlet to showcase both the players games and their personalities!
I'm not sure we'll ever come across another Sammy Farha though. ( Just for his personality!)
Kudos on getting 'monastic' and 'bequeathal' in the same sentence. Great range merge.
where can i find phils post about this? cheersSam Grafton
Click on poker journals sub-heading above and you'll find it.