I have been playing poker for what seems like an age now. Certainly in Internet terms, it has been almost forever since I first stepped into a casino for my one buyin into a rebuy tournament - I lasted 20 minutes and had to walk home in the dark.
When I do stop to reflect, I realise how very different the pre-Internet, pre-ESPN world of poker in the UK was to this new halcyon age we play in. And very different are the players too.
When I played, Poker was just coming out of its Dark Age. The revelations of Late Night Poker were still ahead of us and the game was still mostly full of degenerates, losers and "characters". At 25 I was one of the youngest players by a very wide margin. The number of "professionals" was so tiny as to be insignificant. Several players had very dubious sources of income and were themselves not perhaps, the kind of people you took home to have Tea and Biscuits with Mother and the Vicar. The cash game I cut my teeth in, as I have mentioned before, did not have cards speak as a rule. It was that severe. If a fellow exposed his “losing” hand, showing the winner, without realising it, only players in that pot could mention it. More bizarrely, I saw people split pots with opponents who claimed to have the same hand, tabled in front of them, but in fact had a loser. I did not say a word.
I witnessed a fight at my table where a young gun, later a very successful pro, got into a drunken brawl, rolled around on the floor with the guy next to him, yet when management resumed calm, they then both of them sat together and carried on playing as if nothing had happened at all. Two maiden Aunts. I had a large combat knife pulled on me once, and was jokingly prodded with it by a celebrity drunken player. Joke, yes. Unnerving, yes too. There were other, more brutal conflicts, where serious harm was inflicted.
I used to play with people who were widely known as cheats, pot shorters, rat holers and all round not very nice types. There were some nice folks too, but they were very much in the minority. In fact, anyone not old enough to be my Dad was a minority.
Trying to make poker players behave ethically was, and I guess still is, a bit like forcing maggots back into the corpse.
Despite all this, we all knew what were were doing. We were gambling, some more successfully than others. We didn't kid ourselves that we were involved in "sport" and some fantastic mental athletics. And although some of the players would not be creating an emotional and societal vacuum by winking out of existence, we all, roughly speaking, behaved reasonably ok around the table. And despite our differences, please god we had them, I did feel something in common with them.
Today there are huge swathes of players I feel almost nothing in common with at all.
The Idiot Savants are a strange breed. These Uber-geeks normally come from some teenage sad-fest of gaming like organised Warcraft or Magic the Gathering. Now I have a little sympathy for Geekness, as I am certainly a closet Geek myself, despite having once played rugby and all that inevitably entails. But these types are beyond the pale. Normally very young, if even legal, and with a capacity to play huge hours over many, many screens they churn through winning at a relentless, religious rate. But in the end, you start to ask yourself, impressive though they are, is that it? I mean, what are they going to do when they grow up? As pointless, valueless lives go, poker player is up there with compulsory masturbator. So much talent, so little point.
Whereas the ID's are rare, the other group I feel little connection with is the swarm of Nearly Men. At first glance, these folk seem to be winning players; some significantly so. But when you start to look a little deeper, perhaps reading blogs or comments or forums the penny drops. They really have no clue what they are doing. I don't mean this to be patronising, certainly with my results I would struggle to do so. But often they can talk the talk but can't walk the walk. Or maybe they can execute but don't understand why or how they are winning, which in the long term can be just as bankroll fatal. As a group they are surviving on low rake, insane WSOP/WPT driven newbies and variance. The tsunami is coming, but these guys are still playing on the beach.
The last group, often overlapping the others, is certainly my least favourite. The ESPN wannabes. These are the kind of people who try and combine Poker with Jackass. The kindest thing I could say is that they are juvenile, but even when I was young, I was never that juvenile. The ESPN types fill forums, blogs, tourneys and cash games. Now I am no saint in cash game comments, to my shame. But hopefully what I say is always funny, and often becomes self-deprecating. In fact I have become quite friendly with several people I started off whining to. But I would never criticise someone that I had just beaten. Or write posts which showed continually how bad everyone else played whilst I was a righteous superstar. Or just be so damn fucking rude. Their demi-god and spiritual leader is Amir "Rocks and Rings" Esfandiari. I just wish I could put him and his mini-Mexican fucking wave into some of the games I used to play in.
Christ, I am starting to sound like an old man.