Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Not Donne

Now seems as good a time as any to comment on the WSOP (I originally wrote this before the end of the last Series, fwiw.) Now any Constant Reader will no doubt already know my view on poker-as-sport. If not, check out my old post 'Sport of Kings'. However, there was a very dim, but surprisingly significant chance that poker *could* have ended up as some kind of sport. But I think this WSOP was the death knell.

I am not the first to comment that a successful sport needs successful characters and the clashes and dramas therein. Skill, determination, domination and revival all wrapped up in the competitive arena. Crucially, these participants are aspirational. Everyday Joe Schmoe wants to be his stars, but appreciates and respects that there is an enormous divide between top pro and amateur. But that desire to approach, if not cross, the divide drives behaviour and ultimately unleashes the capitalistic process. Incredibly, against the odds, WPT season 1 almost had this. The continued success of a handful of players gave a sport-like feel to proceedings. How things have changed. Now there is an Everyman feel to tournament poker. It seems like 'anyone' can win a big event. This generates a certain appeal and plenty of drama. But this phenomenon is more in line with reality TV or a quiz show than a sport, and a pretty skill-less one at that. These kinds of things may generate a burst of interest, but that eventually wanes and the ratings die. And there go the sponsors.

For the last few years random donks have been winning dontaskically. Here are some of my favourites. At a WSOP circuit final table, 4 or so handed, Joe Hachem reraises - crucially putting in half his stack. Fellow chip leader reraises allin cold, i.e. he had no contribution to the pot so far, leaving Joe a handful of chips on his obvious, almost regardless of holding, compulsory call. The reraiser had QJs. This play is so bad I’m struggling for words. A better known one is the hand that crippled Greg Raymer in the 2005 Big Dance. Greg raises and continuation bets the ragged flop. He then goes allin on the turn with his KK. His foe has QJs and calls to hit his flush draw. The foe's play is hugely problematic. Firstly, why float no pair, no draw with no implied odds on the flop? Secondly, he called instantly on the turn - no calculation to even see if he was getting the right price. These plays and the success that ensues are akin to a golfing novice wining the US Open with a broomstick. But it gets worse. The WPT is deliberately deskilling the game. The blind increases actually accelerate once you get to the televised final table and it is not uncommon for headsup to be a battle of 10-15 big blind stacks. Lastly, look at the recent WSOP. Would the participants in any real sporting event be treated as shabbily as the poker mugs this year? Would Wimbledon field tatty old balls and saggy nets a la the big HORSE event? For me the coup de grace was the payouts of the Main Event. Once again the organiser arbitrally creates a final table structure to benefit headlines and not players. Nice gradual increases from 9th to 2nd then kachunk, a double the money increase to $12 million for first. I just wish they had done an overt, ugly deal to fuck up those marketing monkeys.