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Friday, August 06, 2004

If You've Got the Time, the Money, and the Will . . .
Two posts ago I threw out my 2 cents on The Crew and the way ESPN is setting them up as bad guys; today Otis on Up for Poker threw out a good solid quarter, exploring the link between televised tourney poker and reality TV, and detailing the manufacture of "poker villains."

In this post I'd like to follow up with a few more thoughts on The Crew and big-time tourney poker.

The Crew is annoying, but while I can call them "annoying young braggarts," I can't really knock their poker abilities. I'm a lowly seeker of cheap thrills grinding it out at $2/$4; The Crew is in there playing with the big boys and winning WSOP bracelets.

And yet we the poker audience are still a bit disappointed when a known superstar doesn't win--and when the previous unknown who does win doesn't seem to have the makings of a superstar. How does a Scott Fischman or a James Vogl win a WSOP bracelet? They seem to lack the toughness of a T.J. Cloutier, the braniac quality of a Howard Lederer, the intensity of a Phil Ivey, the unpredictability of a Gus Hansen. In fact, they pretty much remind me of most of the wanna-be twenty-to-thirty-somethings I see down at Foxwoods (and I include myself and several of my friends in that description).

The answer struck me when ESPN was once again showing that much-maligned clip of The Crew strutting down a sunny suburban street: These guys are really into poker. If you're thinking, "well so am I," brother I sympathize. I wouldn't be sitting here blogging about poker if I didn't love the game. But these Crew guys seem committed in a way that most of us just aren't.

Some of it is the energy and drive--and free time--of youth. Simply not having kids is a big advantage to the aspiring poker player, just because of the extra time one has in a day. Another factor is money. I have no idea what the economic backgrounds of most of The Crew are, but I assume they are similar to Dutch Boyd's, which is well enough off. But mostly these guys have just made poker a very high priority in their lives.

Time and money are two resources that benefit any type of student. Add in some smarts and a true devotion to improving your game, and that may be enough to give you a good shot at winning a major tournmanent. This truth detracts from the mystique of the big-time tourneys, but it's part of the democratic aspect of poker: Anyone can play the game, anyone can read Super/System and countless other books and begin to understand what the pros understand, and anyone with the cash can sit down and challenge those pros. Practice and persistence can get you a win. This is different from tennis or golf, where Mother Nature and a series of qualifying events keep most amateurs out of the big pro events. Given enough time to develop one's game, and the will to do it, it seems that most reasonably intelligent, disciplined people can become very good poker players.

I started this post about Fischman, but the person who best demonstrates my little "time, money, and commitment" theme is Ben Affleck. I was very much not surprised to hear he'd won the California State Poker Championship. (I found his rise from the "asshole from Fashionable Male" in Mallrats to co-star to Bruce Willis in Armaggedon far more shocking, and ultimately inexplicable.) Ben Affleck is a young, single, white male, and thus fits the poker demographic perfectly. Yes, he's rich and famous, but that basically means he's got the time and resources to pursue whatever interests him. It's not unusual that he's a celebrity interested in poker but that he's a celebrity truly committed to poker. In the most recent issue of Cardplayer, Mike Sexton talks about how he plays with Ben Affleck in a relatively high-stakes home game, with Affleck occasionally flying from coast-to-coast on his private jet to fit in both work and poker. He's also hired Annie Duke and other pros for lessons.

My point is not to take anything away from Affleck or Fischman, just to suggest that these players succeeded because they devoted a lot of time and energy into bettering their game, so it shouldn't be so surprising that they've bagged wins. In that sense, their success is inspirational.

We should expect to see more tournament winners who don't have the grit or manic genius that's associated with the the archetypical poker pro. We should expect to see more celebrities, since they have the time and money to spend on improving their game. For example, Tobey Mcguire recently placed 15th at the Mirage WPT event, and semi-celebrity Jim Rose has evidently "turned pro." (That could make for a fun little lottery--trying to pick which poker-playing celebrity will be the next to win a major tournament.) Same goes for wealthy eccentrics (the poker world already has independently wealthy pros Phil Gordon and Paul Phillips). And of course there will be countless obsessive players like Fischman and the rest of the Crew dedicated to beating the established pros, and Internet players like Fossilman and Moneymaker holding regular jobs while pursuing their dream.

On a final note, I'll add that, though tournament poker is not really my thing, it's televised tournament poker that seems to have motivated many of the new breed of players. In my ongoing exploration of the "why play poker" question, I keep coming back to the themes of fun, competition, and profit. For the big-time tourneys, there's obviously the possibility of instant fame, or at least fame within the ever-expanding poker community. Fame and respect probably aren't considerations for the majority of poker players, or even for a lot of pros, but they are probably factors for some of these really committed new-breed types I've been discussing. The Crew at least, with their vow to "take over the world," have made it apparent that they're in it for attention as much as anything. For me, that's part of their non-appeal.

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