I do remember the night of the H.O.R.S.E. final table. Pojo and I were over in the Brasilia Room covering the long, long Day 2 of Event No. 49 (another one of the $1,500 no-limit hold’em events). It was getting close to dawn by the time we finally left, although we knew as we were heading out into the Rio parking lot that the H.O.R.S.E. was still going on. Too whipped to go check it out, though. (It would be another hour or so before it finally concluded.)
Every now and then during the night we’d click over to see what Mean Gene and Change100 were reporting and check those chip counts, just like everyone else. We also heard some stories during the night from those who’d been over there about how raucous a scene it was, and how Scotty Nguyen, the eventual champ, was pretty much blotto. “How is ESPN gonna edit this?” was a commonly heard question for the next day or two, with most agreeing it was going to be difficult to preserve the good reputation of the “Prince of Poker” given the extreme nature of his behavior.
The show was compelling, all right. And a bit jaw-dropping at times. Definitely not one I’d choose as a way of introducing poker to someone unfamiliar with the game.
Mean Gene says the night was “filled with bad energy,” and one definitely picks up on that atmosphere from the telecast. Gene also mentions that while he knew a lot about what went on that night, he “really had no idea that Michael DeMichele and Scotty had locked horns as they did.” I can definitely understand how some of what went on happened without our guys seeing or hearing it. When we reported on those final tables, we were stationed a good 12 feet away, too far to hear most table talk. (That wasn’t the case at other final tables, or on earlier days of tourneys, when we could get much closer and hear and see much more.)
Watching Nguyen’s drunken descent from jovial to disagreeable to tactless to wretched (made to seem more rapid thanks to the necessarily condensed coverage) brought a few different memories and/or ideas to mind.
One was that experience we’ve all had at some point or another, being around someone whose state of drunkenness has removed him or her from the realm of communicativeness but not consciousness, and suddenly realizing the “nasty” has come out. Now your friend has suddenly become dangerous. “It’s no fun when Scotty got the gun, baby” was the line that most evoked that unpleasant feeling for me. Uhhh... somebody... make sure to get his keys, okay?
The show also reminded me of a couple of moments from the 2007 WSOP. One was early in the series, Event No. 24, the $3,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo event won by Eli Elezra. Once Elezra and Scotty Nguyen had made it to heads up, the drinks began to flow. B.J. Nemeth described it as a “carnival atmosphere” in his reporting. That sounded like a mostly harmless, fun time in which two pros with a friendship and history (and a ton of side bets that dwarfed the prize pool) weren’t terribly concerned with who came out on top. I was also reminded of Scotty Nguyen’s disappointing blow up in the Main Event from last year in which some of that mean-spiritedness we saw more extensively displayed this week was captured and shown in ESPN’s coverage.
Finally, I found myself involuntarily comparing Nguyen’s behavior to other examples of what might be deemed poor sportsmanship. Perhaps not really a valid comparison, but I couldn’t help thinking along those lines, anyway.
This week the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, strongly criticized Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt for his behavior at the conclusion of the men’s 100-meter final, won by Bolt (who broke a world record in doing so). Well ahead of the field with twenty meters remaining, Bolt actually slowed his pace, looked to the crowd, and held his hands out to each side -- a bit of early celebrating. “That’s not the way we perceive being a champion,” said Rogge, adding that in his opinion Bolt “should show more respect for his competitors and... not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters.”
Unsurprisingly, Rogge’s comments have provoked a lot of debate. I’m frankly not too interested in judging either Nguyen or Bolt. I agree that good sportsmanship -- even in poker -- is a trait to be valued. I think also that highly-competitive endeavors like Olympic track and field or poker introduce inordinate stressors upon those who participate in them. And those participants, being human, necessarily react with wildly varying degrees of skill, judgment, and/or tact.
If you haven’t heard Tommy Angelo on this week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast, I highly recommend the interview. As Angelo does in his book Elements of Poker, in the interview he points out numerous truths (or “elements”) of poker a lot of us probably recognize but do not necessarily appreciate very much.
At one point in the discussion he characterizes the stressfulness of poker in a particularly accurate way. “Poker really tests us,” Angelo says. “We have a lot of hardship. We have not just the bad beats [to endure], but there’s money involved. And then there’s the boredom factor, and then you’ve got people there agitating you.... [E]very single possible problem that we encounter in our regular lives is... brought to bear in this little microcosm of the poker table.”
Angelo goes on to say how that makes poker an “opportunity to practice dealing with all that stuff” and thus be able to handle those challenges when they come up away from the poker table. But I think some folks -- including those who play at the highest levels and for the highest stakes -- don’t react that way. Rather, when presented with these immense stressors, they react erratically, perhaps in ways deemed inappropriate to others.
Or they react by trying to avoid ’em. Thus comes the cry, “Cocktails!” Or, in Nguyen’s case: “Where’re the f*cking cocktails, man? What’s up with this, man? We play this way forever?”
Not apologizing for anybody here. (Looks like Nguyen has done some of that.) Just sorting through some of the reasons why, perhaps, people act the way they do in these situations.