Friday, December 19, 2008

The Anxiety of Influence

Pokerati pollThe last few times I’ve visited Pokerati, I’ve found myself lingering over that poll Dan Michalski started a couple of weeks ago in which he asks readers to choose the “Poker Person of the Year” for 2008.

Just above the list of names, Dan has attached what those who study polls call a “leading question” to his survey, that is, a question designed to focus the responses in a particular manner.

There have been some famous examples of “leading questions” throughout history of polling. For example, in 1937, the Gallup group (then just a couple of years old), conducted a poll that included the following question: “Would you vote for a woman for president if she were qualified in every other way?”

Read that one again. Notice anything wrong with it?

Incidentally, 33% responded “yes,” despite the fact that the question implies being female disqualifies someone from running for president.

Dan’s question is much more benign, of course, merely serving to guide respondents toward a particular area of the poker landscape when choosing. Dan asks us to consider...

“Who’s the one person, in 2008, who’s had the most influence on the game?”

Like I say, when I’ve been visiting Pokerati, I have lingered over that poll but have yet to select anyone from the list of 15 or so names that appear below the question. I’m realizing I cannot decide on any single individual. I’m also finding that question of “influence” to be a difficult one to determine, given the way it requires us to look back at 2008 from an imagined future and estimate who ultimately will influence poker the most.

If we’re talking about “the game” and how it is played, we should be choosing from (mostly) those who actually play poker. That’s what Gary Trask of Online Casino City did earlier this week in an article titled “Top-10 Most Fascinating (Poker) People of 2008.” Trask limits himself strictly to poker players in his list, although in his summary descriptions only a couple of them appear to have wielded any special “influence” on poker. According to Trask, anyway.

Trask’s list includes players whose achievements are obvious, like Scotty Nguyen (winner of the 2008 WSOP $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event), Peter Eastgate (winner of the WSOP Main Event), John Juanda (winner of the WSOPE Main Event), and Ivan Demidov (who finished third in the WSOPE ME and second in the WSOP ME). He also highlights folks like Tiffany Michelle and Dennis Phillips for all the attention they received during their deep WSOP ME runs, and even Yuval Bronshtein for winning consecutive events in Full Tilt Poker’s FTOPS IX.

But, like I say, Trask doesn’t really get into “influence” very much, and instead speaks of the players on his list having created lasting “impressions.” And indeed, to go back to the idea of influencing how the game is played (strategically speaking), I don’t know if any of these figures really can be said to have done much in 2008 that obviously affected how others play poker.

The question of “influence” can also include other factors, too, such as the business of poker and/or the ever-shifting legal issues surrounding both online and live versions of the game.

Under the heading of the business of poker, we could talk about entities like Harrah’s/the WSOP, the World Poker Tour, the other tours (EPT, APPT, LAPT), the online sites, and the individuals responsible for their management. Under the heading of law and politics, we could identify various members of Congress, the Department of Justice, the Treasury Department, and other lobbying groups (like the Poker Players Alliance) as being among the most influential.

I suppose we could also include the media -- both “mainstream” and other types (including a few bloggers, even) -- as perhaps having a few representatives at the table, so to speak.

Indeed, this question of “who’s had the most influence on the game?” does make me imagine a big poker table with numerous “players” all gathered ’round, all of whom are having some effect on how the game is going, but none exerting the “most influence” in a way that is obvious to all of us on the rail.

Like I say, that’s a question that needs time to answer. When one looks back in poker history, there are certain years where one can see pretty clearly “who’s the one person” who most affected the future of poker.

In 1957, Herbert O. Yardley is the man for having penned The Education of a Poker Player. In 1970, Benny Binion gets the nod for launching the World Series of Poker. In 1978, Doyle Brunson has to be the choice for having gathered his cohorts to produce the first Super/System.

I suppose Phil Hellmuth might get the nod for 1989 for being the (then) youngest winner of the WSOP Main Event. For Rounders, we might single out Matt Damon or maybe director John Dahl for 1998. Henry Orenstein patented the hole card camera in 1997, though maybe we’d give him the title for 2002, the year the World Poker Tour events started to be filmed for broadcast.

2003 belongs to Chris Moneymaker, of course. And 2006 to Bill Frist.

But 2008? No idea. Not yet.

'The Anxiety of Influence' by Harold Bloom (1973)That title, by the way, alludes to a famous work of literary theory, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry by Harold Bloom (published back in the early 1970s). In the book, Bloom takes on the issue of literary influence, using a lot of psychology to explain how poets are both influenced by their predecessors and tend to want to react against earlier poets and do something new. Thus all the “anxiety.”

Indeed, I think, in fact, we all have a bit of anxiety about saying this or that contemporary is “influencing” us more than another. Even at the poker table, it usually takes us a while to admit the guy to our left is pushing us around by his play.

That might explain my hesitation to choose anyone, too. Or the popularity of “none of the above” (currently fourth in the poll).

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Anonymous Dan said...

***Harrah’s/the WSOP, the World Poker Tour, the other tours (EPT, APPT, LAPT), the online sites, and the individuals responsible for their management.***

Just wait ... that's the next poll!

12/19/2008 11:03 AM  
Blogger AllanDuke said...

I can't think of anything more futile and worthless than the mounds of Player of The Year awards from every poker institution.

12/19/2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Enjoyed the post, the power of words to lead, confuse or influence is often under-rated... takes a real craftsman to use this power effectively though!

Cheers, Mark

12/20/2008 10:58 AM  

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