Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Eastgate and the Bracelet; or, Must WSOP Main Event Champs Do Our Bidding?

2008 WSOP Main Event bracelet, won by Peter EastgateI haven’t used Ebay in quite some time. I have an account on there, and some years ago had fun buying a number of old vinyl copies of records I’d been seeking. Sold a few things on there as well, if I recall. But somewhere along the way Amazon and other outlets started offering used items on the cheap, and I found it easier just to pick up items there.

Ebay has somehow survived without my patronage, however, as I saw when I returned to the site this week. I went back because I was curious to see what was happening with Peter Eastgate’s 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event bracelet, which you might have heard the young Dane has decided to sell and give the proceeds to UNICEF.

Here’s the auction, if you’re curious. The bidding started at $16,000, I believe, and it looks like with a little under a week to go the current top bid is $45,100.

Not a lot of details there on the auction page about the bracelet itself, other than a note explaining that it has a total weight of 168 grams of 18k white gold with 291 small “brilliant” cut diamonds set onto it. I read somewhere that the net value of the sucker is somewhere around that $16,000 mark where the bidding began, though I’m not positive about that. I think it is probably safe to say, though, that the current bid is probably well above whatever the materials are worth.

Hard not to wonder a little about Eastgate’s decision to let go of the bracelet, the symbolic or “sentimental” value of which most certainly exceeds whatever value any appraiser might assign to it. Of course, we did hear a few months ago that Eastgate, now aged 24, had declared he was stepping away from poker, perhaps for a short while, or maybe even for good. Thus does the news of his selling of the bracelet perhaps come as a little bit less of a surprise.

That announcement came in July, just before the start of this year’s Main Event. “It was never my goal to spend the rest of my life as a professional poker player,” said Eastgate at the time, noting that since his victory he’d discovered that he had “lost [his] motivation for playing high-level poker.” Rather than continue doing something to which he was no longer dedicated, he decided to opt for a different path, seeking, as he put it, “to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life.” (Here’s the CardPlayer article sharing that news.)

Coupled with that announcement, the selling of the bracelet appears to take on an additional significance, perhaps symbolizing for Eastgate a sincere commitment to his decision to move away from poker.

Some have expressed dismay over Eastgate’s decisions both to leave poker and to sell the much-coveted bracelet, now regarding him as one who has clearly failed to live up to those expectations many seem to have for WSOP Main Event champs to serve subsequently as “ambassadors” for the game. While I can’t say I share that view, I think I do understand from where it comes.

I remember way back in 2006 writing a post -- “Assessing the Gold Standard” -- in which I reacted to Jamie Gold’s victory in the Main Event and talked a little about the expectations awaiting him. There I said I believed “it should be understood that winning the bracelet need not require one to fill any particular, Miss-America-type diplomatic role.”

Like I say, I don’t really feel much differently about the issue today. However, I do recognize things have changed for poker since the summer of 2006. A lot.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, signed into law just a few short weeks after Gold’s WSOP win, is by most observers’ estimation a piece of legislation that has utterly failed in many, many regards. However, the UIGEA did succeed in accomplishing one thing, namely, to put online poker in particular -- and perhaps poker in general -- on the defensive.

Ever since the game’s introduction in the early 19th century, poker has been viewed by some (or many) as an illicit pursuit, and thus has always needed to be defended by those who think otherwise about the game and believe it is worthwhile to counter objections to it. But since the UIGEA became law (fully implemented -- finally -- in July of this year), that need to present to a mainstream audience that poker is indeed a legitimate pastime and/or pursuit has taken on additional urgency.

Such wasn’t the case in August 2006. With bigger fields than ever coming to that year’s WSOP -- and no apparent reason at the time to suspect poker’s astounding pattern of growth would ever be stopped -- it didn’t seem like we needed the champ to go out and “fight the good fight” on poker’s behalf. Poker would do just fine with or without such help.

Such is no longer the case. And thus comes the hand-wringing from some when a recent WSOP ME champ declares the game no longer satisfies his most meaningful desires, and therefore he’d rather do something else. Or when a November Niner (Joseph Cheong) says he’d rather not win the Main Event but would “prefer second,” since “that would bar me from [the perceived obligation of] being a poker ambassador.”

It is true, I guess. Winning the WSOP Main Event these days is like being elected to a political position. No one voted for you, but suddenly you’re their representative. Like it or not.

And whatever it is you end up doing will necessarily be interpreted as either successfully doing our bidding -- i.e., representing poker in a politically-favorable way -- or something else.

(EDIT [added 4 p.m.]: On a somewhat related note, here's an interesting 2+2 post from the 2010 ME champ, Jonathan Duhamel, in which he talks about a few big hands while also indicating his intentions for the coming year.)

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