Monday, January 10, 2011

Viktor Blom is Isildur1 and Other Revelations

Viktor Blom is Isildur1, and Other RevelationsEveryone knew already.

That is to say -- among those who follow such things, anyway -- no one was surprised by the announcement on Saturday down at the Atlantis Resort and Casino that Viktor Blom was indeed Isildur1. On the heels of the announcement, our man Otis swiftly published a cool feature in which he spoke with Blom, an introduction of sorts to the 20-year-old Swede about whom so much has been written since late 2009.

Jokes about this “worst kept secret” in poker have been part of the fun, of course. So has the sometimes-serious, sometimes-not speculation about Isildur1’s identity. I’m thinking of Dr. Pauly’s faux “interview” with Blom from last spring. Or Jen Newell and I contemplating in our “He Said/She Said” columns at Woman Poker Player the significance of how most assumed (correctly, as it happened) from the get-go that Isildur1 had to be a man.

Some have suggested PokerStars might’ve derived additional benefit from prolonging the mystery even further. However, it appears that doing so wouldn’t really have been feasible, especially if Blom were to continue to play in live events. According to the PokerStars piece, the offer to become a Team Pro “came with a price” -- namely, that Blom would have to end the charade once and for all.

“It felt like the right time,” Blom told Otis. And in truth, despite all the fun and intrigue, for the guessing game to have lasted more than a year was probably long enough.

A couple of thoughts came to mind for me following the “revelation” on Saturday. One was that no matter who Isildur1 turned out to be, we knew him pretty well already -- a seemingly fearless, ultra-aggressive, unpredictable player who in a few short months had managed to gain the respect and/or awe of many of the world’s top pros.

In the Stars piece he tells how he turned $2,000 into $2 million in just three weeks. We know how he took a lot of that roll to Full Tilt Poker and built it even higher before crashing hard against Brian Hastings (et al.) in December 2009. According to Poker Table Ratings, Blom has been involved in all 10 of the biggest pots in online poker history (and 18 of the top 20), including that monstrous $1,356,946.50 PLO pot Patrik Antonius won off of him.

That “Isildur1” turns out to be a private, perhaps even a bit shy young man in need of a haircut (or at least a comb) certainly adds to the portrait, but those details hardly distinguish him. It’s the force-of-nature-like online persona with which those details contrast that makes them at all interesting, really.

The other thought I had while reading about Blom’s introduction in the Bahamas was how it kind of dramatized something that happens to all of us when we play poker, albeit in a much more extravagant, even grandiose way. That is the way poker forces us to “reveal” our true selves, so to speak.

That second thought probably occurred to me because I’m about to start teaching that course I mentioned last week, the “Poker in American Film and Culture” class in which we’ll be reading all sorts of discussions of poker and its significance. In particular, I’m thinking about one of our first scheduled readings, the playwright David Mamet’s short essay from 1986 called “The Things Poker Teaches Us.”

Among the several points Mamet makes, he mentions how “poker reveals to the frank observer something... of import -- it will teach him about his own nature.” It’s inevitable, really. The more we play, the more we necessarily reveal about our characters or our true “natures” -- both to our opponents and to ourselves.

Such a process had been happening with Isildur1 for quite a while now. We (and his opponents) had been getting to know him more and more with each passing hand. The revelation of his “real” name and other biographical details perhaps adds further to the character sketch, though the process had been ongoing for quite some now.

Mamet gets into various psychological traits such as “a need to be abused” or “a need to be loved” and so forth in his catalogue of such disclosures, though I’m sure you can imagine other elements of the self that poker potentially exposes. As Anthony Holden says in Big Deal (another text we’ll be looking at this semester), “a man’s character is stripped bare at the poker table.”

That second thought might have been a little abstract, but you get the idea. We know Isildur1/Blom a little better today. And so do his opponents. And I imagine many of us will keep watching, seeing what else gets revealed

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