Thursday, June 09, 2011

Poker in the Wild: Jesse May & Brandon Adams on Chaos & Order

Jesse May says 'Poker is going back to the wolves'The player, announcer, reporter, and author Jesse May is reporting from the World Series of Poker. His posts can be found over on a relatively new website, called The Poker Farm. Great news for those who enjoy well-written, insightful reporting and storytelling about the goings-on at the WSOP.

American by birth (he grew up in New Jersey), May became a big part of the U.K. poker scene starting over a decade ago thanks initially to his involvement as both a player and commentator during the first season of the ground-breaking “Late Night Poker” show (in 1999). He’s been commentating on various shows ever since, earning him the nickname “The Voice of Poker” across the pond.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to interview May for Betfair Poker. The interview appears in two parts on the site, with the first part mainly focusing on his poker-themed 1998 novel Shut Up and Deal and the second on the origins and influence of “Late Night Poker.”

I’m seeing four posts thus far from May over at The Poker Farm.

The first, dated June 1, is titled “Poker is going back to the Wolves,” and immediately addresses how the events of “Black Friday” fundamentally altered poker’s long-established world order, in a sense sending poker back to the pre-Moneymaker days when the dichotomy between sponsored or “patched” players and everyone else didn’t exist -- when poker’s “class” system (as we might call it) was based more directly on success at the tables than by other commercially-driven factors.

May expresses excitement about the prospects afforded by this new arrangement -- “I’m clapping my hands with glee,” he writes -- a revived poker world suddenly shot through with adrenaline and emotion, with nearly everyone now playing without the safety net of sponsorship.

That theme of poker “going back to the wolves” is furthered in May’s subsequent posts. “You Sanctimonius Little” addresses Full Tilt Poker’s petulant response to the Phil Ivey announcement and lawsuit. “Brits in Flow” reflects on the British players’ early successes at the WSOP. And “Brandon Adams Blog” finds May replying to a post by Adams on the “Macroeconomic Woes” site in which the Full Tilt pro addresses some of May’s observations.

Jesse May (left) and Brandon Adams (right)The latter exchange between May (left) and Adams (right) particularly caught my attention yesterday. Not long ago I made reference to Adams’ own poker novel, Broke (2008), which I’ve recently picked up. I’ve heard Adams praise May’s novel in the past, and he does so again at the start of his post from yesterday, titled “The Center Cannot Hold,” when he notes how he considers Broke as “an afterword” to May’s story.

Adams then addresses some of the things May says in those first couple of posts about the altered significance of wearing patches at the WSOP and the Ivey-FTP feud. Adams, some might recall, sent a highly provocative tweet on April 16th (subsequently deleted but not before it was passed around by many) stating that “Full Tilt is run by much more honorable people than Pokerstars. So your [sic] money is much more likely to be safe there.”

Adams defends his decision to continue to wear an FTP patch, explaining he is doing so both out of “loyalty” to the site and some of his friends who work there and out of “fear” that poker might lose whatever sense of legitimacy sites like Full Tilt Poker once seemed to give it thanks to their having helped create (really) the whole idea of a poker “pro.”

Adams agrees with May that the poker world fundamentally changed on April 15. But whereas May is energized and excited by what’s to come, Adams is terrified. “Like Jesse, I also see poker going back to the wolves,” writes Adams. “But, unlike him, I view this as the worst thing imaginable.”

Adams goes on to recommend we all resist following the course chosen by Ivey (and many, many others by this point) and continue to show patience with Full Tilt Poker -- not just for FTP’s sake, but for the sake of poker, generally speaking. As Adams says, “My fear is simply that, if Full Tilt can’t hold it together, poker will enter a dark phase.”

As Adams’ own shaky confidence in Full Tilt Poker suggests, if what he is saying is true, poker’s prospects are especially dim. Indeed, my first thought when reading that statement was to think FTP hasn’t shown much evidence it can “hold it together,” and thus I’d hate to believe the rest of us are depending on that happening.

May also responds cynically to Adams’ suggestion, noting that in his view Full Tilt Poker’s poor leadership has already done a lot to create the chaotic, “center cannot hold” situation Adams fears. And to say that unless those in charge at FTP change their ways PDQ, “the dark days are already here.”

A most interesting bit of back-and-forth here by a couple of poker’s bright thinkers. I can’t help but think Adams is a bit too swayed by that loyalty he professes to his sponsoring site. I do find provocative Adams’ point that online poker “successfully sold” an idea about poker to the culture at large, causing “many people [to] look at poker as almost like a normal industry.” But really, after Black Friday -- and most particularly after Full Tilt Poker’s abject failure on all fronts since April 15th -- I certainly don’t see FTP ever successfully selling such an idea about poker’s legitimacy again. And I don’t really believe the stubborn wearing of an FTP patch is going to change that very much.

The Full Tilt Poker patch has become a symbolAs mentioned, Adams himself admits the wearing of the logo is mostly symbolic. He “doesn’t expect financial benefit from wearing a patch,” but he does feel that “loyalty” to FTP and “fear” about what a patchless poker world represents. But as was the case with Absolute Poker and UltimateBet before, the patch has come to symbolize a lot of other not-so-nice stuff, too -- stuff that utterly explodes any notion that poker or online poker is a “normal industry.”

Is poker “going back to the wolves”? Or has it always been that self-interested, uncivilized, immoral, savage world it was when the game first made its way across the continent a couple of centuries ago -- despite the often-successful recent efforts of some to convince us otherwise?

(EDIT [added 10/24/11]: Adams has of late been responding to some belated response both to his 4/16/11 tweet and 6/8/11 blog post. Today he answered some questions about both from Subject:Poker’s NoahSD over on the PokerFarm site. Click here to read.)

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