In his column, Donnie mostly refers to poker as it is played on the professional circuit, although in some cases his comments apply more broadly. He shares his impression that many players appear not to enjoy themselves very much at the tables anymore. And as the players seem to be having less fun, those covering and watching the tournaments tend to have less fun, too.
Donnie’s covered tourneys on pretty much every tour there is for the last several years, and thus has gathered a lot of experience watching the general mood and atmosphere at these events decline into the state he is describing.
He goes on to talk about the need for personalities and even some of the outrageous table behavior frequently highlighted on ESPN’s WSOP coverage during the “boom” years (liked by some, not so much by others). He also finds space to decry the robotic, emotionless poker played by many of the younger generation as well as the unpleasantness that sometimes arises from new players being criticized for their play and thus discouraged from continuing.
Donnie’s primary intention with the article was to get some conversation going about the topic, and I think he’s presented his argument in a way that definitely encourages response. As I read, I found myself thinking both about the game in general -- including what I’ve also witnessed when covering tournaments over the years -- as well as my own personal experience with the game.
I think many readers of this blog have probably gone through something similar with regard to poker whereby the initial “romance” of the game has either disappeared or waned into something less exciting and novel. I’ve told that story myself here several times and in several different ways, how the thrill and pleasure of the game was most intense early on and after a period of time necessarily became less so. And I’ve read others tell a similar tale, too, remarking how odd it seemed that the more they played and learned about poker, the less interesting and fun it was to play.
Of course, Donnie’s talking primarily about the “industry” and thus is aiming his commentary more at major poker tours, television, and the way poker gets marketed to the masses. All that, too, has become “stale,” and he sees that trend as a primary reason for why “there aren’t hoards of new players flocking to the game” -- namely, because poker is “not seen as ‘fun’ to them anymore.”
There are other issues Donnie doesn’t bring up which might be cited as reasons why poker has become less attractive for new players.
One is brought up by a reader commenting on my post from yesterday in which I discussed Howard Lederer and the ignominious fall of Full Tilt Poker. As Robert Johnson points out, scandals such as the ones at Absolute Poker, UltimateBet, and FTP have had a significant effect, and I think Robert’s correct to present them as causes for “why poker is losing favor with many people in the real world.”
Another related reason is the (essential) loss of online poker here in the United States, which for many of us (myself included) pretty much signaled the end of our being able to play and enjoy the game on a regular basis -- that is to say, to enjoy playing poker without having to worry too much about the status of the game itself.
I’m reminded of a post I wrote here way back on Friday, October 13, 2006. That was the day President George W. Bush signed into law the SAFE Port Act to which the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was surreptitiously attached. I remember in that post referring to the Crazy Ralph character from the original Friday the 13th running around Camp Crystal Lake with warnings about how “you’re all doomed” as I drew a comparison to how online poker would subsequently be played.
Perhaps we online poker players were “doomed” even if the UIGEA had never been passed. In any case, I think the legal machinations constantly surrounding (and sometimes threatening) poker -- both online and live -- must have a wearying effect, and in some cases have to make playing the game less fun or attractive.
A third point to add here has to be the fact that as the game grew over the last decade, the money became more significant -- there’s more to be won, but more to spend, too. The primary motivation for most players participating in tournaments on the circuit is to profit, with the fun of tournament poker not really registering as a meaningful factor. The stakes are high, and a lot of times the risks are, too. And even in the best of all possible environments, around nine out of ten of those who play in a poker tournament are going to leave losers, and losing pretty much makes anything less fun.
In other words, I think there are probably certain other relevant factors -- the scandals, the legal threats, the relative accessibility of the game (for some), the increased expense/risk, and even the inherent nature of poker being a game that creates more losers than winners -- that are worth thinking about when examining “what happened” to make poker less fun over recent years.
It’s definitely worthwhile, though, for those of us who care about poker and who want to keep playing to consider how we might keep the game fun.