Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On Backing, Tracking, and Whether Tourney Reports Are Lacking

Yesterday poker pro Olivier Busquet began what turned out to be an interesting discussion over Twitter with the following tweet: “? 4 pro tournament players, do u consider it fair game for an interviewer to ask you what % of yourself you had in a tournament you played?”

A number of players responded, with most taking a similar position although expressing it in a variety of ways.

“Totally fine to ask, totally fine not to answer,” tweeted Mickey Petersen. That answer summed up what many others more or less said as well, with most not seeming to regard the question as overly intrusive while also making clear that players need not volunteer anything in response if they were not inclined to do so. I did see a couple of responses from players who felt questions about backing were out of bounds, but most appeared to share Petersen’s view.

Even though the question was directed toward players and not media, I noticed also a few reporters chiming in as well with their thoughts. Indeed, I couldn’t resist tossing in my own two bits, too.

While the question sounds like an ethical one -- i.e., is it “fair game” for media to ask what is really a personal question about financial arrangements -- it got me thinking about the reasons why media don’t generally ask about deals.

One obvious reason why the backing question is not often asked is because the reporter might well think it an invasion of privacy to do so. Another is that the seeking of such information represents additional work for a reporter whose primary job is to report results and/or gather some additional material about a winner to make the story of a tournament more engaging and relatable.

But I also think a lot of people -- reporters and fans, generally speaking -- often prefer to remain ignorant about the details of players selling pieces of themselves. Thus did I tweet that “some don’t want to know about backing, prefer ‘romance’ of high-rollers.”

Like tossing a quarter in a fountain, my tweet quickly disappeared without causing much of a ripple as others splashed about with thoughts of their own. Led by Busquet, the conversation soon turned toward discussing ranking systems like the various POY systems and the Global Poker Index and how they only report winnings, not total tourneys entered (and thus not actual ROI).

“In a way, all the POY rankings & all-time $ won lists serve that purpose of preserving the ‘romance’ of the big winner” I suggested, furthering my point that a lot of people would rather only think about how much players are winning (the “romance”) and not focus on buy-ins and how much players have to spend in order to compete (the “reality”).

This latter issue is something I’ve written about here before more than once. Most recently I wrote a post right after returning from last summer’s World Series of Poker titled “ROI at the WSOP” that focused on the significant gulf between lists of player cashes and how players actually did. And some time ago I wrote a post called “For the Record (Thoughts on Tracking Tournament Winnings)” that speculates about issues that would arise if buy-ins were accounted for when reporting tourney players’ results.

Some of the issues discussed in those posts were touched on again in yesterday’s Twitter conversation, including how learning true ROI for tourney players -- and thus, how in fact the great majority of players do not ultimately profit from tournament poker -- would dissuade many from playing.

To go back, though, to the original question about backing -- or, rather, the question about the question about backing -- the whole idea of collecting clear, unambiguous data regarding every tournament player’s true profit or loss in a given event is not only not possible, it’s not really worth pursuing (in my opinion).

Sure, there are specific instances when not at least trying to discover such information would seem an omission in the reporting. Antonio Esfandiari’s victory in last summer’s Big One for One Drop at the WSOP provides a ready example. Esfandiari “won” $18,346,673 in that event, but there was also a $1 million buy-in to consider as well as the fact that Esfandiari obviously did not have 100% of his action in the event. Indeed, very few of those who participated did.

Esfandiari hugs his mountain of case (Joe Giron/WSOP)Thus the PokerListings interview with Esfandiari after the event concluded with what seems to me an appropriate question, which also happened to have been worded in an suitably delicate way: “Are there some pretty happy investors out there?”

“I plead the fifth,” cheekily answered Esfandiari. As Petersen and others said to Busquet, the question is fine to ask, as is the player not wanting to answer it.

It’s fair to say a report on Esfandiari’s victory that did not at least acknowledge that he didn’t, in fact, earn $18 million-plus that day could be judged incomplete. (By the way, 15% was the figure most frequently passed up and down the grapevine in the weeks following the WSOP as the percentage Esfandiari had of himself.)

From there one could further argue that the report of every winner of every tournament is incomplete without such information, but as I was saying before, I think in most cases the knowledge of such arrangements is not something most who follow tourneys really desire.

Incidentally, I’m consciously setting to the side another ethical issue here, namely, the one that emerges when players participating in the same tournament back each other. That, too, is arguably a meaningful element not only relevant to the story of a tournament, but also (potentially) to the tournament’s integrity as well.

But the fact is, we can’t know everything. Just as we cannot know players’ hole cards without a showdown, so, too, are there other elements of the story of a poker tournament we cannot know as observers or reporters. And while I agree with those who say it’s fine to ask about such things, I also know that we have to remain content when answers to such questions aren’t provided.

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Blogger timpramas said...

The ethical issue is an important one. When entering a tournament a player should be required to disclose those who "invested" or "backed" the player if an investor/backer is also participating in the same tournament. Such a disclosure would further guard against collusion. Failure to make a full disclosure should be penalized by loss of any prize money and disqualification from future tournaments.

4/03/2013 12:11 PM  
Blogger Aztec said...

Nice idea timpramas, but how do you ensure that players aren't fibbing?

4/04/2013 11:00 AM  

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