Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hachem on the State of the Game

2005 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Joe Hachem delivered an interesting interview at the Aussie Millions to BLUFF’s Thomas Keeling (SrslySirius) this week that is getting a decent amount of attention.

Actually Keeling’s style is usually only to show his subjects talking -- i.e., not to interject himself asking the questions -- which works pretty well, especially when the interviewee has something interesting to say. Here Hachem is shown commenting for more than five minutes about the state of poker today, in particular addressing the role WSOP Main Event champions have as ambassadors of the game and how in his opinion those who came after him haven’t done as much in that effort as he would have liked.

Hachem starts out saying he’s “very saddened,” then states fairly bluntly that “personally, if I'm going to be honest, I think that between Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang, they destroyed the legacy of the world champion.”

He doesn’t go on to specify exactly how the 2006 and 2007 WSOP Main Event champions failed in his estimation. Instead he moves on to talk about the last half-dozen champs (from 2008-2013) all being under 25 and thus perhaps exempt for a couple of reasons from being targeted by his censure.

One reason that Peter Eastgate, Joe Cada, Jonathan Duhamel, Pius Heinz, Greg Merson, and Ryan Riess are to be given some slack for not being as active when it comes to the ambassador role is their age and relative lack of experience outside of poker. “They haven't established themselves a family and maybe aren’t ready to be that ambassador that me, Greg Raymer, and Chris Moneymaker were,” says Hachem.

The other reason -- not explicitly stated by Hachem, but understood from his opening -- that the latter group gets a pass is because after Gold and Yang failed in his view to continue the pattern established by the 2003-2005 champs, the responsibility to be that ambassador for the game wasn’t as apparent for those that came after. At least that seems to be an implied point Hachem is making.

He goes on from there to talk about how honored he was -- and still is -- to have won in 2005 and subsequently to be in a position “to spread the word and reputation of the game [he] love[s].” He then circles back to the idea of being “saddened” and how in his view too many in poker are too focused on making money and not participating in (and thus helping to nurture) a larger community.

“I think poker is dying, and the reason that it is dying is that it is no longer fun for people to play,” says Hachem.

There is more, and rather than summarize it all I’d suggest you check out the clip yourself to hear the rest of Hachem’s argument. But the theme running through all of his comments -- at least as I hear them -- is the way poker has in his view been overrun by players whose self-interest too greatly outweighs any other concerns for the community as a whole.

Hachem’s not all bleak, noting at the end how there are some players who are starting to exhibit what he thinks are appropriate attitudes towards the game and those who play it -- i.e., being more sociable and inviting and thus helping in small ways promote poker as an enjoyable and fun activity. (I know for some the occasionally ornery Hachem’s comments about civility read ironically, but I’m setting aside that aspect of his observations to respond to the points he makes in their own right.)

There’s some extra drama in the clip, what with all the sadness and destroying and dying and all, but judging from some of the responses there’s probably some truth in what Hachem’s saying, too.

As I’ve written about here before -- in fact, as far back as 2006 -- I’ve never thought the WSOP Main Event champ should be thought to owe anything to the community, although I understand the idea that the champ does have some influence, and thus probably can matter somewhat when it comes to shaping how the game comes to be perceived by the larger culture.

The larger point about how everyone involved in poker bears some responsibility to help make the game fun and thus inviting to others is more persuasive to me -- that the community as a whole is necessarily going to thrive or suffer depending on how individuals within it treat one another. And thus while anyone who says “the money isn’t everything” in poker automatically sounds ingenuous, I get the point and don’t disagree with it.

What do you think of the former champ’s speech on the state of the game?

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