Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Field Report: Poker from the Outside

Was a day of errands and TCB-ing around here today, carrying me away from the farm for awhile. I use the “TCB” acronym (referring to taking care of business), although more often than not we’ve come to use “GSD” instead. I’ll let you guess what that stands for, with the clue that it’s inspired by the frequent and highly necessary task of stall-cleaning.

Won’t go into particulars, but one stop today involved an interaction with someone who after discovering my work writing about and reporting on poker shared some interesting observations with me about the game. Was another of those conversations that reveal how poker sometimes plays to the larger audience of non-fanatics (or “enthusiasts” as I have taken to call this group to which I belong, and I presume you probably do, too).

The person was a bit older than me, and after I’d told her that I frequently write about poker tournaments and professional players, even sometimes traveling to other countries to do so, this was her first response:

“I can’t believe Phil Ivey cheated!”

I had to laugh, and when she asked me what I thought I explained in a very general way some of the details of the Ivey-Borgata story, including how not everyone in poker necessarily thinks he “cheated” per se. I was reminded, though, how the Ivey story played out -- or rather, the soundbite version of it that was briefly trumpeted -- in the mainstream, and how succinct (and persuasive) was that quick-hitter that a famous poker player had been accused of cheating at cards.

We continued to talk about poker on television, and it was clear she’d watched quite a bit about a decade ago when the World Poker Tour had first debuted and that perhaps she’d also seen the WSOP some during those first couple of “boom” years. I helped her recall the name of a favorite player of hers -- Paul Darden -- who I remembered had won a WPT way back during the first season and had been featured a lot on the show then.

She then explained how she didn’t much care for how these days “they made it into a big 30-day tournament,” preferring only to watch the final tables. I assumed she was referring to the expanded coverage of the WSOP Main Event lasting several months from late summer to November. I know I’ve had conversations with other casual poker fans before who get lost in all of that lead-up, not knowing, really, when the sucker actually ends or caring enough to figure it out.

She wasn’t a big fan of all of the internet players, she said, although wasn’t more specific than that. She added, too, that she liked to play poker, but didn’t feel like she was anywhere close to good enough to play in a casino. I nodded sympathetically, agreeing that “it’s a lot harder than it looks.”

I’m sure you’ve had similar discussions of poker with “non-poker people” that revealed to you certain particulars of how the game and its surrounding subculture is perceived from the outside. I got the sense she definitely respected the skill of those who play at the highest levels. Meanwhile it was also apparent that a lot of the details of the game including the logistics of tournament poker were a bit cloudy to her.

There was more to our conversation, which was kind of a fun one to have amid all of my running around today, but you get the general idea. I’d share more, but I need to go GSD and PDQ. Or at least ASAP.

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