Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thoughts on Various Subjects

“I must complain the cards are ill shuffled till I have a good hand.”
--Jonathan Swift, "Thoughts on Various Subjects" (1728)

Yesterday I listened to Chuck Humphrey interviewed on the 1/25/07 episode of Keep Flopping Aces. Humphrey’s a Colorado lawyer who maintains what is probably the most up-to-date and informative website around if you’re looking for information about current U.S. gambling laws. I’d read a few of his articles back in October regarding the UIGEA, including “Some Specific Points on the New UIGEA” and “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.” If you haven’t read those analyses and are interested in learning more about the possible implications of the UIGEA, both are worth checking out.

Humphrey builds upon those earlier arguments during the Keep Flopping Aces interview. As in those articles, Humphrey continues to express pessimism about the fate on online poker in the United States. In the interview, Humphrey suggests that Neteller’s successors (like ePassporte) will very likely suffer a similar fate as “financial transaction providers” considered by the Department of Justice to be in violation of the terms of the UIGEA. He also doesn’t appear to give the idea of a “poker carve out” much of a chance. On the show they don’t specifically discuss that possibility -- the primary strategic tact being pursued by the Poker Players Alliance at present -- but Humphrey does say that he is not convinced we’re gonna to see poker being distinguished from other “games based on chance.”

Lot of people don’t wanna hear what Mr. Humphrey is saying. Indeed, reading or listening to Chuck Humphrey sure as hell ain’t gonna cheer any of youse up. Those who already felt somewhat powerless in the face of ever-mounting pressures might well feel more so after such study. What in the world can be done to ensure our ability to play online poker?

How about boycotting online poker? (“Huh?” you say.)

That’s the plan put forth by Falstaff (of PokerStage) about a week ago. His “Not Very Modest Proposal” is for online poker players not to play online poker from midnight (EST), Thursday, February 8th through midnight (PST), Sunday, February 11. According to Falstaff, doing so “would provide a clarion call to poker sites to take some of our hard-earned rake and throw more money at this problem until the UIGEA is repealed.”

A few folks, including Bill Rini, think Falstaff’s plan worth trying. (EDIT [added 2/1/07]: Bill has since updated his position.) Others, like Dugglebogey (of Go Be Rude) are less enthusiastic. Says Dugglebogey, “It would be great if we could send a message to the poker rooms that they need to do some more work standing up for the players in the US, but I just don’t think poker players are that organized.”

Falstaff recognizes this fact about poker players when he suggests we’re particularly affected by Newton’s First Law, a.k.a., the law of inertia stating “an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.” He’s right, of course. Though I think it goes deeper than simple inertia, which by definition is a state of passivity. I’d go further and say that unwillingness to move is more often than not an active, conscious decision made by poker players. We sometimes talk of “isolation” as a strategic ploy whereby placing a bet gets us alone against an opponent of choice. But isolation is also the preferred strategy for poker players, generally speaking. It’s not just that we’re hard to organize . . . it goes against our very nature to get along at all.

Poker players are always trying to go “against the grain.” You find yourself at a loose table, you play tight. Surrounded by rocks? Loosen up. We’re constantly antagonizing one another at the table -- in our play and sometimes in other ways, too. We also can’t agree on anything. I just happened yesterday also to listen to Lou Krieger’s interview with Howard Schwartz, proprietor of the Gambler’s Book Shop in Vegas, from last summer (available here over on Hold ’em Radio). Krieger asked Schwartz about which poker books sold particularly well in his store. “Interestingly,” said Schwartz, “the egos of poker players are more fragile than [with] any other form of gambling.” As a result, even though they have thirty different areas of gambling covered in the store, it is only over in the poker section where he witnesses heated arguments about particular authors or books. “Whatever works for some people is a total failure for others, and that’s what I think makes poker unique. Each person learns a different way.” He’s right. Each of us cultivates his or her own individual style, and thus each of us tends to think of the game itself in a way that makes it hard (sometimes) even to communicate with someone else. (Witness your typical medium-length thread on Two Plus Two or RGP.)

The biggest problem, though -- in this context -- is the way poker players tend to shut the world out in the effort to focus solely on the game at hand. In The Biggest Game in Town (1983), Al Alvarez speaks frequently of how isolated poker players are from the so-called “outside world.” He marvels at how events of great importance outside of Glitter Gulch -- say, the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II -- aren’t even acknowledged at the poker tables. He tells one story of how a man he knew was playing hold ’em in the Golden Nugget the night Carter was elected president. It was well after midnight, and the man decided to take a quick break from the game to go up to his room and find out the election results. “When he returned, he announced to the table at large, ‘We’ve got a new president -- Jimmy Carter.’ The dealer stared at him coldly, as if he had broken some obscure house rule, and the man sitting next to him said, ‘The bet is three dollars.’ There was no other comment.”

Same scenario for online poker players, I think. A lot of us just can’t be bothered. Which is all the more ironic, of course, since in this case the “outside world” is looking to end the game altogether.

Just some of the many reasons why Falstaff’s proposal will have little practical effect. Of course, Jonathan Swift never intended for his “Modest Proposal” to be actually realized, either. And like Swift, I think Falstaff is on the right track by trying to get the message to the sites that yes, they should step up and do whatever they can to fight this cause. (Hell, Falstaff gets extra points for alluding to “A Modest Proposal” at all, in my book. They don’t come much more hard-boiled than Swift.)

So get yr head outta the sand, check out Chuck Humphrey’s arguments, give Falstaff’s idea (and some of his other ideas) some consideration, join the friggin’ PPA, and keep thinking about how we might actually work together here. For once.

Better than just sitting around complaining until we get dealt a better hand.



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