Monday, March 22, 2010

Not Real Poker

What do you mean he's not real?Have noted before how I consistently enjoy the Two Plus Two Pokercast, hosted by Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz. Last week’s episode again featured a number of good segments, including a discussion with Andrew “LuckyChewy” Lichtenberger of that great “High Stakes Poker” hand from last week between Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey (mentioned here).

The featured guest last week was Mike Matusow, and as is often the case Johnson and Schwartz asked all of the questions of their guest that we’d like to hear answered -- including some attempts at getting further details regarding provocative anecdotes from Matusow’s autobiography, Check-Raising the Devil (co-authored with Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli). They also got Matusow to talk again about Russ Hamilton and UltimateBet, an exchange that also provided some interesting moments.

I wanted to focus a bit on one part of the conversation -- the part where the hosts asked Matusow to comment on the whole “Isidur1 saga.” As most probably know, after that wild ride late last year, Isildur1 has recently resurfaced over on Full Tilt Poker with a replenished bankroll, seeking still more action.

“Everybody wanted us to ask this,” begins Schwartz, who then asks Matusow to comment on Isidur1’s apparent “death wish” or desire to keep playing the top players for the highest stakes, ostensibly until he loses all he possibly can.

Matusow’s response reflected some of the same cynicism about online poker we’ve heard him advance many times before, though I thought it was kind of intriguing to consider what he was saying in the context of discussing these super-high, “nosebleed”-stakes games. After confidently predicting Isildur1 will be going busto soon (again), Matusow went on to address the following topics...

On the Object of the Game

They are just 'trying to see who’s going to go broke first'“Don’t you understand those games?” asked Matusow. “Those games are not real poker games,” he clarified, noting that those who play at those stakes are “degens” playing for a “ridiculous amount of money that are [primarily] trying to see who’s going to go broke first.”

Part of Matusow’s assessment of the games, then, seems to concern the approach the players take towards them -- an approach seemingly guided by that “death wish” idea Schwartz had mentioned. “All it is... it’s no real money,” said Matusow. “The only reason why it looks like real money is because you got people... [playing in the games] like Ivey and them that have uncountable amounts of money that don’t care. The people that play are people that, you know, they don’t care until they go broke.”

Matusow then spent some time talking about a specific live hand Tom Dwan played versus Phil Ivey in which Matusow believed Dwan played much too loosely when calling a check-raise from Ivey with nothing but an inside-straight draw.

The hand was from that Full Tilt Poker Million Dollar Cash Game, and I’m assuming it was one where Matusow himself was present. I haven’t seen that hand and thus am not sure what the context was or whether Dwan may have been planning a later-street bluff. In any case, for Matusow the hand exemplified the “don’t care”-attitude toward money he says Isildur1 and his opponents are demonstrating.

On Endorsements and Their Effect

Full Tilt Poker patchSchwartz then asked Matusow “How much do the Full Tilt disbursements kind of drive these games and turn it into this sort of circus?”

Matusow had no concrete answer to this question. In fact, he started off saying “no comment,” but then added “you think it [i.e., the fact that some of the players are FTP pros and thus are being compensated in some way for playing in these games] kind of has something to do with it.”

A good question, actually. Kind of reminded me of a discussion that came up in the comments to a post over on Pokerati from last December. One commenter asked “is there any possible way these players actually are not playing for that much and it is merely b.s. so the poker site can get more traffic...?”

The subsequent discussion suggested most thought it was a bit outlandish to think Full Tilt would “invent” a player like Isildur1 and have its pros play him for what appeared to be real high stakes but what in actuality was not -- all for the sake of attracting some publicity and (potentially) some more action on the site.

Schwartz isn’t suggesting that the money isn’t “real,” of course (I don’t think). But he is implying that some -- perhaps a significant percentage -- of it isn’t really coming out of the players’ pockets, and that the site itself is the reason why this is the case. If you think about it, the idea isn’t that different from that of the commenter who wondered if “these players actually are not playing for that much.”

On the Difference Between Live Money and Online Money

The virtual world of online pokerLater in the show, Matusow comes back to this issue of online poker not being “real poker” -- and I think ultimately adds yet another idea or theory to (try to) support that thesis.

Matusow is asked about his current business venture, Deep Stacks University (an online training site). After discussing Deep Stacks a bit, Matusow noted that for him a primary motive for getting involved with the business was simply to get out of the house and stop playing online poker.

We’ve heard Matusow talk before about the negative influence online poker has on him. As he told the hosts, “it takes over my life, it destroys my life... it totally consumes me.” He quickly moved on from talking about Deep Stacks, though, and instead mentioned how he recently had a very successful three-week period of live play at the Commerce Casino. That then led him back into the subject of online poker not being “real.”

“It’s a video game,” said Matusow. “If you watch those big games... where is the skill? They’re just shipping in $200,000 on 60/40s over and over and over. I mean, it’s an absolute joke. It’s comical. I mean, people look at it as real money, but it’s really not. They’re just numbers. And it’s not real money. If them guys had to use their real money -- like if they were playing in a live game with those kind of moneys -- you think they’d be throwing it in like that?”

Of course, earlier in the conversation Matusow had referred to a live hand in which Dwan had done just that, but no matter. I think we can now list at least three reasons why Matusow (or others) might regard the super-high, “nosebleed”-stakes games as not “real poker”:
1. The object of the game is different from that of “real poker.” (That is, the object is primarily to see who can avoid going broke first, not necessarily to make as much money as possible).

2. Site endorsements (and/or other staking arrangements) make it less likely players are playing with their own money, thereby making the game less “real” in a relative sense.

3. The nature of online play -- where real money can be so easily be regarded as “just numbers” -- makes the game different from “real” (i.e., live) poker.
All three of these reasons have to do with money and its significance. That is to say, for Matusow the online game -- especially the highest-stakes variety played by Isildur1 et al. -- introduces way too many mitigating factors that upset the meaning of the money involved to allow it to be considered “real poker.”

All of which I found intriguing, if not entirely convincing. It all depends on how you look at it, yes? While I’m sure Matusow is not the only one thinking these thoughts about those games on Full Tilt, I can readily imagine rational responses to each of his theories that would constitute hard-to-refute defenses of the “reality” of the poker being played.

Is it “real” poker being played by Isildur1 and his opponents? Who can say for sure?

Is real interesting, though. Both the games and what people say about them.

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Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

If you've seen a lot of Matusow and if you've read his autobiography and the way he self-servingly addresses some issues related to his biggest faults, I think it's not a stretch at all to assume that Matusow thinks this way about online poker somply because he cannot consistently win good money at it.

3/22/2010 12:59 PM  
Blogger Greylocks said...

I've spent many hours rail-birding the big PLO games on Tilt, and while there are some "degens" in these games who have gone busto and either disappeared or bought back in, most of the regulars, including most of the red-letter pros, are playing to win, not gambling.

3/22/2010 4:41 PM  
Blogger Jeremiah said...

Great breakdown of the interview.

I asked Barry Greenstein if he would analyze a few of the hands Isildur1 had played. He declined because they were on Full Tilt and it was a conflict of interest for his role as a Team Pokerstars member.

However, he did say that he knew who Isildur1 was, and that they had played together recently in a tournament.

3/23/2010 8:42 AM  

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