Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Status Quo

'Going to the Match' by L.S. Lowry (1928)Your name is called. You sit down. You wait just a little longer for the blinds to come around. Finally, you’re dealt cards. You’re playing poker.

There’s a raise and a reraise, so you give up your big blind. Next hand you’re dealt rags in the small, and the dude opening with a raise from late position makes it easy to give that up, too. On the third hand, the table folds to you on the button and now it’s your turn to raise. You toss out chips, and both blinds quickly release their hands. The dealer collects the cards and reshuffles, readying for the next hand. You drop a couple of chips atop your stack, now back to where you started.

Of course, everything is different. That’s how poker works. Nothing ever stays the same. Not really.

You’ve started to see your opponents in action. They’ve started to see you. The fellow who opened the first hand is now sitting with most of that other guy’s chips, the one who reraised him. Meanwhile, the pair on your left are still talking about a hand from before your arrival when one stacked the other. And so forth. Change is constant.

Been hearing a lot of references to the idea of the “status quo” with regard to online poker lately, particularly with regard to the so-called “Reid bill,” the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, and the current situation faced by U.S. players trying to get funds on and off sites. A refrain emerging over recent weeks is that “the status quo is not sustainable” (or some variation thereof) -- referring, that is, to the fact that without some means, probably legislative, to stop the UIGEA monster, we online poker players here in America ain’t gonna be able to keep doing what we’re doing for very long.

Can’t dispute that. However, I can’t help but wonder whenever I hear that phrase whether there ever really was such a thing as the “status quo” when it comes to online poker in the United States. The more I hear that point being made, the more I realize the situation has been in constant flux ever since I first opened an account many years ago.

Like the game of poker itself, the experience of playing online poker never remains the same for very long for the U.S. player. Even the final implementation of the UIGEA (on June 1, 2010) failed to stabilize much, thanks in large part to the law’s ambiguities and inconsistencies in the way banks and financial transaction providers are choosing to comply with it.

Mike Johnson made this observation on the most recent Two Plus Two Pokercast (Episode 152, 12/15/10), articulating what I’d been thinking every time I heard such references to the “status quo.” Amid a discussion of the Reid bill (just a few hours after ESPN’s Andrew Feldman had reported it “dead” for the current Congress), Johnson found himself talking about the “status quo,” but quickly qualified his use of the phrase.

“I guess ‘status quo’ can never be ‘status quo’,” said Johnson, “because the industry is always evolving and things are changing with seizures of the DOJ, [changes to] payment processors’ capabilities, [and] states like Washington opting out. So there’s no such thing in the online poker world as ‘status quo’....”

Of course, when folks like B.J. Nemeth, F-Train, and others say “the status quo is unsustainable” or that “the status quo is NOT fine and cannot continue indefinitely,” they are in fact making that very point -- namely, that we cannot lull ourselves into thinking things aren’t going to change.

Because they will. Again. Perhaps quickly. And probably for the worse, unless some other change comes along to alter the current direction of things.

In other words, the “status quo” is a phantom, a dangerous idea. Such is the case when you play poker. Such is also the case whenever Americans decide to play online. Don’t get too comfortable. Always be aware the situation could change -- fundamentally, even -- and if you aren’t paying attention, you are setting yourself up to lose.

One other thing the phrase makes me think about. Pictures of matchstick men.

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Blogger Brian said...

Couldn't agree more and I think the status quo...or to use your angle, the future status quo is not promising for those of us in the Land of the Free. Getting money on and off the sites has become a bit of a shell game. I fully expect to wake up one morning in the next 6 months and discover that one of the big boys is done with the US nonsense (most likely FTP).

12/21/2010 2:15 PM  

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