Monday, April 22, 2013

On Black Friday, Belatedly

DOJ seizes domainsThe second anniversary of Black Friday came and went last week. A few folks here and there marked the occasion, although there was not nearly as much focus on the events of April 15, 2011 and their aftermath as was the case a year ago.

Last Monday I was busy helping cover the final table of the WSOP Circuit Main Event at Harrah’s Cherokee (while also being considerably distracted by the bombings at the Boston Marathon). Jeff “yellowsub86” Williams was there railing the final table -- he’d finished 37th in the event -- and I remember at one point overhearing him and one of the remaining players casually noting to each other how it was April 15th. Was just a brief reference to the anniversary in passing, with no further conversation other than to acknowledge it.

Just nods of recognition. I remember I, too, felt myself nodding as I overheard the exchange.

I realized at the time I hadn’t really thought much at all about the date having come around again. Nor did I have much urge to write about it or make any pronouncements about the significance of two years having passed since online poker had been more or less erased from the poker landscape in the U.S.

Things have always moved hyperfast in poker world, particularly when it comes to online poker where the accelerated pace of the game mirrors the always shifting, always evolving contexts in which the game has been played during the decade-and-a-half or so of its existence.

The growth of online poker was blindingly fast, and the soon-to-follow scandals and legal crackdowns kept the situation in constant flux. And, of course, the suddenness of the shutdown two years ago came as quickly as running kings into aces to be hastily bounced from a tournament.

It’s probably safe to say that the great majority of the recreational or part-time U.S. online poker players have now moved on from poker entirely. Some occasionally find themselves in live rooms now and then, but most have no doubt moved on to other hobbies and interests.

There was that exodus of a select few full-time grinders to Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere to keep their careers alive, although in truth the numbers who did make such moves were relatively small. And I know there are some still figuring out ways to play surreptitiously from the U.S., with that group most certainly even smaller (and necessarily hiding in the shadows so as not to advertise their doings).

Poker remains, of course, and continues to fascinate many here in the U.S. The turnouts at Harrah’s Cherokee last week most certainly proved something along those lines, and as WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla mentioned to me in a short interview while there, the “myth about how ‘poker is dying’” is most certainly being disproven time and again at various venues around the country.

But the game has most definitely faded from mainstream culture’s consciousness in America. The occasional appearance of shows such as the conclusion of the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship last weekend barely registers in terms of ratings or reaction. (Did you watch the big Phil Hellmuth-Mike Matusow finale on Saturday? Neither did I.)

I know the online game is in the midst of returning to the U.S. in a fragmented, chastened way via individual states. But we’re definitely on the other end of a particular phenomenon with a beginning and an end.

It’s interesting to step back and think of poker as it existed (and persisted) in America before the online game came along. Then came the period when the two (live and online) existed in competition with one another. Then suddenly both were entangled in a complicated collaboration for several years leading up to 4/15/11, influencing one another and existing as a continuum along which everyone moved freely back and forth.

But online departed, and in the two years since the live game has pushed forward alone having been changed by the experience.

The intermingling of the two will occur again soon -- is starting to occur -- as the casinos will be driving the newly-furbished online poker machine in the states. And given how quickly things tend to happen in poker, I imagine much will be happening between now and the next April 15 to distract us even further from thoughts of anniversaries and what once was.

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