Friday, March 21, 2008

Matt Damon? A liar?

I enjoy watching the World Series of Poker main event (no limit hold 'em) on TV. Now, I'd never sit down and actually WATCH an 8 hour poker game, however, the Telecast of the event is normally fairly entertaining. They have two announcers who seem to be low budget comedians picked up at a tiny club off some Vegas side street and about 400 camera men who are able to identify enough interesting pots to keep me entertained for as long as ESPN is broadcasting the event.

I would never consider myself a poker 'pro.' I'm alright I suppose. In tournaments among friends I sometimes win, sometimes lose, but normally place in some way (money back!). I'm good enough to play with good players, but bad enough that I generally learn something important every time I play. For the most part my skill comes from being hard to read.

As an aside, it seems to me that the 'poker' face is entirely bullshit. Many people have complimented me on my difficulty to be read, and it comes not from staring straight faced when I'm bluffing and straight faced when I'm winning. Be RANDOM! Unpredictability makes you so unreadable. Regardless of what you have, bounce your eyebrows, blow kisses at the kid your playing, make funny faces, and tell jokes. Then the next hand, regardless of what you have sit stone faced and staring, refusing to speak except in sepulchral tones. Being random not only throws people off, but it prevents the same tells/ticks/minor habits from occurring. Its difficult to put your hand across your mouth then your hands are balled into white fists of rage on the table in front of you for no apparent reason. Check your cards obsessively. If i check my cards 15 times when I'm ahead and 13 times when I'm bluffing who is going to be able to tell a difference. ANd if they ARE bothering to do that, then they are most likely forming wrong ideas in their head. Then again, maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about.

Back to the point, if there is one at all. Ever since Matt Damon's famous pronouncement "Why does it still seem like gambling to you... Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table at the World Series of Poker *every single year*?... Its a skill game." the general consensus amongst anyone who plays is that IT IS a skill game, and for the most part I would agree, however, how MUCH skill is actually involved?

I watch these WSoP games, and the more people that play, the more the skill is evening out, and the luck is showing through. It seems that there may be a sort of skill plateau. Once you become as unreadable as you can be, figure out the odds, and know the strategies behind the game, there isn't that far to go. This has become rapidly obvious as the WSoP, requiring only ten thousand dollars to buy in, has grown exponentially in the last few years.

IMDB even has a qualification on Matt Damon's statement: "In the ten years immediately prior to the filming of the movie, only 12 players made it to the final table two or more times. Of those, only two made it three times and no one made it more than that. Only one of those players ever made it to the final table two years in a row."

When Doyle Brunson won his WSoP Main even bracelet, only 53 people played in the event and hold 'em was not nearly as popular or widely played. He has not won the main event since 1977.

Just over 100 people played in the WSoP Main Events that Johnny Chan won. He is considered to be one of the best players in the world. However, if the announcers are to be believed he has not even been IN THE MONEY (gotten his money back, happens when the field is narrows down to somewhere around 20% of the initial amount) in over five years. He last won the main event in 1989.

The "professionals" say that they hate the small buy in. The ten-thousand dollar buy in draws rich kids and celebrities by the bucketful hoping to have a good time, get a few stories and win some money. They claim this large amount of 'ameteurs' makes it difficult for the "professional" players to win. Does this statement seem ridiculous to anyone else? To be a professional, you must be better than the amateurs, thats how you become a professional. Moreover, most of these 'professionals' are simply poker players who using former private successes were able to bankroll wins against crappy players (as demonstrated in the movie Rounders. Skilled players taking money off just friendly players like it was candy). The 'professionals' have EVEN asked the WSOP to make a more EXPENSIVE tournament to keep 'amateurs' out! Never mind the fact some of the most famous professionals are only well known because they were able to buy in to the main event. Yet

Six thousand people played in this last main event. However, the 'professionals' never have to play 6000 people. They play at tables of ten people at a time. All you have to do is beat ten 'amateurs.' Yet I see so many of the former world champions going down early and easily to these guys on the FIRST table. These guys would not have won if the tournament was ten people in size because these are the only people you are up against. In order to get the final table you must only defeat about thirty people.

If you put 6000 random guys with a high school level of basketball knowledge(what I'm classifying as amateurs) one at a time into a 1v1 basketball game against Kevin garnet or Lebron James, all 6000 people would get beaten. It has nothing to do with how many people they play against, they are simply more skilled. Likewise with nearly any other professional athlete. Tom Brady will ALWAYS throw more TD passes than you. Tiger Woods will beat you in 18 holes, Wayne Gretzky will out skate the shit out of you, and David Ortiz will hit more home runs.

So what am I getting at? Poker is a game of skill, no doubt. However, as we see the field diluted every year with new faces, the peak skill seems to be low and the true luck of the game shines through. The scales seem to be tipping, so much that within the upper echelon of Poker players, the skill is actually less important than the luck. I wouldn't stand a chance in that room of players at the main event (unless of course I landed boats every time), however, I am not at the skill level yet. Were I to play with intensity for a year, I could show up in Vegas and play with those guys. Would I win? Doubtful, but I could play with them.

Well great Jared. You've made a blog post about how you think you could play with the big boys of poker. Grats.

There must be something else to this post. Because that it not what I intended. Poker is one of the great equalizers. In a heads up pot its your cards against your opponents. Your life, background, your race, your age all means nothing. That is what so many of these great poker players have touted over the years. Many of these guys have become superstars because of this game and almost immediatly, it has gone to their heads. Suddenly, stubborn stars are demanding a higher buyin because they don't like being beaten by 'amateurs.'

What separates a poker professional from an amateur? Well, one who makes his living playing poker is a professional. However, these guys make their living for most of the year nabbing money of 'fishes,' i.e. shitty players who thing they can play with good players. The sport is unique in that, if 'professionals' went heads up against each other every night, as all other sports professionals do, they would all be flat broke. So, because professionals make their living by beating these 'amateurs' what exactly separates them? Because if these same amateurs knock the professionals out of the WSoP what is going on? Who decides what a professional player is? How can the best be separated from the worst if the professionals already want to separate themselves.

This elitism saddens me. The great equalizer is rapidly becoming the home of the great sore losers.

What a lame closing statement. However, between watching the WS and writing this, it has rapidly become 3 AM, and I am sick. I'm gonna post this and hopefully fix the grammar and crappy wording tomorrow. I don't fully trust this "save now" button.

Why post about poker when most of you are probably bored of it? Well because it was on my mind. And Hold 'Em to me seems to be a micro chasm of society.


Jason said...

Hey hippies! I am so glad I found this! I need this shit in my life. Miss you unwashed masses.


Anonymous said...

I need your shit in my mouth!