The show -- along with some other events this week -- got me thinking about how poker uniquely enables truly meaningful interaction between pros and amateurs. I mentioned before how Beyond the Table brings us dialogue between a professional player (Tom) and two amateurs (Karridy and Dan). A number of other poker podcasts (e.g., Bluff Poker Radio, The Circuit, Joe Average Poker Radio, Keep Flopping Aces, Rounders, The Poker Edge) feature a similar dynamic. These shows work best (or, I should say, are most interesting to me, the amateur player listening in) when there is some genuine communication occurring between the amateur and the pro. (Not always the case, actually, on some of these.)
Sure, I’m as curious as the next sap to hear the pros describe their lives and gossip about the circuit scene. And it can be useful sometimes to hear them share their theories and strategies. However, when the pro then gives sincere attention to the amateur’s situation -- asking questions about his or her life and/or play -- that’s when someone like me becomes genuinely engaged. That’s when I not only become more likely to profit from whatever wisdom about poker (or other things) the pro might be imparting, but I get to feel as though I’m participating -- in a meaningful way -- in a wider community. Poker is great for many reasons, but the way the game provides a means to community-building is one of its truly special qualities.
I remember when I first started playing poker. I’d hop online and play hands for pennies, then go watch the WSOP or WPT on the tube and think about how the rules of the game were the same, only the stakes were different. I used to think of poker as being like golf in this respect -- what I’m watching is the same damn game, only it’s being played at a different level (and thus not really the same damn game, but resembling it in a number of ways). Amateur golfers follow the same rules and try to employ the same strategies as do the pros. They even sometimes get to play the same courses, maybe even start from the same tees. And certainly, whatever level at which they’re playing, they get to experience a lot of the same highs and lows the game produces.
There are differences, though. Golf tournaments may begin with a “Pro-Am” event early in the week, but such exhibitions don’t count for much, really. (Not for the pros, anyhow.) By contrast, every major poker tournament involves amateurs competing against pros. At this year’s WSOP Main Event, for example, it was estimated that of the 8,773 entrants only a thousand or so could be reasonably described as “professional” poker players. I’d estimate there were probably more than that, but certainly well over half the field were amateurs, meaning that every starting table likely featured a mix of pros and wannabes. And the same is true for just about every major circuit event -- there are amateur players at every stop who pony up the entry fee and give it a go. Why? Because they can.
The fact is, pros and amateurs play poker together all the time -- online and live. (Probably one way to define who belongs to which group, actually -- the pros are the winners and the amateurs the losers.) I’ve never had the experience, but I know some who have played over at the Bellagio and had pros come around and sit in at their low limit (3/6 or 4/8, I don’t remember) game for an orbit or two. Kind of a public service, I suppose. A true thrill for the amateurs, as you might imagine. There’s Negreanu’s “protégé,” the Full Tilt pros chatting with customers and playing low limit tourneys, other sites inviting amateurs to knock out pros for bounties, and so forth. Chris Cosenza on Ante Up! told about seeing Kathy Liebert warming up for the WPT Foxwoods main event (where she final tabled) by playing in the 1-2 NL games -- and having a hell of a time. Not at all unusual, really. For fun or for profit, pros and amateurs mix it up on a regular basis.
Which brings me to the other reason why I was thinking this week about pros and amateurs mixing it up -- the whole Brandi Hawbaker saga that started on the 2+2 Forums exactly one week ago and has since swiftly mushroomed into one of those internet “memes” like the dancing baby or Mahir Çağrı. Hawbaker got some attention back in October by finishing 35th at the WPT Festa Al Lago main event (after being an early chip leader) -- her first significant cash on the circuit. We heard her interviewed on Pocket Fives and saw her picture leading off the CardPlayer Photo Gallery in the 11/28/06 issue. Then last Saturday (12/13/06) she started a thread on 2+2 (in the “News, Views, and Gossip” section) with a lengthy post describing her dealings with “Captain” Tom Franklin, a professional player since the early 70s who holds one WSOP bracelet and has earned over two million dollars in tourneys. Hawbaker’s post describes Franklin’s offer to serve as a mentor/protector for her as she began her career, then goes on to accuse Franklin of a number of offenses ranging from simple lying to stealing a large portion of her (modest) bankroll to attempted sexual assault. At the moment, the thread has over 130,000 views and 4,500 replies. Here’s the thread, and here’s a summary version. Go read if you’re interested (and/or, like most of us, something of a voyeur). If not, just consider it a low rent, Glitter-Gulch version of Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill.
What really happened between the amateur and the pro? Who knows. What’s clear is the interaction was not at all positive, and perhaps an unfortunate by-product of the ease with which members of both groups enjoy mostly unrestrained access to one another. Generally speaking, such access is a good thing, I think. As I said, us amateurs benefit greatly from the pros occasionally taking an interest in us -- not just in terms of improving our play, but simply being able to connect meaningfully with the mostly wonderful community that is “the poker world.” Hopefully poker’s continued growth (or other factors, like the UIGEA) won’t make positive interactions -- like the one I had this week -- harder to come by.
Labels: *the rumble