29/07/2013

Failure to Engage

Neil Channing 'Bad Beat'

Fairly early on in this WSOP I was coming back to the room to get my head down after another late-in-the-day elimination. I got into the elevator at the second floor to find it crammed full of people who had entered via the lobby. The fact that they were poker players was not a complete shock as our place is full of these creatures, but it was surprising given that the day's event had forty minutes to go before bagging-up time.

I decided to squeeze in rather than wait for the next one and so found myself two inches away from one guy's nose. The guy to my left was telling the guy to my right how several of the passengers had just been out to celebrate the man close to my nose winning the 'Millionaire Maker' bracelet event for $1.2 million.

I had about 22 seconds to say something before my floor and I went with...

"Congratulations, that's amazing, you must be really excited, that is some achievement."

Nobody reacted in any way to my words. The man with his nose close to mine didn't even flicker or flinch and none of the other passengers said a word. Four or five seconds passed and the man on my left told the man on my right that they once played in the Main Event. I then remembered that I'd played the man on my right a couple of times in cash games and also in a couple of WSOP events. None of these games of chance had worked out for this fella and I suspect he may not be too keen on me. His millionaire friend I have never met.

Twenty seconds later I said...

"Lovely talking to you guys, have a great night."

Further tumbleweeds tumbled and I went to bed.

I was pretty shocked. My motives for speaking that night were purely as another human being - who has some experience of what the guy close to my nose was experiencing - wanting to say something nice, as well as an Englishman who doesn't really do quiet moments, wanting to fill a silence. I was happy and excited for the guy. I didn't mean it sarcastically, I didn't want staking, I wasn't trying to borrow money, and there was no way you could interpret it as anything other than a person trying to be friendly.

They looked through me like I didn't exist. The way they ignored me showed total disdain but it was also like I was invisible or speaking in Swahili. I was shaken.

A few days before my elevator ride I was playing one of the $1,000 events. It was the one with a re-entry option. My first table started at 11 a.m. and it was full of nice people with regular jobs and lives who had decided to give it a go and try and become a world champion by playing a game they enjoy. Several of them may never win any form of poker tournament, but they didn't really care and they were here to have fun.

After I bust from my lovely first table by doing something quite risky that may well have worked on another day, I decided to re-enter.

The people who get up to play at 4 p.m. include a large number of 'professionals' - and I really use the term loosely - who can just about drag themselves out of bed mid-afternoon. My new table was full of self-proclaimed professionals - although many have probably not had five winning years - who were full of themselves.

It was like they were having a competition to see who could be the biggest arsehole.

They all spoke very loudly, mostly across each other, and they rarely paused to listen to what the others were saying. They talked about "morons" limping and not three-betting A-J in the cut-off and not knowing to 3/5 with an A-Q on the button. They discussed staking and make-up and games with large buy-ins; they talked about people I know of through poker websites but have never met; they spoke loudly about ranges and fold equity; and they went on and on about themselves and how fucking great they were.

There were two kindly looking older guys on the table. They didn't talk at all. They weren't too good at poker and they did some of the things that the other people said only morons would do. It was going to be hard for them to join in the conversation; they probably had no idea who the people I'd heard of from poker websites were, and they almost certainly had no idea what 3/5 or make-up meant, or what would constitute a three-bet shoving range.

They probably had good stuff to add to any conversation. They looked like they had lived a bit: they probably had kids and grandkids; they may have started and built up a business; they may be very successful; maybe they had taught to a new generation; perhaps they'd even fought for their country. I never got to find out. They were both at the other end of the table and I couldn't get to talk to them as the oaf next to me just wouldn't stop boasting in a shouty way.

Nobody ever spoke to the kindly old gentlemen. They never spoke. They couldn't talk to each other as the two guys in between them wouldn't shut up about some guys only referenced by their online games and how sick they were. After one hand I was reminded that the nice old men were there. A discussion about the hand involved much debate about the strength of one of the older men's 4x open. It was discussed totally as if they weren't even there and they couldn't understand English. Two different people openly laughed at the play of one of the kindly old gentlemen.

I busted that tournament. I was angry and disgusted.

Obviously the behaviour that day is very bad for the future of poker. After I got out of the lift I realised that the behaviour exists slightly outside of poker and that it may be damaging to the future of society.

Is it really the case that people of different generations simply cannot communicate and does it mean that in the future we just should not even try?

Have the young really got nothing to learn from their elders?

Is this a future I can look forward to as I enter old age?

In between worrying about these issues I played a bunch of $1,500 and $1,000 WSOP events. I avoided all the events of $2,500 and over. They seemed to be full of the people I saw at that table and in the lift. They didn't look much fun. The numbers were down in those events and they did well in the smaller events. I enjoyed the tables I played on.

I'm pretty sure my words are going to fall on deaf ears and the behaviour I witnessed will continue. A certain clique of players absolutely never engage with any player outside of the clique while at the table. That's fine. They will soon all be playing events just amongst themselves and they'll find their society begins to cannibalise itself. They will get what they deserve.

I spent quite a bit of time attempting to do something about the things that were upsetting me. I made a bunch of Tweets and wrote some things. Some people sneered. I don't think people should educate at the table and I definitely think berating others for playing badly is terrible for poker, bad for the profit of all players at the table, and just not a very nice thing for a human being to do to another human being. I also understand that some people are just shy and they want to put on their headphones and play Open-Face Chinese. Obviously I can't see why they wouldn't rather try a little harder to win and focus on the game, but they've paid their money and if they only want to focus forty percent on the game then that is up to them.

People who thought I was merely talking about those things got me wrong. I was trying to address a very specific thing I saw that upset me. I would like it if the practice of excluding recreational players from the conversation by talking in a way that they can't join in or by simply refusing to engage with them in any way would stop.

I believe the practice is taking the fun out of the game for many people and it is damaging the future of poker. That is it, in a nutshell, simples.

I didn't cash too many of my early events but I had fun and I had some shots. None of the Brits really did any good in those early weeks.

Plenty of time though. I was pretty sure we could come back strong...