Thursday, February 6, 2014

State of the poker nation

A recent tweet by well-known Irish poker player Chris Dowling a few weeks back has been resonating in my head since I read it. I’m not sure of the exact context it was said in, but Chris tweeted something along the lines of “your average professional poker player these days is “not” someone that people want to spend time with”.

I agree. I’m not having a go here at current poker pros. The fact is the pro of today is far more; well professional and extremely better at playing poker than their predecessors. But I believe evolution has given us a top tier of poker professional that ultimately have an adverse effect on the attractiveness of the game to a wider audience.

The game has become to some extent a causality of its own success. Wave after wave of young smart people have turned the game into an academic exercise. If you’re not playing thirty tournaments a night, with a ‘rain man’ propensity to assimilate and make decisions on vast quantities of HUD information, you’re simply not at the races.

The end result of this is that while the standard of play within the game has improved exponentially. The game itself is losing its appeal to a wider audience, is not attracting new people into the game and also losing the battle to keep current recreational players.

If we look at the live scene in Ireland the decline in major prize pool events has been dramatic over the last five years. While there can be no doubt that the wider economy has played a role in this, I believe how the game has developed, and the type of player this has spawned is every bit as much to blame.

It’s not the present generations fault, but today’s pro is a stockbroker if you will, purely motivated by monetary gain. The problem with this is sustainability. In the past poker attracted new people through the wide array personalities that played the game. Today’s pros are falling into a very singular demographic group.

The poker million final used to air for seven hours live on skysports one, this was on top of the multiple weekly two hour heat shows. It was filled with poker players from numerous demographic groups with personalities the public found interesting.

The Irish Open final table was screened live on skysports in 2006. In 2007 it was aired on RTE, the national network in a type of ‘match of the day’ format after each days play. All these shows attracted massive audiences, ergo legions of new people were introduced to the game.

It’s a sad fact that these broadcasters wouldn’t dream of putting on those shows today. The reason? Unfortunately the fun and personality has left the game. Who wants to watch clone twenty year olds talk jargon about merging their ranges, barring the already converted and devoted.

The Irish and UK markets are relatively mature and what has happened here will undoubtedly also occur in those poker markets that are currently at an earlier stage of the cycle.

I don’t know if this deterioration in the appeal of the game to newcomers will or can ever be reversed. If it is to happen, a paradigm shift in the mentality of the current crop of pro players needs to occur. They will need to engage with recreational players, they need to become more extroverted and less exclusive to other pros in the time they spend at the table. They need to simply be nicer, it’s really not that hard and they may be surprised with how interesting people from outside their normal networks actually are.

The future of the game needs your average professional poker player to become someone that people “do” want to spend time with.