There has been a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding Daniel Colman’s comments, or lack thereof, following his $15 million dollar win at the WSOP OneDrop event. For those of you who are not aware of what he said, you can see his comments at twoplustwo. The quick summary is that he won one of Poker’s biggest events, refused to do interviews, then proceeded to essentially call poker “evil” on the biggest online poker forum. So let’s take a look at some of his main points and see where we stand on them.
The fundamental premise Daniel begins with is that he feels that he doesn’t owe poker anything. In most major sporting events, players do “owe” the game something. However, when it comes to poker, I think he actually makes a very legitimate point. It is hard to feel like he owes “poker” anything, which I would contrast with a star like Roger Federer who I believe does owe tennis a great deal. Why do I draw a line here? To me, it all comes down to where advertising dollars go. When it comes to poker, advertising dollars never enter the prize pool or get distributed back to the players. Every dollar that you win is money other poker players have risked. In professional sports, the players rarely (if ever) put up money to play in tournaments with huge prize pools. A Wimbledon champion wins something like 1.6 million pounds without investing a dime! So, are you as Wimbledon champion obligated to do a few interviews that help out sponsors like Rolex after the tournament? It seems fair to me in this scenario. But in poker, players are hung out to dry in terms of advertising dollars. So I have to agree with Daniel that he really doesn’t “owe” the establishment poker industry and media anything in terms of public interviews.
Well, I suppose it is all relative. I have talked about poker player lifestyle before, and there are a lot of positives. Many “professionals” I know believe they have a far better life with poker than without. I would tend to agree with them. In Daniel’s twoplustwo post, he talks about the “dark side” of the game where even successful pros often don’t have a “happy and fulfilling life.” Maybe he is just a bit young and naïve when making this kind of statement, but in reality I can’t name a single profession where everyone feels like they have a happy and fulfilling life. If this is the yardstick by which we measure a profession, then it surely is one that few will meet.
I almost don’t know how to reply to this. First of all, who the heck knows? Again, I find myself thinking that if this is the yardstick which you use to measure your actions, then how the heck do you get up in the morning and do anything? Should you drive a car? Should you have a house? Is consumerism (ie everything you buy) killing the world? Is overpopulation going to kill off the planet? What about global warming? Have nuclear weapons stopped major conflicts or will they destroy us all? It is difficult, if not impossible, to be confident that any action you make is not potentially creating a “net negative effect.” There are so many consequences to our actions that we can’t possibly foresee, and unfortunately those side effects are significant and for the most part prevent us from being overly righteous and determining net positives and negatives. The goal of achieving a “net positive effect” is fundamentally flawed when philosophically it is so difficult to define what is a universal good.
The other problem with his approach is it fails to account for the utility gained from playing poker. I don’t subscribe to a laissez faire view of the world, but I still recognize that many people enjoy the game and gain utility from playing it. In fact, had it not been for the advertising boom following Chris Moneymakers main event win I would likely not play poker today. This is the case with many players who would consider poker to be a net positive in their life. Hence, advertising the game is also not necessarily negative. Reality seems significantly more gray than Daniel Colman’s world of black and white. Given this grayness, I find it difficult to consider participating in a few interviews after a tournament win to be horribly objectionable. However, I also believe that gaming advertising should be regulated and not allowed to target those who are most vulnerable.
That is pretty simple. Poker media is just another term for poker affiliates, which means that they profit from more players entering the game. Understandably, they were quite irked when he refused interviews after his big win. In a very standard fashion they attacked back by saying if you don’t like poker then don’t play. Well, that isn’t really fair is it? Daniel may not really like poker, but he is clearly an incredible player and profiting tremendously off the game. Should he give up tremendous financial gain just because he doesn’t like the game? Should a successful businessman, doctor, or teacher quit the industry because they don’t “like” their job? I think most people who are grinding 9-5 jobs would love to walk in the shoes of Daniel Colman, and I don’t blame him if he wants to continue playing the game while being honest about the fact that he doesn’t like it.
Daniel argues that the variance in poker leads to a tremendous amount of stress and unhealthy habits. However, he does admit to loving the strategy side of the game. Perhaps, just perhaps, poker is a little bit like life: there are parts of it that we love and others that we don’t….. I wouldn’t necessarily say that makes the game dark, I would just say it makes the game real. There are undoubtedly positive and negative consequences to playing poker.
I’m not quite sure why poker has such a dark stigma attached to it. Can individuals lose a tremendous amount of money playing poker? Yes, but it is far from alone in this area. Like it or not, gambling is something that everybody does in life. The definition of gambling (at least from Wikipedia) is simply, “the wagering of money or something of material value on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and/or material goods.” That sounds an awful lot like what happens when you buy a house, buy stocks, buy bonds, hold money in an interest bearing account, etc. When you hold money in a bank and collect interest, you are gambling that the bank will pay you back your money plus a bit of interest. If the bank and/or bank system (FDIC) fails, then you may not get your money back. Obviously, this is a very conservative gamble, but you get the point. Gambling is not inherently bad and neither is poker. Does poker have the potential to be abused? Absolutely, but does that mean it is evil? Not really… As far as gambling games go I think poker is actually the least likely of the gambling games to be abused.
Because the guy is real and honest. He may or may not be correct in some of the points that he made, but I would never say he was disingenuous. While I believe his “world view” is fundamentally flawed, I respect that he has taken the time to think about the issues. I also think it took a lot of guts to refuse interviews when everyone around him was expecting him to conform. To me he is an incredible player, though not likely to be a great “ambassador” in the game as many in the corporate poker world would like him to be. When they decide to start putting advertising dollars into the prize pools, they can be a bit more righteous demanding interviews. Until that happens, I say props to Daniel for standing up for what he believes and telling them to get lost.
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