The Impact of Jamie Gold
Since 2003, the WSOP Main Event Champion has been perceived to have had a significant effect on the poker world. Chris Moneymaker's 2003 win put online poker on the map. Parlaying his $39 satellite entry at PokerStars into a $2.5 million payday, Moneymaker began the online poker satellite frenzy that has resulted in 10 times as many entrants in the 2006 WSOP as there were in the 2003 WSOP.
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The 2004 WSOP Champion Greg Raymer has since become a prominent spokesman for the industry. He is well-spoken and has helped further legitimize poker in the eyes of many. Like Moneymaker, he too won his seat to the WSOP online, further fueling the online poker satellite mania. Joe Hachem, 2005 WSOP champion, is notable since he is Australian. While non-Americans have won the WSOP in the past, this was the first time since the mainstreaming of poker.
Given that the past three WSOP Main Event champions have had a significant effect on poker, many wondered what effect the 2006 champion would have. The 2006 WSOP Main Event had 8,773 entrants, resulting in a prize pool over $80 million and a first place prize of a whopping $12 million. The winner of the largest poker event in history (money-wise) would surely have some sort of effect on the poker community.
For the Main Event's champion to have a material effect on the poker world, he or she would need to either broaden poker's appeal to a new community or somehow cast a different image on the poker world. Chris Moneymaker's big effect was broadening the poker community to more lower-stakes players, since his large payday for a cheap buy-in has mass appeal. He undoubtedly has had a tremendous affect on the poker world.
Hachem increased poker's popularity in Australia, though some would argue he just hastened the inevitable in that department. Raymer is a good spokesman for poker, though some would argue there are other people that could have taken his place.
In any event, for the 2006 WSOP champion to broaden poker's popularity, he or she would need to increase poker's popularity among a group of people that haven't quite caught the poker bug. For example, an online satellite winner wouldn't have accomplished this since that cat is well out of the bag. For the WSOP champion to significantly broaden poker's horizons, he or should would need to be one of the following:
1. A huge non-poker celebrity. If someone like Toby Maguire or Ben Affleck won the WSOP, it would draw even more attention to poker.
2. A person from a country where poker is still fairly unpopular. This isn't just a country that's not the United States, since poker is now very popular in Canada and most of Western Europe. This would only be significant if the winner was from a country like Japan, where poker is still barely heard of.
3. A woman. This would have probably had the largest effect on poker since women are way under-represented in the poker world. If a woman won $12 million in the WSOP, I can guarantee that a lot more women would take a second look at playing poker.
There are relatively few entrants at the WSOP that fit into any of these categories, so someone broadening poker's popularity significantly is a longshot. The WSOP winner could also make his mark on the poker world by significantly affecting the image of poker. For a player to do this, he or she would need to be one of the following:
1. A famous professional poker player. If someone like Doyle Brunson or Johnny Chan won the world series, it would make poker look good since it would highlight the skill factor in poker. It would also make for good television. The only professional at the final table this year was Allen Cunningham. Though he is well-known in poker circles, he isn't known well enough in the mainstream for him to have a significant effect on how poker is perceived.
2. A jerk. If a trash-talking jerk won the WSOP, it would make poker players look bad. It would recast the image of poker players as crude hooligans. Some believed Gold may cast this image, since he was quoted as saying he didn't want the fame and celebrity associated with the WSOP. This fear was a bit overblown though. Remaining quiet isn't the same as being a jerk. Provided that Gold didn't actively go around bashing poker or bashing poker celebrity, any "jerk" affect would be negligible.
When I first started writing this Shuffle, I expected the conclusion to be that Jamie Gold would have a negligible effect on the poker world since he doesn't fall into any of the above categories. However, the recent allegation that Gold reneged on an agreement with Bruce Crispin Leyser changes all of this. The accusation is fairly recent and details are still forthcoming. Needless to say, whatever happens, the impact on poker world will not be good.
Gold's dispute with Leyser makes poker players look like cheaters and generally untrustworthy people, an old stereotype of gamblers. Few people will remember that Chris Moneymaker sold a piece of himself to his father and his friend and that Moneymaker made good on this deal. Even fewer will remember that Greg Raymer had a bunch of backers, and he paid them all off. If the allegations turn out to be true (or possibly even if they don't), those unfamiliar with the poker world will remember the story of the big WSOP champion that reneged on an offer and will assume the worst of poker players in general.
In a time when the poker community is struggling to establish its legitimacy, the "cheater" image of poker players is a devastating one to have. Many false or misleading claims are made about poker and online poker by those that are hostile to the game. For example: "poker is mainly just luck", "online poker rooms all cheat their customers", etc. In the public's eye, the debate over poker will largely be decided on credibility. If poker players are viewed as untrustworthy people, we will lose this important debate.