At Black Friday Anniversary, A Poker World in Need of a Hero
One year ago today, the poker landscape got a big kick in the mouth when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) shut down the three largest poker rooms serving their residents. Eleven men were indicted that day for running illegal gambling operations and processing illegal gambling transactions. Two of the sites shut down that day, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker/UB, have to date failed to repay their customers. The third site, PokerStars, seems to have been almost unaffected by the cataclysm.
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Black Friday essentially threw the entire poker world against a wall. One year later, we can look at that wall to see what has stuck. Sadly, it isn't much. We now know who has the goods and who was bluffing all along. Poker is left in need of public individuals worth looking up to.
Howard Lederer, once considered the most important person in poker, is now thought of as an incompetent jerk-off at best. Many of his Full Tilt comrades, such as Phil Ivey and Phil Gordon, while perhaps not drawing as much direct scorn from the poker world, will now forever be associated with the facepalm-inducing Full Tilt fiasco that lingers to this day while showing no signs of stopping (are they selling to Tapie or aren't they?!)
Joe Sebok, once a fresh face of poker with his own TV show and seven-figure Twitter follower count, has now quietly tucked his tail between his legs to avoid a much-deserved slap upside the head for blatantly misleading the poker world into trusting UB despite plenty of good reason not to. He benefits from a Full Tilt failing so disastrous that many seem to have forgotten the company he so enthusiastically endorsed has shared the same outcome.
In case her nearly ten years of endorsing UB wasn't enough to eliminate the entirety of her public goodwill, Annie Duke launched a poker league that was swift to implode and now leaves its members wondering if they will ever see the seven-figures in value they are owed by the brand. If her aim was to redirect some of the scorn being sent towards her brother Lederer, that may have been the Epic Poker League's only success.
Doyle Brunson, who has remained surprisingly relevant in his infrequent public statements about Black Friday even when defending Howard Lederer, is just plain old. He represents poker's past, not its future.
In short, there aren't a lot of public figures in the poker world left to look up to. Virtually all famed pros have by now been associated with some failed online poker room, caught up in a scandal, widely exposed as busto degenerates, or have quietly drifted off the collective poker memory after years of static results.
The present "face of poker", you might say, is Daniel Negreanu. But Negreanu has limitations in his role as poker's top ambassador. His tell it like it is philosophy, while at times wildly entertaining, is ultimately counter-productive and immature. Rather than making a bunch of really good points, Negreanu goes for the emotional deathblow rant too often. We love a good rant, and so we love Negreanu, but he doesn't always command the highest level of respect. At times, he is KidPoker indeed.
What poker needs are individuals with a sharp track record as a player who also take the ethical high ground and speak out in the best interests of the game at large. Likable, fair individuals with a proven history of being tenacious players that actually take the time to express ideas on how to improve the poker experience for everyone can fill the market for new heroes in poker. There are presently two such individuals who stand out as bubbling to the surface.
High-stakes Atlantic City pro Matt Glantz has stepped up to offer valuable insight through his poker blog. Two months ago, he shared some whispers from Full Tilt to help clue in an otherwise clueless poker world regarding the happenings of Full Tilt's efforts to repay players worldwide. Said Glantz to players with money stuck on that site, "I am recommending that these players move on as if the their funds are gone."
Another player shining with relevancy right now is Phil Galfond who resides on the short list for best high-stakes online poker players of all-time. Since relocating to Vancouver last July in order to continue playing online, Galfond is up about a million dollars according to HighStakesDB.com. That same site lists only Ivey and Patrik Antonius as bigger winners in online poker history.
In between sessions of dominating high-stakes games, Galfond has produced some great ideas for how to make positive changes in the poker world. He is precisely what the poker world needs right now: a respected figure with innovative ideas on how to transform the game into a fun, ethical and sustainable experience. He is a commendable example to younger players who can sometimes use a reminder that poker is not merely one big cashgrab. That a player with as much money and skill as Galfond takes time to educate others by exposing his hole cards to the world via BlueFire Poker and dispensing advice on subjects such as handling debt and loans gives one some hope that there are still visible people in poker worth looking up to.