Should Poker Have a Dress Code?

Should Poker Have a Dress Code?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

In an age where poker relies on televised tournaments to attract new people to the game, should there be a final table dress code?

When Antonio Esfandiari won the largest buy-in tournament in poker history, he smashed records and sent the media into a slavering frenzy the likes of which had never been seen before. Social media lit up, and online messageboards were suddenly awash with the fevered mutterings of railbirds in shock and awe. He won more money than most people will ever have a meaningful concept of in their lives – and he did it all wearing flip-flops.

To say that his relaxed attire seemed out of place next to the glamorous backdrop of the One Drop is an understatement. Here was a man who had just scooped over $18 million, yet his winner’s interview showed him barefoot, nonchalantly answering questions while tugging at the cuffs of a slouchy green hoodie. He wasn’t alone in his choice of casual garb, either; despite the massive million dollar buy-in, fellow pros Sam Trickett and Jason Mercier also chose to opt for shorts and sandals in contrast to their suited and booted contemporaries.

Sure, wearing informal dress may seem incongruous in a situation where millions of dollars are changing hands. But does dressing smartly really matter that much in poker? Veteran and ambassador of the game Mike Sexton certainly thinks so, having bemoaned the lack of effort most poker players put into their appearance on his blog. “Is it too much [to ask] to expect players to wear collared shirts, long pants, and shoes and socks on a televised final table?” lamented Sexton, probably while lovingly caressing his eclectic cufflink collection. “Every sport has a dress code. Why can’t poker?”

To be fair, Sexton has a point. As he quite rightly expresses, televised tournaments are a huge part of what attracts people to poker, and the power of television is not to be underestimated. Just look at the famous 1960 Presidential Debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. The debate was the first ever to be aired on the small screen, and before it went down Nixon was assumed to be a shoo-in for the Whitehouse. On the night however, Nixon’s crumpled grey jacket, ill-fitting trousers and conspicuous five o-clock shadow made him look nothing short of Eeyore-esque. He appeared drab, tired and well... reminiscent of a depressed cartoon donkey, especially next to Kennedy, who turned up in a stylish dark tailored suit with hair that had been coifed within an inch of its life. While those who listened to the debate on the radio believed that Nixon had won, the large contingent of people who watched the proceedings on television attested that power dresser Kennedy was the clear victor. Kennedy went on to become President, and it’s a widely held belief that his appearance in the first debate was instrumental to his success.
It’s true that poker players looking for site endorsement can learn a lot from this. They may have solidly impressive results, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone ‘well-put together’ (whatever that may mean) is more likely to be approached for sponsorship than someone sat at the tables rocking stained trackies and a patchy neckbeard, with the creases from their pillow still etched into their pallid cheeks. In an industry where TV is what engages people, the Nixons of the world fall behind.

This is the message being pushed by the relentlessly jovial Lee Jones, Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars. Jones recently posted a short article with the byline “It’s not about a dress code; it’s about getting the corporate world to take us seriously”, pointing out the fact that despite the tireless efforts of PokerStars production staff to make the set look lavish and glamorous, “most of the people sitting on that set look like they can’t afford a pair of jeans, much less a $10,000 poker tournament buy-in”.

Predictably, his words were met more with ominous mutterings than tumultuous applause. Many pros are attracted to the game in the first place because it offers an escape from the daily tyranny of office life – when you play poker for a living, you don’t have to suffer through a stuffy commute every morning, you don’t have to report to a blustering buffoon of a boss, and you absolutely, certainly, don’t have to wear a suit. It was in this vein that opinionated pro Sam Grafton tweeted in response to Lee Jones, saying that it’s up to the industry to promote players, and “it’s not up to us to embody some pre-conceived notion of ‘stylish’.” Although Lee Jones doubtless had the best of intentions, his suggestion that poker players should smarten up most likely evoked cross memories of enduring pursed lips, maternal hanky dabs, and comments like “But you could look so NICE if you tried, dear.”

Lee Jones has since clarified that his article was not intended to be focused solely on dress code, but rather on the opportunity for poker to be recognised by corporate America. If, like the NFL, poker managed to secure sponsorship from a multi-million dollar beer or automobile company, then the money pumped into the industry could be huge. The sky would most definitely be the limit.

However, it’s unrealistic to think that all that stands between poker and the acceptance of America’s commercial giants is a few pros buying themselves a nice pair of trousers. The devastating impact of Black Friday has meant that current public opinion of poker is still far from favourable in the US, and right now it’s unlikely to be seen as a viable suitable advertising platform – no matter how slick the attire of the players.

In conclusion, poker has a long road to travel before it will be seen as ‘marketable’ in this way. Does that mean we should stop trying? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. However, attempting to enforce a final table dress code would be to look at it the wrong way. We shouldn’t try to force players into the same generic, polished garments, when the beauty of the game lies partly in the individuality of its participants. One of poker’s biggest charms is the positively motley selection of people it attracts, and the best way we can celebrate this is by allowing players freedom in how they dress. Forget launching a parade of stiff suits – if corporate America is to fall in love with poker, then let it fall in love with the lucky hats, the comedy sunglasses, and even the frankly bizarre sleeveless hoodies (Ole Schemion, we’re looking at you). So what should we say when it comes to the question of a final table dress code? Thanks, but no thanks – at that stage in the tournament, the only things we’re worried about being suited are our cards.

It's fair to say that poker has seen quite a few fruity get-ups over the years, so we take a look at some of the best.

Joe Sebok

After Joe Sebok lost a results-based prop bet to Gavin Smith at the 2006 WSOP, his gentlemanly honour and the terms of the bet stipulated that he must dress up as a different superhero for every day of the Main Event. Sebok posed variously as Spiderman, Wonder Woman and Robin before his obligations were fulfilled. With that cape, we hope he at least made some decent hero calls! (Sorry.)

DC Sebok

Shaun Deeb

When you’re going to look like a twat, you might as well do it in the name of a cause. This is what Shaun Deeb opted to do when he dressed up as a beautiful young filly to protest against the existence of ladies only tournaments. “I support women poker players, but poker is a gender=neutral game,” explained Deeb. He raises some good points, and how can you disagree with someone so unexpectedly pretty?

DC Deeb

Tatjana Pasalic

Croatian poker presenter Tatjana Pasalic set up an elaborate last-longer bet with her poker pro beau McLean Karr, not realising that that it was a re-entry event. As penance, she was made to don a rather sultry leopard-print catsuit during a tournament. The loss of a prop bet normally demands that you look humiliatingly ridiculous, so we don’t know if Tatjana is cheating here. Having said that, her feline get-up probably made a lot of people purr.

DC Pasilic

Phil Hellmuth

While most of the other costumes on this list are the result of chuckle-worthy prop bets, Phil Hellmuth breaks the trend, by dressing up as Caesar just because he could. Why, you may ask? Because he’s Phil mother-loving Hellmuth, that’s why. Phil is certainly the self-styled Emperor of Poker – however, we can’t help but wonder if he read to the end of the story (clue: it’s a tad stabby).

DC Hellmuth

Tags: Shuan Deeb, Joe Sebock, Phil Hellmuth, Tatjana Pasalic