State of the Poker Nation

State of the Poker Nation

Monday, 24 March 2014

Nicky Power surveys the Irish scene.

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. They are much better at playing poker than their predecessors. However, I believe evolution has given us a top tier of poker professionals that ultimately have an adverse effect on the attractiveness of the game to a wider audience.

The current plight of poker is to some extent a result of its own success. Wave after wave of smart young people have turned the game into an academic exercise. If you’re not playing thirty tournaments a night, with a ‘Rainman’ propensity to assimilate and make decisions using 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. It is not attracting new people into the game, and it is 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 generation’s fault, but today’s pro is a stockbroker. They are 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. In contrast, today’s pros are falling into a very singular demographic group.

The Poker Million final used to air for seven hours live on Sky Sports 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 Sky Sports in 2006. In 2007 it was aired on RTE – the national network – in a type of ‘match of the day’ format after each day’s 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, as well as 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! They may even 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.

The Vikings are Back!

Ireland will again play host to the Norwegian Championship this year, with the tournament festival returning to Ireland for the third year in a row. The event will be played in City West Hotel from Friday 4th to Sunday 13th April.

JP McCann, the man behind bringing this monumental celebration of poker to our shores stated, “I'm delighted to announce that the Norwegian Championship will be returning to City West Hotel for a third time. Never in the history of the festival has the event been held at the same destination for more than two years. However the event has been such an overwhelming success these past two years the stakeholders were certain to break this tradition, and return to Dublin would be welcomed by all.”

McCann added to his statement, saying how “last year over ten fantastic days of poker, we had 6,153 players participate in 53 tournaments – setting a new European record for most amount of tournaments in a single European poker festival, and all this while competing for €1,840,865 in prize money. We set a New World record for Main Event players in a national event with 1142.”

“We also set a new record for JP Poker Masters Main Event players with 284, and came very close to a new European record for cash game tables, falling just short at 49 (current record still belongs to 2007 Irish Open at 54 tables). In total, 322 staff members worked the festival. This year we will be going bigger and better. We are expecting over 2,000 players to attend the festival, and we will be running cash games 24 hours a day with an expected 60+ tables on the go for most of the event.”

The return of this magnificent itinerant poker festival is a massive scoop and boost for Irish poker. The local cash grinders must be chomping at the bit. The action had to be seen to be believed last year and let’s just say these Norwegians come to gamble. With such a selection of tournaments on offer, every poker player in Ireland should at least pick one event to attend; it’s an experience and atmosphere not to be missed.

Tags: Columnists, Nicky Power, Ireland