"Anyone at any time can suddenly find himself dependent on his own resources for survival...If you are not ready, it may cost your life."
How to Stay Alive in the Woods
In 1956, Bradford Angier published a book titled "Living Off the Country." Thirty years later, the book was repackaged under the much more sexy title "How to Stay Alive in the Woods." Maybe it doesn't seem like much of a change, but when I look at it, I see more than two different titles. I see how a society viewed itself.
Time changes more than the lines on our collective face. It changes the way we see the world. In the 1950s, we were about living. In the 1980s, we were about surviving.
Three decades may have changed the way we saw our ability to live off the land. It's only taken three years to change how we see our ability to live on and off the felt.
"Just as cold is actually the lack of heat...so is getting lost an entirely negative state of affairs. We become lost not because if anything we do, but because of what we leave undone." --Chapter 14, "Staying Found."
If you take the poker world's last year into account, there would be a lot more bad things about which to write than good things. Like the waning year of oversexed and hypercharged young love, the past year has been marked with a feel of cognitive dissonance that at times seems impossible to overcome. More times than not, the problems have not been because of what we as a poker community did, but what we did not do.
Congress stripped online poker funding options down to the bare bones and put us back in the dark ages. Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli uncovered the Color Up Scandal at the 2006 World Series. Local games around the country (including a couple here in G-Vegas) were robbed and/or busted with unsettling regularity. All of these things happened because the poker world failed to prepare. Whether it was a too-late lobby on The Hill, to not hiring the kind of staff needed to oversee the world's biggest poker event, or not operating an underground game with a common sense level of discretion, the poker world didn't get lost because of its actions. It got lost because if its inaction.
Now, two huge scandals have rocked the online poker world within the span of one month. The first one was apparently perpetrated by the player. The second was apparently pulled off by a company insider. The latter case at Absolute Poker is the one that breaks my heart. We don't and likely won't know everything. Had it not been for people like Nat Arem, the Pocket Fives crew, and a few other industrious amateur journalists, we might not know anything. Instead, the biggest scandal in online poker history is raining down on the industry and players. Once again, the industry is being forced to react as opposed to acting in advance. If the allegations against Absolute Poker are true (and I have no reason to believe they are not), then Absolute Poker should cease to exist. Right now, there is no way to make that happen, because there is no one to make it happen.
"An unhealthy proportion of accidents occur because deep down, someone wants them to happen." --Chapter 21, "Emergency Aid"
It's all rather exhausting. It's such an emotionally tiresome experience that a lot of people might think about giving up. I'll admit that I have had those thoughts. Still, I also know enough about the business, its roots, and its heart that I can't make myself walk away. Sure, I've met a lot of bad people over the past three years. However, I have also met some of the most honest and hardworking poker people that I can't turn my back on the game or the industry.
I have to imagine that the troubles we have been fording are ones that we are meant to face to make this industry--and by extension, the game we all love--once again viable in the long-term. If we are to truly care about the game enough to fight for it, then we will win. If not, we might as well start looking for the next fun way to make money, because for the vast majority of us, it won't be in poker.
These are fairly trite observations, I know. It's all rather hard to consider. I've been sitting in a state of flux since July when I left the World Series. I've abandoned the local underground scene in favor of a couple of regular home games. I am barely playing online. My next trip to Vegas will either be December (hopefully) or...well, if not then, I don't know. I just don't know what to do or when to do it.
I remember a tumultuous few months with a college girlfriend. We'd maintained different pads, but had basically been living together for several months. Over the course of a few ugly weeks, things turned pretty bad. It started with walking in on her and a group of friends frantically tearing up the house in search of a lost tab of acid (it was in the freezer) and ended with her hurling a glass dolphin across the room. Suffice to say, we didn't see much of each other after that. Despite enjoying a relationship that had a lot going for it, it had a lot more working against it.
If poker were a college relationship, I'd probably be hitting the singles bars right about now. Fortunately, poker is not about a matter of the heart. We may love it, but we all know it's a business. You don't save a business with make-up sex.
"What people say you cannot do, you try and find you can." --Henry David Thoreau, as quoted in Chapter 1, "Every Necessity is Free."
At this time last year, I thought we were at a crossroads in the poker world. Now I don't think it anymore. I know it. For the poker world to survive and thrive as it did before it all started falling apart, two things have to happen and happen quickly.
1) The online poker lobby must convince the United States Congress to overturn the online gambling funding ban or carve out a place for poker.
2) Online poker must come under a regulatory body that has not merely oversight but punitive controls that will force out the rogue operators who give a black eye to the legitimate companies.
In the absence of accomplishing those two things, the outlook is not as pretty as it used to be. The industry will not dry up, but it will not thrive. For many years, it has simply seemed easier to stick with the status quo. There is no book on how to survive this. Bradford Algier can only teach us how to find food and stay warm. This new poker world uncharted territory. I am guilty as everybody else in believing that the good times would last far longer than they have. Now, we all have to be responsible. Otherwise, the poker community is facing a lonely wilderness where the game is not as plentiful and winter is coming.