I remember the eyes of the Bahamian Gaming Board members. The whites had grown large against the dark faces as they stood on the rail and watched hundreds of people dig thousands of dollars out of their pockets. The Gaming Board was beside itself.
Poker? People are acting this way because of poker?
The action games were a twenty minute walk to the main casino. There, the odds were against all the players. The casino officials were doing their best to lure the crowds to the casino for $25 mininum bet craps. Instead, the poker players were lined up ten-deep at every table looking to play...poker.
That was almost exactly a year ago, at the beginning of 2005, a year that's been called everything from the downslope of a fad to the continuation of a revolution.
So, which is it?
On the bubble?
It's usually one of my drunk friends trying to be serious, or a relative who can't quite grasp what I do for a living who asks, "So, how long do you think it will last?" They mean the poker boom, or, in their minds, the poker bubble. In their eyes, I see a muted form of pity. They know I've staked my profession, and most recently my family's financial stability, on an industry that is widely being described as a fad.
I usually answer, "I dunno. A year? Twenty years? I'm not worried." It's usually an answer that doesn't satisfy the people who want me to realize I've put all my eggs in a very fragile basket.
Just the other day, I saw a story online at CNN Money. It was, in essence, an obituary for the poker industry. The evidence was overwhelming. Walgreens and Wal-Mart were having a hard time selling poker chips, so they were moving them to the back of the stores. Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.
Like the reality TV boom--which despite my repeated insistence that it must die, it lives on--when poker started to look popular again, every manaufacturer in the country started adding poker products to the line-up. "Cash in while you still can!" was the battle cry. Soon, cheap poker sets started showing up at Barnes and Noble and CVS.
And apparently, the chips were selling for a while, but have since not been selling as well. This has the economy wonks in a masturbatory lather. "Kill it. Kill the industry! Give us something to talk about! Die, poker, die! (Which, later they would claim in court was German 'for the, poker, the')"
I thought about the chip sales falling off and wondered if there had been a time during the beginning of televised baseball in which bats and gloves sold like hotcakes. Eventually, nearly every kid on the block had one. Bats and gloves last for a long time, so there was no reason to buy new ones. Kind of like poker chips and plastic cards, now that I think about it. Did some economy wonk say baseball was dead?
I kept digging through the story looking for some further evidence that poker was dead and I was screwing a corpse (necrophilia never having beeen among my top ten fetishes, I was a little worried I'd turned an ugly corner). Apparently some father of a teenager said his son was at once time excited about the game, but now never talks about it.
That was about all the evidence I needed. The simple fact that a teenager couldn't keep his attention focused on something for longer than a year was certain evidence the game that supports my family was rotting in a grave.
People talk about poker like it is the dot com boom, a time of heady investment in which venture capitalists sprung erections over smart young kids and the stock market followed along. Eventually, when not everybody could be the next big thing, the bubble fell sticky on the floor, bunch of rich people lost money, and a bunch of smart young kids lost several years of their life.
Poker is not the dot com boom. The bubble, when and if it bursts, will not happen all at once. And it won't be because of slagging poker chip sales. Frankly, other than an attack by the federal and state governments on online and home game poker, I can't think of any one force could seriously damage poker popularity in the near future.
The problem for our society is that it spends so much time looking for action, growth, movement, and the 'next big thing' that it never has the patience to ride out a good thing. It kills its babies before they can be truly productive. We live in an ADD culture that is hopped up on perscription speed and not content to watch a movie that lasts more than one hour and 42 minutes. That's why our society at large has a hard time accepting poker as a long-term proposition. We are surroundded by action junkies who want to be in on every hand instead of waiting for cards that will pay off. People with that attitude may think they can handle poker, but they are really looking for Pai Gow. Trust me, I know.
In short, the people standing at the side of the table screaming for the river card that will sink poker are the same people who are betting the Don't Pass line at the craps table (no offense, CJ). I like to think of them as Andre the Giant's neighbors. "Damn, Martha, the boy is getting big. Jesus, Martha, he's getting huge--like eight feet tall! Wait, he's not getting any bigger. What's on TV?"
Protesting too much?
There have been and will be people who suggest I'm the relative of the terminal cancer paitent who insists his loved one has a chance. They further have or will suggest that since I have such a vested interest in poker's viability that I can't be objective about its ability to sustain itself as a viable industry.
I've thought about this a lot and have come to believe, surprisingly, that I'm right and those people are wrong. At least for now.
I won't pretend that I have any greater evidence than slagging chip sales to support my assertion that poker is not quite done growing and hasn't even considered dying yet. My evidence, like the economy wonks, is anecdotal. Nonetheless, I offer it for your end of year thoughts.
Those are just three little things that knock my socks off. Every one of them is amazing in its own right. That's to say nothing about the millions and millions of dollars being wagered at any moment in online and brick and mortar poker rooms.
So, in short, 2005 was a year of unsustainable growth. I can accept that. Anything that continues to grow that fast will implode under its own weight. I think 2006 will be a year of growth for the industry, but not nearly as large as it was in 2005. Within a year or two, we might see a plateau and maybe even a soft decline. But, as near as I can tell, despite Walgreens soft plastic chip sales, poker is here to stay for a long time.
You may or may not have noticed that I have not written a lot about my personal play in the past six months or so. Unless there was a great story to go along with a game, I didn't see much reason to explain my reasoning behind calling with my aces even though I figured Shep held a better hand. Unless there was some great help I thought I could offer with explaining why I took two or three big shots this year, I just kept it to myself or private conversations.
So, how did I do this year? Well, my record keeping has not been as good as one might imagine (something I plan to rectify in 2006), but I know I set a bankroll goal for myself back in June. It was seemingly unattainable at the time, but things changed around mid-summer and I never looked back. I hit the goal and then bested it by another 50%. No one is more amazed than me.
I'm playing online regularly at levels that I would ont have comprehended even a year ago. I'm also fairly happy with my tournament game, although there is some tweaking that needs to happen for me to think I'm any good.
My biggest personal problem is my apparently inability to translate online success to good live play. That, by the way, is another New Year's poker resolution.
But, my resolutions and goals will have to wait for another post.
After all, it's New Years's Eve and I'm going to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure in two days.
Happy New Year, all. Thanks for making it one of the best.