"What hath God wrought."
It's what I wished I'd been quick enough to say that night in Las Vegas.
I was in the seven seat and on the heater of my trip. It was one of those gorgeous nights where nothing goes wrong, aces hold up, draws get there, and the other players are either scared or vindictive enough to try to make moves.
The guy in the two seat was playing badly. He'd just come over from a different game and it was obvious he was playing on the last money in his pocket. He wore a hooded sweatshirt, a flat-billed cap, and a pair of dark shades.
He hadn't been sitting at the table for a full orbit and had yet to play a hand with me when he came in for a raise. I called in position and flopped open-ended. When he made his continuation bet, I made the call. He checked the turn and I checked behind. The river paired me and he checked again. This time I bet out. He scowled and folded, saying as he mucked his cards, "If I were you, I'd kill myself."
I was actually surprised at how speechless I was. I'd heard and read the same phrase before, but it had never been directed at me. If it was an attempt at tilting me, it was fruitless, as I was running well and in a good mood. If it was an attempt at bravado, whatever he gained was short-lived. He busted soon after and I never saw him again.
Still, I had no response. Yet, today, I still think about that guy, not because he was a good poker player, but because he didn't think twice about throwing out a line like that after playing his hand the way he did and losing.
I was me and I didn't want to kill myself. This guy, however, seemed pretty sure of himself.
And he's not alone.
Several months ago I spent a lot of time reading 2+2. While I got a lot of enjoyment and a sense of community from reading poker blogs, I felt like there were a lot of other voices and ideas in forum communities. I never posted on 2+2, but spent a lot of time lurking around the legislative and online poker forums.
One day, there was a particularly good post about the legal implications of the NETeller pull-out and what it meant for online poker players. It stretched down the page longer than the average forum post, but was insightful and I felt more educated for having read it.
The very next post in the thread spanned five letters: TLDNR.
I looked at the acronym and felt old. I had no idea what it meant. I checked in with Google and discovered the acronym stood for "Too long, did not read."
I sighed. A lost, illiterate soul, I figured. That was until I scrolled down further and found several people offering a heartfelt, "LOL" about the "TLDNR." I scrolled down a little more and found several people asking for a summary of the post.
Before long--much like seeing a new car for the first time and then seeing it eight times in the same day--I started seeing the same acronym and the same tired requests for summaries in posts all over 2+2.
It was not a lost, illiterate soul. It was a growing subculture that lived under a banner of "I don't have time for your shit. Either give it to me or get the fuck out of my way."
My work has offered me both the privilege of seeing some of the best things about poker and the sickness of seeing some of the worst. I've written in depth about the good things I've seen. Whether to protect my tenuous position in the industry or out of some hope I was wrong, I've never written much about the young guns.
I've been back from the World Series for a couple of weeks now and hoped it would be enough time to cool me off. Human Head might say it's given me time to get properly indignant, like a reformed smoker or drinker who spends hours telling you how you're killing yourself. I'm not sure either has happened. I'm not properly cool, nor am I indignant (even if I'm coming across as such). I'm just worried.
See, if you didn't know, "What hath God wrought" were the first words Samuel Morse sent across telegraph lines. It was a form of communication that required shorthand like SOS, 73 (best wishes), and 30 (the end). There was an economy of time based on how slow the new fast process was.
Once an indispensible form of communication, the Pony Express and other advanced systems of communication sent Morse shorthand the way of the dodo a long time ago. Now we live a century later and have more ways to communicate than we need. People like me like to think we've gained a lot more knowledge through technology. However, there are a lot of folks out there that may be suffering the opposite effect. Today, short-hand is not because of a literal lack of time. It's laziness and a feeling that our time is much better spent doing something other than actually communicating.
Now, you'd think this is the middle of a long rant about the kids refusing to read anything that takes more than five minutes to shove in their brain. However, it's not. The refusal to read is a mere symptom of a larger problem.
I need to preface the following with a pretty obvious statement. There are some damned good kids out there playing poker today. By that, I don't mean they are just good poker players. They are good people. The most obvious example is Jason Strasser. If you don't know him, look him up. The kid is ten years younger than I am and more mature by just as many. He knows his place in poker and he's finding his place in the world.
One night, he and I stood at the literal crossroads in the Amazon Room at the WSOP. We had a discussion that lasted longer than it should've based on how long he had during his tournament break. However, during that time, Strasser managed to reveal a lot about himself. Despite being wildly successful in poker, he's leaving the life for a while to try out a life on Wall Street. As we parted, he said something to the effect of, "I will still be able to play poker in three years. If I wait on Wall Street, I may miss that opportunity." Though Strasser has made more money in poker than he stands to make on Wall Street in his first year, he's looking for something else for a while.
Strasser is just one example. There are several other young guys out there who have made an honorable life for themselves in poker or businesses surrounding poker. Eric "Rizen" Lynch, Nat Arem, and Luca Pagano come to mind, as well as several others you likely have never heard of. However, for every one of the good kids, there seems to be five others who have fallen victim to the TLDNR culture.
Now, you might think this is a rail-job on poker. It's not, per se. I see it everywhere. It just so happens that most of the kids I meet, I meet at the poker tables.
Unlike naming the good kids above, I'm not going to call out names on the bad ones. If you're not part of the world, you wouldn't recognize the names anyway. If you are part of the world, you know who I'm talking about. But what am I talking about? I'm talking about a subsection of the 19-28 year olds who believe that they are entitled to whatever they can win, borrow, or steal. Their grasp on morality, etiquette, and the golden rule is as weak as their handshake. If there is a gray line, they are happy to cross it if they believe they can benefit from it financially. What's more, they feel more than entitled in doing so.
In most industries, these traits will get you fired, get you arrested, or turn you into a pariah fast enough. Only in the entertainment industry and poker can you be an immoral, egomaniacal kid and find quick success. And the success, it can get you high faster than any drug. I can't speak personally about the kind of success the kids are having these days, but there was a year or two when I was playing the biggest games online. When I was winning, I thought I was King fucking Kong. I discovered quickly enough that success can be fleeting. I figured it out before I went poker-broke, thankfully. Still, I know what winning feels like and, like Chris Rock says, "I understand."
I was fortunate enough to have a few things on which to fall back. I'm not sure that a lot of the younger folks do. Many of them are winning insane amounts of money right now. Many of them are buying $30,000 watches, $100,000 cars, and who knows what else.
I don't begrudge their winning. For their sake, I hope it continues. However, it might be good if they look around and see what guys just a few years their senior are in the middle of right now. Like, without naming names, one known pro standing on the rail at the WSOP and repeatedly pestering another known pro because the latter is into him for more than a hundred grand and refuses to pay back the money. Or another known pro who is well-known for his big cash play who is spending more time hawking a D-list energy drink at the WSOP than he is playing poker. Why? Well, you can guess the rumors. That's not even to mention the Vinnie Vinh and Eskimo Clark stories.
As you might imagine, though, I'm not writing this entirely out of an altruistic worry for the up-and-coming generation. I mean, really, as a poker player, I should be happy if these guys continue to play and refund the poker economy. My greater worry is this: in ten or fifteen years, if nothing changes, a majority of the poker world will be made up of the kind of people I'm talking about. They are people who don't think multi-accounting is wrong because other people do it. They are people who believe collusion is okay if they can get away with it. They are people who think it is okay to borrow money and disappear. They are the people who feel it is completely appropriate to write (a honest to goodness line from a poker forum), "I would have put up the money to abort you."
In a game that is so great on so many levels, they are the people who represent everything that's wrong with it. It would be different if they were dinosaurs we were sending out to pasture (pardon the mixed metaphor, but it sort of fit, I think). However, they're not. They are Generation Next.
Maybe my worry is unfounded. Maybe I just haven't met enough of the Jason Strassers and Eric Lynchs to make me believe it's all going to be okay. Over my few years in the business, I've put my faith in a few of the young guns. Out of four I honestly, truly believed in, two have held my faith and two have broken my heart. I'm tired of putting my money in on coin flips.
And, of course, I hope to be wrong. I hope the above is just the late-night ramblings of a guy who needs a serious break from everything. Poker has been so good to me and it's a game I hope to play for the rest of my life. I hope poker's success live and online will continue unabated for as long as any of us care to play. I simply hope that there are enough good people out there to keep an eye on a generation in which I've lost a lot of faith.
The thing about the poker world is that it lets anybody with money in. There is not a sign at the door, a test to take, a guaranteed mentor to follow, or a list of terms and conditions anybody has to sign. Even if there were, most of the people I'm talking about would just scroll to the bottom and sign their name without reading.
I figure I've run the risk of offending some folks with this post. I've nearly deleted it twice now. However, I finally decided that no one I'm talking about will have read far enough to see any of this.
And if they did, it will just have been to scroll down far enough to comment, "TLDNR."