When you fall in love with something, be it music, an athletic sport, or a game of mental warfare like poker, you fall even harder and without haste for those who you believe are the best at that given skillset. Ten years ago, I feel in love with poker and its superstars. I never thought I’d watch so many of them fall from grace with such a clumsy and embarrassing tumble.
I used get goose bumps watching Full Tilt Poker commercials. The TV screen would go black and white. There would be slow motion shots of chips flying or faces contorting in anguish at the table, while a member of Team Full Tilt narrates the scene with a calm, knowing voice. Every time I saw one, a chill would run up my spine at the thought of someday being one of them. Remember?
Team Full Tilt seemed like an assembly of poker’s indestructible super heroes. I built them up as stoic, merciless players, incapable of error. I idolized them -- The Mouth, The Professor, The Great Dane, Chris JESUS Ferguson. All of them.
Of course much of the information from articles, indictments, public files and the Lederer Files is still under scrutiny and we haven’t heard all sides of the story, but the damage has been done.
There are traces of greed found in every critical decision made after Black Friday. There are shareholders who, despite incredibly generous paychecks, needed to borrow money from the company. That leads us to believe that they couldn't live within their means, had gambling problems or couldn't hack it at the poker tables anymore. There is childish finger pointing, cold-shouldering, hiding, blame dodging, and how the EF is no one taking responsibility for random millions of dollars that were lost/stolen/accidentally transferred or WHATEVER!
Breathe. (ok, residual anger. back to sad now).
It is unfair to judge the heart or intent of any of these people. Everyone has issues, and maybe it was unfair to put them on such a high pedestal in the first place. I have come to know a couple of these people personally and have nothing but great things to say about every interaction I've had with them. I truly believe they are good people. Perhaps a result of severe cognitive dissonance coupled with a few bad decisions put them in the positions they are in today. Maybe the players who owe money have it and would gladly pay it back but because of circumstances we don’t understand, they haven't. Maybe no one really knew about the massive shortfall in player funds. Or, maybe not. Maybe they all knew what was going on, didn’t care and we’ve just had to pay the price. I’m not sure.
I wish that more of them would talk to us. We all just want the truth. Sure, no one HAS to. They are not obliged, but I feel as though they owe it to us. Their fame and most of their once fortune is all due to us, their fans --the players who idolized them and wanted to “learn, chat, and play with the pros.” We logged on to Full Tilt Poker with trust in our hearts, bluffing ice in our veins, and lust to become great players, like them, in our eyes. Come on guys-- sit down, don’t squirm, and tell us what happened. (And if you guys might think this a ploy for me or PokerNews to land an interview, it’s not. Just talk to anyone.)
I don’t know. Maybe I just want them to talk and free themselves of blame so I can go back to my innocent, starry-eyed view of them. The point is, after watching the Lederer Files, I’m just sad. I’m sad to see these once formidable symbols of poker reduced to unfavorable and hopefully unfair labels. I miss the golden age of poker, but I guess everyone else does too, for various reasons (ya you know, back when no one cold five-bet shipped as a bluff). As with anything, particularly in poker, we’ll have to adjust without them to look up to.
I’m hopeful that there are pros who are excited to take on the responsibility of poker role models. We already have a few obvious ones in Team PokerStars Pros who rep the company donning the super hero cape, but I know there are tons of other players who also want to help put a positive light on the game we love.
As an optimist, I'm hopeful for the future of poker and Full Tilt and excited to see who PokerStars chooses to the fill the Team roster with. I'm excited to shake off the dust on my mini FTOPS jersey (which came very close to the shredder), and wear it proudly. To close this blog out, I'll leave you with a couple more classic (er never aired) FTP commercials.
Having taken French in high school and bit in college, one would assume I'd know enough of the language to get around. For me, this is absolutely true. However, you must take into account the stage-fright factor.
"Bonjour!" --- Frenchperson
"Bahn-ger" --- me. Facepalm for terrible accident
---me. You know this, just answer. No don't, you sound stupid. Just say it damnit! Ehhh [blank stare]
"Oh, how are you?" ---Frenchperson reads my face, immediately speaks English.
It's nerve racking to try and speak a different language, but I found a solution... Have a couple beers! I knock back a couple cold ones and I'm pretty much fluent (or, I think am... or maybe it's the alcohol). Either way, I find Paris to be completely contradictory to the common stereotype Americans have for French people. My interactions with Parisians have been 95% positive (I mean, there are douchebags everywhere in the world, right?).
After a few days practicing, I got over my stage fright. Yesterday, I was in line to pay at a cafe when I notices an older, slightly haggard woman trying to buy just a bagguette. She pulled out some change, and I saw the cashier shake his head no. As she turned to leave and I panicked a bit as I tried to think of the words to say.
"Uhhhh Je umm acheter. J'achete." Translation: uhhhh I ummm to buy. I buy."
It wasn't perfect, but it was enough for everyone to understand what I wanted to do. The woman looked me in the eyes and said, 'Merci," with sincerity that I have rarely seen. Despite how amazing it felt to give in that manner, I couldn't help but feel guilty that she was so grateful for just a loaf of bread. I wished I had given her more.
In incredibly stark contrast to that exchange, I was lucky enough to be treated to a once-in-a lifetime experience. My cameraman, Mantys, and I tagged along to a Michelin star restaurant called L'Atelier. We went to film it, but managed to snag two seats at the table. It was a luxurious five-course meal with two beautiful desserts. Not only was I treated to the best meal I've ever had, but we also got to meet the man who created it. Joël Robuchon just happened to be at the restaurant that day (he is French but has restaurants all over the world). For most of you, this doesn't mean much, but if you're a foodie, you are probably steaming with jealousy. I wouldn't consider myself a connoisseur of food, but I sure watch a lot of Master Chef and Chopped meaning I'm basically an expert when it comes to gourmet food. And my opinion is that dinner was perfection.
Oh yeah, and we were here to cover a poker tournament! It was the WPT Grand Prix de Paris. Here are all the highlights you need:
I'm off to Malta tomorrow morning to cover the WPT event there as well! PEACE