The great “politics in poker” debate has sure gotten a lot of buzz over the last couple of weeks. The catalyst was the chosen attire of Olivier Busquet and Daniel Colman at the European Poker Tour’s Super High Roller event in Barcelona (T-shirts bearing the messages “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine”, respectfully). I then wrote a widely cited op-ed piece contending that there’s no room for politics in poker. World Series of Poker Media Director Nolan Dalla decided to put forth his widely cited counterpoint argument in response. I followed up with a detailed, point by point reply to Nolan, and he then decided to make a video.
Along with all of that, as mentioned, the rest of the poker world sure has been talking about the topic, so I felt the need to make a video of my own, offering my final thoughts on this important issue. I hope you enjoy watching; it’s really the first video I’ve ever made. If you’re interested, you can find a transcript below, which includes links to the articles and podcasts I mention by name.
Well – the poker world sure seems to be talking a lot about politics’ place in the game. I think that’s a great thing and I’m specifically grateful to Nolan Dalla for helping to get this issue the coverage it deserves.
So many poker sites have covered the issue, with many well-known pro players offering their opinions, as have many talented poker writers. I encourage you, if you have the time, to read up as much as you can on the subject. Lots of people are saying lots of interesting things that deserve to be considered; on both “sides” of the debate. A further point about that, I think it’s important to be open-minded about all this and not necessarily have a predetermined opinion. Let’s all be discussing and debating the issue of politics in poker – online, on social media, in blogs, in videos – just NOT at the poker table.
To his great credit, Olivier Busquet has also spoken openly about why he did what he did, wearing the “Save Gaza” shirt. You can find that on episode 92 of the Thinking Poker podcast, with Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis.
I was also a guest on the Mark Hoke Show on August 27th, where I spoke in more detail about the subject as well as addressed Mr. Busquet’s aforementioned comments. A link to the podcast is also available online.
Many other podcasts have carved out some time recently to discuss the issue and, again, I think this is a great thing.
I realize, however, that lots of people prefer to get their information not just via reading blog posts and listening to podcasts, but also via video, so that’s why I’ve decided to record this.
Endorsement of Nolan Dalla
I want to return the favor of Nolan Dalla’s phenomenal endorsement of my site – thank you for that – by encouraging you to visit NolanDalla.com. Nolan writes incredibly prolifically, not just about poker, but about all sorts of interesting and varied topics (and I don’t necessarily agree with him either, but it makes for interesting reading). I will also come out and support him (as I did in my blog) as a nominee for the Poker Hall of Fame.
Now, I’m tempted to make some points about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself, but that’s not what this debate is about. Nolan, perhaps you and I could talk about it one day when we finally meet in person.
So, let’s specifically address some points that Nolan Dalla brings up in his 38-minute video:
Private Conversations vs. Public Displays
The place of politics in poker, in my opinion, is away from the table.
I agree with you Nolan – no politics in the middle of a hand. Among themselves players ought to be able to talk about whatever they want. Nobody wants to see police monitoring what players say. That’s ridiculous. While I wouldn’t talk politics at the table, TALK shouldn’t be forbidden, BUT public displays ought to be. Television makes the statements public.
There’s a fine line between what goes on amongst the 9-10 people at the table versus what’s broadcast to a TV audience. Daniel Negreanu noted this in his blog post about this issue, saying there should be “separate rules for TV and non-TV tables”. He makes some good points and strong arguments, but I don’t know if his solution is practical. It can certainly be tried out.
Censorship vs. Dress Code
In his video, Nolan advocates making rulings on a case by case basis. I think this is likely to be logistically problematic. This opens the door to claims of favoritism and biased censorship on the part of PokerStars and other sanctioning bodies. So, I think it’s the wiser course of action to have a general ruling – and I still maintain the best solution is a dress code. Having a dress code is not a negative imposition on freedom of expression. It’s a positive things, which basically says to all players: “we’d like you to please respect our events”. If you think that calling for a dress code is audacious, I’ll point you in the direction of Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton, who has been calling for a dress code in poker for years.
Not A Suspension of Expressionism, Rather a Focus on Poker
I don’t believe that PokerStars wants, as Nolan says, “muted, unconnected uncaring poker players who’ve turned their brains off at the tables or when walking in the tournament area”.
I believe that they do want people who have entered their tournaments to be playing and focused on the poker and THAT’S also probably what they wish to be broadcast to the viewing audience; i.e., they likely just don’t want viewers distracted by displays of a political nature. Apropos, Mr. Hollreiser stated “we will refuse entry to poker players displaying statements of any kind”.
Nolan, you say that “you’ve never seen a fight at the table because of political differences”. Well, I have, between myself and a pro-Palestinian at the Commerce Casino in LA. Luckily it was a cash game and I could ask for a seat change. Whether you’ve seen a fight because of politics at the poker table or not, my question is “do you want to”?
Is Poker Itself Political? Is Everything Political? We Don’t Get to Decide
Nolan’s best point was when he put on the T-shirt supporting online poker and asked – isn’t this political? I think expressing solidarity with other poker players is a good thing; it’s part of what makes us all part of this “poker community”, but I personally don’t consider it to be a political issue; I think of poker as a game. Others might think poker is political, but that would essentially be up for the sanctioning tournament body and officials to decide on.
What Do The Players Owe PokerStars?
People also keep on saying “players pay their own way and ought to be able to dress however the want; it’s not as though they’re getting anything in return for their rake”. To that I say the following:
“Where and at which events would players play if they wouldn’t be held? The services being provided to the players are the hosting of the events as well as the televising of said events. Yes, things did used to be different and nobody used to say anything before TV and huge tournaments came along. But I don’t think we want to go back to the days of trying to find a Texas Hold’em game outside of LA or Vegas or of 100-player WSOP Main Events.
Most people who love poker want to see it grow. The main vehicle for this is television. The game of poker and all its players all owe TV for the poker boom. Most poker players and fans want to see more poker on TV and others to see it too for the first time. Most players used to protect their hands no matter what the consequence – now we’re able to see hole cards via TV. It’s something the game’s players have happily come to terms with in order to promote advancement of the game, and all players and the game itself is undoubtedly better off for it.
In short, the global growth of the game of poker is precisely the “compensation” for following the rules and restrictions of televised poker events.
I made it clear in my post and in my tweets during the EPT Live broadcast that I’m opposed to ALL political statements at the table, including those that support my own views. I never criticized anyone for having particular views, just that they were allowed to broadcast them publicly while sitting and playing poker in a televised tournament.
Raising awareness is critical for the welfare of our society – 100% agreed. But, there’s a time and a place to do it. Poker players ought to speak out in support of and against things. Not at the table while playing. As soon as they step away from the table during a break etc., let ’em speak their minds.
Victoria Coren and others seemed to have called me out for being a troublemaker and butting in to something that’s not my business. I think that I defended my stance on that in the comment I left on her blog post. I encourage you to read it.
What we all could’ve been discussing is the poker play at the EPT Super High Roller. That’s what people tuned in to the live stream for. Olivier and Daniel chose to make it about something else; about politics.
Artists and athletes, for the most part, don’t speak out politically while performing. They do it in interviews, in speeches, in articles, etc. Nobody seems to complain or feel that the dress code of athletes is “censorship” or removing their freedom of speech. Nolan brings up the 1968 Black Power salute at the Olympics. Yes, an iconic image; very famous. But let’s not forget that the two gentlemen were expelled from the Olympics because of it. There were subsequently ostracized from the U.S. sports establishment altogether.
To end things off, I want to thank you all for watching and listening to what I had to say. I think at this point Nolan and I can agree to disagree and I’ll say that I’ve definitely enjoyed debating this with him over the last couple of weeks.
Some of you may be wondering who I am, as I’m obviously not as well known as Nolan. I’m a dual US-Israeli citizen and moved here to Israel 15 years ago after growing up in Los Angeles. I founded the Cardplayer Lifestyle poker blog back in 2009 and have written hundreds of articles about poker there. I’ve also written for a number of other well-known poker publications, both print and online, and I’m the co-host of the Top Pair Home Game poker podcast, along with Bruce Briggs. I’m also the co-creator of the Poker Notes Live app, a free app available on iOS and Android, which is designed to help you take notes while playing live poker.
Like many of you, I love playing in my home game every week. Like many other poker writers out there, I do what I do in the poker world to try and make a difference and grow the game.
Thanks for listening and check out Cardplayerlifestyle.com