For over 50 years, the legendary story of how All-Star Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax declined to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series in deference to Yom Kippur has resonated strongly in the hearts and minds of Jews and sports fans around the world. Decades after the game, in a rare interview, Koufax memorably told ESPN that “There was no hard decision for me… It was just a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”
When Poker Opportunity Knocks, You Go All In
On March 15th, I received an email from Rich Ryan, inviting me to attend the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Tournament of Champions as his company’s guest. In return for flight, hotel, and “extras,” all that was being asked of me was to provide “some sort of visibility on Cardplayer Lifestyle. You would have complete freedom of content.”
It’s difficult to put into words the delight I experienced in receiving such an email. In particular, the chance to meet Rich and the faces of the WPT for the first time – Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, Adam Pliska, Lynn Gilmartin, Matt Savage, and Tony Dunst – really excited me as a poker fan. There were also tons of poker players I’d get to meet for the first time, including Joe Hachem, Phil Laak, Jennifer Tilly, and Anthony Zinno, among countless others.
Ever since I returned home from covering the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure back in January, I’ve been thinking nonstop about heading abroad again for another chance to do some live poker event coverage. Getting to do so in gorgeous South Florida, on the prestigious stage set by the World Poker Tour for its exclusive season-ending Tournament of Champions event, is a feather in the cap for any member of the poker media.
You’d think that accepting the WPT’s amazing offer would be a no-brainer, right? Especially in today’s poker climate, when companies’ marketing spend is no longer what it used to be, this would be no time to look a gift horse in the mouth.
But then I checked my calendar. As it turned out, the event was scheduled to begin right at the start of Passover.
Yet, Some Things Are More Important to Me Than Poker
I’ve been thinking a lot about Sandy Koufax over the last month.
About two years ago, I published a post about how I Don’t Blog about Poker on Shabbos. In it, I detailed what it meant for someone involved in poker media to be “shomer Shabbos.” At the time, all of the potential “issues” I listed were theoretical. After all, I live in Israel, produce content for this blog on my own schedule, and had never really done any live event coverage.
On the one hand, Rich’s email thus presented my first true “test.” On the other hand, it really didn’t. As an orthodox Jew, some things are just more important to me than poker. I called Rich up to sincerely thank him for the invitation, which I then politely and respectfully declined.
Just as I did in my blog post from a couple years back, I’ll borrow another quote from The Big Lebowski’s Walter Sobchak: “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax.”
Shabbos and the Jewish holidays are part and parcel of the fabric of Jewish identity. For thousands of years, perhaps due to its inherent nature of celebrating freedom, Passover has remained one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, even by those Jews who wouldn’t identify as “religious.”
Not a particularly observant man, Sandy Koufax understood that some values needed to be held in higher esteem, so he made a powerful, telling, choice.
Where Will the Jewish Poker Champions Be?
It’s no secret that many successful poker players are Jewish. Some of them have come forward and publicly lamented the upcoming scheduling conflict:
@Lance_Bradley @AFeldmanESPN @WPT The tournament dates conflict with Passover 1st night makes it nearly impossible for us Jews to play.???
— Eli Elezra (@elielezra1) March 24, 2016
The @WPT Tournament of Champions is on the first night of Passover? (4/22) WTF?!?! – IDC about the holiday, but angry to miss family time!
— Matthew Waxman (@Matthew_Waxman) April 7, 2016
For what it’s worth, I think it’s important to not point fingers of blame at the World Poker Tour. It’s an independently-run organization whose officers can choose to schedule events wherever and whenever they please.
I’d find it hard to believe that the WPT brain trust got together one day and decided to specifically hold their 2016 Tournament of Champions on Passover. I doubt that anyone who had a say in the event’s scheduling even noticed the conflict; and why would they?
Hopefully, situations like this can be avoided in the future.
What’s done is done, though, and the Tournament of Champions will, of course, go ahead as scheduled. I wish everyone at the World Poker Tour lots of success in making the series a memorable and successful one.
We All Have the Freedom to Choose
One of the most beautiful things about freedom is the ability to make choices of your own. It’s one of the greatest gifts that Passover has bestowed upon us.
Put plainly, I could have chosen to board a plane in a couple days and head to a poker mecca to report to the world about incredible action around the poker tables.
Instead, I’ve chosen to stay here in the Jewish Homeland and tell my kids the inimitable story of Passover around the Seder table.