On WSOP champs, ambassadorship, and the future of poker

There was a lot of talk not too long ago during the Aussie Millions regarding what Joe Hachem had to say. Joe was talking both about the recent WSOP Main Event champions -- going back to when he won in 2005 -- and about younger players in general and how they relate to others at the tables, and how he felt like the game wasn't quite as much fun these days as it was in the past.

First he talked about how the Main Event champion can have a role in helping improve the game. This can happen, for sure. If Daniel Negreanu were to win the Main Event, for example, it would be perfect because everyone would see him as an example of how to play and keep the game fun.

Joe mentioned Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang in his comments (who won in 2006 and 2007) and how those two kind of disappeared from the poker scene after winning their titles, but to me that's not necessarily good or bad. Sometimes a career in poker is not for everyone, especially for guys who have other jobs or families as can be the case for players who are a little older. Not everyone who wins the WSOP Main Event wants to tour all of the time or continue playing tournaments, and that is absolutely their choice.

I've always said that I don't think it should be the role of the Main Event champion to be the ultimate example when it comes to poker -- you know, the one everyone is going to look to as a kind of "ambassador" for the game going forward. That said, I agree that the Main Event champ is going to be recognized everywhere and therefore is going to be looked to as a kind of example, and so it is important for that person to try to behave well both at the tables and elsewhere.

Regarding Joe's larger point about younger players and the need to be sociable at the table, I know that some whose background is mainly playing online will play the way they do because they are mainly trying not to give off any tells. In other words if they've never really played live, they don't move, they don't talk, they take a lot of time before making decisions, and so on, because they don't want to give anything away.

I think that's what happens to some extent, which explains why some younger players might not be as fun to play with as those who are more outgoing. But of course when everyone is playing like that the game becomes less fun and sociable because there is less interaction at the tables.

I think a lot depends on the kind of tournament, too, when it comes to how players should act. For example, at EPT Main Events there are so many qualifiers playing that the field is going to be more varied with a lot more amateurs playing. The WSOP Main Event is like that, too, with players from all sorts of backgrounds participating. During those kinds of events it is even more important to be inviting and make the less experienced players feel comfortable and want to come back again. Of course, it's easier to be friendly earlier in those events than later on, and so when you get deeper it's okay, I think, to be more serious and talk less.

Meanwhile in high rollers and bigger buy-in events the fields are a lot different with a lot more pros. Even the businessmen who aren't pros are usually experienced with that sort of environment, too, and so there's probably less of a need to be as worried about making sure people are having fun.

So Joe's making a call to everyone -- Main Event champions, young players, and those with more experience, too -- to keep in mind when playing live to be friendly and do what we can to make sure everyone is having fun. Obviously the recreational players aren't going to come back if they don't have fun, and that hurts not just them but everyone.

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One way to look at it is to realize that you have both short-term and long-term goals in poker. In the short term, you want to make as much money as you can and win whatever tournament you are playing right now. But if you're thinking long term you're also aware that while trying to win the current tournament you're also wanting to make sure the recreational players and everyone, really, wants to keep coming back, too.

There aren't that many Main Event champions out there. Those of us who do keep playing and being part of poker should, I think, represent ourselves and the game as well as we can. But really it's up to everyone to do what they can to make the game fun and enjoyable. Everyone wants the game to continue to grow, and I think everyone can contribute to help make that happen.

Daniel Negreanu had some good thoughts along these lines in a Two Plus Two thread he started called "My Vision for the Poker World." Phil Galfond also had a really, really great post called "Speaking for the New School" which I liked, too, and recommend for those wanting to think more about ways we can all help improve the game.

Jonathan Duhamel is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

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