EPT11 Malta: Clock ticking on poker's "old guard"?
A high stakes poker tournament is not the first place you expect conversation to turn to career anxiety (seat and optional re-buy only €25,000). If there are players worried about their prospects in this game they're more likely to be found standing on the rail, rather than sitting on the other side of it.
But even high rollers, super ones at that, are prone to periods of self-doubt, agonising about the fact that somewhere, out in the big wide world, there's a scrawny 18-year-old kid in a bedroom about to humiliate them online. After all, they used to be 18 once, and they used to do the humiliating.
So while it was unclear how the topic turned to this subject, it got some players talking. Including Fabian Quoss.
"It feels like time is ticking, you know?" he said, in mellow yet aphoristic mood.
"We're getting old... all these kids," replied a half-serious Dani Stern.
It was sobering to think these guys, most still in their mid to late twenties, consider themselves to be the veterans. Frankly it's ridiculous. But then poker isn't like most things. Five years in poker is a long time, maybe long enough to count as a "generation". We often look around a high roller field and ask 'what's new?' Maybe there is nothing new, but that won't last forever. Something will change, which players like Quoss are all too aware.
"You don't think it's getting tougher?" said Quoss, directing his question to Brynn Kenney who was on his way back from the water fountain.
Kenney agreed, and looking across the tournament room said he was surprised how many had turned up. "Maybe a €100k event would be easier?"
Quoss took all this in. Maybe Kenney was right. The games are getting tougher Quoss said, of that there was little doubt. The instinctive reaction was that the only way to dodge the new players was to fly even higher, out of reach in games the new guys can't afford, not yet anyhow.
But Quoss, a supremely talented and self-confessed member of the old guard (even in lounge pants and espadrilles) was confessing that he was human after all, metaphorically looking over his shoulder at the advancing hoards. Not physically though. For had he done that he would have seen that future, in the shape of Ole Schemion, holding a rack of chips looking for a seat. Something subliminal must have clicked in Quoss's head.
"I think I might start learning PLO."
"Good idea," replied Stern. "It feels better to be more versatile."
Stern had been part of this conversation from the start. He agreed with much of what Quoss said, talking at the break about studying new variations of poker himself, diversifying as a way to protect himself, and his income. He gave an example.
"I remember when Spin and goes came out, a lot of the six-max hyper players were freaking out because now they couldn't make a living. I do appreciate that concern but part of my reaction was basically 'maybe you shouldn't play such a ridiculously specific form of poker; that you can only win at that one specific game'."
But while Stern admitted to enjoying poker now more than ever, did he share Quoss's anxiety about new players, and the latent threat they posed to his own status?
"I think that inevitable part of being a poker player," he said. "It's a really cut throat community. For the most part you're competing against other pros. Some of them are going to be lazy and not get better, but the ones who are playing high stakes are the ones trying really hard, working hard at their game and getting better. If you're not aggressive you're gonna keep finding it tougher and tougher."
Back at the table, Quoss was getting thoughtful again, cursing his own habit of playing poker almost exclusively at the cost of so many other things. He could have read more, coached soccer or anything, but there was that nagging fear of the game moving on without him. Perhaps it's nothing new. Instead it's a natural stage of a player's career: having met with success so early a few years of life experience show open new doors. And yet he dedicated himself to poker for a simple reason: it being the only way he could guarantee success. So the cost was opportunistic more than anything. Experiences missed, plans put on hold, things undone.
It's a melancholy peculiar to poker players, in Quoss case one that comes from winning $6.4 million in tournaments, but not having time to read as many books as he'd like. But then the effort might just be worth it. Nothing worth achieving was ever done so without effort and sacrifice.
Quoss politely declines interviews, but then the best things he talks about are spoken at the table anyway. He continues to prove the theory of total dedication, and on that he might still have the edge on the kid in their bedroom.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.