Profession vs. Recreation: Should Professional Poker Exist?

171

Recently on Twitter, Isaac Haxton got a debate going about PokerStars‘ new game format, Beat the Clock.

Haxton ridiculed the format, seeming to argue that the rake combined with the speed of the games were little more than a rake-fest for the house. What ensued was a discussion about what draws different types of players to poker.

pro-poker

That feeds into a larger debate and a question about poker in general: Should professional poker even be a viable career or should poker be only a recreational game enjoyed by many, but not used to make a living? PokerNews tackled the issue.

Pro Poker is a Key Part of the Game’s Appeal

Poker is one of the most popular games in the world, enjoyed by millions of people in countless different formats at stakes that vary from playing for bragging rights to playing for thousands of dollars in a single bet.

But that last part means there will always be players winning enough money to pay the bills. Is that a good thing?

Certainly, there are some arguments against it. For one thing, people say poker players aren’t contributing anything to society.

It’s hard to argue against that, as the goal of poker is inherently to take from others for your own gain. But in that case, why pick on poker? There are plenty of lines of work whose utility to society is questionable at best. Are Wall Street traders doing anything besides lining their own pockets? And I’m guessing society wouldn’t collapse under its own weight if manicurists all suddenly dropped dead and we all had to take care of our own nails.

As long as poker players are paying their taxes, they are contributing as all citizens are really obliged to contribute. Citizens not named Donald Trump, anyway.

THE DREAM OF BEING A WINNING PLAYER IS PART OF WHY WE ALL STARTED AND IT’S PART OF WHY THE NEXT GENERATION OF PLAYERS WILL START.

And, yes, poker can be enjoyed without a single cent on the line. But, at its core, poker is like any competitive game – the goal is to win. Winning in poker is done through beating opponents and the “score” of poker is kept by walking away from a game with more than your initial stake.

That’s a central part of the appeal of the game. Study the game hard enough, put in enough hours of practice, hone your ability to read everything from faces to bets to ranges and you might be able to make some money doing this.

Roulette may draw plenty of people to the table to fire off on red or black, but nobody is going to the store and buying a book about roulette or logging on to their computer to watch a Jason Somervilleequivalent punt off in an online casino.

People want to win at this game because they know it’s possible to win at this game. They dream of one day winning a big tournament or crushing games to the point where they can put out a $1,000 bet and have it be just another day in the office.

Without the viability of that dream, poker is just roulette. Yes, segments of the professional community can be insufferable, but do we really want poker to be roulette?

Professional poker isn’t going away any time soon unless Fedor Holz shares his secrets with the masses and we all become razor-sharp wizards able to instantly read a player’s range and react with a game theory optimal play. And until or unless that happens, it shouldn’t go away. Because the dream of being a winning player is part of why we all started and it’s part of why the next generation of players will start.

That’s how poker keeps bringing in players, staying healthy and giving us all a reason to go back to the felt, whether we are just there for fun or because we hope to make a little money.

— Mo Nuwwarah

Poker is a Game, Not a Career Choice

Poker is a game, not a job, and it’s certainly not a profession.

Most of those who choose to make a career out of something the rest of the working world does on evenings and weekends as a recreational pursuit aren’t joining any kind of professional ranks. They are dropping out of society and choosing to live on the fringes.

There are exceptions of course. The exceptionally skilled or lucky few who rise to tremendous success, develop a fan following and become celebrities, endorse poker-related businesses or accept sponsorships and a responsibility to promote the game can make a career out of it.

MOST OF THOSE WHO CHOOSE TO MAKE A CAREER OUT OF SOMETHING THE REST OF THE WORKING WORLD DOES ON EVENINGS AND WEEKENDS AS A RECREATIONAL PURSUIT AREN’T JOINING ANY KIND OF PROFESSIONAL RANKS.

Those who dedicate their time to teaching others how to get better at the game may be involved in something more akin to work as well.

The rest of the professional poker playing community is simply gambling for a living. They make few, if any, contribution to society. For the most part, these are relatively smart people who choose greed, laziness and self delusion as their path. They are otherwise capable of doing something a little more meaningful with their lives.

Instead, they opt for a life with little in the way of structure, responsibility or any of the hallmarks of traditional career choices.

The poker industry bears little resemblance to major sports leagues around the world, and despite recent efforts to sportify the game, pro poker players aren’t anything close to the professional athletes in the NBA, NFL or even the PGA. The economics of it are different. Poker is not the perfect embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit, nor is it an alternative investment opportunity. It’s simply a game.

Casinos have long been considered recession-proof businesses. Part of the reason is that in times of economic trouble, many unemployed people turn to alternative methods to make money. The propensity for people to try to gamble for a living keeps casinos afloat. A global economic downturn over the past decade may explain why so many people have started calling themselves professional poker players. With few job prospects and economic opportunities, they may have had no other choice.

The truth is that most run out of money, backing or credit within a few years and give it up, making way for a new crop of college dropouts and failed job seekers to replace them. It’s only the truly sharp among them who quickly realize there was nothing professional about the pursuit to begin with.

— Marty Derbyshire