One day, I will take out my false teeth and dribble to my grandchildren about how I was there at the beginning of poker. I will retell, upon their glowing faces, the story of how I played my part in the revolution of the greatest game of my lifetime. They’ll probably be holograms and I’ll probably be in a mental institution, but you get the gist of the image I’m trying to create here.
Of course, I wasn’t there at the actual beginning of poker. Who knows when that was? Who can be bothered to read a whole Wiki entry these days?
I wasn’t there at the beginning of poker, or any of the other games that came before it as my ancestors stumbled through evolution, clinging admirably to their sense of play.
I did start working in a cardroom a year after MoneyMaker be makin’ some money, so I feel like I was there at the beginning of something; and because I loved poker, it felt like something special. I saw the games change, I saw the culture change, but because I hardly knew the beforetimes, it definitely felt like the beginning.
The cardroom I worked in was, by current expectations, a fucking shambles, but at the time it was still the best run cardroom and game in the area, by a long shot.
I remember a high number of younger people suddenly coming in. There were many people like me; geeky, sweaty types, from various gamer backgrounds, they’d discovered poker somehow, and got online. They’d already played nearly as many hands as the crusty old live-poker lifers, bringing some very alien skillsets into a very settled environment. Two distinct species were melding, bonding, bickering and looking at the valets’ arses together inside a Brave New World of Poker.
12 years ago, a luckbox with a salad aversion won a very high profile event, and we’re all still relying on that to bring us customers. When I say ‘we all’, I mean, players, dealers, TDs, cardroom operators, poker writers, commentators, valets, massage girls, and basically any of the hangers-on that the great poker machine creates.
We’re living in a dream world that has an expiration date, and just because that date is not exact and prominently clear from where we are now, doesn’t mean it’s smart of us to ignore its inevitability. Poker boomed because it was suddenly being fed into from the bottom end. The next poker celebrities were being born, but also the lifelong losers who love the game, and are happy to play for decades at –ROI, as long as they have fun. Time spent improving my game is time wasted if in a couple of years there are only hard-core sharks left to play with. If we all want to keep our poker profit stream, we have to ensure the poker gene pool is wide and healthy.
It is time for us all to roll our damn sleeves up, grease our forearms and deliver the next generation.
GrassRoots Growth: What Are You Doing?
A couple of years ago, I had a ‘homegame’ with my family at Christmas. Only my brother and one uncle knew how to play, and including me there were 12 people around a table meant for 8, two of whom were actual children. There was no lip to the table, it was a dining table. There was no baize, just a tablecloth with snowmen on it, and the dealer button was an overly crispy Yorkshire Pudding. I did have casino quality chips and cards in my handbag, but basically, it was carnage.
We learned all the hand rankings, how the button moved, etc etc. We agreed the stake for the ‘Sit ‘n’ Go’ would be 50p with 5000 chips, 10 min blinds and top 2 would get paid. Everybody was having fun; we tipped our silly cracker-hats to a jaunty angle and we starting playing poker. With cards flying everywhere, string bets, hand exposures, swapping chips (because “I like the red ones”), swapping cards (because “he hasn’t won one yet”) and swapping seats (because “I’m a martyr to my coccyx”), we played poker, of sorts.
Through the debacle, a star emerged, I can’t rightly remember his name. It’s not that I forget family members, but now various cousins are old enough to have boyfriends, and I can’t be expected to remember all their names; I do remember that he had a beard.
BeardyBF fell in love with poker that day. By the time he had come 2nd (unlucky, was even chipped and in good 4/1) in that ridiculous game, he was definitely hooked. He just ‘got it’ straight away. He was a smart young man. He’ll definitely be playing poker now, I promise you, and that makes me proud. I created a poker player for us, I made a little poker baby and sent him out into the world. To be fair, I think I probably created a poker baby who will grow up quickly and no doubt eventually take my money.
That’s not the point, whether we create fish or sharks, we all need to take responsibility for keeping the waters well inhabited in the long term.
GrassRoots Growth: What Are Casino Operators Doing?
Short answer, not as much as they should be, but before you start ranting about how it’s all their responsibility, let’s remember that casinos have only been able to operate as mainstream leisure venues since 2007. Before then, they were not allowed to advertise their product in any useful fashion. Competing for the mainstream dollar with an underdeveloped market presence is no mean feat, and casinos have already got their work cut out.
Most casinos now have a person responsible for customer recruitment, bringing customers in via the softer sell bar and restaurant facilities, but it’s difficult to get these customers to sit down and play poker.
The operator I used to work for has a poker learn-to-play package for new players. It’s a polished version of my family homegame, although everyone needs to be 18+. For £15 a head you can have 3hrs of an experienced staff member’s time with all the equipment, valet service, a meal, and a pint. It’s a nice Sunday afternoon with a twist where you can involve Grannies and Aunties, or a pre-carnage warm-up event before a Saturday night out. Your family/mates have fun and you’re the organiser, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll create a player.
I think I keep bringing it back to ‘you’ or ‘me’ or ‘us’ creating the players over the casinos, because I know that casinos can only do so much for poker, because it’s only part of their product. Casino groups should, and do, put resources into customer recruitment with poker players in mind, but regular cardroom players need to take maximum advantage of the resulting products, to ensure the longevity of poker.
GrassRoots Growth: The Online Function
More and more, when I mention I like poker to people, I get the response, “Oh! Me too! I play on FaceBook.” One girl I know has amassed millions upon millions of free chips. I asked her how many hours she had spent playing, and she didn’t know, but admitted it would likely be a good few. She plays when her kids have gone to bed and her husband is asleep in front of the football, and she really enjoys it.
People are spending the currency of time playing free apps, and never making the jump to being real cash depositors. Why not? I may have led you down a false route and implied that I can answer this question, when actually I can’t. I think the person who can answer it, and then works out a referral scheme that gets free-app players registered onto sites with cash-prize free-rolls and micro-stakes tournaments will be a rich individual, as well as doing a great service to the world of poker.
Gambling as a leisure activity has a bad rep, which makes some people more comfortable signing up to a website that does not allow actual gambling ‘for’ or ‘with’ stakes. If you pay $2.99 for 50k ‘freeplay chips’ it doesn’t count as gambling because the ‘play chips’ can never become cash money in your pocket, or anyone else’s, ever again.
The argument of whether (well-played) poker is actually gambling is a longstanding one, but personal opinions are irrelevant here, as the mainstream public perception of poker, is that it is a gambling game. When I asked my friend why she didn’t spend her poker hours playing for money, she replied:
“But everyone will be really good then, and I don’t have much money! It will be expensive and I’ll definitely lose.”
My friend loves playing a game of poker, and she’s associated with casinos, but the bombardment of ‘free money’ offers has overwhelmed her, to the point where she didn’t even research to find out she can play 10c tournaments on-line (“What?? Even I can afford that!”). I spent ten minutes telling her about my favourite money sites, told her to join the best one I knew for hassle/restriction/confusion/bullshit free bonus for new players and helped her sign up. She now has a bankroll of $18 from $0 deposit, and she got her sister to sign up yesterday. In a couple of months, I’m going to invite them both to a £10 newbie live game at a local casino and I think they’ll enjoy it; the spread continues.
GrassRoots Growth: The Future
I’ve re-typed ‘GrassRoots Growth’ several times today, because I want the phrase to stick in everybody’s heads. That is, everybody who makes their living from, or values their leisure time within, the poker eco-system.
The fade of ‘The Poker Boom’ does not have to mean the fade of poker, it is just time for evolution. At this crossroads, poker can shrink back to groups of old men playing eachother at exactly the same skill level, or it can spread into mainstream consciousness and become the game that every family plays to pass the after dinner sleepies on holiday.
In the interest of being practical, I’ve come up with three categories and associated actions. Pick the closest one and do what you can. My personal goal is to create one new poker baby a month, let me know how you get on.
- Casinos (Bricks and Online) and Employees
- Give a shit. Keep your standards high, make the customer experience enjoyable and have clear, string-free bonuses and products.
- Connect with groups of people likely to enjoy poker and have good referral schemes for existing members.
- Pro Players and Media
- Turn up at a random £50er once in a while and create a buzz. Find a couple of local notables and follow them on Twitter. Kiss some babies and shit.
- Take more interest in people who spend the valuable commodity of time on poker and not just the ones who are winning the commodity of money.
- Report/blog/comment on events that may not be sickening stakes, but are somehow innovative and interesting.
- Leisure Players
- If you love it, why wouldn’t your friends, family and work colleagues? Get yer Granny into gaming.
Read a Pokernews.com article about the decline in ring game traffic here.