Table Talk: Poker Players are Just Like Us!


fri1Happy Last Day of February! I’m writing this on February 28 and toasting the end to this ever-so-short month with a glass of Pinot. It was only a few days shorter than most months, but it felt like it zoomed past. So, in honor of February, the month that gets short-changed in comparison to all of the rest, cheers to good ol’ Feb.

Meanwhile, I’m taking a new tone this week. After last week’s negativity about Open Face Chinese Poker, I focus this week on poker players in a positive light.

There is a tabloid-ish magazine in the United States that offers a section about celebrities with this subtitle: “They’re Just Like Us!” It shows pictures of celebrities doing things like shopping without makeup, taking out the garbage, or picking up after their dogs. It’s silly, really, but it’s meant to show that celebrities are real people.

In poker, some writers do features on poker players and their non-poker interests. The PokerStars blog (full disclosure: I write for the PokerStars blog) gives its team members the chance to talk about things of interest off the tables. The two most recent articles that stand out in my mind included Liv Boeree discussing her recent purchase of a flat in London and Vanessa Selbst talking about her love of cooking. Why are these things relevant to a poker blog? I believe they show the well-roundedness of many players.

Too often, poker players are consumed by the game. They live, eat, breathe, and dream pot odds and tournament results. That kind of dedication is good to a point, but it is also discouraging for players who want a poker career but have other interests and don’t want to submerge themselves in the poker world to that extent. It can also be intimidating for new players to hear nothing but poker lingo, and it’s discouraging because that life seems unappealing to many who have families.

As a non-player myself, I follow all of the poker stories because it’s my job as a writer in this industry. But I often find myself distancing mentally from the players because I can’t relate to them.

On the other hand, throw in a story about a secret love of cooking, a passion that I share, and I’m suddenly more interested in that player than ever before. If the public can relate to a person, it makes them more likeable at and away from the tables.

Some poker players are taking the side interests even further and being very public about raising money for charities. Sure, the poker community has long been extremely generous when it comes to charity, as players often compete in charity tournaments, put their names on flyers to attract donations, and walk red carpets for photos. But lately, players are taking it even further.

Liv Boeree recently announced that she will lead a team of players (so far including George Danzer, Joao Nunes, and Henrique Pinho) up London’s Tower 42. The run up 920 steps is part of the “Vertical Rush” with 1,500 people doing the same thing, raising money for Shelter, a charity to benefit the homeless in Britain.

Just this month, Daniel Negreanu and other poker players like Xuan Liu took to the Internet to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Negreanu raised well over his goal of $100k, and his personal donation included matching any donation up to $50k. Liu was unable to make such a promise so offered an hour of her time to a random person who donated toward her $3k goal. These players made the donation opportunity more personal than in most charity poker tournaments, and it required work on their part. They set an example for other players to get more involved, take the time to promote over social media, and take advantage of their “celebrity” to do great things.

Whether poker players are discussing the non-poker activities in their lives or publicly sharing their desire to raise money for charities, they are raising the bar for the poker community. Not only is it healthy to have other hobbies and interests outside of poker, but they can use their status in the community to benefit others.

There are positive examples in our poker world, and I only hope that more follow in their footsteps. Calculating implied pot odds is a skill, but sharing a love of cooking or exercising to raise money for the homeless is something that they and their fans will always remember.