Monday, April 16, 2007

Tranquilize Your Mind

By Pauly

Things are not the same today. Gaming executives are getting met at airports by stiff G-men with short-hair cuts, earpieces, and the same puke-grey off the rack suit who haul them off to only God knows where. Home games in sleepy suburban cul-de-sacs are getting raided by overzealous law enforcement types wearing enough battle gear to fight the Ansar al-Islam in downtown Baghdad.

Just last month, a good friend who works in conjunction with a popular online poker site almost shit his pants after he missed his flight to Italy and was forced re-book with a stopover in France, the exact country he hoped to avoid in order to stay off the radar from the watchful eyes of trigger happy French authorities itching to bust an online gaming fat cat. He was not the only one who had to enter Monte Carlo from the Italian side of the border. Italy is poker-friendly while the US and France are sending not so thoughtful messages. It's gotten so bad that people actually have to sneak into cities just to do their jobs.

Poker used to be underground and played at your own risk in dingy backrooms, run by chubby desperados with a smile that only a pimp could unfurl at 3am. Then poker got thrust to the center of popular culture under the bright lights of Hollyweird. The result was an onslaught of TV shows, movies, and celebrities playing for charity at the Playboy Mansion. Then there's the misfits venerated as heroes... the slew of scumbags you wouldn't leave alone in the same room as your kids for thirty seconds were all of a sudden the next generation of rock stars appearing in mainstream commercials, popping up on talk shows, and demanding outrageous appearance fees at corporate functions.

And now players are running for shelter. Poker is creeping back into the shadows as it reluctantly heads back underground. The endless struggle and pissing match between big business and the U.S. government has infiltrated several aspects of poker players lives. Everyone is a criminal it seems as the battleground is spilling over into your kitchen home games, onto your favorite online poker sites, and even onto the floor of the World Series of Poker.

The stakes have been raised and you're no longer just risking your bankroll. With every hand you play, you're also risking fines, imprisonment, and having your civil rights violated. According to's outstanding coverage of Dallas poker raids, there are ten poker rooms in the Dallas area (and four just outside) that have been shut down by the local federalies.

"Dallas po-po says they know about 'a majority' of local games. And even though we have yet to see a single conviction (by judge or jury) of more than 200 potential defendants," wrote Michalski, who is always willing to whip up funny slang for the police.

"The state of Dallas poker is to some extent a microcosm of the bigger, worldwide poker world," Michalski wrote to me in a recent email exchange. "The landscape has shifted, and some are adjusting better than others. And, of course, the law and politics of it all make a difference. It is not the scene it once was - but that doesn't mean it isn't setting itself up to be bigger and better in the not too distant future. There are still people in Dallas just discovering the greatness of the game. And there are still people who are less greedy than others willing to serve them like the valued customers they are."

Hard working people like yourself are old enough to make their own decisions. And if you want to use your free time to play a ring game on Full Tilt or chase down a dream by playing a WSOP satellite at PokerStars or to play in a low stakes cul-de-sac tournament with some friends and neighbors, well in my eyes you all earned the right to do so. It's your life. Your time. Your money.

Life is tough enough without the current Nanny State telling you what you can and can't do. Life is a total grind. If you don't have problems on the home front, you got them at the workplace. The last thing you gotta worry about if a bunch of shotgun-toting deputies wearing ski masks are going to kick down your front door while your neighbor is in the middle of sucking out on you during your weekly homegame.

You have to shovel around enough shit everyday that you deserve a few moments of happiness. Life is about small and simple pleasures. Poker is a gateway to moments of joy and excitement. Like flopping a set against two pair. Like boating up on the river when you know it made your opponent a flush. Like making a big score in a tournament. Like meeting a really amazing new friend through poker. It's those little moments that add up and keep you sane on those horrible days when you wants to bash in the skull of your spouse or co-worker or that assclown sitting next to you on the subway that smells the wipe towel that's shared by the entire second story of a Juarez brothel.

Poker is also a social lubricant that brings together people from all walks of life. College kids. WWII vets. Staunch Republicans. Pinko liberals. Men. Women. Other. Red Sox fans. Yankees fans. Sanitation workers. Politicians. Chefs. Stockbrokers. Immigrants. Jocks. Norwegian teenagers. Former Star Trek actors. Military doctors. Lesbian nurses. Hippies. Grandmas. Taxi drivers. Even bacon loving fat kids from Hilljack, Indiana are playing poker with vegans from Orange County. Humans making connections with other humans. We live in such a disjointed society that poker is a rare instance when people are coming together.

We live in an inharmonious world and poker might be the only thing that two people can agree on. Off the felt it's a different story but while the cards are in the air and as long as chips are getting passed around, for a brief moment... people representing all types of diversity are united. That's the power of poker. Like music, poker brings people together, while politics divides us. I think Bob Marley said it best, "Politics no interest me. Dem devil business. Dem a play with peoples minds. Never play with peoples minds."

I don't know why you play poker, but I have a good feeling that the root of your reasons are filling a gap in your life, whether it's monetary, social, competitive, or sheer boredom. Your minds are getting messed with and there are so many mixed messages out there about the current state of poker. Even the shit that I'm spewing is being made up on the spot.

The best advice I can offer the confused ones is to tranquilize your mind. No need to overthink things. You have to do what your gut tells you. If that means no more poker, then so be it. If it means to keep moving ahead, then go for it. I doubt that any of this mess will be cleared up anytime soon. Prepare for the long haul. I know that I am. It might be a little harder to get money online, or to find a game, or to visit raid-free home games. You might have to risk more to gain access to poker. But so what?

"Life's not fair," as Jimmy Carter once said. That old peanut farmer from Georgia has a point.

Poker is still legal in lots of places. Vegas will always be Vegas as long as it's here, the WSOP will never die. Poker tournaments with million dollar prize pools are popping up all over the globe. There's still plenty of Americans playing poker for a living and making money in related businesses. Pros and entrepreneurs alike are trying to milk the poker cash cow before our federal government and local officials stomp it out like a bad case of the crabs. Who knows if this mess will be resolved in the next six months or the next six years. Poker will continue to grow. You just might not been seeing it in your backyard.

The consolidation of the industry has begun in some areas while in other parts of the world, poker is in the midst of a full out boom or on the cusp of the boom. A perfect example of that is an article I penned about the L.A. Poker Classic. I wrote it for my column in Poker Pro. In the US version, the issue was a little gaunt, not with content because it was a good as it has been, rather there were less ads which was part of the reason I had to take a pay cut. The European version (Poker Pro Europe) that I read in Monte Carlo was a lot more meatier. My article was in there but the issue had less content, yet the ads were plentiful.

Entire football matches in Europe are sponsored by online poker rooms and casinos. Your rake is getting put to good use and has been spreading around into other industries. That boost in income creates jobs and stimulates growth. Whereas Neteller had to fire support staff and some online poker sites such as UB and Absolute Poker terminated contracts with professional poker pros, other poker and gaming related companies in different countries such as Germany, Australia, Israel, and Sweden have been experiencing a hiring boom. They need workers. Fast.

I was in Monte Carlo for less than two days when I was pitched several employment opportunities ranging from writing, to editing, to helping organize a tournament in a country I had never heard of before. A couple of months ago I had only a handful of paying clients (those cheapskates at High Roller have still yet to pay me) and I finally made contact with several people who were being overwhelmed by the viral growth of poker in their home country.

Poker is going to go on no matter what the US courts decide and whether or not other countries want to classify poker as a criminal activity, legitimate sport, game of chance, or nothing harmless like a hit off a hash pipe or getting a blowjob from a professional penis masseuse.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker. All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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