Three Fish From Macau
Nov. 25, 2011
Word came through the other day that Phil Ivey is in Macau. There’s a picture of him, in fact, sitting down and playing in the Main Event in town. If a picture can say a thousand words, this one says two, as clear and unmistakable as bellowed from the stage. Fuck off. That’s what the picture of Phil Ivey says. Fuck off, people. Fuck off, world. It’s safe to say that Phil Ivey won’t be giving any interviews soon.
How broken is the poker world right now? It’s broken like the three fish from Macau. Because nothing else is even vaguely interesting to poker players right now. So jaded, so stuck, so grim, and so broken that they’ve wrapped up their futures in one more game. Haven’t you heard the Sirens call? Like moths to a flame, the desperate ones know. They crawled from their rocks, they popped their heads above ground, they put the money in a gym bag and went off to Macau. There’s nothing noble there. But desperation is marginally better than the stage that follows, the stage that is the vortex down. There’s not much pretty poker being played with the three fish from Macau. It’s bloodsport, and everyone willing to risk it all.
Jungleman put up a challenge last month. The Poker Farm has put up a belt to go along with it. It doesn’t mean anything. It won’t solve anything. It’s been called pretentious. But it is a start. It’s trying to be something to believe in. What the belt should be is worth one million dollars. One million dollars plus fifty thousand per month, plus a challenge system and regular title matches. It would be great if there was money in poker to attempt to qualify even a narrow definition of the best in the world. But there’s not. It’s not what it’s about these days. These days it’s only about three fish in Macau.
You know what was embarrassing? What was embarrassing was the last season of High Stakes Poker. A series conceived with such nobility of spirit. Even though we were to later find out that the money may not have been real, that maybe they were in fact playing with our own funds, even that can’t dampen the purity of spirit in that original game. People spoke in hushed tones of the moment when Durrrr got Eastgate and Greenstein to lay down the best hands with a flop raise from another world, or when Ivey and Antonius locked their horns. When Gus Hansen and Daniel Negreanu felt the pain and sang the pleasures of a high stakes poker game that was more than high stakes, it was high class. Oh cringe, did you see the last season? With Vanessa Selbst laughing at the rubber band man’s jokes? Viffer vainly trying to isolate the owner of a swanky mile? The shit eating grins to pretend that it was anything more than an exercise in trying to separate some billionaires from their chips? It’s when poker is nothing more than three fish from Macau. It’s embarrassing to hear the announcement that this is what we’ve become. Is the confession that it’s never been different?
Variance is in vogue in poker today. Variance is so in vogue that it’s used for an excuse. The excuse being that there is so much variance that even trying to qualify greatness or define the best player is pointless. The excuse is so we should all just unabashedly be for the money. The excuse is that we should all care about nothing more than Vanesa Selbst laughing at the rubber band man’s jokes, and the three fish from Macau. But that’s the idea that is cringe. That’s the idea that is soulless, and that’s the idea that is ugly. The idea of a belt is to have a start.
Of course anything can happen in four hours of poker. But then we’ve had a chance to watch four hours of poker. Anything can happen in a football match, a baseball game, a boxing match, or a horse race. But then we’ve had the chance to watch. The result of Jungleman’s challenge will only be a belt, a gold plated idea. It’s not much progress towards defining who is better. But it’s only partly about who wins. It’s about who plays, how often, and in what framework. Because the only framework high stakes poker has right now is the three fish from Macau.
While Tom Dwan on tilt and Phil Ivey saying fuck off is car crash captivating, that is all it is. We’re getting all excited about poker players rushing to Macau and playing games they can’t afford, games they have to beg to get into, all because they smell the chum. All because they smell the blood. The stakes are big, but when that is the only worthy goal in poker, the industry is rotten from inside.
The picture of Phil Ivey sitting in Macau is a picture of a look, and I know what that look is about. It is not a stare about a love for the game. It is not a stare about the purity of poker. It is a stare about wanting the money. It is a look about the three fish from Macau.
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