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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How To Grow Poker's Popularity

Keith Woernle has written some excellent pieces this summer for Part Time Poker with ideas on how to grow poker's popularity and global appeal. Since he was a producer for the World Poker Tour's tenth season, many of his thoughts have to do with televised poker, which he thinks should return to showing highlights rather than long hours of live coverage (which I agree is incredibly boring and has driven away the casual viewer).

Wernle also says television coverage needs to be more exciting because poker isn’t quite enough fun on its own:

I’m not saying we need to have dogs chasing frisbees every broadcast or guys screaming as they stand atop chairs, but I’m not opposed to it either. I think the average television viewer watches poker as a form of escapism. They watch and daydream about the high-roller lifestyle and playing for millions themselves. But if all the poker players look miserable, and if no one is talking, and if everyone is hiding under sunglasses and hoodies, and if everyone is min-raising, and tanking six minutes for every hand pre-flop, and not caring if they lose, and not caring if they win, and not even smiling when they win the entire tournament, then maybe the average viewer at home thinks this isn’t such a rockstar lifestyle after all.

Maybe they change the channel. Maybe for good.

Some of this responsibility falls to that of the players. While having a deep determined focus at the final table is absolutely warranted, it doesn’t need to prevent you from enjoying yourself. If you’re reading this and you’ve made a very deep run in a big tournament, was it not the most exciting moment of your poker career? That joy need not always be suppressed. It humanizes the game and makes the product of poker more enjoyable for everyone.
He also touches on a point I've been making for years, that poker is more fun when it's a social game, and table talk helps a lot.
If you’re laughing and joking and generally enjoying yourself at the table, then perhaps, even if you lose, you can leave with a smile on your face. If losing players are fraternizing, laughing, and otherwise enjoying the conversations about them, the sting of their losses will be much less severe. (This also applies to overall winning players that are simply having a losing session).

Poker is fun. Remember how poker is supposed to be fun? That fun should not be limited to your weekly basement home game. Many pros always try to have a good time at the table, regardless of the cards they’re dealt. And if the overall losing players still have a great time, then they are likely to come back for more and keep the poker economy moving.

Laughter and joy are contagious. If nine out of ten people in a crowd start laughing, then the tenth person usually joins in. And if Seats 1, 2, 4, and 5 are having a conversation, then it is simply a matter of time before Seat 3 jumps into that conversation as well (assuming they speak the same language of course).

I think table talk can create a bonding experience amongst players. Conversation creates connection, an almost kinship, between both the winning players and the losing ones.
I'd much rather be at a table where half (or more) of the players are joking around or discussing sports or TV or movies (but not politics or religion!) or even analyzing the last hand than sit with a bunch of automatons who never utter a sound because they're afraid to give off a tell -- even when they're not in a hand. When I played in the World Series Of Poker Main Event four years ago, that was one of my complaints:
I've had losing days at the poker table, but none as frustrating and boring as today. The frustration came from a complete lack of playable hands -- at one point, I went 64 minutes without voluntarily putting chips in the pot -- and the boredom came from the fact that no one at my table said a single sentence out loud in the six hours I was there. I thought of something Tony Dunst said on my Final Table Radio Show: "Without talking, a poker tournament is just a bunch of 24-year-olds in sweatshirts doing math problems silently." That's exactly what I lived through today. I had planned on not listening to music, but I finally put on the headphones after 2 hours because I needed something to keep my brain engaged.
Even worse are the (mostly younger) players who sit at the table with an iPad open so they can watch a movie or play Open-Faced Chinese Poker against their friends as they fold, fold, fold, never engaging with anyone else around them. When I'm on the road and get seated with several of those young obviously non-social pros, I'll ask for a table change or go play a different game -- or leave, which is exactly what they should not want recreational players to do.

The more welcoming, conversational, and fun the live poker experience is, the better it will be for everyone -- and more profitable in the long run for those pros.