First off, I owe poker everything. I didn’t weigh in on the Daniel Colman debate during the 2014 World Series of Poker $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop mainly because I came down with pneumonia, and by the time I recovered, the WSOP had moved on. Even so, Colman’s actions and words have stuck with me, and I’ve finally found some time to write down my thoughts.
For those who may not be familiar with the situation, it basically boils down to this: The 23-year-old Colman won $15.3 million by taking down the Big One for One Drop, which is a tournament designed to benefit the One Drop Foundation. After winning, he refused to give the media interviews and had to be talked into doing a winner’s photo, one that will go down as perhaps the most pitiful in history.
Amid the backlash, which included being called an antihero by noted historian Jim McManus, the author of the poker classic Positively Fifth Street, Colman took to twoplustwo to explain himself, though he starts by saying, “I really don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I’ll give one.”
I respect Colman’s right to do as he likes, but I don’t respect the choice he made. The reason is simple, I am admittedly biased. It’s impossible for me to see his point of view because simply put I owe poker everything.
I don’t want this to become a Colman bashing piece. When I was in my early 20s, I was conflicted on many things, and Colman admits that he is conflicted when it comes to poker. I wish he would have smiled for the camera for fives minutes, gave a couple of boilerplate statements for the charity's sake, and the whole thing would never have been an issue; in fact, he probably would have gained the same enigmatic status that has made Phil Ivey such a superstar. Anyway, Colman didn’t go that route, and one day he may very well regret it.
Like Colman, I have “been fortunate enough to benefit financially from this game, but I have played it long enough to see the ugly side of this world.” He’s absolutely right when he says that pros aren’t “always happy and living a fulfilling life,” but it bothers me that he questions why “people care so much about poker’s well being” and that poker has a "net negative effect on the people playing it. Both financially and emotionally.”
Surely poker does have that effect on many players, but not everyone. As I said, I owe poker everything. Before I found this game and my place in it, I was wandering aimlessly through life. I graduated college, but from there I had no idea what I wanted to do. First it was law school, which lasted a year, and then it was on to teaching high school (what else was I going to do with a history degree?). Neither of those paths appealed to me, I just thought there was no other path (I'd have been terrible at both). Fortunately for me, poker showed me a different way to go.
Now my position is a bit different. I no longer play for a living (I did for awhile though), but rather work in the industry. I am a Senior News Editor for PokerNews, so my livelihood is directly tied to “poker’s well being.” That is why I care so much, Mr. Colman, and I'm sure dozens of my colleagues feel the same way.
On a personal level, poker has afforded me the vast majority of highlights in my life. I gained freedom from the nine-to-five workday, found a niche that I love, and have been able to provide for my family and friends. If not for poker I would never have been able to take my mom on a poker cruise of the Bahamas, marking the first time she’d ever seen the ocean. If not for poker I would never have been able to afford to take my dad on his dream whitewater rafting trip out west, nor helped him keep our family house. Such examples go on and on.
Thanks to poker, I’ve gotten to experience Europe, Australia, South America, Asia, and all sorts of places across North America. I’ve met wonderful people that I will count as lifelong friends at each and every one of the stops I've visited. In 2013 I had the experience of a lifetime when I was fortunate enough to win a WSOP gold bracelet while my friends and colleagues cheered me on. I didn’t win anywhere near $15 million, but the $84,915 that I did take home (actually less than half that as I was backed 50/50 and swapped 5% with a friend) certainly helped a lot.
Poker can be a dark game, but only if people make it that way. Personally, I’ve had the privilege of watching poker positively influences other people’s live on many occasions. One that sticks out in my mind is when poker helped raise money for a seven-year-old boy named Weston Keeton, who was awaiting a heart and double lung transplant. Unfortunately Weston passed, but poker financially helped his parents, Julie and Adam, and his six siblings in truly dark days.
I know what you mean when you say poker is a "dark game" – it still does tilt me, ruins my diet, and causes me to engage in self-destructive behavior from time to time – but there is a bright side. Unfortunately we don’t hear about it nor care about it as much as we should, though that's not specific to poker.
Case in point, my article on Weston Keeton currently has 3,047 hits. PokerNews’ articles on Germany’s Ali Tekintamgac cheating has 20,946 hits, Phil Ivey’s alleged Borgata cheating has 48,414 hits, and Christian Lusardi’s counterfeit chips at the Borgata Poker Open has 77,071 hits. Those numbers make me feel sad and conflicted, and that is a part of poker I hate. Like all news, the negative stuff his what people flock to, and while my job requires me to write such pieces, it doesn't stop stop me from writing charity and uplifting pieces, even if I know people won't read them. At the very least I feel like I am giving a little back to the game that’s given me so much, and it helps remind me why I fell in love with poker in the first place.
Again, the point of this post isn’t to bash Colman. As far as I’m concerned people can do whatever the hell they want. I just wanted to stand up for poker, because I owe it at least that much.