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There’s been a fair amount of criticism in the lead up to, and subsequent aftermath of, the Big One for One Drop.
While the chatter has come from several corners, the primary objections of those opposed to the $1 million buy in tournament are perhaps best expressed by Kim Lund in his blog post One Drop too many? over at InfiniteEdgeGaming.com.
As Lund puts it:
My main criticism of the event is twofold.
1) The attempts to use this mirage of an event to put poker in the spotlight
2) There is some potential nasty fallout from an event like this that isn’t being recognized
Let’s unpack each criticism and provide a rebuttal or two along the way.
We know that few of the remaining players actually invested $1,000,000. So we shouldn’t claim it. We know most of the participants are likely to have backers and swappers which means that for many the first prize money is strictly theoretical. That we need to communicate. We know that when some players make plays that seem absolutely astounding on TV, there are reasons for it not apparent for someone who doesn’t know how the system works. So we can’t neglect that fact. It’s easy to talk and play like all you care about is first place, when first or second place really is the only payout that will equate to a massive profit for you. According to information sent to me Tom Marchese for example only had a 15% cut in himself. That need to affect the narrative. It needs to be part of the story told. Not as cool perhaps. Not as captivating for the mainstream media. But it is reality
So, Lund essentially brands the tournament as a “mirage” because: Many players are backed, the backing has an impact on the actions of the player, the backing is not revealed to the audience and ergo the audience is watching a different game than the players are playing.
Problems with this argument:
Backing doesn’t inherently have to affect a player’s decision-making. The crux of Lund’s argument is that backing is “the reason” for certain plays made or not made. But while Lund asserts that backing has this impact, he doesn’t go much further than that assertion; there’s no discussion of the why and the how. If he does take a position, it appears to be that players will somehow be more reckless or careless with their tournament life, as the prize money is “strictly theoretical.”
The truth of the matter is that there are several reasons why backing wouldn’t have had much of a material impact on the decision-making of the “professional poker players” in the One Drop field. Just a few that immediately come to mind:
The mainstream public doesn’t care about backing. There’s no “mirage” because most of the poker-viewing public either already knows about backing to some degree or simply wouldn’t care if they found out. It was common knowledge that Moneymaker sold a good deal of his action when he won the WSOP – does the lack of that information in the standard narrative about his win make it a mirage as well?
There are plenty of aspects of any activity in the media spotlight – whether it be sports, politics, business or what have you – where not every detail of the activity is part of the public narrative. Sometimes that’s for nefarious reasons, but generally it’s because that given detail isn’t appropriate or just doesn’t matter. Should Norman Chad also be talking about the sports betting debts of players in action? How about their relationship status or mental health history?
No one is covering this up. “Mirage” suggests some sort of intentional deception, but the fact is that nearly every backed player in the One Drop spoke about their backing publicly. It was the topic of much conversation during the streaming coverage of Day 1 and Day 2. If backing isn’t the topic of conversation in the main broadcast, it’s most likely because backing arrangements are generally private and therefore unverifiable by nature – and therefore, any analysis based on backing would be pure speculation (and potentially libelous).
Lund’s basic position here is that the One Drop is a different sort of fire that poker players are messing with. He writes:
This event, I think, may be different. When players shoot a dosage far exceeding normal tolerance levels, the risk is that they can’t handle it. One, they may get hooked on the idea; two they may not be able to take the loss as well as they might have thought. Nor may the people backing them. Obviously it’s everyone’s personal responsibility to deal with the consequences of their decisions, but knowing the darkness of addiction that hangs over even the most professional end of poker, it’s a reckless play with fire.
As I write this Liberté and Esfandiari are side by side sporting clown noses with a $50,000,000 pot in front of them. One of them is genuinely enjoying the ensuing race. One is doing his best to play along looking slightly less casual.
A couple of quick responses to this argument:
You can’t have your cake and eat it to0. Lund first argues that backing relieves players of the responsibility of caring about the massive buy in. But now he pivots and basically claims that players (and backers) care so much that they’ll be driven to addiction by busting the One Drop. Which is it?
The money genie is already out of the bottle. One million dollars in the context of shouldn’t sound like a lot to people who have watched The Big Game or High Stakes Poker or any of their progeny. It also shouldn’t sound like too much to someone who regularly plays any of the multiple high roller events found at major live tournaments.
The fact of the matter is that $1m isn’t a magic number that will tilt the poker world toward addiction and degeneracy – those numbers have long been effectively in play in mainstream poker. In short, these are not dosages “far exceeding normal tolerance levels” for many – if not all – of the players involved in One Drop.
It’s an interesting topic of conversation, and it’s tempting to agree with with Lund has to say – after all, critical analysis of the Big One for One Drop can only result in better execution of similar events in the future. While that room for improvement likely exists, we just don’t see it in the same places as Kim.