Big One for One Drop: Answering the Critics

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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

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.

#1 One Drop as a “Mirage of an Event”

Lund writes:

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:

  • Many pros still had substantial pieces of their own action despite being backed for some of the buy in – substantial enough to cross the threshold where players are extremely motivated by their own financial interest.  To suggest, as Lind does, that Tom Marchese  -who allegedly had only 15% of his own action – will somehow play differently because his effective buy in is only $150,000 and his potential win is only $2.7 million seems a bit of a stretch.
  • Access to future backing is in and of itself a very valuable commodity for players.  It’s not like selling a part of a million dollar buy in is easy.  If it was, we doubt eventual winner Antonio Esfandiari would have publicly advertised his desire to sell pieces of his One Drop entry at face value via Twitter.  If the argument being made is that backed players don’t care about tournament outcomes as much as non-backed players, the immense value of access to future backing cannot be disregarded.  To wit – how many One Drop players would be able to sell action at the same terms a second time?
  • The ancillary value of the tournament to players is tremendous.   TV time and the chance to win a WSOP bracelet in a field of only 48?  Mainstream media coverage that rivals the Main Event of the WSOP?  These are tremendous opportunities for most of the pros in the field – especially with regulation creeping along in the US – and further work to mute the argument that backed players somehow have less at stake.

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).

#2 The “Nasty Fallout”

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.

And adds:

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.

Read Kim Lund’s original post.

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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