Who knows what Russian roulette is? Is it that game (almost exclusively applicable to the male of the species) in which, for a wager, a fruitcake puts one live bullet in a gun, spins the barrel, points it at what’s left of his brains, and pulls the trigger? Most definitely not!
In poker, Russian roulette is a lottery in which poker players pull up varying amounts of hard-earned cash to play in tournaments — oops, I mean crapshoots. But unlike the head-case with the gun who gets to die only once, our colleagues get to repeatedly scramble the grey matter between their ears.
You must have witnessed the feeding frenzy that usually precedes the final big tournament in a poker festival. Time has run out for the normal one-table satellites but the organizers invariably seem to find time for one-hand shootouts, and what’s more, they are never short of takers. Surely, it’s better to take the same money to the roulette or craps table, which feature the exact same skill level but no entry fee. I can only assume that adrenalin has got the better of these players and they have temporarily parted company with reason.
But what about $10,000 crapshoots? As far as I am aware, they are almost exclusively European televised events. To pay full whack for some of these, I think you must either have rich parents, be sponsored, have a huge ego and wallet to match, or just need to appear on television so badly that you will happily pay the full amount. However good you think you are, a fast blind structure virtually negates any edge a poker player might have. Sadly, some tournament organizers do not seem the slightest bit interested in producing shows that allow us to show how talented, creative, or good we are. They do not have the interest of poker at heart, nor are they in the business of promoting poker. So, what we get is expensive Russian roulette and uninspiring television programmes.
Does it matter? If any publicity is good publicity, then surely all of this television exposure must be good for poker, or is it? My concern is that boring television gets dumped, and whilst it is the flavour of the month at the moment, it may not be much longer. When we watch football on the box, do we want to see Manchester United or Tranmere Rovers? Basically, people want to watch the best, and yes they often do support the underdog, but they want to see people who know what they are doing and doing it well, with the occasional novice succeeding in turning the tables on the pros. The very nature of poker makes it a great leveller even without a fast structure, so when we have televised poker tournaments packed with Internet qualifiers and a poor structure as well, we end up with perhaps one professional with very little time to “play properly” and no one to “play properly” against. It becomes very hard for him to shine. Where is the skill element? There isn’t any, it is simply roulette with cards.
In contrast, on the Ladbrokes poker cruise back in October, Tournament Director Thomas Kremser did a fabulous job with the blind structure. There were four heats of more than 50 players in each, with the last surviving nine going on to the semifinal. At the end of my heat, the blinds were $1,500-$3,000 with a running ante of $200. When we sat down to play the semifinal (having carried our chips forward), the blinds had been turned back to $150-$300 with a $25 ante, giving us loads of time to play. The same thing took place at the final table, making it a truly player-friendly tournament. I wish all big tournaments could be directed as well.
I read a complaint on a Situs Poker Online 2021 forum that a tournament had its clock shortened by 15 minutes because it was to be televised. A well-known professional player said, “The best players adjust to whatever is thrown at them and get on with the task at hand, so stop whingeing and whining.” In many ways, this is true. But my point is that we should not be handing over our money to participate in coin flips. It’s not that pro players can’t handle them, but that we should not be encouraging promoters and casinos to think professionals will play in anything that is thrown at us. If a television company is putting up the prize money and inviting the players, it can surely do what it wants. But why should we be making its life easier so that it can make money off of us? If someone wants me to play roulette, let him pay for my entry.