Five things I learned about poker in 2017

Five things I learned about poker in 2018

Another year-end article this time covering five things Lee Davy learned about poker in 2017, including education, rogues, social media, competition and sponsored pros.

Five things I learned about poker in 2018We will never read all our books. Songs that produce salty sentences will never breach our lugs. Only a small percentage of the 7.5 billion will provide us with a smile.

And as I watch the pigeons pecking at the last of the McDonald’s fries that strewn the streets like sawed-off fingers, I sense the fight with time. There was a time I would have burned my passport to keep my home game warm. No longer. I don’t have the time.

I don’t play. I read. I watch. I interview. I learn.

I didn’t just pick up the flu, and hypothyroid in 2017.

I picked up on these things, also.

1# The Way We Learn

Poker players are like stars. Some of them emit a singular beauty, but it’s the constellations that shine the brightest. I’ve interviewed 22 people for my Poker Routines column. When it comes to the question of ‘learning’, it’s an area the professionals I solicited feedback from don’t venture into too often.

There seems to be a pattern.

You start out in life sipping sparkling wine from a teacup. You know nothing, so you lap everything up like a fat kid lying in a pool of Pepsi. You have a few results; luck, skill, a mixture of both. People like me write about them. They casually mention the headlines to their parents while lugging the shopping bag around Walmart. The sparkling wine becomes champagne; the teacup learns to play the flute.

They play, and they play some more.

The wick begins to dampen.

The light fades.

The learning stops.

It’s not like that for those who have become the newest icons of the game. There were those that felt the High Roller fraternity would wither away like a discarded apple skin while the core of poker continued to beat.

That hasn’t happened.

The High Roller stratum is substantial, and for now, the sediment remains free of bones. Something is going on behind closed doors. Fedor Holz and the rest of the German crew are making the rest of the world seem like old fogeys with bad memories.

Poker solvers.


Meditation and mindfulness.




The world doesn’t recognise the elite professional poker player. They are taking the stand and sharing their dreams with millions. They appear on some of the most listened to mainstream podcasts on the web. They are raising millions of dollars for those who watch their children die, helpless, alone, lost.

When Dominik Nitsche wakes up and goes about his work, he sees a blank page ready to be squirted with ink. Did we think it was going to be this easy? Did we honestly think we could just turn up, light a candle, and the deck would shine for us?

Nitsche believes the key is to become Libratus like.

I believe the key is to become Nitsche like.

2# Competition is Great

PokerStars is poker’s landlord.

In 2017, we saw that title thrown into the air and watched as the two syllables crashed into a baseball bat wielded by an online poker room fed up with feeding on broken baguettes.

partypoker took their little ‘p’ and squirted it into the Stars. You can still smell it. The big ‘P’ dominated because they were not like the competition. Everything was bigger. Bigger prize pools. Bigger first prizes. Bigger fields. Everything was better. Better locations. Better software. Better security. Better payment processing.

Times are changing.

The once mighty partypoker is back in the gym. They’ve announced a 2018 LIVE schedule containing $100m+ in guarantees. In Dec 2018, they will host a $20m guaranteed Online MILLIONS. They have pulled the mast to full sail, and PokerStars eyes sting from the surf.

A quick wipe.

PokerStars open up their sails. Beads of sweat. The largest $25,000 buy-in event in history. $9m in free money. A chance for the wedding cake couple to get free of the icing, escape from the box and win millions.

And while big ‘P’ and little ‘p’ throw millions at us we stop making giraffes out of cigarette tin foil, take off our Dai Caps and play catch. There hasn’t been a shift of this magnitude since the PokerStars v Full Tilt wars. What a fantastic time to be a poker player.

But heed my warning.

It cannot continue.

PokerStars became the best because they worked out how to be least like everyone else and filled libraries with that story. The winner of this boat race will be the one who remembers that competitive advantage and pivots like we have never seen an online poker room pivot before.

3# Skin is Thick

Poker has humanity in a shoe box like an injured bird. Millions have gone into the coffers of the do-gooders, millions more will follow. Poker is a prince and a princess. And at times it is a prick.

Two times, in 2017, I saw men standing in the batter’s box swinging amputated legs at a ball that was never coming. I wanted to take those legs and whack them over their heads all the while screaming, “Give me the truth.” But searching for the truth in a game that hides it is as folly as travelling to the moon that lives at the bottom of the lake.

Elton Tsang, the winner of the 2016 Big One for One Drop, told me, over his Bento Box, how Leon Tsoukernik refused to pay him millions of euros, lost to him in a cash game, for no other reason than he didn’t want to do so.

Months after Tsang’s prayer, Matt Kirk sued Tsoukernik for a multi-million dollar heads-up repayment that never left the casino owner’s pockets. Kirk has more chance of making it than a bead of whiskey escaping the lips of a man lying on the floor of a drunk tank with his mouth wide open trying to catch a life.

And while these two throw accusations at Tsoukernik, there is nothing batted back. Nothing. Yes, we heard the usual lame excuses that fall out of the mouths of the petrol attendant with knees reeking of gasoline who plays in your local $1/$1 home game. But that’s not good enough. To remain silent leads people to believe in guilt. And you have to have skin as hard as Superman to take that. Or maybe thinking you’re Superman is the problem?

In the midst of Tsoukernik’s money issues, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) decided it was a great idea to unveil him as the first paying participant of the $1m buy-in Big One for One Drop. So it’s not a financial thing. It’s an ego thing. And why does it hurt? It shouldn’t bother us. It’s not our fight. They are not our millions. We are outraged because, with all the evidence laid before us like pages of an unfinished novel, it reminds us of the bullies of our youth. The ones that took the sticks and stones glued them together to make a bat called ‘names’ and beat us with it.

And talking about the WSOP.

They allowed Chris Ferguson to compete in the 2016 & 2017 WSOP despite knowing that his presence would upset the vast majority of their customers. And I don’t blame the WSOP; it was a tough call. I blame Ferguson.

One day, he will sing, and I will be in the audience to hear him. At that time, I will find forgiveness in my heart, and all anger towards him will run away. Until that time, I stand in awe at this man’s maligned majesty. How can another human being, knowing the impact his decisions have had on the poker community, then turn up as silent as the carrots he used to fling at cards and sit and play?

Those hurt by the Full Tilt debacle lie on their backs hoping to swallow the thunder and in he waltzes swatting away poker media microphones like a lion keeping the flies away from his chocolate starfish.

He even went to Rozvadov.

He won a bracelet and took a photo.

He smiled.

4# Social Media is Rancid

If it’s not her mother’s breasts, then it’s the mobile phone.


“Happy birthday.”

“Santa! Santa!”

Once she presses that button, it acts like a lighthouse beckoning her in on the 14-month old ship. If you ever wondered if smartphones are addictive, place one on a table alongside an AK-47, and a plastic doll and see which one a kid chooses.

Like piss-slick floors in a Starbucks restroom, we shouldn’t be surprised that poker players are addicted to their phones. Fingers and thumbs caressing Samsung and Apple with more care than a nipple.

And in the past year, more than any other year, these phones have acted like trenches in a war that doesn’t make sense. We are all addicted to something, but this is insane. Why choose to pick the wings of a Monarch. Isn’t there something else to do, like figure out how to beat the game?

I read this tweet by poker media whatever you want to call him, Alun Bowden, as I tucked into my nut roast.

“Imagine a section of people with a lot of money and natural raw deductive intelligence but low emotional intelligence with extremely strong opinions about all the things they have no experience or knowledge of.”

It read like an echo of mine trapped in a lack of confidence somewhere. Is it bravery? I don’t know; perhaps it has something to do with not using social media. I find more interest in a bowl of plain rice.

Watching poker players dropping 140-character mines into the social media ocean was both sick and somewhat entertaining. Maybe it’s the human condition to find some warped sense of enjoyment from someone else’s misfortune. We all love gossip after all, and isn’t that what social media is – hyperdrive gossip?

After reading Recovery 2.0 by Tommy Rosen, particularly his views on Ahimsa one of the five yamas that guide his sobriety meaning nonviolence or nonharming. I don’t want to gossip. I don’t want to say anything I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. That’s why Hootsuite so often looks like a wedding dress bathed in blood.

When my wife toots her horn, I tell her to stop the car, get out, chase down the man in the other vehicle and scream to his face. I hope she won’t. Fortunately, she never does. The poker community is currently locked in a constant state of road rage, and Twitter and Facebook are the most commonly ridden highways.

And nothing’s off limits.

We even have the Godfather of Poker himself weighing in on matters of utmost importance to people, upsetting, apologising, taking sabbaticals, returning, doing it all again.

And then I read the apologists.

Things were different in his time.

Honesty should be encouraged, but not to the extent that it causes harm.

How does anyone ever concentrate on poker?

It’s no wonder the Germans are crushing.

Everyone else is too busy calling each other a cunt on Twitter.

5# Sponsored Pros Are Like Star Wars

Do you remember the cull?

Online poker rooms carried dead sponsored pros on their backs and discarded them into pits like sacks of potatoes delivered to the back of a chippy. There were so many of them. Everywhere. Age. Gender. Skill. It didn’t matter. Worthless junk.



And then a Twitch.

I wouldn’t say it was a rebirth. We saw the glittering gold of the vernix, but there wasn’t a push, more of a crawl into a new world.

We began watching poker in a new way. Savvy poker players turned boudoirs into recording studios. They filmed as they played. Out of the once toothless mouth of the sponsored pro came a few fans. And then a few more.

Online poker rooms are like mothers. They remember what it feels like to feel the sound of more than one beating heart. They missed the thump. Then, right on cue, a guy emerges from the phalanx and knocks on the door. The full weight of his army pushing him in. No way out.

The idea struck like a virus.

As more and more poker players became mini poker rooms, the whales swallowed them up like little Jonahs. And then partypoker came along and went a little bit mental. They hired so many ambassadors you couldn’t see the poker table through the tops of skulls. Old. New. It didn’t matter to party. The more, the merrier. It was a show of strength, and it seemed to have worked.

It’s time to get up off your knees.

They are ready to hear your prayers.

Those kisses once crushed beneath the weight of the word NO may find a way through.

But have a plan, man.

Don’t just be another Stars Wars.

What comes after the Jedi?

I don’t know.

You figure it out.