Editorial: Time for The Poker World to Grow Up

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When grown men – and women as well – are playing games as a profession, there is some argument that they have never grown up. Those that are paid extremely well in professional basketball, football, baseball and other sports often seem as if they haven’t gotten beyond puberty sometimes in their actions outside of their playing fields but, for the most part, they do seem to be at least functioning members of society. Sometimes the same can’t be said for those that are in the poker community and it is time that they actually think about growing up.

At the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure over the weekend, much was made of the ejection of popular poker professional Antonio Esfandiari from the European Poker Tour Main Event, despite the factor that he held a fairly decent stack on Day Two of the event. There are few transgressions that are egregious enough to warrant the ejection of a player from a poker tournament – especially one of those that is considered among the “major” tournaments in the world – so it must have been an outrageous violation of the rules for Esfandiari to be shown the door. As it was, it was a childish, dick-waving (no pun intended) occurrence that had no place at a poker table or in everyday life.

Esfandiari, known for making outlandish prop bets (normally with his partner in crime Phil Laak), found a willing betting partner in billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Perkins for something the duo apparently thought would be fun to do in public. For a reported bet of $50,000 (there have been rumors that the original bet and the resulting side action were well above that), Esfandiari had to “lunge” – basically let his knee touch the floor on each step he took while his other leg makes a 90-degree angle before standing straight up and taking the next step – everywhere he went for a 48-hour period. For anyone who has done this exercise in the gym, it isn’t to be trifled with, a point that became apparent to Esfandiari as he worked through the first day.

Sitting at the tables during the second day of the PCA EPT Main Event, Esfandiari suddenly found that it was virtually impossible for him to move, even though he needed to relieve himself quickly. Instead of losing the bet – either through walking normally to the facilities or having someone carry him to the bathroom (both violations of the prop bet) – Esfandiari instead decided to take matters in his own hands and relieve himself in the middle of the poker room. With a group surrounding him to block any potential Peeping Toms (or Tinas) and a towel “over the top,” Esfandiari took care of business in a bottle or bucket (this is unclear, from most accounts). Once the cards were back in the air, however, he was removed from the tournament by the floor and informed he was being disqualified for his “breach of etiquette.”

Now we can at least give Esfandiari a little pat on the back for attempting to be as discreet as possible regarding this situation. The problem is that the “squares” – in this case, the floor staff and management of Atlantis, the Paradise Island casino hosting the PCA – aren’t used to people dropping trou and relieving themselves in the middle of their property. As such, they had to act quickly to quash such behavior, lest this become something that people – not only during this event but in the future – took as an acceptable practice in the Bahamas. To be honest, the DQ is probably something that would’ve been done in any casino around the world, at the minimum, if not an outright banishment (as you’re on an island, you haven’t got many other options, so perhaps the Paradise Island folks gave Esfandiari a break).

The disqualification also came at a tough time for Esfandiari. With a nice stack at that point in Day 2 but still quite some distance to making the money in the tournament, Esfandiari had to at least be considered a contender to cash in the event. For his $5000 buy-in, the minimum cash in the PCA EPT Main Event was slightly more than $8000 and the first place prize worth more than $800,000. By ejecting Esfandiari from the tournament, he lost his chance to compete for that big prize and lost his initial stake, something that the prop bet might soothe (for the record, Esfandiari did complete the bet) but giving one pause as to what might have been.

Now it’s time to take on something seriously, however. Prop bets have been around since the dawn of time – you don’t think cavemen didn’t wager on who could toss a rock the furthest, then switch out the rock for a heavier piece of stone on their unsuspecting fellow caveman? – and will continue to be around whenever there are people gambling and having fun. When it starts to infringe on the purpose that everyone has come together for – in this case, the PCA EPT Main Event and other poker events in the Bahamas – AND starts to paint a picture to those outside of the “inner circle,” it tends to become a detriment to the game. As such, it may be time that the poker world “grows up” a bit, at least to the point of taking a look at situations such as Esfandiari’s and making them less a part of our lifestyles.

I’ve seen several prop bets going on at and away from the tables in my time in the industry and, for the most part, they have been harmless (OK, harmless except when you consider that someone is sometimes wagering a nice house on which direction a bird will fly off). It’s even fun to get in on the action (been a part of many a “credit card roulette” game for a dinner bill). It is another thing altogether, however, when the prop bets border on potentially being dangerous or, in the case of Esfandiari, might require someone to violate simple rules of public courtesy to be able to achieve the end goal.

For his part, Esfandiari has apologized profusely for the situation – hey, it is extremely possible that, in our particular business, he didn’t think that anyone would think it was odd what he was doing once the reason was explained. But there are those borders that cannot be crossed and, in the Esfandiari example, those borders were blown apart. Prop bets are great fun but, in the future, let’s grow up a bit and make sure that they don’t force someone to potentially do something dangerous or something that might get them in trouble…at the minimum, let’s at least make sure it doesn’t become public knowledge to networks like CNBC.

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