It's been a weird week for poker.
Things started with the announcement late last week that Zynga, the social media gaming company that has created popular Facebook games like Farmville, Mafia Wars and Zynga Poker, will hold a two-day "live event" at the Palms in Las Vegas on March 18-19. Nobody is quite sure what Zynga intends -- either with this live event or its future plans -- but signs are piling up that Zynga will try to move into the regulated online poker sphere (for real money) if and when that becomes a reality in the U.S. Zynga claims to have 7 million players daily and 37 million players overall. Even though all of those players are "play money" players, the poker industry should be watching Zynga very, very carefully.
Next came the announcement that Gabe Kaplan has been replaced as host for the new season of High Stakes Poker (which begins airing later this month) by Norm MacDonald. MacDonald is the kind of comedian you either love or hate. I happen to be a fan of his acerbic wit and am at least curious to see how that will translate to HSP. I didn't mind Kaplan as host but sometimes a product needs to be made fresh with a small change. We'll see.
A footnote to the HSP story was the continuing battle between PokerStars and Full Tilt over which TV shows their sponsored pros can appear on. No Full Tilt pros will be appearing on HSP this season, which most notably means no Phil Ivey and no Tom Dwan. I don't understand why this "battle" continues to rage. Both sites would seem to stand to have more to gain from cooperating with each other regarding TV shows that competing with each other but seem content to cut off their noses to spite their faces. Zynga's looming presence in the distance makes that strategy seem even more foolish.
Then came the Ashton Griffin ultra-marathon prop bet. If you missed this one, Griffin laid 3-1 on $300k that he could run 70 miles on a treadmill in a 24-hour period. Ordinarily I would pass over this type of story but for two blog posts that recently were written on CardRunners by one of the losers of the bet, Haseeb Qureshi.
Qureshi put himself through some searing soul-searching during and after the bet about what he was willing to subject people to all in the name of money. My good friend Otis, a veteran scribe and one of the first to enter the poker writing business some 6 years ago, said of these posts, "If on the level, probably the most important pieces of poker writing in years."
Finally, this morning Peter Eastgate announced his return to poker. He said his 8-month "hiatus" was a means to re-connect with who he is as a person and who he wants to be. The timing of the announcement was keyed to the release earlier this week of a partial list of competitors at the NBC National Heads-Up Championship (set for March 4-6). Eastgate is on that list. It was an amazing coincidence that Eastgate should be so candid about spending "quality time with my family" and having "an opportunity to figure out who I am" on the heels of Qureshi's tales about the Griffin prop bet.
All of these stories have a wait-and-see component to them: What will Zynga do next? Will Norm succeed? What's the next battleground for PS and FPT? Will there be any lasting take-away from the Qureshi and Eastgate tales? For a culture that celebrates instant gratification, that qualifies this week as weird.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
It's been a weird week for poker.