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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Borrowing - One of Poker's Systemic Diseases

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From Adjective - systemic (not comparable)

Embedded within and spread throughout and affecting a group, system, body, economy, market, or society as a whole.

(physiology) Pertaining to an entire organism.

Is poker, in the long run, able to exist with a healthy flow of action without players borrowing money for a buy-in? Initially we have to consider that the medium of exchange that pays our bills and puts food on the table is the same medium of exchange we need to take a seat in a poker money.

There are a million 'run-bad' stories out there – and some hapless, down-on-their-luck soul that wants to tell you about it – where players lost their bankroll and need to borrow to keep playing. One joke explains it like this:

Joe, "I need to borrow $500 to pay my rent."

Tom, "OK, don't forget where you got it."

Later that evening Tom finds Joe jamming it up in a poker game across town. "I thought you needed money to pay your rent? What the hell are you doing playing poker?"

Joe, "I did need money for the rent! I had money to play poker."

Where do priorities come into play when it comes to playing poker professionally? If the rent is due and you have $1,000 left - let's go one step further and say that not only do you have a case of 'run-bad' but also poor money management - what do you choose to invest that $1,000 on? If you pay the rent, you have no option to take a seat and try to win your expenses for next month unless you can borrow. If you take a seat and run-bad-itis is burned into your forehead, you may be evicted.

It’s a vicious cycle of money decisions.

Most poker players view money differently than the 9-5 time clock puncher that puts in a 40 hour week for their daily bread and butter.

The following is taken from Gambling Wizards, Conversations with the World's Greatest Gamblers by Richard Munchkin. Find it at Google ebookstore.

Gambling is a game, and cash is the way the score is kept. For a gambler, cash is nothing more than a tool. And since gamblers deal with such large amounts of money every day they become desensitized to its value. One gambler made a comparison to auto mechanics, who think nothing of loaning a wrench to a fellow mechanic. "You loan him the wrench and expect he'll return it in good condition. If he breaks it or loses it, you expect him to replace it. Well, my wrench may be a bundle of fifty-thousand dollars."

It’s reasonably doubtful that poker could exist as we know it today if a large amount of borrowing to stay in action wasn’t going on. There are players that don’t borrow because they would have to lend if asked; there are other players that are always going to borrow when things get tight but always pay back – even if it takes them a number of years; there are players that are just plain old bad risks, if they borrow and win, they shoot off the win without paying back and if they don’t win there’s no shot of them paying back either.

Several thoughts come to mind.

The first thought: Should an establishment or organization be a mandating force that makes sure a player pays back? Example: Epic Poker’s Inaugural Main Event winner Chino Rheem and the disciplinary action taken against him. No, this is not an argument against the Code of Conduct or the decision made by the Standards & Conduct Committee and it is not a statement declaring that Rheem would not pay his debts on his own but it is food for thought in a world that appears to run with no boundaries…the poker world.

The statement made by Epic Poker concerning Rheem:

By order of the Committee, Mr. Rheem must continue to proactively repay his outstanding debts by, from this point forward, using any and all proceeds Mr. Rheem personally receives from personal poker winnings worldwide to satisfy all of his remaining financial obligations in an orderly fashion. In addition, Mr. Rheem must continue to report to the Committee regarding his compliance with the terms of his probation. The probation period will remain in effect until Mr. Rheem has satisfied his pre‐league formation financial obligations. Failure to do so or any subsequent violations of league policies or the law by Mr. Rheem will result in immediate suspension of Mr. Rheem from the League.

Read Epic Poker League Puts David “Chino” Rheem on Probation.

From this writer’s point of view, if Rheem takes his winnings to pay back players, he will not be in a position to be bankroll funded for more tournaments and will be looking for a loan or a staking deal. Just sayin…

The second thought: There are players that loan and borrow and help feed the sick sense of humor that only a true poker player can understand. This from Michael Craig’s article: Social Director: Get Well Wishes & Hopes to Thor Hansen.

Whether or not the whole story is true (as indicated in Craig’s writing) it speaks of how poker players handle a ‘pay-back’ situation:

A poster, The Camel, reminded people unfamiliar with Thor, that he’s a “lovely, funny fella. Always a pleasure to give my chips to him.” He also related a story he read from a post-tournament interview of Hansen. The story, though it has some mythic elements (Thor hasn’t won $1 million in a poker tournament), provides a fitting and humorous commentary on the precarious life of an old-school tournament poker pro:

“Interviewer: Congratulations on winning a million dollars Thor, what are you going to do with it?”

“Thor: Well, I think I’ll pay some debts.”

“What about the rest?”

“They can wait.”

This writer dealt the Gold Coast Open when Mike Laing took first place in the $100 Limit Holdem in 2004 and took down $27,680. The word was out around the tournament floor that when he collected his prize money, he paid back everyone he owed money to, no excuses or trying to escape, he just paid up. It left him with very little to show for his first place cash.

Laing is quite a colorful character and there is more than one tale concerning his sense of humor at the tables and his ability to play good – and bad. He flipped coins with Andy Beal for racks of $20 chips ($2,000) at the $80-$160 Holdem game at Bellagio and when they played the following day, Laing told Beal “—and if you ever get yourself broke in this town, you can count on me for $10,000, no problem.” From The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King by Michael Craig.

The recent statement by Groupe Bernard Tapie’s lawyer Behnam Dayanim that Full Tilt Poker Pros owed Full Tilt roughly $16 million really shouldn’t surprise anyone that knows the nature of poker. Why they borrowed the money could be for any number of reasons. Why they haven’t paid it back could be for any number of reasons. Barry Greenstein talked to about money he owed to Full Tilt Poker – read about it here.

As Barry stated in the interview, he was owed money when he borrowed money.

Most borrowing deals are not public knowledge unless a player is a bad risk and owes a lot of people money; once the ripple starts and it becomes public knowledge word circulates pretty fast.

Borrowing is systemic to poker, without it there would be no ongoing, long term poker games or tournaments. It is one of the diseases of the game. Left to run the length of eternity, the game will grow around it, engulfing the disease and carrying it into the future in a symbiotic relationship - just as it has in the past.

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