He’s the Sports Guy, not the Poker Guy

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, 1:51 pm

Bill Simmons of ESPN is playing in the 2006 World Series of Poker, and he has a piece up right now about his poker past. Now, I enjoy reading Simmons’ stuff immensely, even if I think he’s not quite as smart as he thinks he is. Of course, I’M not as smart as I think I am, evidence of that being the fact that Simmons has millions of readers and gets paid by ESPN to do stuff like play in the WSOP while I blog in obscurity.

But enough about the bitterness that makes me long for the icy scythe of death. Simmons’ column shows that while Bill might be on firm ground ripping apart Isiah Thomas, he’s in no position to pontificate about poker, except for purely comedic purposes.

After watching Gabe Kaplan do the commentary for the 1996 US Poker Championship (can’t Cheney just step in and mandate that Kaplan do the color commentary for all poker broadcasts?) Simmons writes about players trying to improve their game:

“Unfortunately, thousands of others are doing the same thing. Fortunately, many of them suck at poker. More fortunately, they don’t even realize it

Bill, we glean from this sentence, does not include himself among those who suck at poker yet don’t realize it. Ah, hubris, she’s a bitch. Because in the rest of the column Simmons gives mucho evidence that he’s seriously lacking in poker insight.

Biil writes about his first time sitting down in a Vegas casino and winning $400, most of it when he hits a straight flush and infuriates the locals. Nice little story. But then he writes this:

(Of course, I was only playing stud, which is like the D-League to hold’em’s NBA.)

Shall I page Felicia, or can I handle this on my own? How about I just copy and paste the banner on her blog:

“Any game where there’s more decisions to make is a more skillful game. If someone can master Stud, then they can master any poker game.–Chip Reese

Stud and Hold-Em each have their own particular challenges, and to say one is minor league and the other major without taking into account the opposition, the stakes, etc, shows rather a lack of understanding about the game.

After the explosion in poker’s popularity AM (After Moneymaker) and a sudden influx of fish, Simmons writes, “You’d think this development would make it harder to play in Vegas. Actually, it’s much easier.” Why would it be harder if suddenly there are horrible players fighting for seats? This is a common fallacy in the poker world (i.e. those who say “I’d rather face good players because they don’t play junk hands and suck out on you”) that occurs often among players who, well, suck at poker.

At this point the column really gets silly. “On my latest trip, I finally made The Leap from lower-limit to no-limit, losing my cherry at Binion’s. That’s like getting your first major-league at-bat in Fenway against Randy Johnson.” Well, Binion’s is a legendary place, and like Fenway it’s been so romanticized that you can perhaps ignore the fact that newer facilities have aesthetically left it in the dust. But unless Bill was being modest and he actually sat down with Doyle and Chip and Barry, I don’t it quite equals facing down the Big Unit. But that’s nitpicking, and frankly, that’s beneath me.

Simmons says that he won a $550 pot with a “straight I caught on the draw. Or the pull. Whatever it’s called. (I’m not good at poker terminology; I think it’s slightly creepy.)” Odd that such a sports fan would think the slang that goes with a particular game is “creepy”, but perhaps we can just chalk that up to snootiness. In the very next sentence he writes “My night made, I went into Dean Smith’s Four Corners and finished up $300”. So, college basketball terminology is OK (four corners = stall to run out the clock, natch) and we also see that after winning a nice pot he was willing to turtle and forgo the chance of winning even more. Did Bill lose his nerve after winning that big pot? Mais non! After all, describing his mindset as he took his seat he modestly writes, “Was I scared? Absolutely not.” Bill, Bill, look in the mirror, confront your fears! I do the same thing, husbanding my chips after a win and missing out on opportunities to win even more. To thine own self be true.

For some reason Simmons believes that no-limit is the “highest” limit that poker is played at. After winning a few hundred at the Mirage he writes, “All in all, two nights of poker at the highest level netted me almost $400.” Um, while it’s true that in no-limit you can all your chips at any time, it rather makes a difference how many chips you’re talking about. I play no-limit, with blinds of a nickel and dime. Daniel Negreanu plays limit, with blinds of $4000-$8000. Daniel plays at a higher limit that I do. You all follow my reasoning here?

Writing about his TWO HUGE WINS, Bill writes, “Could that have happened six years ago? Of course not. I would have gotten crushed. But now, everyone thinks he can play. And I mean, everyone.” Including the author. You don’t need a Ph.D in statistics to see that even a strategically-shaved orangutan could post 2 winning sessions back-to-back (and no doubt some of us believe we’ve seen exactly that). Two nights does not a winning poker player make.

How does one become a winning poker player? Bill has the answer:

“Watch a few shows, play online for a few nights, read a book … and you’re ready for Vegas. Or so they all think. Well, it doesn’t work that way. You need to play for a few years, struggling at various casinos as you learn how to read people and work your way up from stud.”

Again, Felicia, I’m not trying to make you mad, I didn’t write that. I don’t know why you need to struggle at various “casinos”, as if poker is like tennis and you have to play on grass and clay and hardcourts. I’d love to hear Bill’s theories picking up tells–or is that the sort of terminology he finds creepy?

After conceding that he’s likely to get “wiped out” at the WSOP, he says, “Then again, I don’t know why I’m complaining. The fish have made it easier to make some money.” This statement is true on its surface, but in the cash games surrounding the World Series he’s likely to run into slightly stiffer competition than he’s faced in the past. And while I admit I can’t testify to Simmons’ skill as a player, after reading this column I detect a definitely fishy smell rising from the virtual page.

Simmons correctly states that bad beat stories are boring and stupid, but he calls them “poker stories”. Again, he just can’t stand the lingo! Bad beat stories, we all agree, are a plague upon humanity, but “poker” stories can be quite entertaining. Why…one could even start a blog that’s nothing but poker stories…

Not that bad beat stories are all that saps one’s interest from the game: “Poker stories are as boring as the game’s current crop of stars, few of whom you’d ever idolize unless you were auditioning for a guest spot on “My Name Is Earl.” Both of these elements work against poker as a phenomenon.”

Let’s just ignore the “working against poker as a phenomenon” line. Or, let’s not ignore it–poker has grown at a Pets.com level for three years now. I think we’re well past the “phenomenon” stage. Hell, major media corporations are sending know-nothing writers to play in the game’s biggest event just for the hell of it! But to say that today’s crop of poker stars are “boring” shows either than Simmons was really under deadline pressure or he hasn’t followed poker the last, oh, 50 years.

Pick your poison–you have your trash-talking maniacs (Matusow, Laak), your revered elder statesmen (Brunson, Cloutier), your cerebral field generals (Greenstein, Lederer), your miraculous underdogs (Moneymaker, Raymer), your space aliens from the planet Zuon (Ivey), your whiny prima-donnas (Hellmuth), your brash young up-and-comers (Fischmann, Williams, Gracz, Cassidy, Esfandiari, etc etc etc), your females who can beat your brains in all the live-long day and look absolutely SMASHING while doing so (Mercier, Gowan, Ng, etc etc etc), your evil foreigners trying to take over the world through unprovoked aggression (Sweden). What exactly are you lookin’ for, Bill?

One of the things I like best about Simmons’ writing is how he takes down the high and mighty (and stupid) with verbal thrust and parry. He’s at his best when he’s sticking pins in celebrities and superstar athletes who are full of hot air. Which is was so odd reading this column and seeing HIM as the oblivious and cocky one. I’m still looking forward to reading his stuff from the World Series, but from this column I don’t think we’re going to see him nearly at his best, for three simple reasons: he doesn’t know what he’s talking about; he seems to think that he does; and he holds just about everything and everyone associated with poker in contempt. It’s not a promising combination.

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12 Responses to “He’s the Sports Guy, not the Poker Guy”

  1. David Says:

    Was that written by Bill Simmons or Tiffany Williamson? All kidding aside, he wrote a couple of months ago how poker was 90% luck and that he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t killing the $4/$8 game he was playing in in LV.

    I love his writing too, but I am also looking forward to his first hour, “I busted from the WSOP”, sob story about how he got it all in as a gargantuan favorite, like 53/47, and lost.

  2. Felicia Says:

    I’m used to hearing these things.

    Oddly enough, things said out of ignorance (like this), don’t bother me in the least.

    It’s the things said out of semi-knowledge that tend to drive me mad.

    Everyone knows that Stud players gain an advantage by part of a hand being exposed. It’s the part of the puzzle that is missing that makes Stud such a great game.

  3. Garthmeister J. Says:

    Great. I write a post about The Sports Guy’s ambitions, and get CRUSHED by Mean Gene’s effort.

    I will now haul myself back to my cube and cry.

  4. csquard Says:

    The truest words in your entire post is “…mandate that Kaplan do the color commentary for all poker broadcasts.” I saw the Stuey Ungar ’97 WSOP for the umteenth time (now on ESPN Classic), and he is just simply the best, no doubt about it. But let’s get real here–only old farts and sexy ladies play stud. Why does everyone always attack those of us with zero short-term memory as being less than you photographic-stud geeks? Heck, I can barely remember my kids names, much less what the guy in the 3s folded on fourth street…

  5. Drizztdj Says:

    I’d like to Simmons sit down at an O8 table figure out the board since he’s obviously an “advanced poker player”.


  6. KenP Says:

    Let’s face it:

    The last good sports writer was Damon Runyan.


    The only one interested in who won the Super Bowl lives in Pittsburg.

    Now that I’ve alienated all…

    Very good article, MG! Your pen would make a Borgia green with envy. Et tu Brutus. I mean…your blog was more sports than poker for how long? 🙂 Fling dem towels!

    Of course the real amazer is Felecia being gentle.

    But, it is truly one of your best.

    Here the sucker thought he was worse than badly prepared Fugu and he ended up flopping like a carp. Put him back in the water MG; the game warden is watching. (3-fish references in one sentance!)

  7. Anon Says:

    good article but have someone spellcheck and proofread your stuff before you post it. Tons of missing words. I thought a 5 year old had transcribed this for you.

    take some pride in your work (esp if you are going to whine about being an obscure poster)

    I never read your blog before but I found it linked on a popular blog site.

  8. Guru Says:

    I cannot recollect Simmons ever writing about losing at poker, so he COULD be the greatest living poker player. However, I suspect he is like most neophyte gamblers, bragging about the winning and leaving out the hideous defeat stories.

    I agree with vegaas that Simmons has mailed it in for about the last year, with exception of the Isaih stuff. He was a whiny little girl when the Pats lost.

    Great blog Gene.

  9. Theronn Says:

    Bill Simmons is playing in the WSOP. He writes the best column on ESPN.com and also writes in their magazine. Now recall your comment about being obscure. With that said….

    I find it amazing that your spending your time whinning about him and his poker knowledge and ability. What do you expect? He is a sports writer and he is doing his job.

    Ummmmm….. thats it. Oh, and your writing is lame and your points are weak… just so you know.

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    good luck

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