It seems that another twelve month span of time has passed us by once again. There is quite a bit of truth to that theory that time moves faster as you get older…and it seems to get faster as the years go by. Even with that said, there was more than enough intrigue, turmoil, enjoyment and general joy in the year of poker that has just passed us than ever before.
By far the highlight of my year around the game was, on the very first night of the World Series, watching Mike Sexton take down the Tournament of Champions. First of all, the final table at this highly exclusive battle was chocked full of the best players in the game, past, present and future. How else could you not be entertained with players such as Mike Matusow, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu and the aforementioned Sexton (among others) all battling for the $1 million dollar first prize? The poker that was played that evening wasn't the only highlight, however.
After watching the ten men (Gus Hansen was the unfortunate soul who was shut out of any prize money from the TOC when he finished tenth) battle down to two after ten hours, it was unbelievable how Negreanu and Sexton fought over the next FIVE hours for the title. The ebb and flow of the heads up match between these two behemoths was truly stunning. The chip lead swung between the two players more times than most of the bleary eyed audience could capture (it did get to the point where everyone, including the players, was reaching a sleep-deprived giddiness bordering on madness!). The greatest thing though was, after the sixteen hour endurance match that was the TOC, Sexton's gift of half of his million dollar winnings to five charities…it truly got a memorable 2006 World Series off to a great start.
After almost five months of thinking about it, I still haven't figured out if Jamie Gold's victory in the Main Event was a good thing for poker or a bad thing. Of course, there has been the cantankerous legal battle that he has faced over the $12 million prize, but there have also been some things about Jamie that have bugged me. Since winning the largest prize in an individual sporting event ever, he hasn't been exactly a stalwart on the tournament poker scene. The unfortunate and untimely death of his father prevented him from entering the Five Diamond $15K World Poker Tour event, but I do remember our previous champions being very active after winning their titles, entering multiple tournaments and (especially in Joseph Hachem's case) going deep into big tournaments. With hope, we will see more of Jamie Gold as being an active champion, rather than just "hitting and running".
I could go on forever about how the Bill Frist led assault against online gaming and poker has changed the landscape, but that is ground that has already been covered to the nth degree and talking now won't change it much. It was interesting, though, to see how the poker world banded together to try to prevent it from coming to pass and, as soon as the bill was signed into law, how quickly that bond was broken by many of those same brothers in arms. I know there are legalities that required some to make the moves they did, but it would have been a significant signal to the "powers that be" if the Internet poker world had stuck together and fought it out.
So, as The Alan Parsons Project put it in "Games People Play", "where do we go from here?" The first three months of 2007 will be a key indicator of what the rest of the online poker landscape will be for the year. By March, the full impact of the UIGEA will be known as the financial institutions are supposed to have in place the framework for preventing Americans from financing their poker and gaming purposes. I personally see there being an extension of the 270 day period further into the upcoming year, making it an ongoing epic that will have even more twists than a Shakespearian tragedy.
It is possible, as well as logical, that there could be a hold on the enacting of the law to allow for study of the legalization of online poker and gaming. The rumbles that were heard, after the off-year elections of 2006, allow me to envision that there could be a lengthy study into the rightful path of regulation and taxation, rather than the prohibition that some wanted in place. Perhaps at this point next year, we still won't have a clear picture as to what is truly going on with the online poker conundrum.
In this writer's opinion, it would also be a great moment for our game if we can get back to the gentlemanly and pleasurable pastime that drew many of us to poker in the first place. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of pressure inherent in battling over the prize pools that are out there, but there also should be a return to the etiquette of sportsmanship for sporting contests. I believe people are tiring of seeing the volatility bordering on hand to hand combat that many events have become. Let us hope that, in the coming year, we can get away from the more "WWE" driven spectacles and return to a modicum of class and gentility during our major events.
Whatever happens, whether online or in the living world, poker won't be going away. The online poker world will continue to thrive as many continue to come to the game and learn of the nuances and joys that it brings. Tournament poker will still be well attended by the professionals and the unknowns who wish to become one of the greats. Numbers for next year's World Series may not approach the 8,773 players that attacked the felt this last year, but the attendees will still be well ahead of the pre-Moneymaker days of the game. It makes for another fantastic voyage as we get ready to enter into 2007...and one I already have my ticket for.