The Cult of Poker CelebrityCreated By: Martin Derbyshire
Big name poker pros have become big time celebrities thanks to the game's immense popularity. But the WSOP and most of the top players in it aren't hiding behind the ropes. They're as accessible to fans of the game as ever before and should be applauded for their efforts in keeping this one of the most fan-friendly events in the world.
If one thing has surprised me at the 2007 World Series of Poker, it's just how accesible the top players in the game are - and not just to the media.
With all the online poker Web site and various other endorsment deals poker players have managed to hook up for themselves, no one would be shocked that the media has little trouble getting a few words from top pros. After all, it's obviously in their best interest to promote their personal brands.
But the thing is, many of these big name players make themselves completely available to the public at large as well. Most, if not all, are always willing to pose for a picture, shake a few hands and sometimes even discuss poker strategy or the happenings of a key hand - inside the tournament room and out.
The poker boom has turned players like Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson into celebrities. But instead of being coddled by agents and protected by security guards or members of a personal entourage like some Hollywood types, these people make themselves completely available.
Stand on the rail with your digital camera and you can bet Negreanu will give you a smile. They don't allow video cameras in the tournament room, but Kid Poker was even nice enough to remind one railbird of that today - before security got wind of it and may have even tossed her out.
Bump into Hellmuth in the hallways at the Rio and he'll stop to chat, even after the Poker Brat has just busted out of an event in his chase for an 11th bracelet.
On Day 2 of the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em Event 10 this afternoon, Phil made a great call for all his chips sitting on pocket nines against Partho "Spiderman" Data's A-J on a 2-3-4 flop. When Spidey hit the miracle five to turn a straight, Phil was, well...Phil. But moments after a profanity laced tirade, you could find him calmly chatting with a couple of fans outside the tournament area.
Phil really is a nice guy.
Poker fans who make the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to watch the best on the planet battle for World Series Gold have it pretty good. They can stand two feet from a poker legend like T.J. Cloutier and watch him do his thing. In fact, T.J. may even pass on some advice on how he's managed to cash at 51 WSOP events in his lifetime.
Playing in the short-handed No-Limit Hold'em event today, the ex-CFLer woke up with pocket kings. When an ace came on the flop he explained to all those around how difficult that hand can be to play.
"Queens or jacks you might be able to get away from, but kings are tough to lay down," he said.
What other game allows you that kind of access. The NBA sells courtside seats, but they can be upwards of $500 a pop. Entrance to the Amazon Room at the Rio is absolutely free.
Plus, where else can you chat with a celebrity while they're on the job. You can't just walk onto a movie set and watch an actor like Tom Cruise work. Wait for him outside the hotel he's staying at and you might even get maced or end up with a restraining order. In the poker world it's a whole lot different.
Funny twist however, even Hollywood personalities like Jennifer Tilly and James Woods, who have embraced the game of poker, have bought into the love fest with the fans. Woods was knocked out of an event pretty quickly the other day, but he was certainly willing to discuss his misfortunes with those on the other side of the ropes before his exit. Word is Jimmy loves to talk poker and is always willing to chat to anyone with an affinity for the game.
Poker is as hot as it's ever been and the players are just as accesible now as when you could chat with them in the smokey confines of an old school downtown Vegas cardroom. The players ought to be applauded for keeping it that way. For not letting the newfound celebrity status go to their heads.
However, I'm going to end this blog with a word of warning. If poker fans want to keep the game this open, they have a responsibility too. Don't sweat these players. If they ask to be left alone for a moment, give them some space.
One of the great things about poker is that you too can be the next big celebrity. Pony up $10,000 for the Main Event, get a good run of cards and you're in the club. So think about what it would be like if you were in their shoes and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That way we keep the game great, and player and fan interaction like nowhere else.
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