Statistician and writer Nate Silver felt right at home in a sea of numbers on Day 1d of the 2011 WSOP Main Event.
Silver first gained public recognition when he developed a system to forecast the performance of baseball players and then went on to establish the uber-popular political blog FiveThirtyEight.com.
On Sunday, however, Silver was just another poker player in the Pavilion Room.
“I’m playing mostly for fun,” explained Silver. “I don’t get to play much poker anymore and I just thought I'd give it a shot. I’m not sure if it’s a terrific value from a poker perspective but I’m not horrible.”
Silver is no stranger to the poker table and prior to developing his blog earned most of his living from playing online poker in the mid-2000s.
“The games were terrifically easy,” he said. “You just had to have some basic competence and good card sense.”
Around the time the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act was passed in 2006, Silver was slowly starting to pull away from the online game however.
“The games got harder and I was kind of burned out,” he said. “At that point I was a good-to-very good player, but I wasn’t great.”
It’s been nearly two years since Silver has competed in a major poker tournament (he played the 2009 WSOP Main Event) but he didn’t appear rusty through the first level of play on Day 1d.
“It’s obviously a disadvantage not having played in basically two years, but you are a little bit fresher,” said Silver.
Silver, who was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2009, is in a unique position to comment on online poker’s Black Friday thanks to his role as a political analyst and fan of the game.
“I think people were pretty unrealistic to think the status quo was sustainable,” he said.
It’s not all bad for online poker players, however, according to Silver.
Because Black Friday was so decisive he thinks it might clear the way for legalization. Essentially the ambiguity of online poker has been removed.
Of course for that to happen players need to be paid back the money they are owed by the sites immediately.
Silver stopped short of actually suggesting online poker would be legalized and regulated in the next few years.
“I don’t want to render a prediction about it because you can talk to six different people and get six different answers ranging from, ‘Yeah, 50% chance by next year’ to ‘No, never.’
"Right now Congress is so divided it’s particularly difficult.”
On the bright side, Silver went on to say that online poker is somewhat of a bipartisan issue and it’s an excellent way to raise revenue.
Although Silver would love to make a deep run in the 2011 WSOP Main Event, winning cash isn’t the only thing on his mind.
Silver is currently in the process of writing a book about forecasting and prediction and poker is a major theme.
“Poker players are very good at understanding the difference between skill and luck,” he said.
“They have a unique view on luck that a lot of people don’t understand. The general public thinks that people who pick a few good stocks are geniuses, but most of the time they’re just lucky.”
Silver expects the book to be published in the summer of 2012, right before the U.S. election.
In the meantime he’s looking to make the most of his Vegas trip.
“I might write a news story if I bust out early,” he said. “The preferred path is to go deep and become the news story.”