#265: “Yesterday’s Faith”

Posted CriticismPoker PlayersThoughts

Girolamo Savonarola was a Domincan friar and preacher in Renaissance Florence. He was known for his calls for Christian renewal, his prophesy of the coming of a great biblical flood and his belief that he was a special messenger of God. When describing Savonarola in her historical novel ‘Romola’, George Eliot said:

“It is the lot of every man who has to speak for the satisfaction of the crowd, that he must often speak in virtue of yesterday’s faith, hoping it will come back tomorrow.”

Last week, modern day Savonarola, Daniel Negreanu tweeted:

“Worst kind of poker player has the following traits:

Quiet (Also Miserable)
Nit (Cheap/Selfish)
Hater (Complainer/Negative)
If you match all of these categories then you are probably a real treat to have at parties. 2 of 5 is still bad.”

The next day he doubled down, tweeting that “this type of player is a cancer to poker. The Nits are like a disease. Some just don’t know any better, they aren’t bad people, but they do way more damage than good by playing poker.”

Daniel’s words are divisive and another layer of his assault on the poker pro, pitting recreational players against them, creating the false narrative that in a game where everyone competes, where winners and losers are inevitable, that the winners are the problem, unless they conform to his strict set of guidelines of how to behave.

Here’s my take:

There is nothing wrong with winning, either in the short or long term. It is the objective of poker, whether it is in one pot, one session, one tournament or over an entire career.

There is nothing wrong with being a slow player. While I agree that there are times when taking time seems unnecessary, it’s important not to judge other players by the standards you have yourself. You might have your pre-flop ranges down and an excellent awareness of the stacks around you. Another player may not. You might like to trust your first instincts, look at your hand and the action and fire out a response. Others may be wary of their first instinct and like more time to process the situation. I would like to clarify that I am not defining a slow player as someone who intentionally tanks in spots for TV time, takes their time just to get under their table-mate’s skins or stalls when there is no tactical reason why they should.

There is nothing wrong with being a quiet person. There are lots of different personality types and people are all across the spectrum of chattiness. It’s obviously nice if players are polite with one another but nobody should be under any compunction to speak more than they wish. Personally, I would much prefer sitting at a table with a player who says nothing than a player who won’t shut the fuck up.

There is nothing wrong with feeling miserable. A person’s emotional state is largely out of their control. I know a lot of people, friends and family, who suffer from depression. Some days are better than others. Some days, they get up, go to work and they feel okay, like they can cope, like it’s not all too much. Other days, they get up, go to work but they feel miserable, like dread is consuming them, like everything is a battle. No amount of money or success can change that about them. They just take it one day at a time. Imagine having the temerity to tell that person to cheer up, that they should act a particular way, that they owe it to you to put on a happy face.

There is nothing wrong with being a nit. Many of my favourite people in poker are nits. Being careful with money is not a bad quality. In fact, it’s a trait that has kept many poker players afloat, myself included, during the early lean years as I was finding my feet in the game. Generosity is certainly a nice quality. Generosity of spirit at the poker table definitely adds some value for others and will probably make you more popular. I would prefer to be around generous people but how we came to be the person we are on the generous/miserly scale is down to a lot of life factors and I don’t like to judge those who fall short of my standards, just as I hope others more generous don’t judge me.

There is nothing wrong with being a hater, a complainer or even a negative person. Hating is a natural human response to things you find upsetting or people who have hurt you. Is it the most constructive emotion? No. Can it lead to bad behavior? Yes. Has it be harnessed to create great art and visceral opinion pieces? Has it driven social activism and powerful historical movements? Most certainly. Again, many of my favorite people, poker players or otherwise, are haters. Now, for the most part they combine it with a good sense of humour, some wit and some self-awareness. Hate without provocation speaks to moral flaccidity. Hating for hate sake, while understandable is bilious and redundant. But hate with a purpose is majestic. It can be the antidote to inertia and the engine for change.

I suppose my biggest objections to Daniel’s tweets are that they come from a position of such privilege, are so dogmatic, possesses such a ‘holier than thou’ patronising tone and ultimately come from a man who lives in a bubble. He doesn’t play €20 games in his local casino. He doesn’t play €1/€2 cash games. He doesn’t play the €500 or €1K circuit. Yet he claims to know what’s best for everyone and thinks he has a right to tell other people how to act, or worse still, be.

The internal inconsistency in what Daniel said was not lost on him either as his tweet was itself engaging in hating. He took it down and put out a ‘positive’ version from the same bully pulpit. I’m not sure it matters. It’s a less loathsome tweet but it still bangs of narcissism and contempt.

Remember, this is a man who openly defies logic by insisting to players that more rake is better, a man who is on record saying that victims of abuse still affected by that trauma years later are choosing to be victims, a man who thinks blackface is acceptable. The consistent theme here is preaching to people that are more vulnerable than him and thinking he knows what’s best for people whose experiences are different from his.

Speaking in virtue of old-school values, Daniel’s views have garnered some support but also much criticism. In ‘The Prince’, Niccolo Machiavelli described how the real Girolamo Savonarola was eventually ruined by the new order of things, that “the multitude believed in him no longer, and he had no means of keeping steadfast those who believed or of making the unbelievers to believe.” I believe that the poker world is a different place now and that yesterday’s faith won’t be coming back tomorrow.