Is Martin Jacobson Good for Poker?

Author’s Note: The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of or its owners.

Martin Jacobson won the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event this week. He was sensational. He played expert poker. He was one of the few champions in recent memory where pretty much everyone’s opinion was that he totally deserved to win. The final outcome was completely satisfying.

Of course, the question people in the poker community always ask once the smoke clears is, “Is he good for poker?”

There is always this concern that the WSOP Main Event champ needs to be an upstanding ambassador for the great game of poker. That he (or she, but they are always he’s) needs to be a shining beacon of poker wonderment. So, is Martin Jacobson good for poker? Yes, but it doesn’t matter.

This whole “good for the game” thing developed somewhere in the vicinity of a decade ago when poker was growing like a marshmallow in a microwave. Poker had yet to be seen as a legit pastime. It was still a curiosity, something people flipped past when they were looking for something to watch on television. The desire for public acceptance of our game, plus the opposition that was developing amongst United States legislators, made poker ambassadorship seem very important. The WSOP Main Event champ is the one poker player who non-poker fans actually hear about, so we wanted him to be able to make people view poker in a positive light.

2014 WSOP Champion Martin Jacobson with his bracelet and $10 million in cash

2014 WSOP Champion Martin Jacobson with his bracelet and $10 million in cash (C) WSOP

Chris Moneymaker was perfect for that initial boost. People could relate to him and his ”rags to riches” story was, as we know, a major catalyst to the poker boom. Greg Raymer, aside from a relatively minor legal incident a few years ago, was an excellent follow-up. He was any everyman, but he was obviously quite intelligent and well spoken. Joe Hachem was very personable. At the time, having a quality poker ambassador might have mattered and those guys, particularly Raymer and Hachem, wore the badge proudly.

But it just doesn’t matter anymore. Poker is a known quantity now. It isn’t a secret. Most people understand that poker isn’t just a game played in smoky back rooms or Wild West saloons. We don’t really need to convince them of that anymore. We’re on to the next step, which isn’t the fight for legitimacy, but the fight for legality. It certainly does not hurt that Martin Jacobson is a smart, clean cut, in-shape champion. That is better than having an inarticulate slob holding up the diamond-encrusted bracelet. If he chooses to do anything “ambassador-y,” he will likely do an excellent job. But it just doesn’t matter anymore.

Unless the person who wins the WSOP is either a disgusting asshole or an entertaining, breathtaking angel, he will have little to no impact on how the game is perceived by non-poker fans or how the game is treated amongst lawmakers. And even then, he probably won’t. People just don’t care anymore. Sure, we care about poker and there are some legislators who do, but on the whole, people around the world don’t care. The makeup of some dude who wins a big poker tournament is not going move the needle.

Additionally, and I mean no offense by this, but on the whole, the latest champions, and probably many of the champions on into the future, are generic twenty-something internet players whose backgrounds and personalities don’t really resonate with the general public, the people who are not already into poker. Being in the poker industry, I have some idea of who these guys are even though I don’t know any of them personally and for the most part, they seem like solid, smart guys. I have no problems with any of them and have been impressed with how a few, in particular, have handled themselves since their big victories. But to Joe Schmo out there or to some Congressman, they all seem the same. They’re young guys who are really good at poker. Martin Jacobson breaks the mold a bit aside from his age, but not enough to make a difference.

It does not matter who wins the World Series of Poker Main Event. He won’t be good for poker, he won’t be bad for poker. Nobody is casually watching poker on television anymore; only the most ardent followers of the game will have any idea who the reigning champ even is. Poker is not dead, but the hype surrounding it is. A poker champion cannot just create demand for the game out of thin air.

That’s not to say that I personally don’t care at all who wins the WSOP. I don’t want a jerk to win, I don’t want a total donk, I don’t want someone who showers once a week. I like Martin Jacobson; he seems like he will be a wonderful champion. Whether it is him or someone else, though, will not make a difference.


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