(As told by Princess Anagramatica of Asalgave)

Many years ago in the village of Evans Hill in the slightly unfashionable region of Essenteen lived Sirch the bookkeeper. Sirch enjoyed his work maintaining the accounts of the local lords and merchants, but he also had a dream. He was determined that before he died he would attend the Great Annual Ball in the glittering city of Asalgave.

One day in early spring, word reached the village that a witch, Sporkaster The Omnipotent, was organizing a lottery. All over the Kingdom subjects could buy as many tickets as they pleased and several winners would be sent in style to the Great Annual Ball.

As a bookkeeper, Sirch was both good at sums and not particularly wealthy. He quickly realized that he could only afford a handful of tickets and that his chances of making it to the Great Annual Ball were slim. Fortunately he had read the Unabridged History and Post-Marxist Analysis of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and decided he might as well try his luck. “Someone has to win,” he thought to himself.

Sporkaster’s lottery attracted the attention of several other witches who quickly launched lotteries of their own. Spadarie The Mysterious was first on the bandwagon, followed by Parkoperty The Sextonite. Even the evil twins Tumalite and Tusabole got in on the act with small, confusing lotteries.

On the day of the drawing, Sirch could barely contain his excitement. The Magic Cards that would determine the winners of Sporkaster’s lottery flashed through the air, forming mystical patterns that brought hope to some and crushed the dreams of others.

And suddenly it was over. Sirch had won! He would soon be on his way to the Great Annual Ball.

When Sirch arrived in Asalgave he could barely believe his eyes. The lights! The splendor! The strange dwarfs who gave visitors pictures of naked nymphs and the ghastly trolls who drove carriages at breakneck speed through the broad streets with little regard for the safety of their passengers or anyone else.

Soon came the first day of The Great Ball. Sirch found himself surrounded by famous lords, notorious wizards, and more humble folk like himself who had won one of the witch’s lotteries. As the music began to play, he self-consciously kept a low profile, practicing steps and moves and avoiding the lords and wizards who flashily dominated the proceedings.

For days The Great Ball continued. Then much to the amazement of Sirch and the other attendees, the lowly bookkeeper was crowned King of The Ball! Lord Yamms, who finished first runner up shook his head in disbelief. But the crowd in general and the lottery winners in particular hailed their new King with great joy and fanfare.

Thanks to Sirch’s coronation, the fame of The Great Ball spread to other kingdoms and dukedoms and far-flung islands, and in the years to come the event became so popular that it had to be moved from The Great Hall of Ibsinon to The Gargantuan Halls of Ori, which in the year 2021 were imploded thereby greatly improving the Asalgave skyline.

And as if by magic, the twelve-month reign of King Sirch led to incredible wealth for those with ball-related professional interests and they all lived happily ever after.

THE END

For a fairy tale such as the one above to become ingrained in folklore, it must undergo constant repetition and ideally have a message with a catchy title. “The Legend of Sirch” is more commonly referred to as “The Moneymaker Effect,” and like all fairy tales its basis in reality is at best tenuous.

I decided to revisit this classic when I noticed on Twitter that someone running deep in the WSOP main event was “good for the game.” I was immediately suspicious. Many of the people making this claim were the same ones who were devastated when Daniel Negreanu got knocked out of the 2015 tournament in eleventh, citing a Negreanu victory as exactly the massive shot in the arm poker needed to regain its former glory. Last year a subset of these individuals had also argued vociferously, and to me incomprehensibly, that William Kassouf was good for the game.

I set about trying to establish what this year’s anointed one, John Hesp, had in common with motor-mouth Kassouf, and Negreanu, the most recognizable face of corporate poker.

My research revealed that Hesp is an affable Brit with a penchant for loud jackets who plays a couple of $15 tournaments a month for fun. His smiling demeanor at the table is certainly a pleasant change from the stoic hoodie-shades-backpack brigade, and I suppose in this limited sense he is probably good for any table at which he is sitting, but why is he “good for the game?” And if he is, how will this translate into a second poker boom as some of the poker Twitterati were now confidently predicting?

It occurred to me that the root of my comprehension problem is that I regard The Moneymaker Effect as a fairy tale whereas others regard it as part of the established history and genesis of the modern game and its (now allegedly waning) popularity.

Being somewhat intellectually honest I decided I’d better do some actual research. My first surprise was that The Moneymaker Effect has its own Wikipedia entry. It includes a quote from the PokerStars website which both defines the term and the surrounding folklore:

“[Moneymaker’s] story sparked a tidal wave of interest in poker, a phenomenon that’s been nicknamed (sic) the ‘Moneymaker Effect’… [H]e’ll always be remembered for that epic victory in 2003… Moneymaker’s story of how an amateur beat some of the best poker players in the world and win a multimillion-dollar cash prize is believed to have inspired millions of people to begin playing poker, both online and in card rooms around the world.”

Let’s skirt over the fact that the PokerStars website is in even greater need of an editor than I am and try to put this in context.

PokerStars is asserting that in 2003 an amateur beating professional poker players and winning a large sum of money triggered the poker boom.

Wait. Who won the WSOP main event in 2002? Right. Robert Varkonyi. He was an amateur who beat the pros and won two million. None of this was particularly remarkable because two years earlier another recreational player, Ireland’s Noel Furlong, had also beaten the pros, blah blah blah.

Aha, but Moneymaker was an Online Qualifier. That’s why he was good for the game and Furlong and Varkonyi were not.

Pardon?

Yeah, yeah, that’s it. Thanks to the good witch Sporkaster, mild-mannered Sirch satellited in for a few bucks and won the whole thing, hence he was good for the game!

So you’re saying a retired, DeLorean-driving businessman who could afford to fly from Europe to Vegas and slap down the $10k entry fee out of his own pocket would not, in fact, be good for the game?

(Mr. John Hesp? Telephone, line 4, we have a problem.)

And how on earth does any of this tie in with the assertion that Negreanu winning the main event would be good for the game? Does anyone really think he needs a higher public profile?

Breath…

You can play with these Venn diagrams for hours trying to establish who is and is not “good for the game.” Neither Hesp nor Moneymaker at the time of their WSOP final tables were particularly skilled at poker. Is that it? Man, I hope not.

And one can also approach the problem by reversing it. Why didn’t Jerry Yang trigger the second poker boom when he won in 2007? He had the cutesy photograph of his kids and prayed a lot and like Moneymaker and Hesp had very little actual ability. Good grief, with all the Evangelicals in the US who are currently notable by their absence from poker rooms, his victory should have been a game changer!

What about Martin Staszko? A factory foreman who, on the basis of a 35,000 Euro tournament cash, quit his job and came second in 2011. I don’t recall anyone claiming he was good for the game, but surely he makes an equally compelling Cinderella as Moneymaker?

If you put aside the conventional wisdom for a moment I think there is a coherent story of how the poker boom of the early 2000s came about. First, the global economy was strong. Second, the introduction and rapid expansion of online poker greatly increased the ability of poker players who were previously restricted to kitchen-table home games to participate in the international poker-playing pool. Third, the introduction of hole-card cameras made televised poker more interesting to casual players. Fourth, the aggressive promotion of televised poker by Discovery, the WPT, and ESPN, and the coupling of online poker to major live events brought the whole shebang together.

Did Moneymaker inadvertently play a part in the poker boom? Sure. He seems like a decent bloke who was at the right place at the right time. Was his influence as great as, say, Mike Sexton? Questionable.

So where does The Legend of Sirch originate? Follow the money. It’s a simple narrative which ignores messy details but follows a pattern we all learned as children in fairy tales. And since its inception it has been in the interests of corporate monsters like ESPN, Pokerstars and subsequently Caesars Entertainment to have the fairy tale repeated endlessly.

Two closing thoughts before those of you who enjoy such things try to untangle all the anagrams.

First, my favorite story surrounding this year’s WSOP, which I haven’t verified, but it appeared in the UK tabloids so it must be true, is that the 888 patch that magically appeared on John Hesp at the final table was negotiated by his recently-acquired agent. Who immediately before becoming Mr. Hesp’s agent was his Uber driver.

Second, in case the above article once again has me slated as a misanthropic cynic, I should point out that there is a very clear scenario in which I would buy in to the Twittersphere anointing their annual good-for-the-game candidate.

Next year I’m hoping for a Joanne Hesp.

~ Kat Martin, July 2017.
Twitter: @TheGameKat

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  • Heloise
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    This is genius!

    Also, please write more fairy tales.

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