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20,000 Leagues Part II

by Jennifer Mason |  Published: Dec 01, 2009


If there’s one thing which online players seem to like doing compulsively, it’s comparing themselves — their recent results, return on investment, total lifetime winnings — against other people. It’s like Field of Dreams: if you list it, they will come. They are also prone to continually do the equivalent of Googling themselves on it day after day as they progress or just build up irrational frustration mixed with grudging respect at those who continually pip them to the top spots.

I first noticed this combination meeting Chris “Moorman1” Moorman in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. He was hanging out with Paul “badpab2” Foltyn, another of those guys gracing the UK Top 10’s fairly consistently, playing Pai Gow, drinking White Russian cocktails, and being needled about not quite hitting the top spot (yet) on a certain online forum because of “allinstevie” (Steven Devlin).
Moorman Foltyn
Every time he managed to forget about it for a while, “Pab” would manage to bring it back up, creating a lemon-sucking expression on his friend’s face. Fast forward a year or so, and all three are sharing a house in Vegas, Moorman having enjoyed a spell at the coveted dizzying height of first place. Something which all the most successful online high-volume players have in common is a super-competitive streak, and there’s nothing like a league table to breed the obsessive determination necessary to succeed at that level.

Inclusion in, let alone domination of, the arena of online poker leagues is tough now, though. The kinds of hours you’re looking at putting in to compete with those well-known names are the sort to make any recreational player give up at the first hurdle, without even taking a run-up. Professional levels of table-hours later, and you might still struggle because you’re being gauged on money won overall, and you play smaller stakes with zero chance of landing a big tournament-style top prize. Then take a week to go on holiday, and your chances evaporate as someone, somewhere takes that opportunity to continue playing 12 to 14 hours a day.

It’s pretty unhealthy to regard any kind of table as something your self-esteem or sense of achievement rely heavily on, but with so few pointers in poker which characterise most jobs (promotions, completion of projects, regular payment, and creation of achievable targets) it’s clear why they mean so much to some people, and are of at least passing interest to most.

Less intense private league tables are often part of people’s home games or pub games. In fact the competition over a lot of pub league titles can be as fierce as any major tour’s. The stakes played for, as is often true, are almost irrelevant. When a game of mixed skill and luck such as poker is played over time, the most skilled players will dominate the short-term lucky ones, and to beat a group of friends and acquaintances rather than faceless Internet adversaries can be even more satisfying (while losing can be just as frustrating).

Often, competition between individuals or groups of players is mutually beneficial. Sharing ideas or just being continually criticised by your peers is a sure-fire route to improving your own game.

Moorman might describe a fellow UK Top 10 player such as James Dempsey like this, “Flushy is the world’s biggest luckbox, who if he ran close to normal would be hella busto” but there’s no doubt that a side effect of being able to monitor yourself in real time against people you know who are just as determined to prove themselves, while occasionally railing or abusing them via MSN, can only be beneficial.

Online rankings and player of the year contests might be an irrelevance in the day-to-day grinding of professional multi-table tournament players, but they exist because players naturally want to be shown their relative position, and better it. Few people don’t include themselves when making checks on their acquaintances and opponents on Sharkscope.

League tables, then, in all their various forms, are less a true measure of overall success than a carrot on a stick for self-improvement, and the means by which our favourite big name gamblers can generate even more side action as they use them as testing grounds for their own heavily-wagered-on rivalries. Spade Suit

Jen Mason is a part of She is responsible for its live tournament coverage in the UK and abroad.