Sam Grafton: It’s time to say goodbye…

Sam ‘TheSquid’ Grafton’s final column has some sobering advice for the poker world 

I hope you have a box of tissues close at hand because I’m sad to inform you this will be my last monthly column for PokerPlayer. The time has come to part ways and, like any break-up, it will be hard on both of us. I expect I’ll be sending the editor late night drunken texts for weeks to come, and I must thank you all for the opportunity to convey a little of my poker world to the wider public.

This won’t be the last you will be hearing from me though. I think it’s really important that fans and players continue to be vocal about the direction they want poker to move in and I will continue to weigh in on all manner of topics, both in articles and on Twitter.  The poker community, and the industry that surrounds it, have numerous challenges to face in the months ahead. These challenges can only be overcome by working together for solutions that serve both parties’ interests. I certainly feel that if the game is to continue to grow then the big companies that dominate the poker landscape will need to give a little back to their players. 

Giving it back

I understand there must be incredible pressure on Caesars and PokerStars to increase their profits year on year. However, the number of profitable poker players is in steep decline and there is immense pressure on the bankrolls of both pros and recreational players, with fewer able to fulfil their dream of making a living from the game. We need to remember that while poker offers us the same emotional highs and lows as other forms of gambling it’s also a game that should produce a high percentage of long-term winners. It’s distinctly not an industry where the punters are mercilessly fleeced by the house. 

In this way poker should provide a model for other forms of gambling with big operators in sports betting lowering their margins and roulette wheels with no zeroes rather than two. The opposite seems to be the case though, with poker tending in the direction of other house games. Poker rooms in casinos continually up the rake and cut back on player rewards while games online are slowly becoming unbeatable. It’s up to the big firms to arrest this trend and grease the wheels of the economy a little, both with more generous bonuses and incentives and also by reducing levels of rake in some areas. It’s worth stating again that it’s only when the industry and the community are working together that the game will once more begin to grow.

A nostalgic dream 

Personally, the 18 months I’ve been writing this column have been fantastic. As well as a huge SCOOP score I finally claimed the live title I’ve always craved. Through travelling the live circuit I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with some immensely fun people and seeing some remarkable cities. 

My desire to succeed in this profession is fuelled by dreams not just of glory but also of stability. With each new success my lifestyle seems to swell to absorb any additional income that comes my way and I’m still as far away as ever from achieving the type of financial security that a professional gambler may need approaching middle age. As I get older the long hours required to succeed at poker and maintain my edge are only going to become less appealing. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the importance of fulfilling my potential in the here and now rather than pinning my hopes on future success. The extra time I gain from surrendering this column will not likely be filled by time on the golf course but only by more hours honing my game.

Despite these reservations my love for the game is undiminished. I still remember my first encounters with professional poker players at the old ‘Gutshot’ poker club. It seemed a wildly romantic profession to pursue. While I make most of my money playing online these early encounters in a dimly lit card room continue to inform my understanding of poker. 

I still aspire to the ideal of the ‘card player’ – someone who could make a profit using the 52 cards in the deck under any circumstance in any format. With each year that goes by I only have a greater sense of how impossible it is to master this game in all its forms, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give up trying.

A big thanks to Sam Grafton for his brilliant column from everyone at PokerPlayer – we’ll miss you, but sure you’ll be back with us again in the near future!

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