• Peter Alson

All in the Cards

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

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All I ever really want when I’m playing poker is a fairly even card distribution. I figure if the cards break relatively even, then I’ll be able to outplay my opponents. But sometimes the cards don’t cooperate. Sometimes someone gets hit in the head with the deck so hard it’s impossible for anyone else to win. When the cards totally dictate the outcome, it leads skeptics to think that poker isn’t a game of skill but  just a game where the player with the best cards wins.

That’s pretty much what happened at this year’s Final Table of the WSOP. Over the course of three days, Joe McKeehan, the eventual champion, had a 7-million dollar horseshoe planted up his ass. The commentators all talked about how well he played, but really how the hell would they know? The guy never missed a flop. Never got coolered. Never found himself in a tough spot. Any time he had a big hand like A-K, A-Q, etc., the flop would come with a matching card. Any time he had a pocket pair, someone had a smaller pocket pair. The last hand of the tournament, in what was a typical spot, he had A-10 vs. Josh Beckley’s 4-4. There was no drama. Commentator Antonio Esfandiari said, “Well, we all know who’s going to win this,” even though Beckley was a 55% – 45% favorite. And sure enough a 10 came on the flop and it was game over. It didn’t make for good television. There was little in the way of drama. McKeehan sat down on Sunday, after a four-month wait, as the overwhelming chip leader, and the outcome was literally never in doubt over the course of the next twelve hours.

He might be a great poker player. There’s just no way of really knowing. He never made any mistakes to speak of. He played the big stack perfectly. But Lady Luck french kissed him for the entirety of the three-day Final Table–literally never coming up for air–and no one else could even get a peck on the cheek.

The celebration at the end was obligatory but bloodless. McKeehan, dressed like a zhlub at a table that actually featured more sartorial splendor than any I’ve ever seen seen before, spoke to Kara Scott in his on-the-spectrum inflectionless monotone, and it was hard not to picture the serial-killer stare he kept leveling at his opponents during play and think what a shame for poker that fresh-faced Josh Beckley didn’t win, or inspirational 61-year-old amateur Neil Blumenfield, or dandyish Max Steinberg, or really any of the other eight. Poker is in dire need of a boost, and an exciting and appealing champion would help. Instead we get the slightly scary, slightly creepy Joe McKeehan. What can you say? It must be in the cards.

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