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A blessing and a curse for the Responsible Gambling Council, and a step for poker, came this last weekend in the form of Mike McDonald’s win at the 2008 EPT Germany Open. The 18 year old, who according to PokerListings calls himself “Timex”, is an internet phenom from Canada who has been playing poker for years. By winning the Open he made 1.4 million US Dollars and is now the youngest player to ever win a top-level European tournament.

This win for McDonald was a blessing for the Responsible Gambling Council because of his response to the victory. Canada’s Edmonton Sun newspaper reported, McDonald took countless hours of practice and study to become as good as he is, teenagers and poker fans should not believe it was luck that lead him to victory. “If you approach it like a game of skill and you’re constantly analyzing your decisions and stuff like that you most likely will end up being successful, but 99 percent of people who play this game just play,” McDonald said. “Realistically, there are a lot more failure stories than there are success stories. Teenagers shouldn’t throw the little money they have online thinking they can double it or win big. You shouldn’t be gambling with money you can’t afford to lose and most kids don’t really have money they can afford to lose. For the vast majority of people, staying away from poker is probably best.”

From another side, The Sun reported the Responsible Gambling Council is worried the win itself will lead teens to think they should put aside school for gambling. “The publicity surrounding McDonald’s big win is the worst-case scenario from a gambling prevention standpoint”, said Jon Kelly, the council’s chief executive. “There’s nothing wrong with McDonald having done so well with poker, but he’s now a role model for many kids who won’t have his skill, talent and discipline.”

McDonald’s win, and the responses to it, are important and interesting because it is a victory for poker overall and can be used to analyze a common issue in our society. McDonald’s success and his explanation prove, in themselves, that poker is a skillful game. He provides the right cautions to the public and lets everyone know how hard it really is to be so good. Jon Kelly’s reasoning is indicative of the massively flawed gambling education and prevention techniques implemented by the government, most notably the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Saying there’s nothing wrong with McDonald’s win but now he is a role model for other’s who don’t share his level of skill is ridiculous and contradictory. If one takes a second to think about this statement, we see Kelly taking on the cliché paradigm of “irresponsible” gambling, “Well he is good so he can do it, but if you aren’t good then don’t”. How does he think McDonald got so good at poker?–was he born with the ability to understand pot odds, equity, ranges, etc; of course not! McDonald got good by studying and playing. To acquire knowledge, we need intellectual understanding combined with experience. If McDonald hadn’t been playing for years, he could have never gotten to the point where he won and was therefore accepted by society, even though his process would not have been.

This idea relates to when ISF’s and my brother, Massimo decided he wanted to be a pro. Our mother’s response was “Well he hasn’t proven he is capable” and I said “Well he has to be able to try to prove it, so far he hasn’t put in the all the time he needs yet and you are trying to hold him back.” She was ok with the idea of success but not the process of getting there. Now, I can’t blame our mom because she was saying what she understands from society, but this logic is flawed because everyone loves to criticize a dreamer but then back them up in success, is absurd. If I told my parents, grandparents, friends of parents, whoever, that I wanted to become very skilled with the human body, understand the in’s and out’s so well that I am an expert, AKA be a doctor, they would all be so complimentary. But, if I said I want to be very skilled with poker and learn all the in’s and out’s etc, they would say it is stupid and a bad idea–I say what’s the difference? Many people argue that poker has no value for society, it’s just greed, and something like being a doctor is important and that is the discrepancy. Well, poker players are constantly endorsing charities and giving massive amounts of money away so people like doctors can continue to help our society. Also, Barry Greenstein explains in Ace on the River that he donates all his tournament winnings to charity. The point is, people should think about McDonald’s win and what it really meant to get there. Just because poker has a negative connotation doesn’t mean it is wrong. It is a great game with so much involved and, just like studying anything, makes you smarter and richer. Remember that many things we recognize to be great now, were once disregarded as insane, if people understood that, maybe the world would be a more amiable place.