So, if you've been following the PokerStars Blog, you're aware that Vanessa Selbst and Ole Schemion are in a pretty tight race for the Global Poker Index's "EPT Season 10 Player of the Year" title. Yes, there's €50,000 at stake for the winner, but it turns out that's not all the players worry about. I mean, why do people wear Rolex watches? After all, you can get a more accurate watch for 1/20th the cost. It's all about status. And here's the thing: you can't buy an EPT trophy (at least not an unused one), and you can never buy the GPI title.
If you ask the players, they'll tell you the same thing. For instance, here's a quote from legendary high-stakes player Phil Galfond1 about coming in second in a WSOP $25k 6-max event:
The difference between 1st and 2nd place was somewhere around 350k. I can't count the number of times I've lost > $350k in a day, and I usually get over it the next day when it happens.
That 2nd place haunted me. I beat myself up daily over a few hands, again and again and again, for at least two months. I still get a twinge of the regret from time to time.
I wanted the bracelet 100 times more than I wanted the money.
Wait, read that again: "I wanted the bracelet 100 times more than I wanted the money."
And Phil isn't alone. Check out this interview with Daniel Negreanu, where he's talking about the Global Poker Index and other non-monetary aspects of poker. Watch at 1:17, where he says, "It was never about the money, even when I didn't have any money. It's still not about the money today."
Here's a way of looking at it: during the next hour, PokerStars will deal about two million poker hands, give or take a few hundred thousand. Over a million of those hands will be for play money - that is, there is no real money on the line. That's a whole lot of poker being played that has nothing to do with money. So we have Phil Galfond and Daniel Negreanu at one end of the spectrum saying "It's not about the money". We have millions of people playing poker where they can win or lose exactly zero real dollars. And in between is a huge community of people who play with real money simply because it adds a little spice to the game. I mean, look at Bob's $.25-$.50 dealer's choice home game in Topeka, Kansas. It's been running every Thursday night for six years and there's a waiting list to get in. But the amount won or lost by anybody is about the cost of the pizza they have delivered. Don't tell me they're playing the game because of the money.
It's not, and never was, just about the money.
1. Phil is one of the most thoughtful and introspective people in the business, and he speaks with an absolutely unique perspective. Read what he writes.
Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980s.