[toc]If Poker Night In America’s aim is to keep its name in the headlines, it’s doing a heck of a job these days. Even better if its goal is to be at the center of some rather spirited Twitter debates.
About a month after the over-hyped grudge match between Mike Dentale and Cate Hall effectively grabbed the collective attention of the poker world, Poker Night In America made another big splash this weekend. This time it was with its live stream of a high-stakes cash game from the Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma.
The stream kicked off featuring a tough and talented line-up including the likes of Shaun Deeb, Doug Polk, and Brandon Cantu. But the poker itself was clearly overshadowed by the outlandish behavior of a man who calls himself the “Biggest DBag In Poker.”
Poker’s newest bad boy
Brash Canadian accountant Salomon Ponte proceeded to insult just about every other player in the game. He called one’s wife a whore and challenged another to a million-dollar heads-up match.
He offered to take just about every one of these arguments outside. Then, when he eventually ran out of chips and the other players refused to take his watch and other valuables as collateral on a loan, Ponte continued to rip on all of them and the game itself.
Ponte, who also calls himself the Hashtag King, presumably due to some self-proclaimed prowess on Twitter, set the poker world aflame on the social media platform.
Most people agreed his behavior was out of line. But a debate also ensued as to whether or not Poker Night In America should have had Ponte on the show in the first place.
Ponte’s previous claim to fame in this game was a January 2016 WPTDeepstacks win for $344,420. After hoisting the trophy, he proceeded to give one of the most egomaniacal winner interviews ever recorded.
Should Poker Night In America have anticipated this?
Add that to a handful of other similar media appearances and a social media profile where he’s clearly posing as poker’s latest bad boy and detractors say Poker Night In America should have seen this coming when they booked him.
But so what if they did.
There’s little doubt Ponte’s behavior was over the top. But was it really that different from Phil Hellmuth calling someone an idiot from Northern Europe? Was it really that far from Tony G telling Russian Ralph Perry to get on his bike?
A lot of poker’s popularity was built on the back of outlandish TV clips like these. People have always tuned in to see poker’s bad boys do their thing. They love them, hate them, or love to hate them.
Either way, it’s like a train wreck, and people find it hard to turn away.
Can Poker Night In America really be blamed for trying to produce something more than just hardcore poker enthusiasts might want to watch?
What is Poker Night in America’s real responsibility?
Some say the show, and fixer Matt Glantz, have a responsibility to highlight the good in the game in order to properly promote it. But does that mean ignoring the bad?
Glantz essentially claimed people like Ponte help spotlight the reality of the different personalities in poker, both good and bad. Burying one’s head in the sand and pretending they don’t exist certainly doesn’t help promote the game in any meaningful way.
In fact, causal viewers of a show like this might tune in and find some vicarious pleasure watching a loudmouth get felted and embarrass himself on the way out the door. They may even tune in again. And in the end, that’s the kind of growth the game is really after.