2006 seemed the perfect year for poker. The Moneymaker effect had been ramping up the game for a few years and online poker sites had free reign to compete, which forced them to keep improving. The game kept getting bigger and it seemed like nothing could stop it. Of course, that was all halted by the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which passed that October, leading to a gradual decline of the industry.
For those of you who missed the heyday of poker, it was a beautiful time. A time when money rained down upon us from the heavens. New players were getting into the game everyday hoping they could be the next instant millionaire, and losing millions of dollars in the process. The poker economy was alive and well and the 2006 World Series of Poker was the epitome of this. Out of the 8,773 people who entered the main event (still a record to this day), as many of 60% of them qualified through internet satellite. And everyone wanted to be a part of it.
This was when advertising on poker shows was still socially acceptable, so mainstream brands like KFC and Degree anti-antiperspirant were throwing money at the game. And we had TV commercials for poker sites, so they would compete with each other to see who could be the funniest and most outrageous, to lure people into playing on their site. Of course, all this money trickled down to the players. It was rare to see a player without sponsorship apparel from Paradise, Party Poker or even Golden Palace.
A Different Time
Everything was so different then. Chris Feguson and Annie Duke were looked upon as heroes, instead of pariahs. You would have 5 limpers preflop. The entire 2006 WSOP, the announcers did not use the term 3-bet or range a single time. And instead of saying someone flopped a backdoor flush draw with an over, they would simply say, "He missed the flop." A rare appearance by Microsoft Word creator, Richard Brodie, may be the first televised reference to game theory optimal play in poker history. Daniel Negreanu had yet to secure his multi-million dollar deal with PokerStars. Of course, he still had a bit of a condescending streak. When someone raised his 300 chip bet to 5,000 and said, "That's poker," he snarkily replied, "That's not poker. That may be how y'all play it but that's not poker."
The Cast of Characters
The cast of characters was better back then. Nowadays we have a bunch of quiet, thinking players. Great for learning the game, but terrible for bringing in fans. This is why you don't see chess on TV. The main event coverage began with Mike "The Mouth" Matusow talking shit on the feature table. He didn't last long, but luckily we had guys like Humberto Brenes, Dmitri Nobles and Prahlad Friedman waiting in the wings for that air time.
All this time, an expected character was waiting in the wings, secretly accumulating a mountain of chips. In fact, Jamie Gold was only mentioned once up until day 4, when they suddenly pointed out that he has 10 times the average chips stack. We don't know much about how he got the chip lead. But we sure learned a lot about he maintained it. Jamie Gold was referred to by the announcers as a talent agent, turned TV producer. But as the coverage showed, he had just as big a place in front of the cameras. He verbally bobbed and weaved his way into one of the most decisive victories in WSOP history. Sure, he caught an amazing run of cards. But he used psychology to get maximum value for those great cards, eliminating countless players on his road to victory.
He wasn't afraid to get in there and trade insults with a cocky, brash Eric Molina, who has barely been seen since. But for the most part, he was downright charming. You could tell that by spending time with these players, he grew to consider them as friends. At times he was apologetic when eliminating players. And although there were a couple controversial moments that where he broke the rules, the floor was never called and you could tell that on his end it was less collusion and more being a nice guy. And this sincere innocence is part of what makes him so endearing.
I was able to speak to Jamie about this series, his plans for the summer and what he is up to now.
Jamie Gold Rule
Whether or not the "Jamie Gold Rule" is good for poker is irrelevant. It is the rule now and there is no changing that. But in the 2006 World Series, Gold exemplified what the game of poker is about. He did whatever it took to win. Nowadays poker psychology is more about bet sizing and timing tells. Back then it was about talking. And he talked his opponents into folding when he was bluffing and calling or betting into him when he had the goods. Using every tool you can to win is what makes a good poker player.
But aside from poker, Jamie is a good person. There was a classic hand with David Einhorn, who had vowed to donate his winnings to the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Gold said, "Your money's going to charity. Don't waste it." "Why don't you join me in that," replied Einhorn. But Jamie's money was going to charity. It was going to support his father, who had Lou Gehrig's disease. And he hasn't stopped giving. He is on the board of director's of The Giving Back Fund, which has created 240 foundations and currently runs 45 charitable foundations for legendary athletes, corporations and celebrities to affect change around the globe. He also frequently hosts charity poker tournaments, including the first ever joint United Nations gaming event for the Global Creative Forum.
2006 was the perfect storm of poker and remains my favorte WSOP to watch. Poker may never be the same, but it is my hope that we can have another boom and in order that to happen, we need a great new cast of characters like Jamie Gold. Until then we must adapt and take it as it comes. That's what Gold is doing. He has replaced his poker website patches with patches of his own companies. Each of which donates a large portion of earnings to charity.