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Daniel Negreanu's Poker Blog

Poker and Politics
24 Aug 2014

Lots of great discussion and blogs on the topic of whether or not political discussion belongs at the poker table. As Shane Schleger stated on twitter, poker is one of the few egalitarian events where it doesn't matter what your religion, race, political affiliation, or gender is at all. It's a place where Muslims can sit with Jews, feminists can sit with chauvinists, and none of that matters. The game has historically always brought people together. I've been playing for over 20 years now and I can count on one hand the number of times a political discussion broke out at the table. I'm not saying this is either good, or bad, it's just been my experience.

Before I go any further I want to link you to the three blogs I read on the topic:

Nolan Dalla: Political Sensorship

Robbie Strazynski: No Room for Politics in Poker

Victoria Coren: No Politics at the Poker Table?

I'm not going to write an in-depth blog as these three have, as I feel they have covered all the bases for the most part. I did want to go public with my position on political censorship at the poker table and how that may affect what people are or aren't allowed to wear at the table.

I strongly believe that there should be two sets of rules in terms of the rigidness of what is allowed and what is not. One for televised events, and another for non-televised events. For non-televised I'm pretty much OK with someone wearing anything they want, whether it be offensive or not. Of course, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and I'm not sure exactly where that line is, but I'd leave that up to the discretion of the organizers.

In the case of a televised event, things get a bit more tricky. If I were hosting a poker show that will air across the world, I would like it to be as Switzerland as possible. I'd love for the viewing audience to focus on the characters, the poker, the fun, and the excitement rather than being distracted by what they may view as an offensive political message.

I will echo what Vicky said in her blog, that PokerStars was put in a lose-lose situation thanks to the decisions made by Daniel Colman and Olivier Busquet to wear shirts that said "Free Palestine," and "Save Gaza" respectively.

Do nothing at all, and run the risk of people being shocked and upset with the company for allowing it. Or, release a statement restricting the rights of the players to wear clothing that may offend.

I think both camps make really strong points! Read the blogs and you will see that you will have some moments where you will say, "OK, that's fair" even if you are on the other side mostly. Personally, I support people's right to an opinion and to express themselves however they choose to. Having said that, I also support the broadcasters and organizers right to create rules that they deem appropriate for a worldwide broadcast.

I know, that seems wishy-washy, but it's a complicated issue. The easiest solution would be for poker players who wanted to make a political message to do so in a way that is INCLUSIVE rather than EXCLUSIVE. In fact, I think one of the shirts is inclusive and the other is exclusive.

"Save Gaza" is quite vague and if that offends you, you may be a bit too sensitive! Regardless of what "side" you are on, I would imagine you want to see an end to the suffering and the deaths. Whether you attribute those deaths to Hamas, or the IDF, I imagine that peace is a solution all sides can agree on. In other words, some may see that and think, "Save Gaza from the terrorist organization Hamas." Others may see it as a plea for the IDF to lay down their weapons. Either way, yes save Gaza. It's an atrocity and something we can all back. Peace is the goal.

"Free Palestine" is the one that I find to be exclusive. This is a more loaded political message. It implies that A) Palestine is a state, and that B) it is not a free state. A) is simply not a historical fact, nor has it ever been. B) is up for debate, as some may say the region is occupied illegally while others argue that it is already free. And again, some may argue that freeing Palestine requires the elimination of Hamas.

I have shared my political views on the matter via twitter, but it's not something I would feel appropriate for a poker table, especially a televised broadcast. It's not the forum I would choose, but again, I respect others right to express their views in that manner if they choose to.

I applaud people who take a stand. I respect it. I find it a lot more honest and genuine and even though I may disagree with the conclusion, I can trust that this person is sharing with me what they truly think. I much prefer that over wishy-washy, and I'm rarely ever wishy-washy! Sometimes that offends people. I may have a different political view than you do, and for some people that is enough for them to hate me and want me dead. That's happened on more than one occasion!

I don't hate those that disagree with me. I'm happy to have civil discussions and debate about heated topics like politics and religion, and I don't take disagreement personally. If you choose to hate someone for disagreeing with your political views, what does that say about you? Also, what makes you such an expert on the subject that you aren't open to being wrong?

I don't watch FOX News, CNN, or MSNBC. In fact, I don't watch any network news. I keep up by doing lots of reading online, whether it be The Toronto Star, various blogs, Wikipedia, or interesting articles I may find. I am no expert, but I find it silly when people tell me I don't have an educated opinion on the topic. Oh, but you do? Unless you are there, in the thick of it, any information you get could be way off base, just like my research could be wildly inaccurate. I'm open to that possibility, but are you? Or are you so certain that only the information you gather is correct and that every other source of information is tainted?

I have close friends who fought in Israel. One who was very high up the intelligence ladder. I'm not claiming that my sources are so much better than others, but I do respect the fact that they have been there, and they have been a part of the conflict. While it's true that naturally lends itself to bias, all of my research points me to one specific quote that I personally believe to be a fact. "If Hamas puts down it's weapons, there will be no more war. If Israel puts down it's weapons, there will be no more Israel."

The children of the region are not the enemy and I'm saddened by all the deaths. The enemy, from where I stand, is Hamas. I don't believe they want peace. I don't believe that Israel is purposely trying to look bad to the rest of the world by targeting children and civilians. I believe they are doing what they believe to be right in order to protect their own children and civilians. Something Hamas doesn't appear to be too concerned about...

If you choose to hate me because of my stated position, that is your right. You can claim that I am ignorant and uninformed, but are you open to the possibility that you may not have it right? Because I am.

I'm well aware that by taking a strong stand one way or the other that opens me up to criticism and I'm OK with that. I'll leave you with my favorite quote: "To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing."- Aristotle

I choose to have an opinion and that is my right, just as much as it's your right to criticize me, judge me, or even despise me as a result.

Daniel Negreanu is the 2004 Card Player Magazine and World Poker Tour Player of the Year. He presents his poker strategies in one-on-one virtual training at pokervt.com and writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column.
Read all of Daniel Negreanu's poker blog and poker articles at Full Contact Poker


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