It’s never a good month when one ends up as the fulcrum of a controversial poker tale, but to have it happen twice within a matter of days, well, when does that ever happen? That’s the way the first part of September went for prominent online and live poker pro Jonathan Little. Between getting bounced off the Winning Poker Network and its flagship site, America’s Cardroom, and being involved in a serious controversy over an utterly unserious “best poker book of all time” beauty contest, Little’s been beset by numerous detractors.
But what’s a relentless, over-the-top self-promoter to do? Carry on, business as usual. Now the details. Sometime just before September 9, when Little posted about it on Twitter, he slagged ACR in one of his training-site vlogs for being a grey-market online room. He did so while still profiting from playing on the site himself. WPN CEO Phil Nagy took offense and booted Little from ACR, and when Little took to social media to complain, Nagy responded in kind with one of the flamiest poker Tweets of the year:
I get both sides of this argument, but ultimately, it’s Nagy’s decision to make. Despite the fact that most sites find it unprofitable to the brand image to punish a player for speaking out, sometimes one takes the bait and punches back. Besides, each and every online site has the right to choose who can participate on it; playing on a site is a privilege, not a right. Nagy and ACR did cash out Little’s $19,000 for Little, but other than that, it’s a divorce-court deal.
A couple of days later, Little did post a follow-up video, which is still all about self-promotion as much as anything:
Perhaps Little has learned a life lesson here? Or maybe not. As one who’s been involved a few of these controversies over the years, I can attest that writing or speaking what one believes to be the truth isn’t always the most profitable line. So you have to be comfortable with that larger reality when you make decisions.
But onward, and back to Little’s lousy September. Even as the story of Little’s bouncing by ACR went public, he was increasing involved in a voting controversy in a popularity poll at the Chasing Poker Greatness site, a weekly poker podcast (@cpgpocst) talking about what’s new and newsy in poker. (I’ve, umm, never listened to it, but that’s not the point.) As one of his own ways to drum up traffic, CPG owner Brad Wilson has done some “beauty contest” polls related to poker.
Wilson’s most recent voter-contest effort was to let viewers and other poker fans pick the best poker book of all time, via tournament-bracket format, where 64 well known poker books were matched up in a series of heads-up votes. With a huge nod of understanding as to why poker authors want to see their books receiving continuing promotion, it’s still just an exercise in silliness. Not only was the selection of the 64 books highly arbitrary, with strategy and non-strategy books just thrown against one another, the voting contest framework was very simple and rife for abuse.
Such abuse happened, especially in the semifinal and final rounds, when several people (most notably David Lappin and Erik Seidel) pointed out that Little and his primary strategy book, “Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em,” was picking up blocs of 100 votes whenever it fell behind in the balloting.
Little denied being behind the virtual ballot box stuffing, in which these 100-vote blocs – entered a span of 5 seconds, no less – kept appearing:
Little also had several contributors to the book of his in this contest, any of whom in theory could also have been behind the ballot stuffing. I sincerely doubt it was a “hater” doing this to make Little look bad, however.
Yet Little tacitly admitting he was emailing up to 100,000 of his training-site followers to vote for his book illustrates the problem with these types of contests anyway. In the end, the best poker vote came down to a clash between Little’s no-limit hold’em and “The Biggest Bluff,” the new poker-life tale by Maria Konnikova.
Both of these were are good bucks, well worth the money. Yet neither is anywhere close to being the best poker book of all time. Little’s strategy book doesn’t quite match up against several other seminal poker-strat offerings, Dan Harrington’s three-book “Harrington on Hold’em” series being just one example. And Konnikova’s tale is solid but doesn’t quite match up against “The Biggest Game in Town” (Al Alvarez) or “Positively Fifth Street (James McManus) among books in that niche. Instead, Konnikova’s book received a popularity boost because it’s new and still on everyone’s mind.
Perhaps this tale is really bout finding the line where promotion becomes over-promotion. Though Little, by any definition, is a commercial success in poker, there comes a point where one gets into something we could call “image churn,” in which as many old fans might be turned off as new fans are pulled in. (Daniel Negreanu ought to be an expert on that topic, just saying.)
Wilson issued a video statement (“including ultimatum”) as to why he let the contest run its course in the face of all the controversy, but most of the statement wasn’t even about the controversy, but was instead about the promotional side of the whole shebang. Honestly, by this time, I’d run out of caring about it in that sense. No matter who won it, the whole thing is tainted anyway, no matter who was responsible.
As for Little, whose use of “poo” instead of “shit” messed up a classic retort for censors’ sake, he’s likely hoping that another old saw doesn’t hold water. It’s said that bad things come in threes, right? Maybe he’ll be hiding under the couch until Halloween.