What's in It for Poker Ambassadors?

1 year ago
Poker ambassador
28 Nov

Being a poker ambassador is not all it’s cracked up to be these days apparently, with WSOP Main Event winner Joe McKeehen certainly not putting himself forward for the role following his muted reaction to such questions being thrust at him after his fantastic Vegas bracelet win.

The entire concept of ‘poker ambassadors’ has, naturally, become a talking point.

Who would want to do the job? And why? And would it not be a job best left to somebody (anybody!) else!?

It seems to those not intimately connected to the poker world that winning the Main Event would automatically make you a good person for the role. You have just reached the highest rung of the game’s ladder (until the next year, when you have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it two in a row!) – why would you NOT be the voice of the game you love?

Well, for starters, not everyone is cut out to be a public figure – not even after spending the entire summer as a ‘November Niner’ with the biggest chip-stack lead going into the final table, and being sought after by every Tom, Dick and Jane of the poker media and beyond.

But McKeehen didn’t come across as a ‘public’ kind of guy – he is just a poker player who simply seized the biggest chance of his life. Nothing in his demeanour or past interviews suggested he could be a ‘Daniel Negreanu’-type figure who finds it remarkably easy to charm people and extol the virtues of the game of poker to anyone who will listen (while simultaneously working out you are holding J/9 suited, probably not bluffing but wants to call you anyway just to see!)

A poker ambassador, if they are not being paid for the role in the way that PokerStars, Full Tilt and other big brands do, would have to find a very good personal reason to spend time, and perhaps money (not a huge issue for a $multi-million WSOP winner, granted) to promote a game which has already given them the lifestyle they always dreamed of.

You would probably need to have an ‘alternative agenda’ of some sorts, something to call your ‘own’, before taking on such a responsibility. Remember, WSOP winners aren’t paid to be ‘ambassadors’, not by anyone, even the ESPN network who bluntly, and rather carelessly, expected McKeehen to instantly wear the ambassadorial crown.

CalvinAyre.com’s recent take on this question provided a good answer for WHY somebody might take the role.

Writer Lee Davy explained:

If I had won the 2015 WSOP Main Event, I would have donated 4% to charity… split 50% down the middle to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) and Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE). My victory would have changed the lives of a lot of people and animals. My role as an ambassador for poker would save even more.”

He continues, explaining some of the differences depending on how you might come about the role, by stating:

In the context of winning the WSOP Main Event, and inheriting the role by default, you are given a stage, and the spotlight is shining. Unless affiliated with a sponsor, you are free to use that stage in any way you can. I would ensure that I used that platform to talk about why I donated 4% of my winnings to those two charities, and why I believe everyone should be giving at least 1% to those who need it more.”

Excellent sentiments, but it doesn’t appear that Joe McKeehen has any such agenda which he feels the need to promote. He certainly hasn’t expressed anything publicly and when the question arose on the 2+2 forum last week, one poster offered up the following thoughts on the bracelet winner:

I've played with McKeehen several times,” said ‘Pninwin’ “and it occurred to me watching Joe last night that part of the way he presented himself might have been a ruse to avoid the spotlight and remove himself from future responsibilities of interviews, pics with fans, vocal support of online legalization, etc…. essentially he's happy with the money, the bracelet, and hanging out with his friends...nothing else.”

And it’s hard to fault such thinking if McKeehen does indeed feel this way, which might even explain his behaviour, the same poster saying:

It struck me that if Joe appears to be totally indifferent to the health of the game it is a deliberate move to avoid the ambassador job.”

Not every Main Event winner has shunned the limelight, of course. Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer did their level best to promote the game far and wide, but a ‘Fossilman’ is an entirely different character to a ‘McKeehen’. Another such person who seemed at ease with the world stage was Aussie Joe Hachem, who did plenty in his year as champion to promote the game in his own country.

A regular 2+2 poster, PasswordGotHacked, explained:

Hachem was originally great for growing the game in Australia (more particularly Melbourne). When I started playing at Crown (casino) about 15 years ago we had around 8 tables. As far as I know we now have the largest poker room in the southern hemisphere. Joe's win and media presence definitely helped with that Imo. Purely a biased opinion obviously.”

Of course, Raymer and Hachem were ‘ambassadors’ in the hey-day of the mid-noughties poker boom; being sociable, media-friendly and raising poker’s standing to those outside of the game was an easy task – and there was money to be made in it pre-Black Friday, whether you looked for it or not!

It's was much easier to be a "Poker Ambassador" pre-Black Friday”, considers ‘Bayoudonk’. If you’re a player looking to cash in on endorsements, free travel to a poker tourney, with possibly free buy-ins, then why not suck it up with the media and Casino's hosting Poker Tourneys and play up the Ambassador roll (sic)?” Fair comment, as is his view on Joe McKeehen in this respect. “He doesn't owe me, or anybody in poker to do that if he doesn't want to.”

CanadaPete of 2+2’s opinion?:

Being a poker ambassador is only worth it if you can get a huge contract to promote an online poker room. That's about it.”

This was a given ‘back in the day’ and certainly wouldn’t merit any special mention.

Today, with an edgy, uncertain poker world, such a task is perhaps beyond even the most redoubtable of poker players; those with media presence, with an affinity for people outside of the game; an ability to attract attention (of the positive variety) amongst non-poker sponsors and perhaps even politicians.

The WSOP ‘ambassador’ role, as mentioned, has no real comparison with that of ‘brand ambassadors’, of which there are plenty – well-paid (or not perhaps?) for their effort.

With this payment, of course, comes obligations. To do the right things, to say the right things, to basically follow the company code whatever that might be.

Part of the problem with being an ambassador for another company is you lose control. You have a responsibility to tow (sic) the party line,” was Lee Davy’s comment back on the CalvinAyre site, explaining, “Another problem with being an ambassador for a poker company is you are no longer your boss…you also face difficult times when your company gets embroiled in something that no longer aligns with your values.”

Davy also mentions the “clash of values” which led Victoria Coren-Mitchell to part ways with PokerStars. He asked:

How many people have sold their values to the highest bidder and kept their mouths shut?”

WSOP winners, conversely, basically have free reign – something which one poster feels should have precluded any thoughts of McKeehen even considering an interview with ESPN on his new title and future ‘role’ in poker.

ESPN has done everything they can do to degrade the WSOP,” wrote PotDragon on the forum. “The stupid November Nine is strictly for TV, yet fundamentally changed the event. They were there to document the proceedings not to change them. They dictate logos, get every advertising penny, contribute nothing to prize pool, and have done so much for poker that the poker sites that use to sponsor the series are now banned in the USA. Well done ESPN. Well done. No chance I agree to any ESPN interview.”

Harsh, yes. Warranted? Perhaps.

So, if Joe McKeehen will not be the ‘saviour’ of the poker world by pushing it forward, who will?

If you did a survey,” said ‘Two_Coats_of_Wax’ - "who is a good ambassador for poker," -you'd probably get several different names. Many (if not most) probably never made the Main Event Final Table much less won the thing. I can see where some people would enjoy a role like that. To me, it would be a lousy "job" as I don't enjoy being in the spotlight like that.”

Lee Davy has a few ideas, though no names mentioned:

I have come to the conclusion that being an ambassador of poker is only a lousy job for those that prefer the hermit lifestyle, and don’t have an agenda to promote. For everyone else it offers a wonderful opportunity to share your ideas and vision, and you don’t even have to mention poker.”

This author’s views are worth about just as much as anyone else’s when it comes to the subject. I would vote for… Jason Somerville! Any other ideas? Answers on a postcard please!

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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