Daniel Negreanu just won WSOP Player of the Year for the second time. That’s a great accomplishment, he’s a great guy who’s great for poker, and I’m very happy for him. But it doesn’t change the way I think about him as a player, and I doubt it changes the way any other serious poker players think about him. I already knew that he was one of the best tournament players out there, and I would have thought that whether or not he clinched this title.
Simply being in contention for it was proof enough of that. Actually winning it doesn’t make him the best of the best, nor even the one who played the best this year. There is no objective way of measuring who is the single greatest poker player, nor for that matter is there even such a thing as “the single greatest poker player.” What the various Player of the Year rankings actually measure is which of the best players in the world have been running hottest of late and also playing the most aggressive schedules.
I imagine they’re good publicity for the game. Sports fans like rankings and statistics, and they give television commentators something to talk about and tournament administrators something to promote. Such rankings have even proved a good way to translate daily happenings in the poker world into the kinds of items that can get a little traction in the mainstream media.
I’ve got nothing against such rankings as a publicity tool, but as a player, I don’t care and I don’t think they actually measure anything important in a particularly meaningful way. So I have to laugh when I see players who are clearly ego-invested in seeing their name move up a notch or two on those scales or getting into heated arguments over how exactly those rankings are determined or which bracelets are “real” bracelets, etc.
It reminds me of Lisa Simpson’s anxiety when Springfield’s teachers are on strike and there’s no one to pat her on the head and tell her what a good student she is: “Look at me! Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good and oh so smart!”
Poker frustrates our innate sense of justice. People – maybe Americans especially? – like to see a clear correlation between skill, hard work, and success. It doesn’t always happen that way in poker, and even the best sometimes doubt themselves. I can understand the desire to have some objective, external assurance that you really are one of the best. I just don’t think such a thing is possible, and it surprises me to see players who surely know better acting as though these rankings were anything more than an extremely rough approximation whose primary objective is to serve the agendas of media organizations and tournament organizers, not to settle the unsettleable argument about who is really the best.