No Unlimited Reentries for Poker Players in Real Life

No Unlimited Reentries for Poker Players in Real Life

This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of this site and those affiliated with it.

Everyone makes mistakes. The level and severity of the mistakes may vary, but everyone does or says a thing (or many things through life) that they wish they could take back. It happens.

As people mature and move through adulthood, they typically learn to choose words more carefully and apologize when they say something harmful or hurtful. When they feel that very harsh words are necessary, they save them – strategically or not – to be impactful and serious. And words shape the public image of that person, form a picture of what that person is about and what they stand for.

There is a limit, however, on the number of times a person can say or do something and be forgiven. Even if they are forgiven, their words or actions may not be forgotten.

Life may offer unlimited reentries in some respects, but a community generally does not.

The poker community, for example, has and still does forgive a lot of behavior. No one is perfect, and we all realize this. But there is only so much that people can be expected to take, so much that a community will be willing to forgive.

Obviously, this is not a monolithic poker community. There are issues like cheating and scamming that will result in the person being shunned, at least in most groups. But then there are things like angry outbursts, threats of violence, and the use of bigoted and offensive words, all of which garner a variety of reactions.

There are many ways to respond to this sort of behavior, but sweeping it under the rug is not one of them.

Language Penalty, Round 1: PokerGuru

There are hurtful, hateful words in our language. The word fa**ot is a pejorative one used to disparage gay men and boys.

Robert Kuhn, winner of WSOP 2020 Online Event 3, used this word during a livestream. According to his account, he realized his error and immediately corrected himself and then called Ryan Laplante – one of very few openly-gay poker players – to apologize. “This was out of context,” Kuhn wrote on Twitter, adding that it was “by no means a homophobic slur.”

Kuhn added on another Twitter thread that he sent two long apologies to Laplante and noted that he will be more mindful in the future.

Laplante, on the other hand, was slow to accept the apology, noting that Kuhn had used the word previously on his livestreams. He noted the “deeply bigoted connotation” of the word and frequent past usage. “The apology means very little, in that context.”

The apology seemed genuine, though it is unclear if Laplante accepted it.

Language Penalty, Round 2: Protential

Interestingly, at the same time poker players were discussing the aforementioned anti-gay slur on Twitter, someone remembered some slurs from Laplante himself from years ago. They dug through the Two Plus Two forums and found an instance in which Laplante, who has and still does use the nickname “Protential,” used a slur of his own.

The word ni**er is probably the most recognizable offensive word in the English language, synonymous with racism when used by a non-Black person.

The first instance of Laplante using the n-word was in the midst of a Two Plus Two thread (context unknown) from 2013. He talked about castrating the person with whom he was arguing, whom he also called a “****ing piece of ni**er **** ass mother****ing douchebag.” He followed that up with by telling the person to “die in a grease fire” and called him a “backwater sewer monkey.”

In other chats, dating back to 2010, Laplante used multiple racial slurs while trying to say that the term ni**er could apply to any race of people. Needless to say, there were many instances of undeniably racist language in his posts.

Laplante admitted to using the n-word slur “in a fit of rage” and apologized. He seemed to indicate a full understanding of the word and said it was “something I am deeply ashamed of.” He added that he tried to make amends and will “regret my use of that language for the rest of my life.”

This apology seemed genuine, though he apologized for one instance when there were numerous posts over several years. However, it was 7-10 years ago. The responses to his tweet were very mixed, some cutting Laplante some slack because he was young and it was so long ago, relatively speaking. Others indicated no forgiveness due to Laplante’s own harshness to those who make homophobic slurs.

Anger Penalty, Round 1: Matusow

The first incident involved Mike Matusow, long ago nicknamed “The Mouth” for a reason. In the absence of live poker, he has playing online poker and livestreaming his play.

While playing Event 5 of the WSOP 2020 Online earlier this month, Matusow became frustrated by a player with pocket aces who trapped him in a hand. He busted on the very next hand and ranted about how the player allegedly slow-rolled him. He also seemed angry that he was unaware that he couldn’t reenter the tournament.

Matusow began to rage at the player competing as “wolverine17.” The foul-mouthed rant was more than excusable tilt, as he threatened the player with violence for more than 10 minutes. Even further, he asked his viewers to try to find the player for a bounty.

When Matusow’s opponent was revealed to be a woman named Megan Milburn, he continued ranting. “I won’t hit no woman,” he alleged, “I’ll just call her a c**t when I see her.” And he did.

After much ado on Twitter, Matusow said he contacted Milburn and apologized. She seemed relatively and outwardly unaffected, responding without the same vitriol as was aimed at her. And the one who threatened her wanted the entire situation to go away.

As usual, there were two types of responses to Matusow. One was to excuse it as typical Matusow behavior or even encourage more of it, and the other was to condemn it. Longtime poker pro Chris Wallace wrote a piece on CardPlayer Lifestyle detailing many years of Matusow’s anger issues, drug addiction, financial woes, and mental health problems. He wrote that the angry rhetoric against Matusow was disappointing, as “it feels like most of the poker world is watching just so they can see a man fail.”

Wallace’s striking insight into Matusow’s behavior and troubles was a much-needed sedative.

Not knowing Matusow personally, I must disagree with the “leave him alone” sentiment, though.

Someone with a high profile in the poker world, one who draws significant viewing audiences to his livestreams and boasts of 115,000 Twitter followers should be held to some type of standard. It is one thing to excuse his ugly insults and false tweets, but his recent episode involved an extended raging tirade that included threats of extreme violence.

Misogyny has long been a problem in poker. Violence against women is an age-old international problem. This makes Matusow’s rage even more dangerous and men’s defense of it even more concerning.

I agree with Wallace that Matusow should be left alone but in a real and meaningful way. The fact that his hateful rhetoric and penchant for terrifying rage is accepted in any way is a problem.

Anger Penalty, Round 2: Negreanu

It should not be surprising that another white male displayed vicious rage on a livestream. This was different in many ways from the Matusow incident, however.

Daniel Negreanu is one of the most popular and well-liked poker pro in the world, not exactly known for violent outbursts or threatening competitors.

So, when he played WSOP 2020 events online and livestreamed his action, people tuned in for good poker and good fun. As a longtime pro and the lead ambassador for GGPoker, a World Series of Poker partner, Negreanu was representing the site and the game itself.

Last week, he livestreamed another tournament, WSOP Event 24 from his home in Las Vegas. It was fine…until someone in the chat made a derogatory comment about Amanda Negreanu, his wife of more than one year. Daniel’s rage included numerous hateful statements and violent threats aimed at the commenter named Tom.

It was so bad that Twitch suspended Negreanu’s account on July 26, apparently due to “inappropriate or harmful” conduct that includes “acts and threats of violence” on his livestream. Negreanu called it a ban, while others claim it is a suspension that could last up to 30 days. Interestingly, YouTube also removed the video of Negreanu’s July 24 livestream for violations of their terms.

GGPoker, on the other hand, will likely do nothing. “We’re currently reviewing the situation and will work closely with Daniel to solve the issue,” a site representative told Poker Industry PRO.

For further context, note that Negreanu became very angry when the WSOP.com website disconnected him from a hand on July 10 in Event 10. He wrote online the next day that he found it funny.

Days later, GGPoker’s ambassador had to apologize for the site he represents after the first two WSOP 2020 events on GGPoker had to be postponed due to software bugs.

Clearly, Negreanu had experienced some frustrations in July on various poker-related fronts. Does that excuse his tirade on July 24?

Technically, it is not for me or anyone else to excuse this or any other rage incident. What is up to the general public – some of his 485.8K followers on Twitter, for example – is whether or not to let incidents like this slide or to request an apology.

Negreanu did take to his livestream during Event 27, one he promoted by saying he would make a statement about the July 24 incident. It turned out not to be a real apology. “I would like to formally apologize for suggesting that breaking a troll’s teeth and then feeding them to him anally is the appropriate way to deal with an opposing viewpoint. The process is lengthy and tiresome and not at all practical.”

He did follow it with his intention to employ the block button to handle trolls in the future. He also admitted to saying those things in a “raging, joking mode” and attributed his comments to being a human being. He denied that his comments were at all homophobic in response to allegations of that nature on Twitter. Overall, he said that the rant was an aspect of his personality, owning his temper that comes out at the tables and the golf course sometimes but admitting that he acted “like a complete asshole” with his rant. “That’s not me at my best.”

Lessons Learned

People will learn what they choose from these recent episodes in the world of poker. Some will learn nothing, as is always the case. Here are a few things I learned from watching these things play out.

-1. Demand accountability. Demand that people be better. This doesn’t mean to necessarily “cancel” them but to let them know that certain words and behaviors are not acceptable.

-2. No one has a flawless past, and no one is immune from mistakes. The key is how a person responds to those mistakes and makes amends. Not everyone will accept an apology, but they will be more likely to do so if it is done with sincerity and sensitivity.

-3. Some people will never be better. They will never learn from their mistakes, whether that response is fueled by addiction and illness or simple ignorance. Unless there is a deeply personal connection, maybe it’s best to let them go. Don’t watch the trainwreck, and by all means, don’t encourage it. No one wins when abusive and hateful people fall all the way apart.

-4. Be humble. The line between egotistic and confident can easily become muddled.

There is no such thing as “unlimited reentries” in real life. Eventually, people will get tired of excuses and arrogance and walk away. Play the game in a way that doesn’t make people want to leave.

About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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