This is the classic short-term vs. long-term question. While it was in Full Tilt’s best interest to see Allen Cunningham win the 2006 WSOP, I actually believe that Jamie Gold’s win will be better for the overall poker world.
I know a lot of the poker press was also rooting for Allen to win. Some wanted him to win because it would have been a great story for a pro to win after so many notable experts had said that a pro could never win against such a big field. But I think Jamie Gold’s win will yield the greatest overall benefit for the industry.
Here’s my logic. Cunningham was last year’s WSOP Player of the Year. Still, most poker fans (not hardcore players) had no idea who he is. He certainly had the opportunity to go out and market himself for the last year but I don’t think he exploited that opportunity to any great degree. I don’t know Allen personally (though I’ve run into him once or twice) but he just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who craves the fame and spotlight.
Now, if the pro at the final table were Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negranau, Phil Gordon, Phil Hellmuth, or a list of fifty or so other top pros, I’m pretty sure they would have used the win and the accompanying exposure to help promote the game of poker (along with their own interests). Allen Cunningham just doesn’t seem to have the level of media friendliness, nor may he even desire it.
Of course, that doesn’t make Allen a bad guy. Serious poker players know that Allen Cunningham is a top class player. He’s got the respect of many of his peers and the admiration of us lesser poker beings who are struggling up the ranks. Phil Ivey is another name that comes to mind when I think about this. Phil is, without question, one of the best poker players in the world. When you have other top pros naming you as the best player in the game, you’re no slouch. But Ivey is not necessarily media friendly. He rarely grants interviews. He doesn’t lend his name to fifty kazillion products. And he turns down opportunities left and right because he would rather play poker. He’s a poker player’s poker player.
On the other hand, Jamie Gold has a story that speaks to the little guy and he’s media savvy enough to take full advantage of it if he so desires. The guy used to manage the careers of film and television stars! He’s an expert on this stuff. He’s the kind of guy (or used to be) many of the top pros are hiring to represent them so they can break into the film, television and endorsement worlds.
People want the best player to win but the best player might not be the best person to win. Many pros and industry experts cite the Moneymaker Effect as one of, if not the primary, cause of the poker boom. Obviously, Moneymaker was not the best player playing in that event. Yet, his win set off an explosion in growth that has turned obscure (but winning) players into superstars. While I don’t expect Gold to have the same level of impact as Moneymaker, I do believe that his impact on the game will be far greater than Cunningham’s would have been.