First place or nothing. College Basketball’s March Madness and WSOP Poker Tournaments

If you’re not a big fan or unfamiliar with basketball there is an annual tournament held in the US that decides the college champion in basketball each year. Here are the  details of how it works. It is televised. It is played in the month of March . It features roughly 70 of the country’s best college teams . They play in a bracket single elimination format with every team in control of their own destiny in every game. The best and the worst teams regardless of how they got into the tournament can win it all and lay claim to a national title and #1 team in the country. It draws a huge number of fans to watch the drama unfold and has been nicknamed “March Madness “. I was lucky enough to have been watching a Madness game on television in 1992.. Duke was playing KY and was won by Christian Laettner’s last second shot .To this day is known as greatest college basketball game ever played.

I remember thinking at the time Laettner must be best player in ever to play and the Duke Blue Devils the greatest basketball team .Why would I think that ? I wasn’t even a basketball fan. This year 2016 the champion was decided by a final second 3 point shot  by Kris Jenkins of Villanova. They beat the powerhouse and  favored North Carolina Tar Heels. Immediately I heard comparisons to the 1996 Duke game . Why would they make such a claim? Most of them never saw the Duke game.

The Cinderella Effect

Crowning champions . Awarding that title seems to mean they are “The best” . A Poker champion is also awarded this title by winning the  WSOP. 2nd place is rarely remembered and 3rd place unless they were the defending last title will not get mentioned. Overnight we assume the winner’s opinion of the game are sound and correct. The new winner signs  television contracts , clothing sponsorships and for at least a year is called the best player in the game. It is no  surprise the winner and the fans would start to believe that winning really made them the best player in the world.

For last few years I have  decided this is  very flawed. In poker this way of judging a player’s greatness is down right silly. Making the last shot in a big game or winning the last hand of the WSOP doesn’t make you the best at any sport and throw in variance ??

In a few hundred hands of poker played over a few days  The winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event the World Champion of Poker is determined.  Champion relative to what or who? A single tournament win? in a single year? A win that was decided by a single point or a single hand ?


Just like in March Madness every participant in the WSOP  controls their destiny with a clean slate. They likely an unknown and an underdog. They could have lost at every hand of  poker in their life. But win the big one and they are the world champion. If  the final moments end in suspense it is possible they may be compared to legends. Before they prove themselves for any amount of time some will write books to bless the unlucky ones with their knowledge of the game.

I mentioned of first 2 videos above some comparisons being made and which was the greatest game ending in history .The 1992 Duke game  or the 2016 Villanova shot ? Judging by the last shot the 1992 game is greatest of all time and it is not even close to me .I cut the videos above so you get to see the play before the winning shot.If you go back and look how great the losing team played before the magic or miracle end.  If you want to discuss  which of those plays are better I am open for discussion.

Regardless of which is game now get the best game in the NCAA no credit will be given to the loser . No legendary status goes to the player making the incredible play just moments before .One more  example and bad  memory that comes to mind involves my favorite MLB team the Texas Rangers.

Josh Hamilton’s 2011 home run in extra innings in Game 6 of the World Series of Baseball. Video below . The Rangers lost game 6 after a mind-boggling routine play on a fly ball was dropped by Nelson “Nelly” Cruz. If Cruz catches that ball the World Series is over and my Texas Rangers win a championship. The Rangers lost that game and then game seven.They have yet to be given that opportunity again and nobody talks about how great that team was. Some stopped watching baseball all together. Josh lost his appeal almost immediately . However I think it is fair to say that if the Rangers win game 6. Hamilton may have been compared to and put in the company of Dallas’s great ones like Rodger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmett Smith, Mike Modano , and Dirk Nowitzki. High Schools and Colleges from all over would have given him free passes to come and coach their players because he is champ.

The Rangers winning game six doesn’t make Josh Hamilton one of the greatest  and creating the WSOP in 1970 and calling the winner the best doesn’t either. In a tournament you know exactly what you stand to lose . In a cash games when you crush the field they don’t present you with a trophy . No accolades or news articles. In a cash game you could lose your current financial way of life in a few hands.  To be named a real champion I think you should have to beat the champion of the prior year over 3 days or a week. In boxing you keep your title until someone proves  they are better. Until we find a better way to determine who is the best leave the champion part out of it . 

Also published on Medium.

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