In the middle of downtown Greenville, SC, there’s an Irish Pub with a stage near the door. If you get in the door early enough, pound a couple car bombs, flirt with the best bartendress in town at the back bar, and get a good seat, there’s a chance you might hear some good music coming from the stage.

A few nights a month, the musicians have an slothoki open-mic night. I’ve never participated for fear of ruining an otherwise good career as a local personality and back porch guitar picker.

Still, a friend of mine went the other night and sat down on stage. He had the crowd going pretty good, when the regular musicians eventually came up and said, in effect, “Okay, that’s enough.”

The implication was clear.

This is our game. If you wanna play for real, find your own stage.

Well, of course, that doesn’t sit well with anybody. Right?

benpoker.bmpWell, then let’s talk about Ben.

The chorus in the poker blogging community was nearly synchronized. We all dropped our chips, grabbed our crotch, and made sure our manhood was still there.

Whew, there it is.

How, screamed the chrous girls, cold Ben win a poker championship? How, in the name of all things good and holy, could the poker fates allow the goateed boy-toy to hold up a trophy, smile a bit, and proclaim himself a winner? Watch your feet as we all fly over the shark together, the blogs screamed.

Simply put, folks, as much as we all might hate to admit it, Ben won. Why? Because he won. Simple as that. It doesn’t signal the end of the game. It doesn’t signal the end of the game being cool. And the shark can kiss my ass.

Before you start photoshopping pictures of me kissing Ben’s ass and sending them to my mother, let’s consider this rationally.

Ben may be no poker god, but neither am I. I’m good, but I’m no T.J., no Chan, and certainly no Professor. So, if I were to rake the final pot in a big tournament, would we all be afraid of the shark? I hope not.

What’s more, despite being loathe to defend a celebrity, let’s think about where Ben has been. He got screwed over by some self-important girl. He’s been outed for being a strip-club junkie. He’s been outed for wild nights at the Hard Rock, dropping a couple hundred grand at the blackjack tables and tipping cocktail waitresses with a few hundred per drink.

Ben is just a guy who doesn’t have much else to love right now other than the game of poker (although, the world on the street is that he’s got some new girl and this time it’s love). Still, I get the feeling he’d rather be a poker celebrity rather than an actor.

Me, too.

And so he finally does what we’d all love to do and we try to bust his balls for it.

There are other celebs who frequent the tables. James Woods. Lou Diamond Phillips. Would we hate them as much? Both of their careers are doing about as well as Affleck’s.

And lest I make a blogger faux pas (that’s a Fox Pass to those in Oconee County), what would we say if celebrity blogger Wil Wheaton took down a pot in a legit, non-Hollywood Homegame game?

Here’s the thing: The World Poker Tour brought a lot of people into the game. Sure, I’ve been playing poker since before I could buy smokes legally. I won some money, lost some money, and had a lot of fun. Then the World Poker Tour came along. Then, I really started playing. Hours a day online. Someday, I’ll sit in a big tournament. And if I win, I expect a damned pat on the back.

But, there are those folks who’ve been grinding it out for years before the WPT. How do you think they feel about you? Probably about the same way the bloggers feel about Ben, you know?

There’s a name for people like us: We’re Internet Players. Even though we’re not. Most of us have done our time and developed leather asses in casino chairs. We play on the Internet because it’s more convenient. We don’t live in AC, Vegas, Mississippi, or California.

Still, we’re pariahs in the “real” poker community.

I’ve always found it peculiar when one minority picks on another minority. When Jews hate blacks, or blacks hate gays, etc., I just don’t get it.

We’re all fond of poker because it is the great equalizer. A Junior League woman can sit at a table with a scruffy mountain man and their differences diasppear.

Similarly, Affleck can sit at a table with Cloutier. They’re both stars and they both play poker. Sure, T.J. is better, but he’s beatable. And that’s what we all want to do.

We want to beat the big boys.

Give Ben a break. Hate him for being famous. Hate him for getting to tap J-Lo. Hate him for being rich.

But don’t hate him for loving the game of poker.

If you do, don’t bitch when you win a big one and someone calls you a lucky, loose Internet Player who is usurping the game.