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Poker Goals & Challenges Post your threads logging your travels up the poker ladder as you achieve your poker goals and dreams. "Challenges" does NOT mean prop bets, wagers, etc.

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Old 02-27-2014, 12:31 PM   #126
bob_124
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Love her sense of humor. O'Connor dabbled in sketches/cartoons before she turned to fiction. Some of them were recently published: http://www.amazon.com/Flannery-OConn...onnor+cartoons

Here's Flannery with one of her beloved peacocks

[IMG]http://s22.************/8qegigpg1/peacock.jpg[/IMG]

And a few cartoons

[IMG]http://s29.************/d4ydb73s7/p225476692_6.jpg[/IMG]


[IMG]http://s4.************/h0tfb8app/eyesandbooks.jpg[/IMG]


Heheh...good stuff. These feel consistent with the tone and imagery of her stories--esp her use violence and exaggeration.
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Old 02-28-2014, 11:22 AM   #127
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

a few notes on Joseph Epstein's essay "Raw Deals: The Seductive Brutalities of Poker": http://www.newyorker.com/archive/200...0318crbo_books.

"There is no such thing as a friendly poker game, at least among players of any sophistication." Should "friendly poker" be added to the list of oxymoronic phrases like "honest used-car dealer" or "jumbo shrimp"?

*What's the difference between a semi-pro and professional player? Epstein contrasts Andy Bellin, the writer of Poker Nation, and the pros captured in Alvarez's Biggest Game in Town. The difference has to do not just with skill--mental stamina, the ability to endure pressure, instinct--but with "a different ordering of reality," as Alvarez puts it.

"Various creeps wend in and out of [Bellin's] pages: an episcopal minister who cheats, a shrink who cannot bear to lose, bright young men trying to elude dull jobs and even duller lives, all looking for a little edge in a room reeking of smoke and wretched hygiene. Worst of all may be the men who eke out a living at the game, never departing the groove of dull probability, doing nothing imaginative, measuring their progress not by a night's profits but by a year's, arriving at the poker table evening after dreary evening as if it were a job at the post office. Bellin offers an extended account of the career of one such player, a regular at his favorite club. The man says that he has resorted to taking drugs in order to relieve the crushing monotony of poker played only for percentages. He calls the game, played his way, 'a total grind.'"

*Epstein suggests that "while poker reflects human nature, it does not bring out the best in it. Rather the reverse: it calls up, out of the not so vasty deep, greed, delight in deception, and pleasure in domination."

If Epstein's right, is playing poker a good thing? Chicken or egg: does poker create/exacerbate these negative qualities, or does it offer an outlet, a "safe space," for expressing qualities that are innate?

Similarity to arguments for against competitive sports: does sports create overcompetitiveness, nationalism, aggression? Or does it provide an acceptable outlet for the aggressive side of human nature?

The fantasy of freedom: "Since Andy Bellin is neither a brute nor a social Darwinian holding aces wired, what is the attraction of the game and its setting for him? I would say that he has been taken in by the romance of liberty—or, more precisely, the fantasy of freedom—that full-time poker playing provides. Bellin fits the profile of the gambler as a talented person who is nonetheless unsuccessful, smart yet unable to fit into the conventional workaday world. The gambling life allows such a person to feel that he is outside the system, and incorporates a number of masculine ideals not often met in ordinary life. The notion of being beholden to no one—boss, family, lover—is vastly appealing, and gambling for a living implies fearlessness and an absence of pettiness. Neither real nor realizable, what we are actually talking about here is a movie role, best played by Clark Gable with a name like Blacky Thurston in the setting of turn-of-the-last-century San Francisco."
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Old 02-28-2014, 11:23 AM   #128
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

best of luck
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Old 03-01-2014, 12:18 AM   #129
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

I'm still musing over this idea of the "fantasy of freedom". Since Bellin is very much "semi" we shouldn't be taking his identity as a poker player too seriously. I mean, really, the description below, is typical of a mid-stakes recreational, albeit with decent instincts:

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Originally Posted by bob_124 View Post
"Bellin fits the profile of the gambler as a talented person who is nonetheless unsuccessful, smart yet unable to fit into the conventional workaday world.
It seems a self-fulfilling prophecy that Bellin will find himself at the wrong end of the feeding chain, ultimately as fodder for the sharks in the eco-system. The romantic ideal of the "gambling life" as taking place "outside" an ordinary nine-to-five existence is really a sucker punch. Sure "being beholden to no one" is attractive as a philosophy but neither an existentialist nor a 10bb per-hour winner would ever suggest it is a tenable reality.

The text reviewed is a little dated, as it was published in 2003, but Clark Gable as a poker player? Whose kind of fantasy are we talking about here? Sure, there's likely to be a powerful cultural logic at play in the representation of any poker world, but would this particular logic motivate people today?
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Old 03-02-2014, 02:58 AM   #130
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

posting as a reminder to read tomorrow, Shane Schleger on drug addiction: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/d...bstinence.html
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Old 03-02-2014, 09:07 AM   #131
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

"is playing poker a good thing?"

Well Bob, are you going to weigh in with your own take on the above question?
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Old 03-02-2014, 12:56 PM   #132
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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I'm still musing over this idea of the "fantasy of freedom". Since Bellin is very much "semi" we shouldn't be taking his identity as a poker player too seriously. I mean, really, the description below, is typical of a mid-stakes recreational, albeit with decent instincts:

It seems a self-fulfilling prophecy that Bellin will find himself at the wrong end of the feeding chain, ultimately as fodder for the sharks in the eco-system. The romantic ideal of the "gambling life" as taking place "outside" an ordinary nine-to-five existence is really a sucker punch. Sure "being beholden to no one" is attractive as a philosophy but neither an existentialist nor a 10bb per-hour winner would ever suggest it is a tenable reality.

The text reviewed is a little dated, as it was published in 2003, but Clark Gable as a poker player? Whose kind of fantasy are we talking about here? Sure, there's likely to be a powerful cultural logic at play in the representation of any poker world, but would this particular logic motivate people today?
I've only read a few chapters of Bellin's book, so I'm not going to speculate on why poker appeals to him. What we might have here is a review that says more about the reviewer than his subject. I don't know much about Epstein--he's a respected writer and the piece is from The New Yorker, which is why I want to save it--but he may be drawing conclusions based on his own experience playing the game (as a kid in Chicago, as a soldier who cleans out his Army friends). His observation jumped out to me because it comes up so often in discussions of poker. "The fantasy of freedom," gamblers, rebels without a cause, the fast and volatile life--all of these values are foisted onto the poker player like a one-size-fits-all Snuggie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xZp-GLMMJ0.

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"is playing poker a good thing?"

Well Bob, are you going to weigh in with your own take on the above question?
I will if you will Digger, deal?

I approach the question in two ways.

"Is playing poker a good thing for me?" Yes. For a few reasons.

$$$--So far I've won more than I've lost, which is good. With poker I've payed off college loans and started an IRA. Winning money at poker bothers me, but not any more than the knowledge that I take from others every day in all kinds of passive, implicit ways (living in a first-world country, getting paid for work that someone else could do, basically being lucky that I was born into good circumstances). In that sense I think winning at poker should bother me.
Community--I've made and strengthened friendships by playing poker. Many of my friends live in different parts of the country, but we keep in touch by playing play money poker on Sundays.
Reflection--I think that thinking (but not overthinking) is good. Poker has helped me to reflect onbroader issues related to the game and American society--freedom, justice, play, literature. This blog is a big reason for that.
Enjoyment--I like playing poker, which is good.

I try to remember that all of these pluses could easily turn into minuses. Winning could turn into "maybe I should go pro" or "why am I not winning more?" An weekly online game is good, but spending excessive time on the internet is unhealthy. Thinking can devolve into overthinking. Enjoyment can turn into addiction.

A big downside of playing poker is that, like any activity, it prevents me from doing other things. If I play poker I can't play basketball or have dinner with a friend or volunteer at a soup kitchen. "Do I want to spend my time playing poker" is a question that any player must ask at some point, just as a teacher asks "Do I want to spend my time in the classroom" or an accountant asks "Do I want to spend my time in the office?" The social environment of the poker playing--the smoky casino, the constant sitting--is a big reason why I'll never be a pro. Another reason is because I doubt that I'm good enough. I have a tremendous amount of respect for successful pros--"successful" meaning not only people who win at poker but who also lead fulfilling, well-balanced lives.

"Is playing poker a good thing in general"?

I don't know. Probably not. But maybe.

I was thinking about this last week, actually, but in the broader context of sports and society. A few of us at work were talking about the Olympics and our favorite events. After quietly listening for a while, one of my colleagues mentioned that she doesn't play, watch, or support sports of any kind. The room's response was of the confused, deer-in-the-headlights kind. What? Why in the world not! She explained that, for her, sports breed competition and are thus repulsive. "When I was eight, my ballet coach tried to put me in a competitive meet," she said, "so I never went back."

For all of us in the room--Americans steeped in sports since birth--her position was a bit jarring and weird. Disliking sports as an American is vaguely offensive, like you missed the memo on what to support or oppose. Not least for me. I've played sports all my life. I played college basketball. I recently taught a class on "Sport in American Literature and Culture." This week I'm going to watch the Rockets play the Heat. I like sports a lot.

But I appreciate my friend's comments, and it made me think about my own relation to sport and its net effect on society. Do sports breed competition and encourage inequality? Or do they prepare us for life in a society that's inherently competitive and unjust? Are they actually a good thing?

Despite being a sports fan, I think that we overemphasize sports in this country. We waste (yes, waste) massive amounts of money on stadiums, coaching, and absurd contracts for pros. We spin myths about the professional athlete that are way out of sync with the realistic prospects of "making it" (http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/sh...4&postcount=76). But I don't believe, as my friend does, that sports are repulsive or that competition would vanish if sports didn't exist--just the opposite, probably. We need sports for many reasons--and some of these reasons (health, community, reflection, enjoyment, ideals, goals) are good.

The same questions pop up when you think about poker's net effect on society. The gnawing problems of equality and justice are even more glaring when our most prized possession--$$$$$$$$$--is wagered, exchanged, and taken from others. From one perspective poker is indeed repulsive, and it represents the worst in us. From another perspective, the game can be a reminder--an invisible "hammer," to re-quote Chekhov--that we're responsible for the people around us:

"There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer; the happy man lives at his ease, and trivial daily cares faintly agitate him like the wind in the aspen-tree—and all goes well."

Does this mean that poker is good thing? Would we be better off if poker, not baseball, were our national pasttime? I don't know.

So that's my crack at answering your (my?) question, Digger. Your turn!

Last edited by bob_124; 03-02-2014 at 01:10 PM.
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Old 03-02-2014, 04:34 PM   #133
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Dang nice post. Gotta say this is one of the threads that get me thinking.. Thanks OP and contributors!
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Old 03-02-2014, 07:20 PM   #134
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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best of luck
Thanks, much appreciated

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Originally Posted by Varx View Post
Dang nice post. Gotta say this is one of the threads that get me thinking.. Thanks OP and contributors!
Thanks! And please contribute in any way that you'd like--with comments, questions, links. I just saw your own thread and you're exactly the kind of person I'm trying to learn from. You have quite an adventure ahead of you.
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Old 03-02-2014, 08:14 PM   #135
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Bob Battles the Champ

[IMG]http://s11.************/866ytupqb/288faefa85.jpg[/IMG]

I mentioned that I've been practicing on the Stars play money tables. Some of the sponsored pros have popped up in the "nosebleed games" (lol) and I had the chance to play Chris Moneymaker for a bit. I want to mention up front that (1) Chris was very friendly throughout the match and (2) I ran like god. Hand four is just ridiculous

Hand One

Hero (200)
Chris (200)

Chris raises to 6, hero makes it 20 with QQ, Chris raises to 44, hero shoves, Chris calls with AKo and loses the flip.

Not sure how wide Chris is 4bet/calling, but I'm comfortable getting this in preflop.

Hand Two

Seat 1: Money800 (201380000 in chips)
Seat 2: Bob_124 (413520000 in chips)
Money800: posts small blind 1000000
Bob_124: posts big blind 2000000
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Bob_124 [Kd Kh]
Money800: raises 4000000 to 6000000
Bob_124: raises 14000000 to 20000000
Money800: raises 24000000 to 44000000
Bob_124: calls 24000000

After I took the early lead, Chris started reraising frequently. I flat to keep airy hands in his range.

*** FLOP *** [9h 8s 6h]
Bob_124: checks
Money800: bets 42000000
Bob_124: raises 327520000 to 369520000 and is all-in
Money800: calls 115380000 and is all-in
Uncalled bet (212140000) returned to Bob_124
*** TURN *** [9h 8s 6h] [2h]
*** RIVER *** [9h 8s 6h 2h] [3c]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Bob_124: shows [Kd Kh] (a pair of Kings)
Money800: shows [As 9c] (a pair of Nines)
Bob_124 collected 398760000 from pot

Hand Three

Seat 1: Money800 (251340000 in chips)
Seat 2: Bob_124 (555020000 in chips)
Money800: posts small blind 1000000
Bob_124: posts big blind 2000000
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Bob_124 [As Kc]
Money800: raises 2000000 to 4000000
Bob_124: raises 10000000 to 14000000
Money800: calls 10000000
*** FLOP *** [6d 7s Ad]
Bob_124: bets 18000000
Money800: calls 18000000
*** TURN *** [6d 7s Ad] [2h]
Bob_124: bets 42000000
Money800: raises 50000000 to 92000000

Tough spot. He flats AQ-AT on this turn. His range is two pair, sets, semibluffs, and occasional air. He had been playing very aggressively--"it's play money LOL"--and I felt OK (but not great) about sticking it in here.

Bob_124: raises 431020000 to 523020000 and is all-in
Money800: calls 127340000 and is all-in
Uncalled bet (303680000) returned to Bob_124
*** RIVER *** [6d 7s Ad 2h] [Qh]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Bob_124: shows [As Kc] (a pair of Aces)
Money800: shows [Td 2d] (a pair of Deuces)
Bob_124 collected 498680000 from pot

Hand Four

Seat 1: Money800 (195750000 in chips)
Seat 2: Bob_124 (796970000 in chips)
Money800: posts small blind 1000000
Bob_124: posts big blind 2000000
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Bob_124 [9c 8h]
Money800: raises 2000000 to 4000000
Bob_124: calls 2000000
*** FLOP *** [6s 5d Qc]
Bob_124: checks
Money800: bets 4000000
Bob_124: raises 7000000 to 11000000

Chris had been minraising and defending wide vs 3bets. His range for cbetting includes all kids of air. I'm only repping sets, air, and draws but have a gutter and overs that might well be good.

Money800: calls 7000000
*** TURN *** [6s 5d Qc] [2d]
Bob_124: bets 22000000
Money800: calls 22000000

not a great turn. hoping to fold out midpairs and floats. check/fold might be best

*** RIVER *** [6s 5d Qc 2d] [7c]
Bob_124: bets 55550000
Money800: raises 103200000 to 158750000 and is all-in
Bob_124: calls 103200000
*** SHOW DOWN ***
Money800: shows [Qh Qs] (three of a kind, Queens)
Bob_124: shows [9c 8h] (a straight, Five to Nine)
Bob_124 collected 387500000 from pot
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 391500000 | Rake 4000000
Board [6s 5d Qc 2d 7c]
Seat 1: Money800 (button) (small blind) showed [Qh Qs] and lost with three of a kind, Queens
Seat 2: Bob_124 (big blind) showed [9c 8h] and won (387500000) with a straight, Five to Nine
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Old 03-02-2014, 08:30 PM   #136
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Ha! I did not expect for you to request a reciprocal response. I will need to think about that question - personally poker no longer interests me. Which might have you scratching your head and asking: Why ask the question then? Or. What are you doing on 2+2?

The reason I ask the question, was that I was asking the question of you, specifically bob, an aspiring writer on poker. I think that, unless you are writing a very specific type of poker book e.g. an ABC of how to play, you should reflect upon what you think about the game that you are writing about in very broad senses. If you do so, then I think that you might be able to hit upon a rationale for a voice that you might want to adopt if you ever write a fictional text on poker.

Which does not mean you have to come up with a grand system or a definitive yes or no, but you might want to interrogate the impulse you had to differentiate your own subjective experience from an 'in general' response --> might be one staring point.

Alternatively, you could want to meditate on the 'fantasy' aspect of poker - that you talked about --> what are they escaping from and what type of fantasy is it? What narratives are fantastical that the players tell themselves, both the winners and the losers?
What are the winners winning and the losers losing in a game of cards? What do the winners believe they are winning and what do the losers think they are losing? Is there are difference between the respective answers to the questions? Is that the fantasy?

Last edited by DiggertheDog; 03-02-2014 at 08:37 PM.
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Old 03-03-2014, 01:31 AM   #137
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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I've only read a few chapters of Bellin's book, so I'm not going to speculate on why poker appeals to him. What we might have here is a review that says more about the reviewer than his subject.
My response to the review article seemed a little stern in retrospect, especially as I'm avid fan of The New Yorker style, particularly its old-school writers like John Cheever. Also the idea of participating in the underground card games in NYC of the 90s is not without its attractions, irrespective of the Rounders effect (a kind of generational cultural consciousness many on this forum no doubt possess). What gets me about the "fantasy of freedom", in which poker is often discursively encased, is how it inevitably ends up being a "delusional escape" for those dissatisfied with the current norms of society. In other cultural domains---literature, music, painting, philosophy, and, to a lesser extent, sport and even finance---the "outsider" has greater legitimacy and agency, insofar as one can remain a poet or musician "independent" of society for the duration of one's life, without being subject to the ultimate reality of hitting "rock bottom", as must supposedly happen to anyone with addictive tendencies. What underlies this discursive logic, exemplified by The New Yorker review (and perhaps Bellin's book as well), is a moralistic paternalism, in which poker becomes "bad" if treated as anything other than a part time leisure pursuit, and its professionals are regarded as nothing short of pimps, con-men or hustlers. Maybe we shouldn't be thinking about poker in terms of good and bad, but rather as an meritocratic activity through which we can fruitfully deploy Bayesian logic (learning how to assess rick and navigate uncertainty) as Nate Silver would suggest, as well as a means by which we can better develop our psychological skills and emotional awareness.
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Old 03-03-2014, 12:59 PM   #138
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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Ha! I did not expect for you to request a reciprocal response. I will need to think about that question - personally poker no longer interests me. Which might have you scratching your head and asking: Why ask the question then? Or. What are you doing on 2+2?

The reason I ask the question, was that I was asking the question of you, specifically bob, an aspiring writer on poker. I think that, unless you are writing a very specific type of poker book e.g. an ABC of how to play, you should reflect upon what you think about the game that you are writing about in very broad senses. If you do so, then I think that you might be able to hit upon a rationale for a voice that you might want to adopt if you ever write a fictional text on poker.
I look forward to a response, and I hope that others will chime in too.

Reflecting upon the broader meaning of poker--its purpose, value, and representation in literature and culture--is why I started this blog in the first place. Figuring out "what I want to say" about poker will be an ongoing process, I'm sure, but I've more or less settled on the kind of project that I want to pursue: narrative nonfiction that focuses on the lives and stories of a core group of players (or "characters"). Learning about what's been done and how best to express myself (finding my voice) remains my goal. You might be one step ahead of me, Digger: my next post will be about Al Alvarez and the writer's voice.
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Which does not mean you have to come up with a grand system or a definitive yes or no, but you might want to interrogate the impulse you had to differentiate your own subjective experience from an 'in general' response --> might be one staring point.
yes, exactly. Which is why I really value questions and comments from others--so that I can understand how my own views on poker contrast with that of Americans in general. The opinions of people who don't care about or dislike poker are just as valuable as that of all the poker junkies out there!
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Old 03-03-2014, 01:21 PM   #139
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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What gets me about the "fantasy of freedom", in which poker is often discursively encased, is how it inevitably ends up being a "delusional escape" for those dissatisfied with the current norms of society. In other cultural domains---literature, music, painting, philosophy, and, to a lesser extent, sport and even finance---the "outsider" has greater legitimacy and agency, insofar as one can remain a poet or musician "independent" of society for the duration of one's life, without being subject to the ultimate reality of hitting "rock bottom", as must supposedly happen to anyone with addictive tendencies.
This seems exactly right to me. As a teacher-artist who ekes out a living writing poems, James McManus points out this irony in Positively Fifth Street (which I'll be reviewing soon) when his wife complains about his risky poker-playing habit: "The most i have earned for a poem is $100, and that poem took eight months to write. Usually I earn much, much less. Yet I'm treated to no sermons about that risky, acumen-proving habit, even though it costs our household whatever my time is worth per hour--fifty bucks, surely--minus the 3.6 cents I make in honoraria. And don't forget postage and stationary" (24). McManus is (as usual) being histrionic, but he makes his point. Both his wife and society are much more accepting of poetry than poker. Wall Street beats both, of course

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Originally Posted by DrTJO View Post

Maybe we shouldn't be thinking about poker in terms of good and bad, but rather as an meritocratic activity through which we can fruitfully deploy Bayesian logic (learning how to assess rick and navigate uncertainty) as Nate Silver would suggest, as well as a means by which we can better develop our psychological skills and emotional awareness.
This is where art can play a role: by changing how "we" think about poker. If the logic of Rounders repeats itself, if all we have are myths and caricatures of hustlers and gamblers driving Bentleys or wearing ten-gallon hats, then the "moralistic paternalism" will continue.
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Old 03-04-2014, 12:44 AM   #140
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

I look forward to a response, and I hope that others will chime in too.

My starting point would be to argue that clearly poker can only be considered "good" if you use a very narrow scope in your argument. To the winners, clearly it can have a financial benefit that for some could only ever be achieved in playing poker. Furthermore, if we take their testimony at face value - many enjoy a lifestyle that they believe would be very hard to achieve in any other area. Some might argue that it promotes a framework of thinking and can educate participants in very high levels of analytical thought including but not exclusively game theory etc. This might be a premise that is used to demonstrate a 'value' being realised in its participation.

But outside of those arguments - I cannot see many other arguments or frames that would be used to support the premise that playing poker is 'good'.

The arguments that limit the claims of poker as a 'good' cultural practice would range in strength and focus. One might argue that many of the things that are argued to be good are focussed upon a very few of the participants and are very self-focussed. One could argue that, even if you take into account that opponents are free and willing participants, a harm is generated through the accural of the 'good'. And as a consequence, this offsets the strength of the claim that poker is a 'good'. Another argument might be how does it compare to other possible use of time, resources etc that might otherwise be engaged by the participants as a means of furthering any particular conception of the 'good'.

But as I said, I am not really that interested in poker anymore. And as I mentioned before, I do like your blog and support your aspiration to write - which is why I posed the question as a 'focal referent' as opposed to constructing a dialogue on the ethics of poker.
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Old 03-05-2014, 08:45 PM   #141
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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I look forward to a response, and I hope that others will chime in too.

My starting point would be to argue that clearly poker can only be considered "good" if you use a very narrow scope in your argument.
I think that everything starts with defining terms--in this case, deciding what "good" means (I appreciate the scare quotes). And deciding if poker is good depends (like everything else) on the tension between individual and social well-being.

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Originally Posted by DiggertheDog View Post
[I]

But as I said, I am not really that interested in poker anymore. And as I mentioned before, I do like your blog and support your aspiration to write - which is why I posed the question as a 'focal referent' as opposed to constructing a dialogue on the ethics of poker.
Thanks--much appreciated! I'm not too interested in the ethics of poker, and I certainly don't see myself as an apologist for the game. I'm trying to put different perspectives in conversation and juxtaposition with each other--faithfully and accurately representing different views on the game, different approaches to being a pro, etc., and letting the reader decide which ones are attractive, repulsive, compellling, etc.
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Old 03-06-2014, 12:16 PM   #142
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

The Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez (New York: Picador, 1983)

[IMG]http://s28.************/ijffqog25/alvarez.jpg[/IMG]

“The casinos lie out there on the baked earth like extravagant toys discarded on a beach, their signs looping, beckoning, spiraling, and fizzing recklessly, as in that moment of glory just before the batteries run down” (10).

About five years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town for my birthday. Nice. A poker book, I thought. Maybe I’ll read this someday.

The book sat on my shelf for years before I gave it a try. And I’m glad that I did. The Biggest Game has been called the Bible of poker literature, “the best poker book ever written,” "a classic." Let me say up front that I agree.

So why another review? “Go read the book” should be enough, right? Well, yes and no. I want to highlight the author of The Biggest Game, Al Alvarez, and his lifelong interests in writing, literature, and melancholy. Alvarez is a remarkably diverse writer. He began as a poet and critic, wrote a few novels, and has written sporadically in nonfiction or, as he calls it, “the literature of fact.” His subjects touch on suicide (The Savage God—Alvarez was good friends with poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes), mountain-climbing (Feeding the Rat), divorce (Life After Marriage), and, most recently, swimming (Pondlife). He discussed his last book here: http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/Interview-Al-Alvarez.

I plan to focus on (1) his comments in The Writer's Voice (2005); (1) how Alvarez's voice works in The Biggest Game; and (3) how the subjects of his books might account for his attention to poker. If this approach sheds new light on Alvarez's classic account of the 1981 WSOP, great. If not, then I've still taken a tiny step forward in understanding my own relation to writing, poker, and voice.

Voice

"I don't mean style...I mean voice: something that begins at around the back of the knees and reaches well above the head" —Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer


Voice, for Alvarez, means "expressing precisely what you have to say and how you feel about it in precisely your own tone of voice, just as you do by inflection and rhythm when you speak.” Voice makes the writer's work unique; it lets him pick the locks, open the doors, and say what he wants to say (23).

So how do you find your voice? Alvarez stresses three key ingredients. The first has to do with honesty/authenticity: bringing your voice in line with your identity. Are you serious or funny? Quiet or talkative? Spiritual or secular? All of these characteristics enter your writing in one way or another. Finding one's voice—being true to how you sound and who you are—is a colossal, ongoing challenge for the serious writer.

The second ingredient is to absorb and borrow from the voices of others. “Once you’ve found your own voice,” says Alvarez, “you can also incorporate other people’s voices into your own and still sound like yourself” (27). The way to do this, of course, is to read—to try on other voices and personalities for size and fit. Sometimes the writers we want to sound like aren't consistent with who we actually are. Take the short story writer George Saunders. Early in his life, when he grew up in Chicago, Saunders worshiped at the altar of Hemingway, a writer whose voice is so distinctive that he's been endlessly imitated and parodied.

"'Let's get drunk,' Bill said. 'All right,' Nick agreed" ("The Three-Day Blow").

"Nick leaned over the side of the log, found a hard place, and lit the match. He sat smoking and watching the river" ("The Big Two-Hearted River").

"It was late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light" ("A Clean, Well-Lighted Place")

You get the idea. At first, Saunders tried to write inside the “box” of Hemingway's style:

I had sort of just decided that anything funny or of-the-moment or anything but sort of classic was not gonna happen, and I just pushed it aside. So for all those years, I was kind of frantically running around this cage I’d made for myself. … I joke about it a lot, and I always use the phrase “Hemingway boner,” which gets a laugh. But in fact it’s more like I had an idea that Hemingway was the greatest writer, and I had a real visceral response when I read his work, so I just decided I would just internalize it. So that meant you’re doing that uncomfortable young-writer thing of taking everything that’s happened to you and trying to fit it into that box, even though it’s not a natural fit. So that was manifesting in my own unhappiness with what I was doing, also with the kind of ****tiness of the work itself. But I couldn’t quite figure it out.

“The big realization,” Saunders continues, “is when I realized that Monty Python, Steve Martin, my dad, my uncles, my friends in Chicago–those actually could be literary. The voices I was close to, that had been in my head, those could be put to literary use. Before that I had this insecure idea that anything that came naturally had to be wrong, had to be low. Well, when I’m trying to persuade somebody or get myself out of a jam, or break social tension, I always joke around. I’ve always done it since I was a little kid. So why not? Why couldn’t that be literary?”

Saunders discovered a sound and cadence that's entirely his own--an authentic voice, (a weird thing about voice is that you can get a sense of it after only a few sentences: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/fea...ction_saunders).

Listening and The Biggest Game

“Finding a voice implies there are readers out there who know how to listen, and listening is a skill almost as tricky as writing...The good reader listens as attentively as the writer writes, hearing the tones and overtones and changes of pitch, as absorbed and alert as if he and the writer were in conversation together” (48).

Listening is perhaps the most important skill in developing a voice. This practice is a two-way street, a partnership between author and reader: “the writer works to find or create a voice that will stretch out to the reader, make him prick his ears and attend” (18). Just as in poker, where a slight hesitation or repetition may unlock the key to a hand, details are everything. Clues are everywhere: an unexpected pause, a cunning adverb, a barely audible inflection that makes you sit up and take notice. "These are the small gestures," Alvarez insists, "with which writers announce their presence, and, unlike good children, they must be heard, not seen. The truth is in the voice and only by tuning into it will you know whether or not you are being conned” (77).

What are Alvarez's own small gestures that define his voice in The Biggest Game? Let's take a look, keeping in mind his advice that, in order to discover what's going on in a work of art, "all that is required of [the reader] is attention and detachment—an attentive state of detachment—listening, thinking, and giving himself up all at the same time. And that, I assume, is much the same as the ‘evenly suspended attention’ with which, said Freud, the therapist listens to a patient.”

Here are a few meaty quotes to get us going:

“Benny Binion is now seventy-seven years old, a genial, round-faced, round-bellied man, like a beardless Santa Claus in a Stetson, benign and smiling” (16).

Doyle Brunson: “the sweet smile, soft face, and great, portly frame, in its brown sports shirt and trousers flowing like a brown spinnaker, give him the air of the benign medieval abbot of some easygoing monastery” (86).

"Stu Ungar, the defending champion, is in his middle twenties but looks like a scrawny teenager, loose jointed and deathly pale, with a nervous, rapid-fire, slurring voice and a slightly simian jaw--'a dead ringer,' said Jack Straus, who is fond of him, 'for Zira, the doctor in The Planet of the Apes'" (138).

[IMG]http://s27.************/6ifsow01v/Stu_Ungar_Doyle_Brunson.jpg[/IMG]

"The game inside the rail seemed to have been going on all night. The players were gray-faced and unshaven. They shifted about uncomfortably in their seats, yawned, scratched vaguely at their grubby shirts, lit one cigarette from the stub of another. They looked, most of them, like the uneasy sleepers on the benches in railway stations, sitting there because they could not raise the price of a hotel room. Only the dealer seemed dressed for the occasion: he wore a gleaming white shirt and a narrow black bow tie with two long tails, Western style, inscribed with the word Horseshoe. He checked the bets in front of the three players who remained in the pot, and raked those chips into the pile of chips at the center of the table; then he discarded the top card of the deck he held, and turned over a communal card, to join four already exposed in front of him. A cowboy to his left tapped twice on the table with his forefinger. To the cowboy’s left, an elderly man in a bulging T-shirt stared meditatively at the exposed cards, took two black chips from the stack in front of him, and tossed them toward the center. He seemed utterly uninterested, as if the matter were somehow beneath his attention. 'Two dollars,' said the dealer, in a bored voice. The next player, a nervous young man with a Zapata mustache, cupped his hands around two cards face down in front of him, squeezed up their corners, and flicked them toward the dealer, elegantly, like a fop making a conversational point. Only the cowboy was left. He tilted his Stetson back an inch and stared at the elderly man, unblinking, for a full minute. While he stared, he juggled a pile of black chips up and down on the baize in front of him—up and down, in and out, like a yo-yo on a string. His fingers were agile and surprisingly long. Then his hand stopped abruptly, he lifted seven chips off the pile without seeming to count them, and he pushed them into the center. 'Raise it up a nickel,' he said. The fat elderly man crossed his arms on his chest, sank his chin toward them, and considered the cowboy. There was a long pause. In the same bored voice, the dealer said, 'Five dollars to you.'"

***

more soon, in part two.
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Old 03-06-2014, 02:46 PM   #143
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

"Ulvis Alberts is a freelance photographer who has covered the poker tournament for the last five years and whose marvelously atmospheric portraits of the players were published in 1981 in a collection called Poker Face. During his first visit to Binion's, a number of the contestants asked to buy blowup of the pictures he had taken of them. "That will be seventy-five dollars," he said, and suddenly there was a problem: when the gamblers pulled out their giant wads of cash none of them had change. "So I charged a hundred dollars," he told me, "and everyone was happy" (39).

Alberts's sequel, Poker Faces 2, is available on his website: http://www.ulvisalberts.com/eng/poker-face-in-color/

Benny Binion

[IMG]http://s2.************/8u0vp5wop/20100811133555399600.jpg[/IMG]

Amarillo Slim

[IMG]http://s30.************/jy3ts5vfl/ulvis_Amarillo_Slim_Preston_1978_g.jpg[/IMG]

Vegas circa 1980

[IMG]http://s22.************/ubclfff6p/vegas.jpg[/IMG]

[IMG]http://s15.************/qkbnwimgr/20100201150258333636.jpg[/IMG]
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Old 03-07-2014, 08:01 PM   #144
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

The Biggest Game in Town, part two

[IMG]http://s28.************/4mbndzbal/Champs_Binions_Horseshoe.jpg[/IMG]

Back then, the Horseshoe was just another shabby little joint in Glitter Gulch, aka downtown Las Vegas, but for an innocent Englishman abroad, it truly was a world apart—and not only because of the surreal sums of money that changed hands in those side-games which, for the big boys were just part of the fun. What set it apart was the sense of darkness beneath the glitter and the din: the faces like tribal masks, sullen, brooding, and wreathed in cigarette smoke; the ominous towers of chips and thick wads of hundred-dollar bills held together by rubber bands; the hard light over the tables and the shadows beyond; the sudden moments of drama; and behind it all, unceasingly, the voice of the casino operator— "Telephone call for Mr. Bloom, Mr. Danny Bloom"—and the clicking noise of gamblers playing with their chips, a susurration as persistent as the song of cicadas in the Mediterranean summer. It was like walking into a film noir, the unforgiving black-and-white world of The Hustler, say, but populated by cowboys instead of pool sharks. When I wrote my article for The New Yorker, which was subsequently published as The Biggest Game in Town, that was the atmosphere and romance I tried to evoke, —Al Alvarez, 2008

Here, in an updated introduction to The Biggest Game, Alvarez explains his aim to evoke an atmosphere and romance—a pokercentric film noir or dark myth. This, after all, is how the gamblers saw themselves: "as the last of the gunslingers, ready for a showdown with any of the strangers who dared to take them on." Alvarez uses all of his literary tools to complete the task. Here are a few of the important ones.

Description

And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.


—T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“The thing about a poem,” Alvarez said in an interview, “is that you’ve got to get it right. And you’ve got to get it all right. If there’s one word wrong, then the whole thing won’t work." The Biggest Game often reads like prose poetry—precise, rich, lyrical, playful, capturing the cadence of natural speech. Alvarez loves similes.

"In the noisy gloom of Binion's with the midday heat blasting the street outside and the signs blazing and jumping like a fever, the words he used were as foreign as Urdu" (39)

"Moss is now seventy-five years old, his eyes hood and bleak, his face like saddle leather, deep lines carved from his nose almost to his chin, his rather elegantly shaped mouth retracted in permanent distaste" (24)

These are wonderful, apt descriptions. Somehow Doyle does look like a "benevolent abbot"; Benny Binion does resemble a "beardless Santa Claus." His conceits are rarely overblown, clunky, or stale; Alvarez follows George Orwell's advice to “never use a metaphor, simile, or figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print." As a result, the towering figures of the early poker scene—Doyle, Benny and Jack Binion, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Jack Strauss, David Sklansky, Stu Ungar, Mickey Appleman, Chip Reese, and many, many others—“come to life” in fun and surprising ways.

A sense of place

Vegas is a character in this book. The city “strips,” “feeds,” “seduces.” The active verbs are purposeful: Vegas does things to its inhabitants. Poker players scurry around Vegas golf courses like “demented insects,” wagering on everything in sight. “Shee-it,” says Pug Pearson after losing a bet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70eU840lc38). Meanwhile, the Vegas casinos sit out in the hot desert “like extravagant toys discarded on a beach, their signs looping, beckoning, spiraling, and fizzing recklessly, as in that moment of glory just before the batteries run down” (10). “Welcome to Dreamland,” writes Alvarez.

Dreams, fantasies, illusions. The Biggest Game is obsessed with the tension between romance and reality, between how the gamblers see themselves and how outsiders (Alvarez and his readers) see them. Chapter Three explores the pro poker player's “fractured” sense of reality. High-roller games generate pots worth enough money, in 1981, to support entire families for a year. How can someone casually win and lose fortunes in mere minutes? “It is a question,” Alvarez suggests, “not just of a different level of skill but of a different ordering of reality” (35). “Money means nothing to me,” explains Chip Reese. “If you really cared about it, you wouldn’t be able to sit down at a poker table and bluff off fifty thousand dollars. If I thought what that could buy me, I could not be a good player. Money is just the yardstick by which you measure your success. In Monopoly, you try to win all the cash by the end of the game. It’s the same in poker: you treat chips like play money and don’t think about it until it’s all over” (41). For more on this subject, Martin Harris wrote an excellent series of blog posts about Chapter Three here: http://hardboiledpoker.blogspot.com/...n-prelude.html.

Everything about Vegas is unreal—the chips, the exotic backdrops, even the people. In order to create a strong sense of place, Alvarez doesn't just use poetic description but also Quotation. Many voices tell the story. Few of them agree. Some quotes run for whole pages. Take a look at an exchange between Alvarez and an anonymous Texan man:

“ 'Las Vegas is like a parasite that feeds on money,' said a man from Texas. 'It sits here in the middle of the desert and produces absolutely nothing, yet it supports half a million people. It depends on the rest of the United States to feed it money, which it channels through the casinos to those five hundred thousand people. I guess it's a kind of modern miracle, something like the loaves and the fishes. I see the casinos packed with tourists telling themselves they are having a good time losing their money, and it's beyond my comprehension. Yet they're always full.'
'And you continue to come.'
'Poker is how I make my living. And I approve of the location. The desert cuts Vegas off from the real world. You have to make an effort to come here, you have to have money to lose. If the casinos were in a metropolitan area the people who couldn't afford to lose—construction workers, taxicab drivers, housewives, mail clerks—would gamble because the opportunity was there. In Vegas, suckers are suckers by choice. Without them, there wouldn't be a gambling economy.' He glanced at his watch and rose to his feet. 'Time to play.' He paused, glanced at me quickly, and looked away, as though embarrassed. 'One thing,' he said. 'That stuff about the parasite.'
I waited.
'Don't use my name. I'd hate anyone to think I was bad-mouthing the old place'” (63).

The anonymity of the man is important; it implies that the disapproving attitude of Vegas, even among the regulars, is everywhere—it's in the air. This anonymous man is given plenty of space to explain his position that Vegas is a parasitic city feeding on money.

Alvarez's reply is interesting. "And you continue to come” is understated, passive, framed as statement rather than a question. He gently prompts the man to explain himself. Alvarez also captures the man's embarrassment and complicity in a manufactured illusion that only a few people—the pros—can see through.

Here's another example that touches on Vegas and American values. Benny Binion tells a story of an old gambler who, after swinging between busto and robusto his whole life, hits a hot streak and is up 700K. Everyone, including his fellow gamblers, urges him to put 100K in an annuity that will secure his retirement. But the man refuses and loses it all. “When you think about it,” Benny says, “he was right.” He explains that, in America, the consequences of going broke aren't so bad. If the pros at the Horseshoe go broke “they are going to have to play cheaper. That's the only difference.”

[IMG]http://s13.************/mrwf9j3xz/benny.jpg[/IMG]


“ 'Cheaper?' [Alvarez] said. 'There are fortunes changing hands every day.'
Binion shook his head. He seemed disappointed in me. We had appeared to be understanding each other, but now, as though for the first time, he registered my English accent and realized that, after all, I was just another uncomprehending foreigner. 'In the free enterprise system, you have to assume that each guy is the best judge of what he does with his own money,' he explained patiently. 'I've often thought, If I got really hungry for a good milk shake, how much would I pay for one? People will pay a hundred dollars for a bottle of wine; to me that's not worth it. But I'm not going to say it is foolish or wrong to spend that kind of money, if that is what you want. So if a guy wants to be twenty or thirty thousand dollars in a poker game, that is his privilege. Society might consider it bad judgment, but if that is what he wants to do, you can't fault him for it. That's America.'

Notice again that Alvarez grants Benny plenty of space to explain himself. This time, though, Alvarez expresses his confusion, and he plays off his role as a conspicuous outsider—the Englishman with a foreign accent, the writer who has, at best, a dim sense of what professional gambling or Vegas is like. When Benny talks, he explains himself “patiently” as though he's teaching a child. Benny seems self-assured; Alvarez seems skeptical, flummoxed.

Alvarez could have ended the chapter with Benny's terse, matter-of-fact “That's America.” But he adds a sentence of his own commentary: “And that, too, is Las Vegas—the only place on earth where they justify gambling as a form of patriotism” (54-55).

***

Description, a sense of place, and quotation. Put these together and the effect is striking.

"[Mickey] Appleman is the odd man out at the tournament—a New York intellectual among the cowboys, clever eyes peering out from under a Harpo Marx mop of blond curls, clothes like a hippie's unmade bed" (50).

[IMG]http://s11.************/8y0awnm3n/EV22_Mickey_Appleman.jpg[/IMG]

"This town is hard on everybody,” Appleman says. “It strips away your spirituality. In order to be successful on a continual basis out here, you have to remain nonemotional. But when a gambler is nonemotional, then he becomes detached from the person he really is. That’s the basic problem of living in Las Vegas: you become despiritualized" (82).

***

I'll return to Appleman in part three, which will discuss how I think Alvarez's interests in writing, literature, and melancholy inform The Biggest Game.
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Old 03-07-2014, 11:38 PM   #145
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

The Biggest Game in Town is treasure-chest I'd have to agree, with its poetic rendering of Vegas in the 1980s. You're definitely correct in suggesting Alvarez's intervenes, as a kind of curious narrator, playing upon his role as the "innocent Englishman abroad". It really is an ethnographic perspective but one in which he uses the art of poetry rather than the quasi-scientific tools of anthropology. But I wonder how quickly we should assign the "voice" of this text to Alvarez himself: mightn't it be better regarded as a "textual effect" consistent with the modern English poetic tradition, to which Alvarez was attached, as you've already mentioned? How much of his poetic technique derives from poets such as Auden, Hughes or Plath for instance? The fact that Alvarez has such sympathy for his subject matter (being a player himself) must also be significant and perhaps is a key reason why he's so in tune with this "foreign" environment.
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Old 03-08-2014, 05:52 AM   #146
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

“Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal” T.S. Eliot
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Old 03-08-2014, 04:42 PM   #147
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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Originally Posted by DrTJO View Post
But I wonder how quickly we should assign the "voice" of this text to Alvarez himself: mightn't it be better regarded as a "textual effect" consistent with the modern English poetic tradition, to which Alvarez was attached, as you've already mentioned?
This is largely a matter of approach, I think. My own bias is toward how the author's voice ("Alvarez") appears in the book. But, from a different perspective, "voice" could refer to the sound and language of the book's characters, to Vegas, to the English poetic tradition, to film noir, even to the genre of poker nonfiction. And all of these voices overlap, echo, and respond to each other. I'm not a big fan of lit theory but my one of my favorite thinkers, Mikhail Bakhtin, has a lot of neat things to say about dialogue and double-voiced discourse:

"Dialogue has penetrated inside every word, provoking in it a battle and the
interruption of one voice by another…Thus, at the very beginning of the novel the leading voices in the great dialogue have already begun to sound. These voices are not self-enclosed or deaf to one another. They hear each other constantly, call back and forth to each other, and are reflected in one another."

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrTJO View Post

How much of his poetic technique derives from poets such as Auden, Hughes or Plath for instance?
good question. I'm sure there's a connection but don't plan to explore what it might be.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrTJO View Post

The fact that Alvarez has such sympathy for his subject matter (being a player himself) must also be significant and perhaps is a key reason why he's so in tune with this "foreign" environment.
Agreed. I plan to say more about this soon.
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Old 03-08-2014, 05:01 PM   #148
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Chapter summaries and some notes

Chapter 1 (Binion's, history of Vegas, Glitter Gulch)

“Las Vegas is the logical conclusion of what is for the foreigner one of the eeriest aspects of America: the utter lack of continuity between the large towns and their surrounding countryside” (7)

Chapter 2 (Benny Binion, origins of the WSOP, rules and psychology of the game)

Chapter 3 (“a different ordering of reality,” poker and character, Jimmy Chagra, Mickey Appleman, poker and patriotism)

“So I stopped.”
“Just like that?” Like Tracy Kidder in Mountains Beyond Mountains—Alvarez anticipates and represents the reader's skepticism with questions (37)

***

“Las Vegas is no more a place for childhood than it is a place for sensibility. It is a town without grace and without nuance, where the only useful virtues are experience, survival, and money” (39).

***

[IMG]http://s11.************/w8tb4pe1v/Bobby_Baldwin612_300x197.jpg[/IMG]

“Playing poker for a living gives you backbone,” Bobby Baldwin said. “You cannot survive without that intangible quality we call heart. I don't care how bad you are going or how good, you have to stand solid. Poker is a character builder—especially the bad times. The mark of a top player is not how much he wins when he is winning but how he handles his losses” (46).


***

“If money is your god, you can forget no-limit poker, because it's going to hurt you too much to turn loose of it,” [Strauss] said. “The way I feel about those pieces of green paper is, you can't take them with you and they may not have much value in five years' time, but right now I can take them and trade them in for pleasure, or to bring pleasure to other people. If they had wanted you to hold on to money, they'd have made it with handles on” (47)

Chapter 4 (staying in Vegas as a prison sentence, Alvarez's wife and kids, stolen key)

Chapter 5 (schedule of WSOP, monotony of the game)

“I feel like I'm anteing myself to death," says Eric Drache. “If they made a film of my life, half the footage would be of my hand throwing in ante after ante after ante. As if it had a life of its own, Like Dr. Strangelove’s. And every ante is one step closer to the grave” (66).

Chapter 6 (sex and the seductions of Vegas, long story about Joel, the wives of poker players, aging cowboy and prostitute, Alvarez's comparison to sex and poker)

“The little old-fashioned courtesies (he was, after all, a man in his fifties), the silence, the firm, businesslike hand gripping the girl's elbow and guiding her to his room were all part of a formal exchange: sex without sensuality, without even much interest; sex bought as one might buy a drink—as a way of winding down after the tension and concentration of gambling, as a hunger to be assuaged, like other hungers, for a fixed price” (81)

**

“When I settled down to the evening's hold-em session at the Nugget and picked up my first cards, my eyes felt fresh, my heart was beating sweetly, all my sense were alert. As the hooker would have said, I felt young again. Perhaps the Freudians are right, after all, when they talk of gambling as sublimation. In the words of another addict, 'Sex is good, but poker lasts longer'” (83)

**

Chapter 7 (Doyle, time vs. money, Gold and gambling, enclosure from the outside world, Super/System)


“The most important thing I've got is my time,” [Doyle] said. “That's more important to me than anything else” (92)

Chapter 8 (Start of the WSOP, Jack Strauss)

check 114-15 for setup to Strauss's stories.

“I wouldn't pay a ten-year-old kid a dime an hour to sit in a low-stakes game and wait for the nuts,” Strauss said. If there's no risk in losing, there's no high in winning. I have only a limited amount of time on this earth, and I want to live every second of it. That's why I'm willing to play anyone in the world for any amount” (120)

Chapter 9 (Depression, Ronnie, Gamber's Book Club, Sklansky, Appleman)

“All the losers in the world come to Vegas in the hope of changing their luck, but losers are losers wherever they go, and eventually they become desperate. Hence the muggings, the violence, the theft. Hence, too, the depression” (123)

**

“Mickey Appleman remarked to me that a lot of people don't fit in where they are, but Vegas takes anybody. More important, I realized, it never comments...nor did anyone comment on the man, solemnly eating his way through the buffet in the Sombrero Room, who was so obese that his tiny, bald head seemed to belong to another body entirely; he looked as if he were trapped in an overinflated balloon” (124).

***

Mr. Luckman, the owner of The Gamblers Bookstore, “is a bluff, friendly man with a drooping face and thick horn-rimmed glasses, but his attitude toward his clients is philosophical, resigned, like that of a social worker toward a street gang” (130).

[IMG]http://s22.************/8azk1ujbl/20100811134047736763.jpg[/IMG]

Sklansky: “The world is full of idiots, and I can't handlt it. I can't handle the politics involved. But this town gives me what I want. I like the freedom of the gambler's life, I like being my own boss, I like the way you are rewarded directly according to your ability, not according to what people think of you” (130).

***

“Everybody has a romance with life,” Mickey Appleman said. “But most people relinquish it as they grow up and settle down with a job and a family. There are some people, though, who never give it up; they hold on to that portion of their childhood. For them, gambling is a replacement of the fantasties they had as children. I guess I'm like that. For me, the fantasy in gambling is not monetgary. It's a question of fulfillment; being who I really am, doing things well, being involved—just feeling good” (134)

Chapter 10 (start of the Main Event, Betty Carey, women in poker, Barbara Freer)

[IMG]http://s7.************/83fsecc3f/Betty_carey021.jpg[/IMG]


Chapter 11 (final table, Stu Ungar's interview)


[IMG]http://s27.************/hr6xvlsqb/wsop1974_05_02.jpg[/IMG]



"Tell me, Mr. Strauss, [the journalist] said primly. "Don't you ever feel sorry for the people you beat?"

Strauss stretched comfortably. His left eyelid drooped, and he looked at the journalist's earnest face as though along the barrel of a gun. "Funny you should ask that," he said. He put his elbows on the table. His face was low and intimate. "Just last month, back in El Paso, I played a house painter and beat him out of his whole month's salary—twelve hundred and forty dollars—and I took him a hundred dollars on tab. When the game was over, he signed his paycheck over to me, and I drove him home to collect the rest. He lived in a lower-middle-class section of town, and when we got to his house his wife was there with their six children. 'Honey,' he said, 'I've got some bad news. I lost the paycheck playing poker.' 'Shush,' she said, and herded the children into the next room. Then she started to cry. 'How're we going to feed the kids next month?' she saked. 'Honey,' he said, 'I haven't told you the worst part. I still owe this gentleman a hundred dollars.' Well, while they were talking I was looking around, and I noticed her purse lying open on the table. There was a ten-dollar bill in it and a one. So you know what I did?"

As Strauss talked, he had gradually leaned forward across the table, until his face was inches from the journalist's. "No," said the journalist, eyes wide with concern. "What did you do?"

Straus's left eye drooped further; his expression was grave. "I just took the ten-dollar bill," he said, "and let him slide for the rest."
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Old 03-09-2014, 11:38 AM   #149
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Ronnie

(excerpt from The Biggest Game, 124-126)


[IMG]http://s7.************/hnpofbjbf/dealers.jpg[/IMG]


One afternoon, I shared a lunch table in the Sombrero Room with one of Binion's dealers. He was a skeleton-thin young man with large, hurt eyes behind large, thick glasses. His name, according to the plastic tag on his shirt, was Ronnie. There was a book beside him on the padded bench, and on the table were a loose-leaf file and a calculator. When I sat down, he was shuffling through the papers and punching figures into the calculator with a speed and dexterity that seemed inappropriate to the hurt look in his eyes.
He nodded contentedly at my press badge, but when I asked him which game he had been dealing he answered vaguely and seemed disappointed. He closed his file and watched me patiently while I ate, and then, when I filled my pipe, he pulled out a cigarette and waited for me to light it for him. Finally, he said, "I guess you don't know who I am." I looked at his name tag again and said, “Ronnie.” His eyes deepened behind the thick lenses, and he smiled diffidently. “Used to be Suzie,” he said. He riffled through the file and extracted an old clipping. The headline said, “SEX CHANGE DEALER RETURNS TO BINION'S HORSESHOE.” He told me he had been in the navy—in the Caribbean during the Cuban missile crisis—but when he got out nothing went right. Between 1970 and 1976, he made thirty-six attempts to kill himself with sleeping pills, but in the hospitals nobody seemed to understand—not even the psychiatrists. In 1970, he had had a sex-change operation in New Jersey. Later, as Suzie, he came out to Las Vegas and became a dealer. “I did all right,” he said. “But somehow it didn't solve the problem.”

“Which problem?” I asked.

“His huge eyes fixed me, unblinking. “Loneliness,” he said.

Not until 1980 did he find someone willing to listen to him. The man was an evangelist, and through him Suzie found God, was born again, and proved it by having another sex change, back to Ronnie. “It was nothing,” he said. “I had a mastectomy and I cut my hair. It wasn't painful—not like the first operation.” I asked if it had made him happier, and he nodded. “I used to be terrified of dying and of growing older. In that order. Now I know there isn't going to be any death. The day you die is the first day of your life.” He waited for me to comment, and when I didn't he nodded at the press tag and said, “Reading helped me. I read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and it changed my life. A great book.” When I asked him what else he had read, he patted the large book on the bench beside him and said, “The Bible. There's more truth and wisdom in this than in any other book in the world.” Then, suddenly, briefly, he was off, talking about peace and calm and contentment in the vague, singsong voice of a child repeating a lesson learned by rote. His eyes unfocused, and for a moment he seemed lonelier than anyone I had ever met—as though loneliness were the element he moved in, like a fish in water.”

A group of players wandered in and settled at the next table. Ronnie blinked, shook his head, eyes them uneasily. He finished his recitation, but without conviction, and began to fiddle with his calculator. When the conversation finally turned to poker, as all conversations in the Sombrero Room eventually did during the tournament, he rattled off odds and probabilities like any other Vegas regular. It was only when I got up to leave that he remembered that his bizarre sexual sideshow had made him a Vegas celebrity. “There's a big article about me coming up in the National Enquirer,” he said. Be sure to read it.”

“Of course,” I said. But later, whenever I saw him, he pretended not to recognize me, as though he felt he had betrayed himself.
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Old 03-09-2014, 11:48 PM   #150
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob_124 View Post

He nodded contentedly at my press badge, but when I asked him which game he had been dealing he answered vaguely and seemed disappointed.
I have a sense you've mentioned this before, but at times the narrator's voice blends with those Vegas locals---dealers, players, casino owners---he interviews. It's interesting that Alvarez alerts the reader to the fact that his interviewee is aware of the narrator's status as a journalist and therefore an "outsider". However, since Ronnie is not what "he" seems, the name-tag a misnomer of sorts, there's a sense that the narrator himself is part of the story being told and therefore a character whose voice requires further inspection. It would seem to be a motif in the Biggest Game (keeping in mind that I've only read it once and these are only my lingering impressions) that the various "insiders" in Vegas are in many respects "outsiders" in relation to general society. As a result, Alvarez, as this scene indicates, tends to be represented as a "square" and very much the non-degenerate man of whimsy, who, nonetheless finds a way---and this is where his rhetorical skill comes to the fore---of being non-judgemental. That Ronnie "pretended not to recognize" Alvarez at a later moment (which Doyle Brunson also does from memory in another scene for different reasons) would seem to validate this reading of the narrator, insofar as those characters he perceives wish to reject the way in which they are represented, a wilful act that perhaps encourages the reader to doubt the way in which the narrator has constructed himself. We want to assume---as readers of a piece of non-fiction---that the author and the narrator are identical "selves", but the discursive reality is that the narrator here is a "persona" that the author is performing, just like an actor would a character on a stage.
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