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Old 05-22-2013, 05:34 PM   #1
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The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

I've learned a bunch from the strategy/life posts on 2+2 over the years and want to involve others in my own poker-related goal: to play, write about, and better understand poker in the U.S. By "better understand poker" I don't mean learning when to reshove with 20BBs vs. a loose opener. I'm more interested in the tougher-to-answer questions that you may have asked yourself from time to time. How is poker important to me? Why does my family discourage (or support) poker as a hobby/profession? What does poker mean to different parts of America and to different parts of the poker-playing community? How does poker appear in literature and film? Why do so many players write about their experiences (insanepoker7, anotherkidanotherdream)? What can we make of this impulse for storytelling?


My Goals

Contribute to the (more or less nonexistent) academic literature on poker

I'm a teacher-researcher who studies literature, narrative, and American culture. In the fall I'll be starting a two-year post-doc in which, as a kind of secondary project, I plan to write about poker. I have two pretty clear ideas for articles and one big, hazy idea for a book. This thread will hopefully serve as a journal/blog/place to brainstorm and hear from 2+2ers.

Become a better poker player

I'll detail my poker story in the next post. The cliffs is: found poker around 2005, played semi-seriously online from 2007-2011, and transitioned to live cash around 2010 (1/2NL, very part-time). For me, getting better means more creativity and rigor in my approach to the game; developing a more intuitive grasp of poker fundamentals, esp math; and moving up in limits (2/5 and 5/10, if the bankroll allows).

With these goals in mind, you can expect a few different kinds of posts in this thread:

Session reports

I should play a decent bit this summer and hope to recount some of my sessions. The content will be similar to my trip reports from Nola (http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/27...-nola-1221845/) and Florida (http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/27...-back-1173699/). The goal is to write entertaining stories with some strategy mixed in. My "home base" for playing will be in the Gulf Coast area: Houston, Lake Charles, Nola, and Biloxi.

Book Reviews

I plan to review both poker fiction and non-fiction. These posts will probably include a brief summary, my assessment of the book (if I like/dislike, whether it's "well-written"), and questions to think about.

Links to worthwhile poker content

Like this!: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/...-39-25-million

Thematic Posts

on topics like tilt, storytelling, aging, regionalism, literature, strategy--whatever comes to mind!

I'm starting this thread rather than a blog because it encourages dialogue. Part of why I like poker is because it's rooted in stories and people. I'd love to ask and receive questions from you guys for as long as this thread exists. Lookin fwd to it!
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Old 05-23-2013, 03:00 PM   #2
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

My Poker Story

I can still remember the first time that I played poker. It was the summer after college and I had tagged along with friends to a home game. My one buddy explained the hand values to me in the car ride over, and I luckboxed my way to 5th or 6th out of 20 players--just out of the money, but a clear win in my mind. I had, after all, outlasted both of my friends!

I moved up to Boston and started playing 10$ freezeouts with my friends. I also deposited 50 bucks onto pokerstars--the great Bob_124 was born!--and 1-tabled sit-and-gos. I've always enjoyed games--Risk, Stratego, Chess--and poker appealed to my strategic, competitive side. Poker traveled down with me to Texas for grad school. I played mainly online and, after finding Pokerxfactor, migrated from one-table sit-and-gos to multitable turbos. Once I started taking poker seriously--at the high point, I played between 10-20 hours a week--I settled on the Stars 180 mans and .25/.50 cash as my primary games. Just as cardio complements weightlifting, poker worked out a different part of my brain. Playing wasn't only fun and competitive; it was relaxing. Making money was also nice. I gradually built up my roll until, before I knew it, I had paid off my college loans, started an IRA, and bought a pink Bentley (2 of these 3 are true, can you guess which? )

Despite some success, I don't think I've ever been a good player. STT and MTT tourneys are mechanical games, and I didn't have a firm grasp of handreading that comes with deep-stacked play. Neither could I make the moves that I saw and envied when I was railing high-stakes games--bold bluffs, epic calldowns, masterful soul-reads. I lacked (and still lack) creativity.

I was also content to beat up on weaker players at the micro- and low-limits rather than test my mettle in midstakes games. Part of my reasoning was that my current stakes offered stability and a familiar terrain. Pushing my limits might cause stress and anxiety--not to mention a terrible downswing. I was content to rail CTS, ADZ, JohnnyBax, and other high-stakes players in order to focus on school. In a way, then, I both participated in and missed out on the poker boom.

When Black Friday hit, I was still entrenched in my normal games. Sad but not devastated, I left the online world behind and played occasionally with Stars play money (lol), on Lock Poker, and in my weekly 5cent/10cent home game (affectionately known as "The Big Game"). I never lost the appetite to play, though, and devoted some attention to figuring out live cash. Coming from the online arena, I'm sure that I approached the games with a certain amount of arrogance. "Who are all this donks spewing chips with a VPIP of 50?" I'm sure that this thought, along with a bunch of others, crossed my mind. But the simple fact is that, although I've always done OK in live games--patience and aggression remain my strong suits, which really help in a live setting--my approach was seriously flawed. I had no concept of villain ranges, didn't know when to 3-bet (and still don't!), and was generally in the dark about how to play optimally.


Having logged a few hundred hours over the last year or two (yea yea...lol sample size), I think that my approach to the live game has improved--and I see the potential for so much more improvement. Practice, Bart Hanson's podcasts, and the LLSNL forum on 2+2 have been huge helps, and I look forward to spending more time in live games. What's more, I don't only enjoy competing and making a bit of money; I really enjoy meeting people at the table. A quote jumped out to me from the Grantland article on Moneymaker: "When we walked into Binion's for the first time, you were immediately struck by what an interesting group of people this is. Poker had this stereotype of backroom games, cigar smoke, maybe some seediness to it. And that's not what we found at all. When we sat down to interview people, we knew right away — wow, we have met our match. These are really interesting, intelligent people who think about a game on a level no one really realized at the time." --Dave Schwartz. This rings true with my own experience, even at the low stakes. Even if people aren't intelligent poker players, they're often intelligent and successful at their profession--or they're just outright quirky, which is cool with me.


I'm ready to start playing regularly--hopefully once or twice a week--and plan to log some hours during road trips. In the meantime, I run a Sunday night homegame on Stars with some friends (which you all are welcome to join): You are invited to join my private poker club for Home Games online.

- Click the 'Join a Poker Club' button
- Enter my Club ID number: 741422
- Enter my Invitation Code: greatbarrier


So that's it! It's been a long ride and I'm not even close to finished. I'm passing through Nola this weekend and will log a session or two. I'll write up a session report in my next post.
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Old 05-26-2013, 02:00 PM   #3
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Session Report: NolaBiloxiNola

I stopped in Nola during the tail end of the WSOP Circuit Event. Although the action on my end was pretty tame--I didn't play in any of the tourneys, and only logged a few cash game hours--the poker room was hopping. "Can I get 300 hundred red and a hundred green?" I asked the cage. "Sorry," the cashier replied, "we're out of greens." That's right--on the last Friday of the series, all of the green chips were in play!

After sitting down at my 1/2 table I scanned the poker room, which was at capacity. As some of you may know, the Nola room plays pretty deep; it's common for 1/2 stacks to grow to 1K or 2K+, and the 2/5 and 5/10 games are similarly deep. But today had even bigger games--the biggest, I think, was 5/10/25 PLO. All the types were there--wealthy businessmen, grizzled Nola regs, those young internet wizards who emerged from their mom's basement or their dingy dorm room, and even a few name pros (Josh Arieh was at the PLO table). Fun atmosphere.

Despite the action all around me, my table was pretty standard. Deep stacks, a lot of passive/bad players, and good action. In my first or second hand at the table, I looked down at AA in the BB and make it 17 to go vs. three limpers. Call, call, call and we see a

J82 flop ($70). I bet 40-50ish with the intention of calling a shove vs. two short stacks and reevaluating vs. the sb (400+). One short stack shoves, I call, he proudly flips J9o for top pair, and I hold.

The SB was an asian reg who, as I later learned, played higher than 1/2. He didn't seem particularly good and was content to limp/call most any raise. In literally the same spot as the last hand, I looked down at QQ in the BB, made it 17 to go, and got three calls.

($70) Q89 and the sb ships for $200 into 70 wtf. With about $400 in front of me and two players behind, I did stop and think about this for a minute, but I never seriously considered folding. I shove and the guy immediately asks, "You have flush?" "No flush. You have flush?" He shakes his head no as the turn brings the T (sigh) but the river brings the Q. I flip my quads and he shows 67off, no diamond (again, wtf!).

And it was all downhill from there. I got the money in vs a shortstack with top pair vs. a combo draw and lost, had a few cbets go wrong, and slowly bled down to about 200BBs. But the major hand happened vs. a young asian women who was the main reason that I was at the table. She had run her stack up to 600, lost it, rebought, and was playing an 80/20 game--basically she was somewhat passive preflop and very aggro post. We had a bit of history. She had made it $15 to go UTG, I made it $35 with AT and she called with about $150 behind. Flop 826 she donks $25, I shove and she tank/folds.

In the hand, I raise a limper in a straddled pot to $25 with JJ, asian women calls from the sb and everyone else folds, flop T82. With about 350 going to the flop, I bet $50 into $55ish and she snapcheckraises to $250ish (basically grabbing two red stacks and moving them into the pot). This is a pretty quick fold for me vs. most players, but vs. this woman I though that it was closer. Would she spazz with a ten? a flush draw? Could she be making a move?

After tanking for a few minutes I make the call, she flips T2 and holds. Anyone else calling here? FWIW I do think in hindsight that this is a fold. I'm effectively risking 300 to win 400, so I need 43ish% vs. her range. Unless she's spazzing pretty hard an overpair doesn't do well enough.

Biloxi

After my brief Nola visit, I drove up to the Asheville area to visit family. Ziplining, anyone? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAnJR...ture=endscreen). On the way back I decided to stop off at the Beau Rivage to take a driving break and watch the Heat-Pacers game.

I love the Beau and its uncapped games, friendly staff, and good food comps. After taking a seat with my standard $300 buyin, I found myself in two notable hands--the first and last hand of the night. I was seated next to a guy with a massive stack of chips + about 5 or 6 bills (cash plays at the Beau) who was drinking and splashing around right when I got to the table. So that was my only read when I looked down at AKo and faced his 6$ open from early position. I made it $25 to go and he called pretty quickly.

Flop AJ3 ($55), he checks I bet $40 he calls. Turn 6, check check (anyone continuing here?), river 3 and he pretty quickly bets $90 into $135 and starts talking. "You don't want it, you don't want it." He's jovial and clearly baiting me...but does he want a call or a fold? I tank fold and he tells me later that he wanted a call--but he could easily have been bsing me.

I played for another hour or so before getting tired.I looked down at my final hand UTG, AQo, and made it $15 to go (with a $300 stack). Four of us see a A82 rainbow flop, I bet $40 into $60 and get called by the button, a middle-aged guy who seemed like an average reg. He had made some hero/bad folds against the guy in the previous hand who had put him to the test for his whole stack. My read was that he was a careful, if splashy, player who wasn't eagerly stacking off with any piece of the board. My image, at this point, had to be nitty (if he was even paying attention). For these reasons, I decided to check the 8 turn with plans to value bet the river. The turn checks through and we see the J, which I don't like because of the obvious AJ possibility, but I stick to my plan of getting two streets from weaker aces and bet $75 into $140. He pretty quickly throws a pile of hundreds into the pot and I instamuck

Nola, part deaux

I played a final session last night for about four hours. The table was very good. One guy, in particular, was a terribad player who would limp/call for any amount and stack off light. In one hand, he flatted a $10 raise and, after a reggish player made it $35 on the button, called the additional $25. He checked and called a $55 bet on a 665 flop, the action checked down, and the reg disgustedly mucked after the donk showed 45o.

I took advantage of the bad player (who was on my direct left) when I raised QQ to $15 and got 4 calls. I bet $40 on a Q74flop only to see the donk make it $50 more to go. I shipped in the rest of my $300 stack, got snap called, and held (he didn't show...lord knows what his stackoff range is there).

I seat-changed two to the donk's left and ran into an interesting spot. I made it $20 to go over a bunch of limps with AA and picked up two customers: the donk and a girl to his left (to my right) who was playing sticky but super passive. She didn't like to fold, but I don't think that she realized she had the option to raise. She would flat her entire range pre and postflop, even with very strong hands.

On a Q97flop, Donk leads out for 25 into $60 and the girl flats (effective stacks are about $350). Now I'm in the awkward position of raising for protection vs. Donk, but value-owning myself vs. the girl. I decide to call and we see a Tturn, Donk leads for $30 and the girl and I flat. River 5, check/check to me. Same situation as the flop and turn: I feel like a bet gets looked up by Donk all day, but the girl will check/call with two pairs, a straight, maybe even a flush. I decide to bet $75 into the $220ish pot, hoping to get looked up by Donk. He quickly folds and the girl laughs. "If you have a flush, you got me," she says, and I know I'm cooked before she flips over 77.

Overall, I ran pretty poorly and played "ok"--maybe a B or B-, if I had to grade myself. My next post will probably be a book review. Thanks for reading!
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Old 05-29-2013, 12:35 PM   #4
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

"After hearing some exciting things about my brain, I then got the bad news. The bad news is that what poker puts the human brain through is unsustainable. I was told that if I choose to play online poker as a full time career, I will likely die of a stroke before the age of 50. They said that the human brain simply does not have the capacity to put itself through 8+ hour days of mass multi-table online poker. They said that playing online poker to that degree was quite literally one of the very worst things you can do to your brain and body. They said it wasn’t quite as bad as being an NFL player or someone who works full time around organic solvents, but it wasn’t far off. It was on the doctor’s urging that I retire from full time online poker." --Dusty Schmidt


A fascinating blog entry from Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt: http://dustyschmidt.net/dusty_schmidt_blog/ ("This is My Brain on Poker"). To be clear, Dusty isn't suggesting that everyone who plays online will damage their brains by playing poker. But he is suggesting that we think about the (often subtle) effects of mass multitabling, the quest for Supernova Elite, and the role that poker plays in our lives.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch some of WCGRider and OddOddson's 16table HU match.
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Old 06-12-2013, 01:39 PM   #5
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Big Deal, by Anthony Holden (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990)




To draw or not to draw, that is the question.
Whether 'tis safer in the player to take
The awful risk of skinning for a straight,
Or, standing pat, to raise 'em all the limit
And thus, by bluffing, get it.


This poker riff on Hamlet, which Anthony Holden quotes in Big Deal, gives you an idea of the book as a whole. Literary, playful, and philosophical, the book details the author's year-long stint as a professional poker player. While the book is part instruction manual, part strategy, and part history (of poker, of Vegas, of America and gambling), Big Deal is ultimately a poker autobiography. We get a glimpse of Holden's beginnings—his weekly “Tuesday game” and life at the Victoria Casino in London—to his whirlwhind poker adventures that take him to Malta, New Orleans, a poker cruise, and, repeatedly, to Vegas.

Most of the narrative, then, is Holden on Holden—which is usually a good thing. He comes off as a likeable guy, an excellent writer, and a less-than-stellar poker player (more on this in a bit). Holden is a writer by trade—he wrote biographies of Shakespeare and Tchaikovsky—and his prose is readable, accessible, and often insightful. As an added bonus, he's an affable, "cheeky" Brit who's all too willing to assess, and poke fun at, American culture.

Vegas

“From the air, your first sight of the place has already been otherwordly, whether you approach it from Los Angeles and the West across Death Valley, or from London, New York, and the East over the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead. Either way, there's an hour or so of infinite desert to savor from a safe seat above, with misty imaginings of the wagon trains of the old frontiersmen, and of the certain death facing anyone wandering about down there right now, before you catch your first extraordinary, breathtaking glimpse of this clutch of fantastical towers and glass palaces slapped down at random in the middle of this moonscape, this vast and utter nowhere. By night, Las Vegas from the air looks like a convention of ocean liners huddled in the midst of a dark and limitless sea” (3).

Holden is repeatedly drawn to Vegas like a moth to light, and much of the book follows his adventures there. The best portrait of Vegas, in my opinion, is still Al Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town (1983)—another English writer who plays in Holden's Tuesday Game—but Holden's sections on Vegas hold up nicely. Unlike Alvarez, who's content to describe the highstakes action as an observer, Holden actually plays in the World Series of Poker. He thus offers us a first-hand glimpse of a different era, playing hands against Stu Unger, Johnny Chan, Jack Strauss, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, and other legends. Moss, especially, comes off as a larger-than-life figure—a guy who's bought into his own mythology and seeks to embellish it whenever possible. "Ah didn' wanna win that pot anyhow," Moss drawls after Holden sucks out with a rivered set: "All that stackin..." (291).

Unfortunately, Holden's in-hand thought process—generated by at-the-table notes and, no doubt, some revisionist history—is the weakest part of the book. I couldn't tell if Holden's goal was to poke fun at himself or slyly suggest that he's, in fact, a good player. Some of the hands are lolbad—flatting raises with 4BBs and folding the flop, blinding down to 1BB in a tourney, rivering top boat and fearing the all-powerful quads. To be fair, Holden never professes to be an expert. As he puts it, "I'm well aware that the poker played in these pages is far from world standard” (xvii). The important point, I think, is that you shouldn't read this book for strategy. Be sure to take the subtitle of the book—“a year as a professional poker payer”—with a grain of salt.


Enter the Shrink


“Which of us, if any, thought hard enough about his poker performance to learn deeper truths about himself?” (184).

Chapter seven, "Enter the Shrink," is an oddball chapter in which Holden addresses “why” question. Why spend a year playing poker professionally? Why, after writing on a variety of academic subjects, did Holden want to tackle poker? Why, as his shrink puts it, has the role of poker in Holden's life “grown quite so dangerously out of proportion?” (188).

One answer, for Holden and for many others, is the countercultural impulse of poker. It offers, or at least symbolizes, freedom: “Amongst all the poker players I have known, from the hardened pros of Las Vegas to my amateur Tuesday Night brethren in London, have had one specific characteristic in common: they were all people who like to feel that they had bucked the system. They were determined to live life on their own terms” (182).

Beyond the personal, the chapter also delves into the importance of poker to American political figures: Nixon (177), Truman (179), Kennedy (180).

Notes and Questions

In Walter Matthau's opinion, “[Poker] exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism which have made our country so great” (69). Agree or disagree?

Poker as metaphor: “By betting as if you are holding the best hand, by 'representing' strength, you can frighten every other player out of the pot and take their money without even having to show your cards.
This is true of no other game except life, with which poker has a great deal in common. Most human beings conduct their lives as a series of risks, some more calculated than others. They may not like to admit it, especially to themselves, but they bluff their way through Life's complexities, both professional and personal, every day” (73, 75).

“Dostoevsky? Did you say Dostoevsky? You're reading Dostoevsky in Las Vegas?” (124). Again and again...why Dostoevsky?

Nola and poker history: “The game of poker had been born in New Orleans a few years before, in the early 1820s, when French sailors imported their own version of a game called as, which they had picked up in Persia” (263).

Cliffs

Big Deal is a well-written personal narrative about poker in the early 1990s. It presents a window into Vegas culture, the lives of early poker legends (Moss, Ungar, Chan, Amarillo Slim), and Holden's own life as a writer and poker player. Holden's style is learned and literary but also quite accessible. The book also addresses the broader significance of poker in Holden's personal life—which, by extension, prompts the reader to ask similar questions. Holden does not, however, offer useful poker strategy (nor does he pretend to). I enjoyed this book and plan to read Holden's sequel, Bigger Deal (2008).
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Old 06-12-2013, 03:52 PM   #6
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my first "book review" is above. Let me know if there are any specific books that are worth reviewing/that you'd like me to review. If any of you have thoughts on the books that appear in this thread, I'd love to hear them.

Not sure what I'll do next, but I'm leaning towards King of a Small World (1995) by Rick Bennett.
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Old 06-14-2013, 11:42 AM   #7
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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Big Deal, by Anthony Holden (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990) ... Notes and Questions ...
“Dostoevsky? Did you say Dostoevsky? You're reading Dostoevsky in Las Vegas?” (124). Again and again...why Dostoevsky?
It's been a while since I read Big Deal but I recall enjoying it and I would rank among the best of the books about playing poker. Much better than Bigger Deal -- which had its moments (and was interesting in seeing Holden having to adjust to the many changes that had taken place since his first book), but was generally only OK. I found his conclusion—that he now wants more from life than just existing on the poker circuit—interesting.

As for why Dostoevsky, I would presume because he was for a time addicted to gambling -- roulette, not poker. About a year ago I finally got around to reading his short novel The Gambler, a book he wrote in a hurry to help pay off his debts. Though there's not as much depiction of gambling as I'd anticipated (it's really about the personal relationships of the characters), there are notable scenes of a wealthy old woman and then of the narrator plunging at the tables. And, in the closing sections, there is an incisive portrayal of the narrator having become overwhelmed by his compulsion for wagering. (There has been some debate as to whether or not he will be reformed after the narrative closes, but I don’t think that that's implied—even though Dostoevsky himself was able to put roulette behind him.) Elsewhere, there are some acute observations of what it’s like to be gripped by gambling mania: “as though ... delirious with fever … my whole body tingled with fire,” and “Every gambler knows how a person may sit a day and a night at cards without ever casting a glance to right or left.”

Last edited by RussellinToronto; 06-14-2013 at 12:00 PM.
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Old 06-14-2013, 11:56 AM   #8
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

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my first "book review" is above. Let me know if there are any specific books that are worth reviewing/that you'd like me to review. If any of you have thoughts on the books that appear in this thread, I'd love to hear them.

Not sure what I'll do next, but I'm leaning towards King of a Small World (1995) by Rick Bennett.
I went on a kick a while back and read most everything I'd heard recommended. I recall Michael Craig, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King (2005) as one of the standouts. And I also enjoyed James McManus's book about playing in the World Series, Positively Fifth Street (2003)
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Old 06-14-2013, 03:49 PM   #9
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Yes, there's an extended discussion of Dostoevsky (esp The Gambler) in the "Enter the Shrink" Chapter of Big Deal. There's a lot that I want to say about Dostoevsky, but I'm going to wait for now and just keep reading. I will say that it's crazy how often he's pops up in books about poker/gambling--whether it's namedropping, discussions of his books, or blurbs on the book jacket.

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Originally Posted by RussellinToronto View Post
I went on a kick a while back and read most everything I'd heard recommended. I recall Michael Craig, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King (2005) as one of the standouts. And I also enjoyed James McManus's book about playing in the World Series, Positively Fifth Street (2003)
thanks. I think Andy Beal's story is one of the most interesting that I've heard, and I've wanted to read Craig's book for a while. I'll put it at the top of the list.
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Old 06-14-2013, 11:28 PM   #10
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Plato and Poker

Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

Plato, The Republic





I was listening to a podcast about Plato's allegory of the cave, which got me thinking about how its "message" might apply to poker. The guest on the podcast suggested that the cave allegory can be understood in three essential ways:

1. as a religious story: We live in ignorance and illusion--we "see through a glass darkly," in the apostle Paul's words--until a moment of religious illumination jolts us out of darkness and into the light of truth.

2. as a visionary approach to this world: From this perspective, the important thing isn't about turning away from the world (to the afterlife), but about seeing with a fresh, renewed perspective. Many of the Romantic poets urge us to develop an intensity of vision and a heightened awareness:

"To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour." --William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

3. mere sightseers vs. the educated observer: Take cricket. As an American watching cricket, I have a dim sense of what's happening on the field: who's scoring, when a player's committed an infraction, etc. But, as someone who's never learned the strategy (or even the rules) of the game, I'll never understand the game the way that a Brit or an cricket expert does.

The key point, in each case, has to do with distinguishing appearance from reality. This is hard to do. The prisoners in the cave are not only blind to the sun that shines outside the cave; they're being actively deceived and distracted by the puppeteers behind them.

All of which raises the question:How is the appearance of poker different from its reality? What are some key misconceptions about poker?

I'm sure that these questions can be answered in a bunch of ways. The "reality" of poker might involve an accurate understanding of what the game is "really like" or the "best" way to play it (optimal strategy). Thoughts?

One way to think about the reality of poker is to think back to your own journey from "darkness" to "light." Imagine that you walk into a poker room having never played a hand before. What's more, you don't even know how many cards are in a deck or what an "ace" is. If you sit down at the table, playing a game of poker would be like speaking in a foreign language. It would be hopeless. At this stage, you have a level 0 understanding of poker.

Next, think back to when you first started learning the game. You may have played with friends--heck, you may have even read Super System--and you know that a flush beats a straight and that a straight flush is best of all. You have some basic poker strategy--raise (or reraise) with high cards and pairs; "tight is right," "no set, no bet"; don't play hands in early position. Finally, you've developed a bit of poker etiquette: you know it's frowned upon to berate the dealer or to delay in revealing a monster hand ("the slowroll"). You've evolved into a level 1 player.

At some point, if you've put in the studying and the time, you start to realize that "common sense" will only get you so far. You begin to understand that, in order to understand poker more deeply, you must study the game in a more rigorous way. You embrace math, psychology, and counterintuition. For me, one revelation came from learning sit and go strategy--especially optimal play on the bubble. Example: there's four players left, three places pay, blinds are 200/400. There are three even stacks of 2000 and you, the chip leader, have 6000. The action folds around to you in the small blind and you look down at 29. What's the correct play?

"Common sense" might dictate that you fold your rags. But a deeper look at the situation--at the payout structure, ICM, fold equity, and villain tendencies--suggests that this is a trivial shove. Congratulations! You're now a level 2 player. When a level one player berates you for shoving with your garbage and sucking out on his AK, you simply keep quiet, knowing that he's oblivious to the deeper truths of the game.

The challenge, and the allure, of poker is that its "reality" is elusive--maybe impossible--to grasp. Players continue to study and to evolve, leaving mere "level 2" players like myself back in the cave: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QEKESA0mwg

Another question comes to mind: Who are the puppeteers that deceive or distract us from poker "as it really is"?

* The media—both mainstream and poker.

* literature, film, art.

* the poker community. Who gets to distribute and regulate poker knowledge? This was, and still is, a problem for players who make instructional videos. To what extent should players "in the know" give back to the poker community and further our communal understanding of the game? What if this knowledge reduces their winrate? One of our fellow 2+2ers has a thread discussing his life as a live grinder, and he's recently shared some insightful tips on live PLO strategy. Which got this response:

“Dude these last 3-4 pages you are giving people way to much free information. Random people in other coutnries that play PLO have spoken about this thread.

Good thread, but i really dont think you are doing anyone a favour by giving out all this information.

Keep more stuff secret imo. Cant imagine it helps your LA games at all either” (http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/sh...postcount=1514 )

Plato reminds us that the journey to "see more"--in life or in poker--is difficult but rewarding:


"When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day? Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is."


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Old 06-17-2013, 11:43 PM   #11
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

King of A Small World by Rick Bennet (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1995)




"I never worry about losing money gambling. I always worry about losing it in life. Having it fall out of my pocket. Having it stolen. Something. It's a compulsion. The more I win, the more I feel it" (16). --Joey Moore

Rick Bennet has written a very fine poker novel. Novel should perhaps be emphasized here, since the book is about much more than poker. The action is narrated by Joey Moore, or “Pinocchio Joe,” a 25-year-old grinder living near Baltimore. Joey's obsession with poker intersects with a host of other subjects: race and class relations in Maryland; the politics of running a charity poker room; romance, fatherhood, and family; and, most broadly, the tension between freedom and responsibility.

Joey's entire life--his friends, acquaintances, even his landlord--is shaped by his decision to play cards for a living. We couldn't have a better guide through the world of underground card rooms, charity casinos, and spontaneous trips to Vegas. Joey often contrasts the life of the cardplayer—especially the freedom it represents—to the 9-to-5 grind: "I love movies, and I love to go alone. In the work week, midday, when the theaters are least crowded. When the suckers are at their jobs, and I have the place to myself" (25). Joey later explains that “Guys who make more money than me, have more money than me, are always worried about money. And I don't want to live like that...I have the only thing that counts—my freedom.” (79).


The book is also a poker novel. Throughout Big Deal, Anthony Holden never convinced me that he was a capable poker player (which, as I mention in a review of that book, isn't his primary goal). But Pinocchio Joe comes off as a skillful rounder—a guy who proves himself through his actions and plays at the table than through any longwinded poker strategy. The longest digression that we do get on poker fundamentals is worth quoting:

"Good poker is hard work. Technical skills, you might say. Learning the odds, remembering exposed cards, having the discipline to fold, maintaining attentiveness to your opponent's appearance. Great poker is courage. Technical skills will get you through most poker situations because most poker situations don't give rise to your emotions. But the big decisions do. By definition, you might even say. You certainly want to keep your emotions down but if they do come up, as they will at key moments, you have to deal with them. And the secret to finding the truth in emotional moments is this: your conscious fear will mirror your subconscious knowledge. If your subconscious knows your opponent is bluffing, your conscious will fear that he isn't. And then, if you have strength, pride, character, or whatever you want to call it, you'll conquer that fear, and act on what you know to be the truth" (11).

Beyond these brief flashes of poker insight, Bennett realizes that less is more when it comes to poker. Only a few hands are detailed in the novel.

A major development occurs when Joey, who's prided himself on his poker acumen and the freedom of being his own boss, is offered a job as the manager of a charity poker room. I had no idea that Maryland allowed (allows?) casino play for charity (the official purpose of Joey's charity casino, for instance, is to help women get off welfare; the employees make their money by skimming off the top). Suddenly, Joey makes 3000 a week for only a few hours work, and he doesn't have to deal with variance or bad beats. To borrow from that other Baltimore-based work of art--how could I resist?--Joey considers the value of the “game beyond the game.”




You know, Avon, you gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Huh? Was it the rep? Was it so our names could ring out on some ****ing ghetto street corner, man? Naw, man. There’s games beyond the ****ing game. --Stringer Bell

This newfound stability doesn't last. Joey's girlfriend, Laura, announces that she's pregnant. What makes matters worse, one of Joe's poker opponents—a forty-something guy nicknamed Lotto—claims that he, not Joey, is the father of Laura's child. Joey tries, and fails, to convince Laura to get an abortion. “'There's nothing more important than being a mother,'” she says. I guess pregnant women keep that statement ready like a robber does a gun” (103). The action rapidly shifts to a number of other problems involving Vegas debauchery, Joey's family past, and--wait for it--the mob (I'll spare you any spoilers. The ending doesn't disappoint, though).

Notes and Questions

“Poker is life. Human interaction. The interaction of desires. All of life, except love, can be found in the game. And not all of life can or should be about love. Poker is what life can be apart from love: rewarding of honesty and courage; punishing of childishness and egotism; creating of an understanding of the nature of randomness; developing of qualities that lead to love, of self and others, of friend and foe” (267).

* another parallel between luck in poker and luck in life. Convinced that he was dealt a bad hand by Laura's unplanned pregnancy, Joe instantly falls in love with his son and commits to raising him. He realizes, only in hindsight, that “Sometimes good luck is bad luck, and bad luck good...You just don't always know. There's no such thing as not gambling” (271).

* "Poker is all about having the courage to confront the truth. To admit to yourself what you know to be true, no matter how much you wish it weren't" (15).

* lies and "lies." Joey's skill in betting and bluffing gets him the nickname of "Pinocchio Joe: Yet he repeatedly stresses an ethic of honesty. "I don't lie, cheat, or steal. How many businessmen can say that? How many lawyers?" he asks his sometime-girlfriend, Katrina. His best friend Nug, a reliable guy, "shares [his] code of honesty." Any contradiction here?

Cliffs

King of a Small World is a must-read. Like Rounders, the book doesn't dwell on poker but uses it as a springboard to touch on a variety of powerful themes. While the writing isn't quite as good as the acting in Rounders (but, really, how could it be?), Bennett has written a gripping story. Read this book!
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Old 06-22-2013, 12:30 PM   #12
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Good luck. You're going to have one Hell of an adventure! Keep it going. A few passages from "The Big Deal" is all it takes for my poker juices to rise to the top. Love gambling stories! Have many myself, just can't write as elegantly as you. My old arse is only good for a short story here and there. @DennyArky
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Old 06-22-2013, 06:12 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arkyten View Post
Good luck. You're going to have one Hell of an adventure! Keep it going. A few passages from "The Big Deal" is all it takes for my poker juices to rise to the top. Love gambling stories! Have many myself, just can't write as elegantly as you. My old arse is only good for a short story here and there. @DennyArky
thanks! i really value your feedback. I would love to hear some of your stories, if you have the time.

next up is a review of Broke, by Brandon Adams
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Old 06-25-2013, 11:42 AM   #14
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

Broke, by Brandon Adams (iUniverse, 2008)




"Look, if you're a poker player, you've got to be able to take bad beats well. Here's the secret: When all the money's in, and everything is left to chance, tell yourself that you deserve to lose" (15).

Brandon Adams is a successful online poker player, part-time Harvard professor, and economist (he just wrote a book on America's role in the global economy): http://www.amazon.com/Setting-Sun-Th...=brandon+adams. He's probably more well-known--at least in poker circles--as that Harvard guy who plays well and occasionally owns Phil Helmuth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1tcCH2a7Fg. There's no substitute for experience, and Adams clearly knows the game that he's writing about.

It's hardly surprising, then, that Broke reads like a poker autobiography disguised as a novel. The protagonist, Raf, represents the protypical online prodigy of the 2000s--young, fearless, and grounded by math rather than intuition. For Raj, the game can be separated into four essential categories: basic poker math, conditional probability, game theory, and psychology, or "tells."



One of the distinctive things about the novel is that it's one of the first to capture poker in the online era. The story begins when Raf walks into a Bellagio hotel room where his friend, Matt, is stuck deep in a heads up match on Ultimate Bet.Thousands are won and lost with the click of a mouse Adams thus captures the early online poker boom--a time when there was plenty of money to be made and no awareness of the impending UB scandal, UIGEA, and Black Friday.


Raf (and his two friends Matt and Rob) struggles to define the role that poker should play in their lives. Put simply, Is poker the problem or the answer? "To an outsider," Raf declares, "I"m just another case of talent wasted on poker. As one of my friends likes to say, something is wrong when the best minds of our generation are calculating pot odds. I like to think that my case is unique, in that poker pulled me out of a deep hole instead of leading me into one" (12). Our assessment of of the book depends on this "I like to think." Is poker indeed capable of saving Raf, or is he just duping himself?

Unfortunately, we never get enough information to make a judgment on Raf's relationship to poker. What is this "deep hole" that Raf fell into? Forget about Raf's merits as a player; what about his qualities as a person? Aside from a brief discussion of a motorcycle accident in Europe, there's almost nothing about Raf's part, present, or future--just trips to and from Vegas and Atlantic City, with a few discussions of game theory thrown in. The book would have been much more effective, in my opinion, if we learned more about Raj and his friends. One of the chief merits of King of A Small World was its strong characters who were people away from the poker table. The three characters in Broke are wholly defined by the game that they play.

The pace of the book also leaves much to be desired. At a mere eighty pages, the book is comprised of 4-5 page "chapters" that discusses various subjects--girlfriends and poker, an online heads up match, sports betting, staking, traveling, and a few other topics. When we do reach a section that has some potential--a juicy AC tournament in which Raf plays for an 800K first prize--the scene is almost laughably short. The novel ends as it began--abruptly, with little indication of whether Raj has learned something from his experiences. Having lost a bunch of money, he considers getting out of the game and into finance, but nothing is certain.


Poker and Health

Adams is less intent on describing the highs of poker than its lows. The second chapter, "Addiction," explicitly links poker to smoking and drug use. As Raj puts it, "The MRI of a gambling addict's brain while gambling look nearly indistinguishable from the MRI of a coke addict's brain on coke. Both are pretty effective at shortcutting the pleasure circuit. We're just a couple of addicts chasing dopamine jots to the brain" (7). "There is one drug that people slow down on when they start poker--nicotine. Apparently poker is more addictive than cigarettes. Most poker rooms are nonsmoking, and it is not uncommon or two-pack-a-day smokers to go three hours without a cigarette while playing" (33).

As Raj's comments might suggest, he's a level-headed and perhaps a brilliant guy who falls prey to the very addictions that he discusses. After losing 50K in a 400/800 live limit game, Raj discusses the toll that poker can take on the psyche. It's not surprising that antidepressants are popular among poker player. Xanax, pot, and even cocaine are used among pros. "All this suggets that poker is, on the whole, extremely damaging to health" (32).



Notes and Questions

Is poker bad for your health?

Raf explicitly links poker with addiction. At the same time, he believes that the game "saved" him from ruin. Which is it?

Yet another first person narrative. Why this impulse toward first person in novels about poker?

* poker is personal. it's always hard to get outside one's own perspective, although this is precisely the challenge when thinking through a hand or estimating your opponent. Any poker novels out there with multiple perspectives/narrators? Think of what Faulkner did in As I Lay Dying...a book filled with first-person accounts of people watching and judging each other. This approach could be put to good use in a poker context.


Cliffs

Brandon Adams's foray into fiction-writing leaves much to be desired. Broke is a novel written by a poker player rather than a poker book written by a novelist. At its best, Adams offers an insightful glimpse into the lives of precocious grinders--and perhaps into his own life as a successful jack-of-all trades figure. But the book would have benefited from deeper character development and a more consistent plot.
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Old 07-12-2013, 01:47 PM   #15
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Re: The Poker Project (playing and writing about poker in the U.S.)

"So I raise with two queens and Doyle calls me. Flop comes with two queens and a king. He checks and I bet. Doyle calls. Turn comes and he checks, so I bet again. He calls. I bet big on the river and Doyle folds two Kings face up. 'Son,' he tells me, 'your quads are good.'"

The old man to my left--a bald, grizzled construction worker--stopped talking and turned his attention back to the table. I wondered whether his story was true or whether this was yet another piece of poker mythology. As we sat next to each other--the old man talking and telling, me listening and nodding--a man with horn-rimmed glasses and an LSU hat sat down to our left with a stack of $400. After being dealt his first hand UTG, he took a red stack of chips and slammed it onto the table. "Let's go!" It folded around to my construction worker friend, who grinned and paused to check his cards in the BB. "I know what you got." "I know you know!" said LSU, flipping over the A. LSU got a fold and proudly flipped over his other card, the A. "Don't want any nonsense from this table. We're playing poker now, boys!"

Yes. Yes we are And I look forward to writing down some of it here...should get a lot of hands in during the next month or so.
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