August 18, 2003

The Flop, the Turn and the River

One of my favorite sites to lose an hour or two once in a while is the New York Times Book Review. I used to get this about once a month or so, either when I was travelling or when I happened to find myself at a bookstore on a lazy Sunday. I'd throw out four or five bucks for the Sunday New York Times. Most of what I wanted to read, though, wouldn't be in the paper but in the Sunday supplements, the book review and the NYT Magazine, which usually has one or two interesting, off-beat stories.

Well, now you can get this stuff online if you are willing to give the NYT website a cookie that says who you are. So I've been getting a lot of good book ideas lately from them. One of them is the book I just finished, "Positively Fifth Street" by James McManus. This book chronicles a writer for Harper's magazine who was assigned to report on the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas while also covering an ongoing murder trial in which a member of the famous Binion family was killed.

The author decides to use his pay to help him buy in to a satellite table, which he hopes will enable him to qualify for the $10,000 entry fee into the tournament. So his book is about his experience in the tournament but also in part about the history of the gaming industry and the background of the murder trial he's covering. I could've done without the part about the murder trial, especially the weird (even if mostly true) first chapter, and the aftermath. I did enjoy reading about the background of the Binions and the tournament, and of course, his writing about his experiences in the tournament was excellent, a really fun read.

This book made me get a computer program for the Mac (shareware, $10) to play some Texas Hold 'Em, because it sounded like a fun game. I'd never play in real life, because I have absolutely zero skill with maintaining a poker face, as my wife would be the first to tell you, I'm sure. I also couldn't handle the stress in real life. The most gut-wrenching situations in the book involve a player who statistically plays extremely well and has the odds heavily stacked in his or her favor. And then the last card comes up and screws 'em. I couldn't deal with that agony. I'll play with computer money, thanks.

Posted by Observer at August 18, 2003 08:15 AM
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When I held a world series of poker style tourney earlier this year, it was both fun as hell and stressful and tiring. Sometimes you do have a pair of aces down or Big Slick (aka Ace King) and you get beat by a lesser hand on the last card (the river or fifth street). Uff-da.

I'm seriously thinking about paying the $125 entry fee for one of the double-satellite tables next year, they're open when I'm there. Either that or trying one of the $2 tables.

If you play conservative, with rare irrational exceptions, you tend to do fairly well.

As for the poker face, a couple of botox shots and dark sunglasses could fix that!! :)

Still, if I did well in the world series, I can't imaging playing poker 16 hours a day for a week. It'd kill me.

Posted by: Humbaba on August 18, 2003 08:59 AM

Another fun book is a novel called "Shut up and Deal," an impressionistic account of the life of a pro poker player. Really gritty, lots of fun, makes the whole life a little less appealing than McManus or some other writers do.

Posted by: psteve on August 18, 2003 09:48 AM

I recognized those Hold 'Em terms right off the bat. Heh.

As the saying goes, you can play well, get the cards, and still lose. So it goes. It's still the most fun you can have. Have a mini tourny coming up ($20 entry) and am hoping for 3rd or better, which is easily within the realm of possibility but you never know.

By the way, one of the amateurs who's still in at the final table (although it's over, and he's either won or lost, but they haven't aired it yet) won a $40 online tourny to get his seat in the world series. $40 to cover a $10k buyin, and he's going to win at minimum, $100k. No need for a poker face online, plus you can use it to your advantage.

Posted by: Polerand on August 18, 2003 10:44 AM

Wait a sec, Humbaba, you're hosting a *poker tournament* and you wonder how *I* find the time to play Diablo? :)

I would be so dead money at any tournament, but I am starting to play limit Hold 'Em against the computer now. Pretty fun.

Posted by: Observer on August 18, 2003 12:59 PM

It was at my friend's house. It was one Friday (or Sat) night from about 9pm (after I put my two babies to bed) until about 3am.

So yeah, I wonder how you have the time to play diablo.

Posted by: Humbaba on August 18, 2003 04:58 PM

(shrug) Like I said, I don't have a real job. Let's see, we also don't watch TV, don't leave the house much, sleep about 6 hours per day... It also helps that we quit Clan Lord a long while back.

Posted by: Observer on August 18, 2003 11:07 PM

Observer, I can't find an e-mail link for you on this site. Drop me line. I have something you would probably be pretty interested in that i would love to send you.

Posted by: Bav on August 19, 2003 08:09 AM

To preserve pseudo-anonymity, I don't post things like my email address or university name or what have you to this blog. That way, search engines can't pick it up by accident, in which case someone might read this who really shouldn't (and the blog would vanish in an instant, most likely). It gives me a bit more freedom to talk about my students and my work and so forth, to make all the people anonymous.

I would never, for example, republish a personal email from someone unless I was sure they would remain anonymous. Ethically, I should ask their permission anyway if I am going to republish emails verbatim, but I usually paraphrase or pseudo-quote to get across the gist of the emails I get.

Posted by: Observer on August 19, 2003 09:20 AM

Oops, forgot to add this: If you do want to contact me, just leave a comment. The MT software that manages this blog automatically emails me every comment that is made along with the commenter's email address, if that is provided in the comment. I can email you right back.

Posted by: Observer on August 19, 2003 09:21 AM

Yep, that's exactly what I did and you are true to your word! :)

Posted by: Bav on August 19, 2003 11:14 AM

I guess that makes sense. I just never get around to playing computer games at home anymore now that I have kids. The only time I game is at lunch at work.

Posted by: Humbaba on August 19, 2003 01:00 PM

Ever since I've had kids (going on two years now this September 11), I've deleted all the games from my work computer. That way, when I am up there, I get everything possible done, then I bring as little work home as possible.

One big reason we don't play CL anymore is the lack of flexibility. In CL, it is very hard to repeatedly go away from keyboard (AFK) during a 2-3 hour hunt. In Diablo, if the baby is crying or a kid needs something or what have you, I just town portal and pick up again later (or not). For similar reasons, I also read a lot more now than I used to. And I also use up a fair chunk of free time surfing and blogging.

It is very difficult for me to imagine us playing in any real-time online games for a long time to come because of time constraint issues (I'm amazed we managed it as long as we did after we got together...I guess it was just habit and we enjoyed the experience playing together and with "voice-stone"). Maybe when Daniel is 18 and the other kids are all gone, but by then, I'm sure we'll have other interests.

Posted by: Observer on August 19, 2003 01:14 PM

Now that I completely understand. The other reason I don't play clan lord at home is I am pretty bored with it. I'm not renewing my subscription when it expires next month.

Posted by: Humbaba on August 19, 2003 03:16 PM

Although this book has some strong points, I now realize that about the only original (good) thing about it is the author's personal story. The rest of the background stuff on gambling seems to be just derived from "The Biggest Game in Town" by A. Alvarez, which I reviewed months after I read McManus' book (follow link for review). Oh well, at least this book got me started on a neat little genre. If you are new to it, read the Alvarez book first.

Posted by: Observer on May 2, 2004 07:20 AM