Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Not the Madman Theory

I’m only finally getting around to this much-derided article from Wired last week titled “How Poker Theory Explains Ted Cruz’s Convention Speech” by Jason Tanz.

The speech was quite something, by the way, with Cruz very deliberately withholding a specific endorsement of the party's nominee, smirking all the way.

Saw a number of responses to the Wired piece last week, most of which seemed to find the poker analogy weakly presented. Also saw several eyeball-roll references to the article’s reliance on Phil Hellmuth’s “animal types” theory as presented in his 2003 book Play Poker Like the Pros.

You remember Hellmuth’s idea, don’t you? As a way of presenting certain categories of players according to playing styles, Hellmuth described the mouse (squeaky tight), the lion (aggressive and bluffy), the jackal (loose and maniacal), the elephant (unmovable calling station), and the eagle (soaring over the rest as “one of the top 100 players in the world”).

In actuality, the idea to explain different playing styles in such a manner isn’t such a bad one, particularly when addressing relatively untutored players (as most readers of Hellmuth’s book were). The presentation in the book is kind of rushed and a little vague, though, making the “animal types” idea a bit less useful than it could have been.

Meanwhile for someone in 2016 to bring it up as a seemingly unchallenged bit of “game theory” as Tanz does is not nearly as brilliant an idea as the author probably thought it was. He identifies Donald Trump as a jackal, then tries to argue that Cruz is one, too, with his RNC speech showing his willingness to play wild and loose. He then tries to give Cruz some of the characteristics of the lion as well, crediting him in a guarded way with having at least some strategic know-how.

Tanz does successfully highlight the importance of position in poker, noting how Cruz’s place in the speaking order (before others) was disadvantageous. But concluding by saying “maybe Cruz mis-bet” again belies the author’s understanding of the game. (Who says “mis-bet”?)

There’s one other problem in the article, though -- a passing reference to Richard Nixon that also misses the mark. Here’s the line:

“Jackals can be difficult to play against because, as in Nixon’s Mad Man theory, they don’t abide by the rational rules of poker.”

That’s more or less what Hellmuth says about jackals, but that’s not what the “madman theory” actually was. Rather than being an example of someone recklessly betting and raising without any seeming logic, the madman theory concerned projecting the image of someone who “played” that way, but who in actuality did not. It was, at its core, a strategy of bluffing.

Via others, Nixon wished to convince foreign leaders that he was irrational and ready to bomb away on a whim. For example, during the prolonged and mostly unsuccessful negotiations with the North Vietnamese, there were multiple instances of Nixon having National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger try to represent RN in this way, hoping it would frighten the North Vietnamese into a truce.

The comparison in the Wired article is thus entirely misleading, suggesting the “madman theory” wasn’t an actual strategy, but just a literal description of Nixon’s “mad” style of dealing with certain, unfriendly opponents.

Nixon was kind of mad, mind you. But the “madman theory” wasn’t this.

Image: Play Poker Like the Pros, Phil Hellmuth, available via Amazon.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Asynchronous Audience

Over the last few days I’ve gradually been listening to the final PokerNews Podcast of the 2016 World Series of Poker (episode #406) -- of the summer portion of the WSOP, anyway. Kind of just the way things worked out in terms of my listening opportunities, although there wasn’t such an urgency to listen right away as there was with earlier episodes since this one recapped the action as it concluded on that final day when the Main Event played down from 27 to nine.

That’s where the Main Event will remain, of course, for approximately 100 more days until the “November Nine” (which starts at the end of October) finally gets going.

There are a lot of good interviews in this episode -- the ones with Gordon Vayo, Cliff Josephy, and Griffin Benger stand out as especially interesting. Again, I’ve said it before (and recently), but Remko Rinkema is terrific with these.

Along the way Remko and Donnie Peters talk through that last day, recounting highlights and big hands. Which is how most of us will be experiencing that day (and the couple preceding it) once ESPN begins airing its coverage -- not until Sunday, September 11, actually.

In other words, the WSOP shows won’t begin on ESPN until after the NFL has already begun, as the network is obviously once more using poker as a kind of “counterprogramming” to football. Doesn’t matter too much, though, as I imagine many will go the DVR route, watch “on demand” via the WatchESPN app, or view the episodes online in some other fashion when and where they wish. Kind of like the way I’m listening to the PNPod.

If you think about it, those of us who like to follow the WSOP Main Event now experience this particular tournament very much like other “series” people watch on demand -- i.e., dramas, comedies, etc. That delivery method also creates conditions for the same sort of “asynchronous” dialogue about the tournament we often have online via various social media outlets and discussion forums.

All of which means our talk about the tournament so far has been necessarily scattered and strung out. Even when the episodes start airing seven weeks from now, they’ll only serve as vague points of reference for the discussion as it goes forward -- apart, perhaps, from a big hand or two (such as Benger’s aces-over-kings ouster of the talkative William Kassouf in 17th) which might get us all on the same page for a brief moment.

Not saying this is good or bad, just different from most major poker tournaments and sporting events that are covered live (or essentially live), and perhaps more like other facets of entertainment culture that are not collectively experienced at once. At least the final table will give us a chance to witness and respond to the WSOP Main Event as a group.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk about the WSOP Main Event, well, go right ahead. We’ll catch up eventually.

Image: “Scattered Time,” dommylive. CC BY 2.0.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Pay Dat Man Hees Mahney

Some of you have probably seen this already, but I thought I’d end the week by sharing it here, anyway.

A tip of the fedora to our buddy, Remko Rinkema, for having tweeted about it yesterday -- a short three-minute clip from a longer interview Matt Damon recently gave to BBC Radio 1.

During the clip Damon talks about the 1998 film Rounders with which most of us in poker are still obsessed after all of these years.

Damon starts off by noting how when the film was made, the skill element in poker wasn’t appreciated by the larger public nearly as much as is the case today. He also chats a little about having gotten the chance to visit the underground clubs in New York on which the ones in the film were based.

From there Damon moves on to share a hilarious anecdote about John Malkovich, a.k.a. Teddy KGB. I won’t spoil the fun if you haven’t seen the clip yet, other than to say it involves Malkovich appearing to confess to a major bluff to Damon while actually only making a smaller one:

Image: Rounders (1998) (dir., John Dahl), Amazon.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Wild Bill’s Last Hand

Over in the “Poker & Pop Culture” series on PokerNews I’ve reached the end of a section focusing on “saloon poker” during the 19th century, mostly focusing on some of the more notable names associated with poker of the era.

This week’s column is all about James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, covering his story in brief including his famous murder at a poker table in 1876. From there, though, I move on to talk more broadly about the idea of the “dead man’s hand” as it has played out in popular culture over the almost 140 years since.

Hickok, as many know, was said to be holding two pair, aces and eights, at the time he was murdered. In the column I talk about how in fact there were several other poker hands designated the “dead man’s hand” before a book about Hickock in the 1920s helped solidify the association between the term and his hand.

I also get into some -- not all -- of the later references to the dead man’s hand and/or aces and eights, a catalogue that includes John Wayne, R.P. McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Motörhead, and Bob Dylan among others.

Here are links to all the “saloon poker” posts, if you’re curious to explore any of them:

  • Digging for Gold (and Aces) in California
  • Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, A Premium Pair
  • The Many Versions of Bat Masterson
  • Lady Gamblers and Poker Alice
  • The Long, Strange Life of the Dead Man’s Hand
  • My primary goal with these articles is to highlight the many ways poker enters “mainstream” popular culture, and not necessarily to write a straightforward history of poker as others have done (including most recently James McManus in his 2009 book Cowboys Full). However, particularly during these early installments of the series, I have nonetheless spent some time narrating the game’s early history to set up a useful context for what’s to come.

    The next few articles come under the heading of “steamboat poker,” then after a brief discussion of poker in the Civil War I’ll be moving on to consider the game as it appeared in a variety of contexts -- in early clubs, on the bookshelf (with the first poker strategy titles), and in homes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Photo: Wild Bill Hickok, public domain.

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    Wednesday, July 20, 2016

    On Plagiarism and Selfhood

    Way back when I taught my first college courses while still in graduate school, the internet was only just starting to become a significant part of our lives. In fact, I made it all the way through the Ph.D. before the change really happened, meaning I was part of the very last group of dissertation writers who didn’t have the web as a significant resource.

    In other words, if I wanted to follow some avenue of inquiry relevant to my topic, I couldn’t type a few keywords in a box and be swiftly delivered answers to questions and sources to consult. That’s not to say there weren’t any resources online for me then (the mid-to-late 1990s). But they were quite limited, usually only providing some general direction for my journeys back into “the stacks” at the library where I spent countless hours (years, actually) tracking down leads, gathering evidence, and supporting the four-hundred-page-plus argument I ended up making about 17th- and 18th- century British literature.

    For undergrads, the early web provided a lot of tempting “short cuts” when it came to essay writing, including a few very popular and notorious “paper mill”-type sites that provided ready made three-to-five page compositions for download, sometimes for purchase. Students could find plenty of other sites enticing them to cut-and-paste their way through an assignment, and unsurprisingly more than a few from that era gave in to the temptation.

    Teachers had to adapt to the new technology, and so very early on in my teaching I had to make a special effort with students to address both what plagiarism was and how to avoid it, with the penalty for being guilty of plagiarism being severe -- zero credit for the assignment for a first offense, and a failing grade for the course for a second. (That said, many colleges and universities have honor codes that make even greater punishments necessary for plagiarism, including even being expelled.)

    Also, as I explained to my students then, when it came to plagiarism -- i.e., presenting someone else’s words and/or thoughts as if they were your own, without attribution -- intention didn’t affect how it would be handled. Whether you meant to plagiarize or not, you still got the penalty.

    Therefore it was critical for students to learn both how to use sources effectively and how to cite properly. In fact, over time, I came to view this very skill as the most important one students learned in college, and the one that distinguished college-level writing (or “academic” writing) from pretty much every other kind of writing they had been asked to do before.

    I’ll never forget one of the first instances of plagiarism I encountered from a student. I believe the essay was about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It was about halfway through the semester, and the essay had been submitted by a young woman whom I had already come to regard as one of the brighter ones in the class. She participated actively in class discussions, had done well on quizzes, and was clearly thoughtful and articulate.

    The essay she had handed in, though, was much too sophisticated in its approach to have been written by an undergrad, and a quick check online revealed it had been lifted entirely from a website. I asked the student to meet me in the office I was able to use that semester -- I was kind of “office-sitting” for a faculty member away on a sabbatical -- in order to discuss her essay.

    After she arrived, I told her there was a problem with her paper, doing so in a way that gave her an obvious opening to go ahead and confess what she’d done. When she didn’t, I eventually pulled out a printout of the web page and her essay, setting them down side by side on the end of the desk. It wasn’t overly dramatic -- I wasn’t acting like a triumphant attorney catching a defendant having made a guilt-confirming contradiction. In fact, while I can’t remember exactly what I said, I remember being very careful not to seem too accusatory or upset.

    I just wanted to give the student a chance to admit what she’d done so we could move past it. Whether she confessed or not, she wouldn’t be getting credit for the assignment, and I wanted it to be very clear how important it was for her not to make the same mistake again.

    What do you think happened next? I remember having spent some effort thinking ahead of time of a couple of possible responses the student might have. But the one she gave I did not expect in the least.

    She didn’t confess. She didn’t make excuses. She denied it. Over and over.

    Eventually her voice began to falter and a few tears even showed, but she kept right on professing her innocence. She had no idea how it came to be that the thousand or so words of her essay were identical and in the exact sequence as the ones appearing on a website she claimed never to have seen before. It was an incredible coincidence, sure, but she had no explanation for it.

    I don’t remember much else about the episode, other than the fact that after the student received zero credit for that assignment, all of the subsequent essays she turned in were all very obviously her own. The meeting was a learning experience for me, too, and would affect how I would approach the issue going forward.

    Of course, I’m reminded of all this thanks to the brouhaha this week over Melania Trump’s speech on Monday at the Republican National Convention and its frankly incredible inclusion of passages (some verbatim) from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In particular, the initial denials and rationalizations put forth by various party representatives made me think back to my student and her refusal to admit any wrongdoing.

    We have a belated explanation of it all today from a speechwriter who likely has successfully scapegoated herself into causing the embarrassment to fade away for the Republicans. I was kind of incensed, though, by all of the excuse-making beforehand, including Chris Christie’s asinine defense it wasn’t plagiarism since most of the speech was original.

    To be specific, Christie was asked on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday whether or not the speech was an example of plagiarism. “No,” he responded, “not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different from Michelle Obama’s speech.”

    As a teacher, I detest this statement. It’s a bit like defending the player who cheats on only a small number of hands in a poker tournament, playing the other 93% on the square. It’s nonsense. It also helps further the idea that when a person speaks in public or writes for an audience, being clear about sources and claims about the originality of your ideas isn’t that big of a deal.

    This might seem like a small issue, but to me it’s much broader and potentially damaging. When I teach students how to write, I’m teaching them also about taking responsibility for what they say when entering public discourse. How they must be able to stand behind everything they communicate, including giving clear, unambiguous credit when borrowing ideas or words from others. Christie and others this week have been suggesting that taking responsibility for what we say is not important -- that we can be selective about when and where we have to stand behind our words, abandoning such responsibility if needed.

    I realize that Christie himself wholly operates within the poisoned context of political discourse in which the idea of being held to account for one’s words is laughable. Like many other politicians, Christie only occasionally has demonstrated such a sense of responsibility for what he says, and in fact over the last year has frequently contradicted himself so blatantly so as to confirm he has less concern than most politicians in this regard.

    If you are my student, when I’m reading your paper about Heart of Darkness I want to know what you think of the book and what it means. I don’t want to hear what others think about it, and I sure don’t want you to share what others think about it as if those words and ideas are your own. That’s more important to me even than the thoughtfulness or depth of insight you have to share.

    Plagiarism is a mean-sounding word. It almost seems rude. And maybe for a certain segment of the population, it sounds like something that should only concern eggheads and bookworms -- people who have spent too much time in libraries or classrooms and not enough in the real world.

    But consider this. Stealing another’s ideas and words and presenting them as one’s own is obviously harmful to the uncredited source. But it’s much more harmful to the person doing the stealing. It’s a denial of self, an admission that a person has decided it is better to pass off someone else’s point of view as that person’s own.

    Sure, the internet has confused things for many. It’s hard to know what is real, what’s being fabricated, and who is cutting-and-pasting. The idea of “authorship” has gotten complicated and perhaps even become less meaningful to many, what with so much borrowing and so little attribution happening everywhere we look.

    Even so, don’t plagiarize. Even a little bit. Or maybe the recommendation would be more effective if I put it another way.

    Don’t give up yourself.

    Image: “PlaGiaRisM,” Digital Rebel. CC BY 2.0.

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    Tuesday, July 19, 2016

    The Return of the American Online Grinder

    Have to confess I hit the sack early last night, only following those hand-for-hand updates from the World Series of Poker Main Event until they’d gotten down to just under two tables. Looks like they managed to hit the nine-handed final table right at midnight (judging by the time stamps at WSOP.com), so it wasn’t a short final day but not too outrageously long either.

    Eyeing the final nine players, I can say for sure I’ve covered four of them previously in tournaments -- Cliff Josephy, Kenny Hallaert, Vojtech Ruzicka, and Griffin Benger. I probably also reported on Jerry Wong at some point, though don’t remember him quite as well.

    Probably the most interesting, obvious thread when looking at the final nine is the extensive and well known online background of Josephy (“JohnnyBax”), Hallaert (“SpaceyFCB”), Benger (“Flush_Entity”), Ruzicka (“Vojta_R”), Wong (“hummylun”), and Gordon Vayo (“holla@yoboy”).

    There were other big online winners who nearly got there, too, like James Obst (“Andy McLEOD”) who ended in 13th, Tom Marchese (“Kingsofcards”) who took 14th, and Jared Bleznick (“Harrington10”) who finished 16th.

    Of course for guys like Josephy, Vayo, Wong, and Marchese (Americans), online poker hasn’t been that much of an option for the past five-plus years. (Bleznick, of course, has been the focus of a lot of multi-accounting speculation in the past, including post-Black Friday.)

    Sam “@SamSquid” Grafton -- Benger’s co-commentator on the Global Poker League -- tweeted today how he was looking back on the entire series as having signaled a next, belated chapter in the story of U.S. online pros.

    “This year’s WSOP seems to confirm the reinvention of the last generation of US online regs into the dominant force in the post-BF live arena,” suggested Grafton. He went on to list Andrew Lichtenberger, Tony Dunst, Ryan D’Angelo, Paul Volpe, Kyle Julius, Shaun Deeb, Michael Gagliano, and Josephy as players who did well this summer in Vegas who formerly played prominent roles online -- all “top names on P5s and on training sites” when Grafton first started playing online.

    “Real impressive the way these guys have survived and thrived after being stripped of their main source of income,” Grafton concluded.

    It does seem like kind of a milestone of sorts being passed, perhaps given even more emphasis by Josephy being chip leader among the final nine. As he noted in his interview with the PokerNews Podcast a couple of days ago, Josephy “retired” the “JohnnyBax” nickname back in April 2011, having been made to step away from that version of himself.

    Josephy’s extensive backing of other players also makes him the hub of a huge network of others, many of whom likewise transitioned from online to live. He made reference to his backing of others in this year’s Main Event in the PNPod interview, too, saying how they’d all busted and joking “I guess sometimes you gotta do the work yourself.”

    These players represent a small subset of the most skilled and successful U.S. online pros, although they do (as Grafton suggests) represent a larger group who have managed to make the online-to-live transition. Of course, a much larger group made the online-to-something-else transition, but it’s still interesting and notable to consider the significance of the success of these few.

    Image: Full Tilt Poker.

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    Monday, July 18, 2016

    The Last Long Day

    The World Series of Poker Main Event has long been a special one in terms of its structure, with the two-hour levels being more or less entirely unique when it comes to tournament poker. I can’t think of another live tournament that has ever employed such lengthy levels.

    I don’t know when the WSOP first instituted the two-hour levels. I know they were in place in 2003, and perhaps before that as well. Of course, a starting stack back in 2003 was just 10,000 chips (one chip = one dollar).

    In 2007 they moved to what they called “double stacks” for many events including the Main, which meant ME players began with 20,000. Then in 2009 they upped it again to “triple stacks” of 30,000 where it stayed until 2015. Then this year Main Event players (still paying $10K to play) began with 50,000, superficially turning the event into a “deep-stacked” tournament.

    Of course, the schedule of increases for the blinds and antes have been adjusted as well, which diminishes somewhat the depth of the stacks in a relative sense, making them more comparable to what has been used before.

    Today is the last day of the summer for the WSOP and the Main Event, with 27 players returning and a plan to play down to a final table of nine. Looks like they are partway through Level 31, where the blinds are 100,000/200,000 with a 30,000 ante. The average stack with 27 players left is about 12.475 million, or just over 63 big blinds.

    Last year when Day 7 began there were also 27 players left. They had about 40 minutes left to go in Level 30 to begin that day, where the blinds were 60,000/120,000 with a 20,000 ante. The average stack to begin the day was 7,133,333, which meant they were on average a little over 59 big blinds deep, not too far off where they will be to begin today.

    They made it just over halfway through Level 35 on Day 7 last year -- i.e., just about 10 hours’ (or five levels’) worth of poker. Could go a little longer today, I suppose, and just eyeballing the blinds/antes increases over the next half-dozen levels (and comparing them to last year), they’ll go up just a little more slowly this time; e.g., five levels in today and the blinds will be three times what they are now; last year they went up 3.33 times over that stretch.

    I can’t quite remember which year it was -- I believe it was 2009 -- that we all expected a marathon final day thanks to the 27 players returning to super-deep stacks. As noted, 2009 was the first year of the “triple stacks,” and looking back at the coverage the average stack was more than 72 big blinds to start that last day (although the level was about to end).

    I think that was the year I actually brought my suitcases to the Amazon room, half-expecting to be cabbing it straight from there to the airport as I had a very early flight at 6 a.m. or something. But the day ended up going by in a blur, finishing in around four levels, and I was able to take my stuff back to my apartment for one last night.

    It’ll be a reasonable-length day for those covering the sucker today and tonight, I expect. Then again, let’s not say that out loud and jinx it for them.

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    Friday, July 15, 2016

    Checking in the Dark

    I have been idly checking in on where things stand in the World Series of Poker Main Event from time to time today. Mainly I’m just noting who is leading and players left, while occasionally being moved to look a little more closely at the updates after noticing someone tweet about the tournament.

    As I was talking about earlier in the week, for those not at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino right now, it’s like the entire Main Event is being played in semi-secrecy. Sure, updates and chip counts give us the stats and essentials, but that can be a lot like watching a self-refreshing box score of a live game on the ESPN site or Yahoo! Sports. Or a scrolling stock ticker. Or the clock on your microwave oven ticking down.

    Don’t get me wrong -- I’m a huge proponent of “live updates” (or whatever you want to call them) and their centrality to poker tournaments. I’m also a big fan of the folks on site there right now churning them out hour after hour, day after day.

    I partly value updates for their historical value and the way they capture and chronicle these very stats and essentials I’m referring to (like a box score). But I also think when done well they enable interesting storytelling, and can even help underscore what makes poker a special game to so many.

    I’m remembering writing a post here nearly five years ago in which I was praising good poker reporting. I quoted James McManus making a reference to Al Alvarez and his high-watermark reporting on the WSOP from years ago. In the quote, McManus noted how Alvarez proved a well-crafted “prose account of poker action is quite a bit more exciting than watching the game in person, or even on television with hole cards revealed.”

    In that earlier post, I expressed agreement with McManus, although today I’m realizing I’d like to add a qualification to my agreement.

    I think when looking back on reporting from a tournament, a rich, detailed narrative recounting hands and other goings-on really can potentially be as engaging and entertaining as any televised broadcast.

    That isn’t so much the case for hyper-literal recounting of action minus any color whatsoever (which really is more or less like reading old box scores). But when the updates manage to incorporate elements of strong storytelling -- well-drawn characters, a sense of plot, mindful scene-setting, an interesting style, and so on -- I absolutely believe they can challenge or even exceed the excitement level of televised poker.

    Meanwhile, when it comes to following an event as it is happening, the live stream (or “almost live” stream on a slight delay) is always going to be a preferred way to experience a tournament.

    Five years ago live streams weren’t nearly as prevalent. Nor were they as trivially easy both to produce and to consume. But today they are the norm, and even small tournaments wishing to attract an audience routinely post some kind of video in order to provide those not on site a way to follow the action.

    I’ll make do, as will others who are fans of the game. But we’ll also keep on hoping one year the WSOP will figure out a way to let more people enjoy the early, middle, and penultimate stages of its marquee event as they are playing out.

    Image: “SMPTE Color Bars - Test card,” Denelson83. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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    Thursday, July 14, 2016

    Another Reason to Not to Hate the Eagles

    There’s a point somewhere during the first half of The Big Lebowski when the title character stops for a moment to lay down on his coveted rug -- the one that “really pulls the room together” -- and while getting high listen to some tunes on his headphones.

    The song playing on his stereo is by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. As a devotee of all things Beefheart, I perked up the first time I saw the film in a theater nearly 20 years ago. I think by that point in the film we’d already been introduced to Lebowski’s love of CCR (whom he refers to simply as “Creedence”), but hearing the Beefheart helped shape his character in a slightly different way for me.

    Later in the movie comes the much remembered scene in the taxi when after getting kicked out of the Malibu the driver is playing the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” There’s a pause in the dialogue and you can see Jeff Bridges starting to exhale loudly, acting a little petulant.

    I knew what was coming.

    “Jesus, man. Could you change the channel?” he whines, and the driver refuses to do so with surprising ferocity. But Lebowski can’t sit still. “I had a rough night and I hate the fuck!ng Eagles, man,” he says. The driver immediately pulls over and hilariously jettisons his complaining customer to the curb.

    The Beefheart tune earlier had been a cue for me, helping me anticipate that even though with most things the dude abides, he wasn’t going to abide the Eagles’ warmed over, soft country rock. I knew this because I also like Beefheart, and I also don’t very much like the Eagles.

    That said, even though I don’t own a single Eagles LP, I’m still kind of fascinated by the band’s story. I listened to FM radio a lot as a child of the ‘70s, pored over Rolling Stone and other rock mags, and still today find popular culture from that era endlessly fascinating.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the sprawling 2013 documentary The History of the Eagles, which I found compelling all of the way through its three-plus hours. I even appreciate the talent and craft demonstrated by their six studio records from the ’70s, and kinda-sorta have to give props to the weird, spooky narrative and dueling guitars of “Hotel California,” an undeniably inspired slice of rock art.

    But for whatever reason, there’s always been something about the Eagles flavor that has never been satisfying for me. Like Lebowski, whenever they come on I’m instinctively reaching to change the channel.

    Like I say, though, I find the band’s story interesting, and since I’m also a sucker for any stories about poker turning up in contexts other than the usual ones, I comfortably stuck with Dr. Pauly’s new article “Life in the Fast Lane: Poker and the Eagles” all of the way to the end. The piece is over on the PokerStars blog, and is fun stuff for fans of ’70s music, interesting tales of home games, odd poker variants, analyses of poker-themed lyrics, and movie trivia.

    And yeah, well, if you like the Eagles, it’s pretty cool, too. Not that I do... but now there’s one more reason why I can’t quite hate ’em with Lebowski-like intensity.

    The invented game of “Eagle Poker” described in the article struck me as a little symbolic of the band itself -- a three-card game in which you bet on whether the third card’s value landed in between the other two. I say that because of the way the band always had multiple songwriters and candidates for “leader,” with Glenn Frey and Don Henley permanently occupying two of the top spots and various third men (Randy Meisner, Don Felder, Joe Walsh) kind of standing in between them as fellow front men-slash-rivals.

    (The game also made me think of my still-in-development Beatles-themed poker variant, Sgt. Pepper.)

    When you get a few minutes, go read the article, which you can check out any time you like.

    (Trivia question: A five-suited, 65-card deck was produced during the first half of the 20th century. What was the fifth suit called? Click here to find out.)

    Image: Eagles (1972), Eagles, Amazon.

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    Wednesday, July 13, 2016

    Ladies at the Saloon Tables

    Another “Poker & Pop Culture” entry I wanted to pass along today.

    Am still amid the Old West in the survey, working my way through some of the more celebrated examples of players of “saloon poker.” I’ll move over to the steamboats soon, as well as to the Civil War battlefields for a quick stop before moving forward into the 20th century in earnest.

    This week’s entry is titled “Lady Gamblers and Poker Alice” and compiles a few stories of women who were known to gamble and play cards during the Old West era. Alice Ivers -- a.k.a. “Poker Alice” -- generally grabs all the headlines when it comes to pre-1900 women poker players. But there are a ton of others with equally interesting stories, and so I included references to several in what amounted to a little survey.

    The culture’s response to the women who dared take seats at those saloon table games is intriguing as well, something I only get into briefly in the column. Many were predictably “punished” (in different ways) for their boldness, with a few even losing their lives as an indirect result. But some were also made into heroic figures (like some of the male gunslinging gamblers of the day), their stories celebrated and embellished greatly even while alive, and especially after death.

    Image: “Beware Poker Players and Loose Women” (adapted), Debra Drummond. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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