Monday, March 19, 2007

Not That Johnny Moss

'How to Win at Poker' by John Moss (a.k.a. Jack Potter)Was on the road not too long ago and found myself in a decent used bookstore in a nearby college town. You know the kind. The whole time you’re wandering around the shelves you overhear the owner behind the register chatting it up with a local about Eldridge Cleaver or the Saratoga campaign or My Favorite Martian or the like.

The store had a decent inventory with what appeared to be mostly fair prices. Made my way through the mystery section and was glad to pick up a cheap, tattered copy of Jim Thompson’s Roughneck. There was a smallish selection of vinyl. No jazz to speak of, but I did find an old Be-Bop Deluxe LP for a couple of bucks. Then I thought I’d see if there might be any poker books laying around.

Usually don’t find much in the way of used poker books in these places. I really didn’t expect to see much more than some blackjack books and maybe a copy of Moneymaker: How an Amateur Poker Player Turned $40 into $2.5 Million at the World Series of Poker. Damned if they didn’t have two whole shelves filled with poker books, neatly organized at that. I spent some time perusing and finally picked up three titles.

One was The Education of a Poker Player by Herbert O. Yardley. In Big Deal, Anthony Holden mentions how his poker buddy, Al Alvarez, encouraged him to read Yardley’s book before heading out for his year as a pro. According to Holden, Alvarez called it “the Bible” of all poker books. Holden himself says that “more than any other, [Yardley’s] is the book that has altered poker players’ lives.” The copy I bought was an original 1957 hardcover. Dunno if it’s worth anything or not. Cost me four bucks.

I also picked up a hardback copy of “Amarillo Slim” Preston’s Play Poker to Win (a first printing as well). Like Yardley’s book, Play Poker to Win appears to be a combination of poker advice and anecdotes. Preston published his book in 1973, a year after having won the World Series of Poker Main Event. A time when Preston was appearing regularly as a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. A time well before more recent events have tarnished his legacy more than a little.

Finally I grabbed the book you see pictured above, How to Win at Poker by John Moss. I had not been aware that poker legend Johnny Moss had written any strategy books. I had glanced inside the front cover and saw the book had been published in 1950 -- one year after the famous marathon poker game between Moss and Nick the Greek Dandalos. The paperback was cheap enough, so I went ahead and threw it in with the other items without further investigation.

Once I got home I opened up How to Win at Poker and read “A Note About the Author” which told me “there is no such person as ‘John Moss.’ This name hides, for obvious reasons, the identity of an astute midwestern poker player.” The note goes on to say that the author “has spent the forty-three years of his life in Detroit, excepting four years in the armed services.” The Johnny Moss was also 43 years old in 1950 (though, of course, he was born in Texas). So who was this “John Moss”?

A quick internet search tells me John Moss is a pseudonym for a man named Jack Potter. I’ve not been able to find anything further about Potter online. It does seem more than just a coincidence that Potter would employ that name as a pseudonym in 1950. While it would still be years before the country came to know who Johnny Moss was, for poker players seeking out advice, such a name might well have rung a bell. And sold a book or two.

How to Win at Poker doesn’t look to be without some value. The book focuses on draw poker, five-card stud, and seven-card stud, and there are also sections of general advice about limit games as well as “poker etiquette” and other matters. But it sure ain’t what I’d thought it might be.

By the way, while I was searching around for “John Moss” and “Jack Potter,” I kept hitting references to two recent movies featuring characters with those names. One was The Hard Way (1991), in which James Woods (a somewhat accomplished poker player in his own right) plays Detective Lt. John Moss, a “hardboiled New York cop” (as the Internet Movie Database describes him). An actor (played by Michael J. Fox) tags along with Moss in order to research a role in an upcoming film. Before long, the actor discovers detective work isn’t quite what he’d thought it might be.

The other film I kept running into is called Camouflage (2000) and stars Leslie Nielsen. This film -- co-scripted by Billy Bob Thornton, it appears -- may well have gone straight-to-video. What is it about? Tell me if this sounds familiar: Nielsen plays a detective named Jack Potter. An actor researching a part ends up tagging along on a case. Before long, the actor discovers the life of a P.I. isn’t what he’d expected . . . . Weird, huh?

The tagline for Camouflage? “Things are not what they appear.” I suppose I might’ve considered that before picking up How to Win at Poker.



Anonymous Richard said...

Good pick up on Yardley's book. He doesn't have the writing talent of Alvarez or McManus, but the poker stories themselves are good enough to overcome the writing. It comes off as very honest, very much like he's telling the stories to his friends.

3/20/2007 1:58 AM  
Blogger microlimitdonkey said...

You will enjoy Holdens book. I am currently reading Gordon's three which I would recommend. Harrington 3 is on order too i think. My collection is now aroud 20 books.

I wish Ivey would write one.

Good luck man

3/20/2007 7:32 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Richard: Yes, the first pages of Yardley are good -- reads like passages in The Cincinnati Kid, actually.

Microdonk: Did read Holden a while back -- good stuff. Somehow I can't imagine Ivey writing a book at all, though it'd surely sell if he did.

3/20/2007 9:33 PM  
Blogger microlimitdonkey said...

I can actually see Ivey writing a book but only when he retires from the game. I could well be dead and buried by then :(

Good luck man

3/22/2007 11:02 AM  

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