Thursday, May 17, 2007

Das Ist Poker

M.C. Escher's 'Tower of Babel'One of the books I picked up at the Gambler’s Bookshop last month was David Spanier’s The Hand I Played, A Poker Memoir. The book is a collection of essays published posthumously in 2001, just after the author’s sudden death the year before. Spanier is one of those much-revered poker writers sometimes placed in the same category as Al Avarez (The Biggest Game in Town) and Tony Holden (Big Deal, Bigger Deal). Indeed, Spanier played with Alvarez and Holden in the famous “Tuesday night game,” one of the many topics he writes about in The Hand I Played.

The essays take various forms. Some are primarily autobiographical, such as the initial entry -- “Rambling ’n Gambling” -- documenting Spanier’s first forays into gambling and poker as a child and young adult. Others delve into the psychology of poker, such as “Gambling, Joy of,” which begins with Spanier discussing his own poker-related predilections, then moves outward to a more general assessment of why people take risks. There’s a chapter on internet poker (circa late 1990s) which is a bit dated but still hits on a lot of the still important issues, particularly the integrity of the online game. There’s a compilation of reviews of books about Las Vegas. And there’s a rundown of Spanier’s experience playing in the 1997 WSOP Main Event, an event he had covered as a writer pretty much since it began, but in which he had never played.

I was playing pot limit Omaha again today when I was reminded of a passage from The Hand I Played in which Spanier talks about how poker players tend to relate to one another. The passage begins with an analogy between people sitting around the poker table and a group of musicians jamming together:
At the table it is how everyone plays that counts. The same kind of relationship applies to musicians, who do not even have to speak each other’s language. The only criterion in a jam session is how they play. A common language obviously helps: conversations take place at the poker table which players might never venture in ‘real life.’
David Spanier's 'The Hand I Played' (2001)He goes on to talk about how the “social dimension of poker gives it a warmth and value notably absent from other forms of gambling,” and characterizes the relationship between players -- particularly those who have played a lot with one another -- as “far more than a casual acquaintance . . . yet far less than true friendship.”

I was playing on Stars -- $0.10/$0.25 PLO ($25 max. buy-in). I started the table. Have been doing that more and more lately, finding it silly how folks line up four and five deep at tables when it only takes a few hands to build another full ring. Once all of the seats were filled, I sat and basically played a quiet, mostly conservative game -- not chatting, not getting involved in too many big pots. Meanwhile, several of the other players who’d come to the table were very active, doing a lot of wild raising & reraising preflop and also chatting constantly. And all of the chat was in German.

I took a moment to glance around the table to see where everyone was from. The three primary chatters were all from Germany -- Buxtehude, Meckelfeld, Barsbüttel. Another was from Neunkirchen, which could be Germany or Austria, I think. The others were from Pasching (Austria), Sydney (Australia), Helsinki (Finland), and Arlington (Texas). A regular U.N. meeting, it was. Well, sort of.

Like most sites, Stars has an “English only” policy as far as chat goes. An anti-collusion measure. I wasn’t too worried about these guys chatting in German, though -- they seemed to be playing pretty aggressively against one another. I was curious to know what they were saying, of course. Finally, when one called another a “Dummfick” I decided I simply had to know. Where along the spectrum between “casual acquaintaince” and “true friendship” did these guys belong?

I logged out, called up the hand history, and fiddled a bit with AltaVista Babel Fish & my German dictionary. Here is most of what the three Germans said. I’ve changed their screen names to their home cities. To give a little context: Meckelfeld was bleeding chips profusely the entire time I was there, rebuying for $25 at least three times; Buxtehude had a nice rush, building his stack up over $80, then losing it all in a mere six hands; Barsbüttel ended up the big winner of the three, taking a lot of the other two players’ chips and then some. So you can imagine several suckouts and other examples of questionable play going on as these exchanges took place.

The translations are fairly close, I think, if a bit clunky. (I’m likely missing the point of an idiom or two here.)

Meckelfeld: “lucker!” [in English]
Buxtehude: “you are as stupid”
Barsbüttel: “am blond :)”
Meckelfeld: “as stupid as you . . . I am blond”
Buxtehude: “Next to Barsbüttel you are cool”
Meckelfeld: “Oh, I see!”

Barsbüttel: “Buxtehude had a powerfully big hand :)”
Buxtehude: “That is poker.”
Barsbüttel: “correct :)”
Buxtehude: “plus, it was suited”
Meckelfeld: “Gluecksschwein :-)” [which I think means “lucky pig”]
Barsbüttel: “should I watch out for you?”
Barsbüttel: “y”
Buxtehude: “all right then”

Buxtehude: “mmmuuuuaaahhhhhaaaaa” [after raking a $75 pot]
Barsbüttel: “nh”
Buxtehude: “that was my first straight flush”
Meckelfeld: “nice” [in English]

Buxtehude: “how much have you already lost today?”
Barsbüttel: “30$”
Meckelfeld: “lol”
Buxtehude: “since which [time] I am $50 [up] here”

Barsbüttel: “I was just pulling your leg :)”
Buxtehude: “what do you want now”
Buxtehude: “go play”
Meckelfeld: “stop the nonsense rascal”
Buxtehude: “me?”
Buxtehude: “uncle?” [in English]
Meckelfeld: “yep”
Buxtehude: “lol”

Buxtehude: “that’s so bad"
Meckelfeld: “lol :-)”
Barsbüttel: “who is the father of your beautiful daughter, Buxtehude? :)”
Meckelfeld: “exactly and drunk”
Buxtehude: “correct”
Buxtehude: “my daughter is not, however, all the same”

Meckelfeld: “Dummfick” [not translated]
Buxtehude: “greetings to your mother”
Buxtehude: “and now stop your [nonsense]”
Meckelfeld: “lol”

Barsbüttel: “what did you have, Buxtehude?”
Buxtehude: “nerve”
Barsbüttel: “much nerve”

Meckelfeld: “yes!” [in English]
Meckelfeld: “nh”
Meckelfeld: “only 3 of a kind” [in English]
Barsbüttel: “are again in the black”
Buxtehude: “this is only small money for me . . . ”
Buxtehude: “got to go, time to work”

Buxtehude: “is 4 hearts not enough here???” [after losing a hand with a four-flusher]
Meckelfeld: “it works nevertheless LOL”
Barsbüttel: “today is Father’s day :)”
Buxtehude: “it looks like at times you are as stupid”
Meckelfeld: “exactly”

Barsbüttel: “my boss also always says I am dumb :)”
Buxtehude: “I believe you”
Meckelfeld: “you are as stupid sometimes!”

Meckelfeld: “send my greetings to Buxtehude” [after Buxtehude had busted and left the table]

Didn’t understand much at all at the time, but I’d picked up the gist. Guys crackin’ on each other, geben it as good as they took it. (Still not sure what the references to fathers and daughters were about.) A little more than casual, though perhaps less than friendly. In the end, Spanier was right. Didn’t matter so much to the rest of us what they were saying, but how they were playing.



Blogger Cadmunkey said...

HaHa good stuff and nice detective work. A friend of mine recently joined Everest poker and was complaining at the 'foreign' chat constantly going on. I suggested a similar thing to him about babelfish a few days ago, but he says you cant cut and paste chat from the chat box on there - and the chat doesnt appear in hand histories either.
He's paranoid that they all collude with each other against him but I'm 99.9% certain that its conversations such as the one you've shown here that are actually going on at the table ;-)

5/17/2007 1:01 PM  
Blogger Gadzooks64 said...

Hahahha, how amusing!

I was at a playchip table once with some guys speaking Spanish. Having lived in the SW for a significant amount of time I understood a good portion of what they said - mostly cursing and smack talking about other players at the table.

I eventually busted two of them and finally chatted something to the effect of, "Quit cursing in Spanish, you [lewzors]!"

They left immediately. He he he.

I've never run into German speakers though I have tried to speak German to someone I thought might be German. They never responded.

That Babelfish is something else. What an entertaining post.

5/17/2007 2:48 PM  
Blogger Aquaman said...

I'm happy for the book recomendations. Was Bigger Deal as good as Big Deal (which I loved.) I'll have to get The hand I Played.

5/18/2007 11:54 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Haven't had a chance to read Bigger Deal yet, Aquaman. Probably will soon, though.

Did you hear? Tony Holden, Al Alvarez, Lee Jones, and some others have a new blog called "Bigger Deal" ( Cool stuff.

5/18/2007 2:20 PM  
Anonymous richard said...

Haha, that sounds like a typical conversation in English at the poker tables. At least when there is conversation. Mostly, nowadays at the tables I play at, no one says anything unless they take a bad beat, which is one drawback of playing online, and which is why I dislike the idea of bots, because I expect to play with real people.

5/18/2007 3:04 PM  
Blogger microlimitdonkey said...

lol shamus

Heard you on the Ante Up podcast 100th show. The piece you put together for the show on fasso was awesome and I really enjoyed your call to congratulate them :)

Hope you and Mrs Shamus are well.

Have a good weekend :)

5/18/2007 7:29 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

"Mrs Shamus" . . . you mean Vera? (LOL)

Thanks, man.

5/19/2007 5:26 PM  
Anonymous QDIII. said...

Who was "Buxtehude"?
As Me and my friends were nearly the only ones playing from Buxtehude in Barsbüttel (I assume it was a Nordpoker Tournament).
I wonder, because "Fathers Day" I was totally drunk somewhere in the woods.....

9/17/2008 4:19 AM  

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