Am also listening to the podcasts again, and enjoyed hearing Gary Wise’s post-WSOP show (Wise Hand Poker, 7/23/08 episode) in which he compiled a number of interviews he conducted throughout the summer.
Among the several interesting conversations in there is a 20-minute one with Brandon Adams. Wise talked to Adams just after his big Day 1 of the Main Event (he ended the day among the chip leaders). Before Day 2, Adams had helped pull together a high-stakes cash game at Bobby’s Room in which he and about a dozen others had convened for a $300/$600 PLO/NLHE game. Oh, and everyone also had to pony up a $300 ante each hand, too, just to make things interesting.
The discussion of the cash game is compelling enough, but I especially enjoyed hearing Adams’ comments about his non-poker life. Some of you might know Adams is kind of an anomaly in the poker world, having gone to graduate school and picked up a couple of Masters degrees (one in economics), then having entered Harvard’s Ph.D. business program in 2001 where he did all of the course work and is now what they call “A.B.D.” (all but dissertation). In 2004 Adams published a novel, titled Broke: A Poker Novel. He also continues teach courses at Harvard every spring in behavioral finance and, more recently, in applied game theory.
“This makes you unusual as a poker player,” said Wise. “Because you are a successful poker player, yet you choose to have a job. What keeps you teaching?”
Adams quickly came up with a witty response to the question. “I like to keep one foot in the world of respectability,” he said (amid Wise’s laughter).
“And the other in the real world?” Wise cracked (pun intended).
Adams went on to talk about how much he enjoys being in the college/university environment, full of interesting, smart people who are in a place where they actually have the time and energy to explore ideas, be creative, and learn.
I appreciated the exchange for a couple of reasons. Wise’s reference to the poker world being the “real” world is funny because of how often that world is characterized as fantasy land -- is defined, in fact, as being a place where “real” world obligations and concerns simply do not register.
That’s the primary allure of professional poker (for some). In The Biggest Game in Town, Al Alvarez well portrays what he calls the “different ordering of reality” that routinely goes on in the world of high-stakes poker where Adams currently spends a lot of his time. Alvarez writes about how some of those who live in that reality particularly value being able to avoid the so-called “straight world” or “stay outside the system.”
Wise’s reference also reminds some of us of how the college/university campus -- that intellectually-stimulating environment that Adams values -- is also often regarded as somehow not being the “real” world. For Adams, teaching his classes gives him the chance to challenge others and explore ideas without money being on the line. That’s what the classroom is -- a place where theories are formed and discussed, then later can be tested or confirmed outside the classroom in the so-called “real” world.
Adams clearly benefits a great deal from having this sort of balance in his life. He went on to tell Wise how he’s been involved with the very high-stakes games for the last three years or so. He mentioned how especially helpful it was for him to have his teaching and other interests when dealing with steep downswings on the poker side. “At those times you really appreciate being able to fall back on… being a part of a broader society, if you will,” Adams explained. “I would never be willing to give that up to go full force into poker.”
I’ve written before about the “double life” of the poker player, although my emphasis was a little different in those other posts. There I was talking about the fact that in my “real” life I am mostly interacting with people for whom poker is essentially a non-entity -- if it has any meaning at all, it is as a signifier for gambling, sin, or other unsavory activities. As a result, I don’t normally share my poker-related experiences with them the way I do here.
This summer the contrast of my “double life” became even more stark as I physically relocated and spent most of two months doing nothing but writing about poker under this here pseudonym. Still, I like (and can identify with) what Adams is saying about “being a part of a broader society” and how that helps keep one grounded.
I didn’t experience the severe highs and lows of the high-stakes player, of course. But I did immerse myself in the poker world there for a good while, a place where much that might seem fantastic, alien, or even impossible exists. It is good to be back over here in this one again, if only to regain that sense of balance.
Not gonna venture to guess which of these worlds is the “real” one. Am inclined, in fact, to agree with that other great existentialist, Freddie Mercury’s bohemian, and say it doesn’t really matter to me.