Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hard-Boiled Poker 2010 Year in Review (1 of 3)

'Spicy Detective' magazine, February 1935Year’s almost up. Gotta get me a new calendar. For 2010, Vera Valmore bought me this cool one with pictures of covers from old issues of Spicy Detective and other 1930s hard-boiled pulp mags. Most featuring damsels in varying degrees of distress. And sometimes undress.

Might have to get something tamer this time around. Although now that I think about it, the past year definitely had a lot a spice for your humble gumshoe.

I made it back to the World Series of Poker for a third summer. Was in Vegas as well for the NAPT Venetian, then managed to hit a couple of other continents to help cover tourneys in Lima, Peru and Marrakech, Morocco. Continued to contribute also to various sites, including Betfair Poker, Woman Poker Player, the PokerStars blog, and PokerNews.

Add that to all the scribbling happening here at Hard-Boiled Poker, and it perhaps ain’t surprising that I took the leap to full-time freelancing, in mid-year finally leaving a full-time job I’d had for some time. Was not a simple step, though. As I was talking about at the end of yesterday’s post, poker players well know how sometimes the correct move is plain to see, but it is still hard to make it.

Before turning the final page on that 2010 calendar, I thought I’d take a trip back through the 12 months and point back to a few of the 284 posts from this year.

You say you wanna come along? All right, hop in. I’ll drive.

January

'On Poker and Driving' (1/27/10)One of the first posts of the year, “If at First You Do Succeed,” took a look an old gambling-themed episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Recalling the plot of that one makes me think of a line from Rick Bennet’s 1995 poker novel, King of a Small World (which I wrote about just last week) -- “if you win a jackpot the first time you pull a slot handle, you’ve got the devil on your shoulder, not an angel.”

Speaking of, this idea that somehow winning leads to losing came up again in another context later in the month. A serious study of online poker had appeared in the Journal of Gambling Studies, then got summarized poorly in USA Today. I wrote about both the study and the summary in a post titled “An Academic Approach to Poker (Gets Dumbed Down).” One of the mistakes the USA Today writer made was to misrepresent a point made in the study that “a high win percentage (i.e. the percentage of total hands won by a player) is negatively correlated with win rate.” That post elicited a lot of response, actually, including from the study’s author, Kyle Siler, and from poker pro Andy Bloch.

In January I finally became aware of the Poker Table Ratings site and considered some the effects of having one’s online play comprehensively chronicled and available to all in “Keeping Track of Those Keeping Track.” Came back to this issue later in the month in a post titled “‘My Observations Tell Me’” in which I recount an incident in which a player at my table read off another’s stats (from PTR) as we played.

The much liked and respected Amir Vahedi died in early 2010, and I noted his passing in “Live, Laugh, and Love: The Life of Amir Vahedi.” While I covered Vahedi in tourneys, I never met him personally. But many of my poker reporter colleagues did, and they uniformly spoke fondly of the cigar-chomping pro.

Rush Poker debuted on Full Tilt Poker in January. I tried it out. Wrote about it a couple of times -- “Riding the Rush” & “More Rush Poker....” Incidentally, I made out like a bandit during my first several sessions of Rush Poker (PLO25), then did not fare so well afterwards and have rarely played it over recent months. (I have heard a number of people had similar experiences with Rush Poker.)

The month ended with a response to an interesting New York Times Book Review piece by the Russian chess master Garry Kasparov in “Talking Chess, Poker, and AI,” some brooding “On Poker and Driving,” a reconsideration of “The Amateur vs. the Professional” debate, and a reflection on the life and death of the author of The Catcher in the Rye in “Salinger’s Game of Solitaire.”

February

'Travel Report, NAPT Venetian: Day 5' (2/25/10)Poker pro and “Amazing Race” alum Tiffany Michelle appeared on MSNBC in late January to talk about health care reform. Yeah, I know, sounds odd. But there it is. The appearance predictably featured a ton of poker-related metaphors, giving me a chance to evoke George Orwell and write about “Poker and the English Language.”

Play the Game Existence to the End of the Beginning” is a “shot in the dark” post about this weird need we all feel sometimes to get even before quitting, and how the significance of such is often quite private -- a good example of existentialism in poker, actually.

I see a post early in the month about “A Mistake at Cake” in which I discuss an instance of the software malfunctioning at the site. Another foul-up happened there again a few weeks ago, by the way. In fact, Lee Jones has very recently left his position as the site’s Card Room Manager, saying that Cake’s “management has made some decisions with which I’m not comfortable.” Serge “Adanthar” Ravitch also left his spot as Cake’s tournament director. To say things could be going better at Cake right now is perhaps an understatement.

You remember the Super Bowl, don’t you? And how New Orleans decided to open the second half with an onside kick? Still marvel at that gutsy decision. Wrote about it then in a post titled “When the Saints Go Marching (All) In.” Talked about poker and sports in a different way later in the month in “The Olympics, A Chance to Contemplate the Significance of ‘Sport’” -- a post that features a picture of our buddy B.J. Nemeth and his famous friend and traveling companion, Rhapsody.

Talking ’Bout Women, Men, Poker, and Horses” tackles the issue of women and backing. “Who Has the Power?” responds to Bluff Magazine’s list of the most powerful people/entities in poker. And “The Flitcraft Parable” finds me discussing one of my favorite passages in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon -- with reference to poker, natch.

February ended with my trip to Vegas to help cover the NAPT Venetian Main Event and High Roller shootout for the PokerStars blog, an adventure chronicled here in travel reports: Arrival, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, and Postscript.

Probably my favorite moment among those posts is an exchange between myself and F-Train that occurred as we crossed paths between the tables on one of the later days.

“So, have you found the meaning yet?” asked F-Train of me. “I have,” I answered. “But it’s private and no one would really understand it.”

March

'Live Poker: Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach, FL' (3/9/10)I heard a talk by Gloria Steinem, and afterwards wrote a post about men and women called “Poker and Stereotyping.”

Was as shocked as everyone by the news of a robbery at the European Poker Tour stop in Berlin. I’d had the chance to help cover an earlier event on that season’s EPT tour (in Kyiv, Ukraine), and of course a lot of my friends and colleagues were there in Germany at the time of “An Unscheduled Break: Bedlam in Berlin.”

Vera Valmore and I took a fun trip down to West Palm Beach, Florida in early March. I had a chance to play a bit of poker (a few months before the limits were raised there this past summer). Wrote a lengthy report of my experience: “Live Poker: Palm Beach Kennel Club, West Palm Beach, FL.” Speaking of the lovely Vera, in “Finding the Time” I contemplate how to respond to her question “If this were yesterday what time would it be now?” I also talk about why I prefer cash games to tourneys.

Over in the “high society” category (i.e., posts about professional poker players and tournaments), I remarked on “Something Noteworthy: Duke Wins NBC Heads-Up,” talked about the new TOC planned for the WSOP as well as the old ones in “The Tournament of Champions 3.0,” and noted “The Return of Isildur1.” Also under this heading, I reflected on a comment by Mike Matusow regarding those mind-bogglingly high stakes games on Full Tilt (such as those involving Isildur1) in a post titled “Not Real Poker.”

I made a couple of attempts in March to comment on the ever-changing legislative situation for online poker in the U.S. in “More Uncertainty: Legality and Online Poker” and “Thinking About June 1 (& the UIGEA).” And there is one “by the book” post from this month to note: “Webster’s Poker Book (1925)” shares the contents (and a lot of cool illustrations) from an old poker book sent to me by my friend Tim Peters.

April

'Detour: Four Years of Hard-Boiled Poker' (4/28/10)Played in some of those funny April Fool’s “novelty events” (with the screwy structures) on PokerStars on the first of the month. And I wrote about ’em, in “Fool Me Once, Twice, Three Times (Yes I’m Slow... Yr Point?)” and “Fooled Around and Fell (Into the Money).”

I am a UNC Tarheels fan. And therefore a Duke hater. Goes without saying, then, that last year’s college hoops season wasn’t the greatest from my perspective, what with UNC barely making it into the NIT and Duke winning the big one. Couldn’t let the latter go by without remarking on “Another Title for the Phil Hellmuth of College Hoops.” And there was more sports talk in “Baseball, Poker, and Taking Your Time,” where I wrote about the start of baseball season and complaints about the length of games. Talked some there about how the pace of poker sometimes resembles that of a baseball game.

Women and the WSOP” offers an historical overview of women who have succeeded in open-field bracelet events. “Hooray for Boeree, Remembering Richmond,” occasioned by Liv Boeree’s EPT San Remo win, explores similar territory.

I get etymological in “Picking Out a Bluff,” trying to seek the origin of that poker term. And in “The Skill of the Players, The Skill of the Game” I tackle the old “skill-vs.-luck” debate again, this time trying to address the issue of whether a game can be regarded as “skill-based” or not according to the abilities of the players who play it. Perhaps sounds a bit abstract, but the post is more grounded than that summary sounds, I think.

Speaking of abstract thinking, in “A Metaphysical Check-Up” I have some fun responding to a post by Dr. Pauly titled “Mental Mazes” in which he catalogues some character types often found in poker.

Finally, near month’s end I marked an anniversary in “Detour: Four Years of Hard-Boiled Poker,” a post which reflects on the blog’s beginnings, talks some about the low-budgeted, hard-boiled noir film from which “Shamus” got his look, and talks a little about the future -- including that aforementioned decision to leave my full-time job and take this life detour to write full-time.

What’s that? You say you need to make a pit stop? No problem. Take your time... we can continue down this road later.

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