Thursday, December 10, 2015

Slow Down… Brad Willis Has Some Stories to Tell

We’re already a week-and-a-half into December. Wait a minute... it’s already December!?! I guess so, as we’re careening toward the holidays and the new year and wherethehelldoesthetimego?

I got back to the farm from Brazil on the last day of November, but in truth I feel like I’m just looking up now to see we’ve reached the 10th already. In fact, here in the kitchen I’m realizing we haven’t even turned the last calendar page up yet on November. Gotta take care of that next time I pass by it, if I have time.

Part of it is just getting older, I know. It happens to all of us that with each passing year our temporal awareness (for lack of a better way to refer to the concept) alters by another degree or three. Could be because each new year necessarily represents a smaller fraction of our lives, or maybe it has more to do with the brain refusing to keep growing once we reach a certain point not long after young adulthood.

Then there’s “poker time,” with which I think most reading this blog are plenty familiar. So much is happening all at once, the weeks and months tend to fly by as a result. I was just recently tasked with making another one of those “top poker stories” of the year lists, something which I swear feels like I was just doing.

That said, there are little pockets here and there within the poker world -- and the world at large -- where we really can slow down and think a little more deeply about what is happening. During these first 10 days of December I’ve found a couple of them, both connected with my friend and colleague Brad Willis who heads up the PokerStars blog.

Brad is in Prague at the moment with the EPT festival, producing (as usual) interesting features related to the events that have happened thus far along with Nick Wright, Stephen Bartley, and Howard Swains.

Speaking of features, after getting back from Brazil I finally had a chance to read through Brad’s lengthy four-parter he wrote for the Bitter Southerner website titled “BUST: An Insider’s Account of Greenville’s Underground Poker Scene.” It’s a gripping narrative -- really a novella -- that takes as its starting point a relatively peaceful underground poker game in South Carolina from 2010 interrupted by a police raid and some jarring-by-contrast violence.

Brad tells that story while also filling the broader context of poker’s past and present in the Palmetto state, and by extension the game’s often paradoxical place in American culture, generally speaking. He weaves in stories of other poker players of varying levels of ability and dedication, and toward the end also incorporates his own life in poker, kind of taking a seat at the table himself among the characters he has sketched for us.

It’s an enlightening tale, and one well told, too. For anyone with an interest in poker (and good writing), it’s worth slowing down for a while and enjoying. I’m realizing how it could actually could fit on my “Poker in American Film and Culture” syllabus, and in fact I might slip it in there the next time I teach it as it complements (and builds upon) some of the ideas we discuss in that course.

I also found some time last weekend to hear Brad appear as a guest on a recent episode of the Thinking Poker Podcast hosted by Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis. They’re all the way up to 150 episodes, which is quite an achievement, and I’ll admit to vainly enjoying the memory of having appeared on TPP way back on one its very first shows more than three years ago. (Wait a minute... three years -- already!?!)

If you don’t already know Brad, listening to the show will work as a good introduction, I think, although even though they talk for over a half-hour there’s obviously a lot more to his story. Besides sharing a lot of common interests with Brad (poker, reading, writing, music), I feel another kind of affinity with him thanks to the parallel way his life took a detour from a “normal” job (as a news journalist in television) to become a “poker guy.” When he describes how he experienced that change on the show, you can imagine I’m doing a lot of nodding in agreement.

Thanks to Andrew and Nate’s thoughtful questions, Brad also delves into nature of poker reporting as it has evolved over the last decade or so, giving listeners a lot to think about when it comes to the reasons why a lot of us came to love poker in the first place.

Check out the show to hear what he says and decide for yourself if it is indeed the people and the stories that make poker a special game. And if you agree, definitely read Brad’s story on Bitter Southerner and get to know how poker shaped the lives of a number of interesting people (including Brad himself).

And if you don’t think you have time... well, try to figure out a way to slow things down a bit and enjoy these stories, anyway.

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