Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Down from the Bookshelf

On Monday I mentioned in passing my ongoing “Poker & Pop Culture” series over on PokerNews, which continues on a weekly basis. This week I completed another section of columns and so wanted just to share those here.

Starting a few weeks ago I began looking at a number of poker books published from the 1870s through the 1920s, most of which fall under the “strategy” category. These include the first full-length books focused solely on poker -- i.e., that aren’t just devoting a section or chapter to the game, but deal with poker only.

The appearance of such books is itself proof of poker’s growing popularity post-Civil War and on up through the early 1900s. The books also provide a lot of evidence regarding poker’s place in the culture as well, including the way the game wasn’t so readily accepted by many and sometimes outwardly viewed as dangerous and something to be avoided -- even by the books’ authors in a couple of cases (no shinola).

In fact, when it comes to these books about strategy (most of which focus on five-card draw), I personally find these contextual references and allusions much more interesting than the actual strategy discussions. Actually in some cases the strategic advice is quite good and even prefigures a lot of later poker strategy, but wonky discussions of odds of probabilities aren’t nearly as compelling as the digressive tidbits and anecdotes revealing various cultural responses to poker.

Here are books covered in the five articles:

  • Robert C. Schenck, Draw. Rules for Playing Poker (1872)
  • Henry T. Winterblossom, The Game of Draw-Poker, Mathematically Illustrated (1875)
  • John Blackbridge, The Complete Poker-Player (1875)
  • Jack Abbott, A Treatise on Jack Pot Poker (1881)
  • Talk of Uncle George to his nephew about draw poker (1883)
  • William James Florence, The Handbook of Poker (1892)
  • Garrett Brown, How to Win at Poker (1899)
  • David A. Curtis, The Science of Draw Poker (1901)
  • R.F. Foster, Practical Poker (1904)
  • Algernon Crofton, Poker. Its Laws and Principles (1915)
  • H.T. Webster et al., Webster’s Poker Book (1925)

    And here are the columns in which discussions of these books appear:

  • The Congressman Who Accidentally Wrote a Poker Book (Schenck)
  • Professor Henry T. Winterblossom Does the Math (Winterblossom)
  • Strategy Books Telling How to Play, But Warning Not To (Blackbridge, “George,” Florence)
  • Laughing and Learning with “Webster’s Poker Book” (Webster)
  • Everything New Is Old Again (Abbott, Brown, Curtis, Foster, Crofton)

    The series will be moving away from these old musty books for a while, talking about other topics like poker during wartime, poker in the movies, poker in popular music, poker in the White House and more.

    Image: “Old Books 1,” Charles Hackley. CC BY 2.0.

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