Monday, December 18, 2006

Who Wants to Write About Poker?

'Beyond the Table' on Hold 'em RadioI finally stopped grabbing poker podcasts manually and got myself a copy of Juice to search for, find, and download new episodes for me. I have ten different shows currently loaded into this sucker. Here are the shows I try to catch (the links are to the RSS feeds of each): Ante Up!, Beyond the Table, Bluff Poker Radio, The Circuit, The Joe Average Poker Show, Keep Flopping Aces, Poker Diagram, The Poker Edge, Pocket Fives, and Rounders. (Yes, The Circuit has returned, though as a shadow of its former self.)

A new addition to the list is Beyond the Table, another of the many shows produced live on Hold ’em Radio and then made available as podcasts. I’ve listened to the last four or five episodes of the weekly show and have liked what I’ve heard. The show has three hosts: Tom Schneider, a professional high-stakes poker player and author of Oops, I Won Too Much Money, Winning Wisdom from the Boardroom to the Poker Table (recently reviewed in Card Player); Karridy Askenasy, a computer programmer and amateur player who created and manages something called True Texas Poker with T.J. Cloutier; and Dan Michalski, a freelance journalist and amateur player who runs the popular poker blog, Pokerati.

The trio have good chemistry and are always engaging. As some other podcasts have demonstrated, the professional-amateur dynamic works well, particularly when (as happens with Beyond the Table) we not only have the amateurs taking an interest in the pro’s life as a player, but the pro taking an interest in the amateurs’ activities as well. Tom does a great job asking questions of Karridy and Dan about their games (and lives), which keeps the show interesting and fun.

Near the conclusion of last week’s show (12/13/06), there occurred a provocative exchange between Tom and Karridy regarding the phenomenon of poker blogs. Dan was not present for last week’s show -- like a lot of bloggers, he was at the WPBT in Vegas. Karridy mentioned how much they missed Dan since he is such a “wealth of knowledge” about poker, as demonstrated by the fact that Pokerati is “renowned throughout the blogosphere as just being really information rich.” Karridy then made an observation about poker bloggers that led to a brief dialogue about the subject. I thought I’d share what Karridy and Tom said, then make a few brief observations of my own regarding some of the assumptions made during the exchange.

Karridy: “If you sit around and write about poker ten times more than you play it . . . I think it’s kind of hard to walk the walk when you’re talking that much talk.”

Tom: “Yeah . . . . It’s interesting . . . this whole blogging thing is just really, it blows my mind, because . . . I don’t know where these guys get the time. They must type like crazy, though . . . and . . . why would you blog so much instead of doing a lot? You know, I mean if you have a chance to play poker or write about it, I mean, to me, it’s not even a toss-up, you know? It’s not even a question.”

Karridy: “Right. Well, I think it plays, it plays to people’s -- and I’m not gonna say this in Dan’s case, because Dan . . . is a journalist, he was a former editor of All-In Magazine, I mean this is Dan [we’re] talking [about] -- but some of these guys, I gotta think, that, you know, they’re probably well-spoken, they have, maybe, a unique insight to the game, somehow, some way, and this kind of plays to their vanity in the fact that if they can get some readers and utilize their computer skills that they can be a little bigger than they might be in the poker world otherwise.”

Tom: “Yeah, I guess maybe that’s it. I don’t know . . . . You know, it’s interesting, too, though, the whole blogging thing is big. If you watch these political shows -- I don’t know if you ever watch any shows related to politics -- but they mention bloggers all the time. They say ‘the bloggers this’ and ‘the bloggers that’ and it’s incredible how that has become a major source of news . . . .” [Tom then spends a minute or so speculating whether it could be an “age thing” -- that like happens with anything mediated by technology, older generations are less quick to adapt.]

Karridy: “And I wanna say that my opinion I expressed just a few moments ago, it sounded pretty harsh. That was in response to the overabundance of bloggers -- not just in poker -- I think there’s a lot of celebrity bloggers . . . Hollywood . . . you know, kind of paparazzi-style bloggers like Perez Hilton, who’s super famous for that. They’re all across a number of mediums and industries and I think it attracts a certain kind of individual, but at the same time, as Tom pointed out, you know, they can also provide a tremendously valuable service, and I think Dan is one of those people. And long before Dan and I were friends . . . I visited his blog daily . . . and I still do.”

Tom: “Did you really . . . ? Why did you do that?”

Karridy: “Because the information I couldn’t get anywhere else. He has . . . it seemed like he just . . . he knew everything that was going on, and if I wanted to get a quick information fix, and I didn’t want to, you know, scan the headlines, go to Card Player, then go to Bluff, then go to All-In and try to find this info that I wanted, I knew that Dan would be a great aggregate source of the really good info. And that’s what I wanted. It was all about immediate gratification, and he provided that . . . .”

Tom: “Huh. That’s interesting.” [Tom proceeds to admit he doesn’t really use the computer very much, anyway, and the pair change the subject.]

An intriguing exchange, I thought. I see three main assumptions about poker blogs being advanced here. I’ll list ’em and respond to each:

(1) Poker blogs are similar to “vanity press” publications, primarily serving to stroke the ego of those who (perhaps) aren’t necessarily deserving of such attention.

Karridy’s opening comment implies that a lot of poker bloggers are chiefly self-promoters, presenting the most flattering versions of themselves in order to solicit positive feedback and attention. He may be correct in some cases -- just a month ago I wrote about how much easier it is to report wins than losses on one’s blog, and how it is hard, sometimes, to resist the urge to make oneself out to be a better player (or more interesting person) when openly chronicling one’s experiences as a poker player on one’s blog. However, almost none of the blogs I regularly read seem to work this way. Most of my favorite bloggers appear much more humble and realistic about themselves than Karridy's comment suggests. To be fair, his observation might be intended to refer more directly to “wannabe” poker news blogs that imitate (or, often, plagiarize) other, successful blogs/sites like Pokerati, Poker News, IGGY at PokerWorks, Poker Prof.’s Poker Blog, and Tao of Poker. (His later reference to Perez Hilton suggests as much.) In any event, as those of us who regularly read other varieties of poker blogs can attest, there are all sorts of other motivations for poker bloggers than simple narcissism.

(2) There is a “zero sum” correlation between writing on one’s poker blog and playing poker -- that is, time spent writing on the poker blog is always time that could have been spent playing poker.

This idea is Tom’s main contribution to the discussion. He wonders why anyone would want to write about poker rather than play it. Of course, one needs only look to the title of Tom’s show -- “Beyond the Table” -- to answer his question. Those of us who spend time writing such blogs clearly have an interest in taking a break from the table and reflecting on what happened there -- or on other aspects of our lives. (The fact that Tom himself penned an autobiographical book about his experiences in business and in poker shows that he, too, possesses this urge to stop and reflect.) The fact is, such “billable hours” mentality does not always apply to non-professional players. The time I spend writing on the blog is not necessarily time I could have spent playing poker.

(3) Poker blogs have become primary sources of information, rivalling other examples of blogs significantly affecting the exchange of news and ideas in other areas of our culture (e.g., politics and entertainment).

I suspect this assumption to be accurate as well. In fact, it may well be the case that many poker blogs and websites are -- generally speaking -- even more reliable sources of information than are publications like Card Player, Bluff, All-In, and the like, particularly if one pays attention to how the “news” these publications provide is significantly shaped by the various corporate entities that provide their significant advertising revenue. (Here’s an old post where I complain about Card Player’s non-subtle evolultion into a weekly Full Tilt Poker promo.) Of course, this assumption also excludes all non-news poker blogs (such as the one you are reading) from the discussion. Do our attempts at editorializing about such things also qualify as worthwhile contributions to the conversation?

I think so. If anyone reads them, that is . . . .

Image: Beyond the Table.



Blogger Ignatious said...

excellent fodder - thanks for writing about this.

12/18/2006 10:08 AM  
Blogger Swifty said...

I started my blog because, largely, of derbywhite's influence. He and exile got me interested in poker and it was a way of sharing our experiences, good and bad, when we didn't live locally and saw each other briefly every fortnight for the football.

It was also something which I hoped would be a sort of 'think tank', and over the months it has succeeded in that respect with some great advice and, in the nicest possible way, some damning criticism. You can't progress if peoiple aren't honest, although one of the contributors is so up his own backside that I don't even post his (rare) comments.

The assumption that if I weren't blogging I could be playing poker makes assumptions which are simply incorrect. I don't want to play the game ALL the time, and often I can spend ten minutes on an entry, a time period in which I couldn't fit in even an extreme turbo tournament.

I'm going through a rough time at the moment and the earlier entries on my blog make me realise that I've been there before and survived.

I have no desire to shout my limited successes from the rooftop but am quite happy to bleat about bad beats ;). Well it's my blog and if I can type it there it saves the metaphorical dog from being kicked lol.

Reading poker blogs has become as much of my life as reading a newspaper.

Vive la blog :))

12/18/2006 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post cell 1919 and I think you've hit the nail on the head. Blogging is our time for reflection on the game. If you dont spend some 'down time' evaluating your progress then I dont see how you can seriously improve. Blogging is part of that process...

12/18/2006 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As ever classic stuff from my favourit poker blogger :-) and some good comments from readers taboo.

It makes me wonder why I started my blog. Maybe I am an attention seeking whore ;) or maybe I just wanted to write about my thoughts and feelings around my poker journey or was it my desire to write a book and would perhaps help my writing skills or lack of them lol.

Either way, Our blogs are ours period, what we write is ours and as long as we are not committing any crime I just don't see a problem with them. It's a free presense on the internet isn't it.

Keep up the good stuff.

12/19/2006 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well said. I appreciate you full considering both sides of our discussion and points. This is my first visit to your blog, but will certainly add it to my feeds. I love good, level debateas, and if you can get some poker in there... even better. If you catch the show this Wednesday, I'm sure you'll hear a bit more about this and your blog.


- Karridy
Beyond The Table

12/19/2006 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... where WAS that spell-check button?

12/19/2006 9:38 AM  
Blogger Dantana said...

Honestly, if I were to play poker as much as I blogged, I would be broke. I figured out early that I wasn't good enough to make my living at the table, so I needed to do so off the table.

In the early days, blogging about poker was really just a way for me to think through my play.

Thanks for the analysis by the way. Ego has been pleasantly stroked.

12/19/2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger Swifty said...

Shamus gets his due reward! Yayyy :)

12/19/2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Great comments, fellas. And thanks Karridy & Dan . . . great show -- keep it up!

12/19/2006 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to see you getting some recognition Shamus, it was about time. I can't remember how I found your blog, probably from clicking links from other blogs whilst bored at work, but I instantly recognised the hard work that obviously goes into each and every post and it's now one of the first blogs I check on a regular basis.

As for blogging in general, when I first really heard about it I thought it was for nerds and geeks and basically what was the point. Then I decided to keep a poker diary as I tried to progress through the Hold'em stakes and actually got a couple of comments left and it felt good that someone had shown an interest. Blogs are great for ranting and bragging etc but also I think they give you a feeling of belonging to a group. Poker is always seen as a shady game and the people who play it are degenerate gamblers! Blogging helps us come together as a group and talk about something we love, poker. Where else can you go and talk to like-minded people, many of which you have never and will never meet but they still accept you like a long lost friend?

Keep up the good work Shamus, your fans appreciate your musings!

12/20/2006 6:08 AM  
Blogger John G. Hartness said...

Not to mention the fact that some of us are far better writers than we are poker players! Not that I'm particularly good at either. Also the fact that online poker gets dull after a while and there aren't decent live games available to those of us in the hinterlands. Could lead to blogging if we're not careful.

Nice post, glad Dan linked you up.

12/20/2006 8:24 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

About #2, a lot of us are working stiffs who blog during the day when we can't possibly be playing poker. For me, that is exactly what the blog was (and is). It's a way for me to "play poker" when I can't play poker.

1/02/2007 5:41 PM  

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