Thursday, April 24, 2008

Worlds Within Worlds

Worlds Within WorldsFinally got over to the barbershop to get that haircut. Way, way overdue, I was.

The woman who regularly handles the task is a friendly, sociable person with whom I usually engage in animated conversation about the previous few months’ highlights. Funny how people like that -- our lives’ “supporting cast” whom we only see intermittently -- can sometimes offer us a different perspective on our own fleeting existence.

Having been caught up in the day-to-day, you’ve missed the changes that occur over the course of a couple of months (or more). Hell, you didn’t even realize how shaggy yr hair had gotten until just a day or two before. Try to chronicle those last couple of months to someone who hasn’t been there, and you’ll sometimes see differences you hadn’t even realized.

During these little reunions, she and I will often get around to talking about poker at some point. I’ve written before about how I don’t generally introduce the subject in certain circles. But somewhere along the way she found out about my interest in the game. I think I told her about it last summer when I had been putting in a lot of late nights doing some back-end work during PokerNews’ coverage of the WSOP. Had a good stretch there where my life had been basically turned upside down (up all night, sleep all day), and so in what was probably a semi-somnambulant state I had explained it all to her as she clipped away in the mirror.

This time I told her about the plan for me to head out to Vegas next month to help cover the Series. Although not a poker player or gambler herself, she asked smart questions about the WSOP, the professional circuit, as well as the whole “skill-vs.-luck” debate.

“You’re telling me there are people who do nothing but go around playing poker tournaments over and over again?” she asked. “Can they really make a living?”

“Some do,” I explained. I defended poker as a form of gambling that does, in fact, reward skill over time, and she demonstrated her understanding of the concept with reference to the lottery, the only form of gambling our state technically allows. Like us, she doesn’t see why poker shouldn’t be legal if the lottery is.

Then she asked what I thought was a particularly revealing question for those of us who sometimes find ourselves overly immersed in the poker world.

“So are any of these poker players really famous? Like would I have heard of any of them . . . ?”

The usual names popped into my head, but I realized immediately there was no way she would recognize any of them. Sure, we all spotted Negreanu, Hellmuth, and Nguyen in that Pepsi commercial, but would anyone who doesn’t follow poker know their names? Indeed, where in the “mainstream” do we really find these poker celebrities upon whom those of us reading the forums, blogs, magazines, and books focus so intently? Where could she have encountered Doyle Brunson? Chris Ferguson . . . ?

I didn’t even try. “Yeah, some are pretty famous,” I answered half-heartedly. “In the poker world, anyway.”

Amid all the speculation about the relative status of poker’s popularity (has it peaked? is the “boom” over? is it as popular as ever?), I think many of us tend to forget just how small the “poker world” really is. Relatively speaking, anyway.

The phenomenon is partly a function of the game itself, I’d venture. I’ve mentioned before here that anecdote in Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town in which he demonstrates how severely poker players tend to isolate themselves from the outside world. Alvarez tells the story of a man who had been playing in the Golden Nugget the night Jimmy Carter was elected president. It was after midnight, and the fellow decided to take a break from the game and run up to his room to see who had won the election.

Alvarez explains: “When he returned, he announced to the table at large, ‘We’ve got a new president -- Jimmy Carter.’ The dealer stared at him coldly, as if he had broken some obscure house rule, and the man sitting next to him said, ‘The bet is three dollars.’ There was no other comment.”

Kind of the same deal in reverse, really. While poker players (sometimes) cannot seem to fathom there’s a world where poker is not front and center, there’s also that non-poker part of the world that can’t fathom poker could possibly matter that much at all.

I think I’ll try to get back over there to the barbershop for one last trim before I head Vegas-ward. Might prevent me from becoming too shaggy by mid-July. Might also help to get that one last dose of perspective before leaving the non-poker world altogether for seven-plus weeks.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

She might've known celebs that "think" they are poker players. Shannon Elizabeth & Jennifer Tilly anyone?

4/24/2008 4:14 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Good point, anon. You know, those didn't even occur to me to mention. (Further evidence of how I hadn't been thinking from the "non-poker world" P.O.V.)

4/24/2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Absolutely right! A small isolated world and one with a very poor reputation. I know, I come from another tiny world: academics and I nearly never mention poker to them less they ship me out of town in a cart of dead Ivy.

4/25/2008 1:28 PM  
Blogger Swifty said...

As tim says...

Nobody I know thinks poker is anything other than gambling, pure and simple. As far as they're concerned it's the same as playing video or casino based slots.

No point in trying to convince them, though if they thought about it they never see me playing slots when we go to the pub. If I was a gambler then I wouldn't be able to resist, surely?

4/27/2008 7:39 AM  

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