Monday, July 21, 2008

Playing Poker & Writing About Poker

Playing Poker & Writing About PokerThis summer I had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time doing something I particularly enjoy -- writing about poker. Also had the opportunity to spend much of that time interacting with others who also like to write about poker. Some real talented folks, too.

I’m referring both to members of the so-called “poker media” (all duly marked by the laminated badges hanging on lanyards around our necks) and to numerous others, including some who have authored poker books, some who contribute significantly to poker websites, and some who keep personal poker blogs.

I rarely encounter other fellow “poker writers” in the circles I usually trace (not face to face, anyway), and so that was another particularly pleasing facet of my summer experience.

I mentioned a few times during my excellent adventure how covering the WSOP tended to lessen my desire to play poker. I was essentially spending almost every waking moment while there writing about others’ play, leaving myself little time and/or energy to play myself. I did put in a few sessions of low limit hold’em here and there, and there was that freeroll tournament near the end (which went well). But that was about it.

Not surprising, then, that I leave Vegas and start playing poker again.

Over the last week I have gotten the chance to return to online play and have discovered I still enjoy doing so. Am taking seats at pot limit Omaha and H.O.R.S.E. tables, again sticking to the low limits at which I am most comfortable. Did happen to get involved in a fairly dramatic three-way PLO hand yesterday in which a $125 pot was pushed my way (at a $50 max. table), but something like that represents an extreme. Usually for me the pots don’t exceed single digits dollar-wise.

Playing a bit more -- and writing a bit less -- has gotten me thinking about both activities and how closely related they are. For me, anyway. Playing poker provides me a great deal of pleasure. So does writing about it. And I think, in a way, the pleasures are very similar to one another, even if on the surface the activities seem quite different.

Almost everyone who plays poker spends at least some time reflecting about what he or she is doing, I’d imagine. And a certain percentage of those people record those reflections in some fashion or another. They might keep an exhaustive diary or journal or blog. They might write books on strategy and theory. They might post a hand or anecdote in an internet forum as a way of starting a dialogue about their play. Or they might just jot down a few numbers in a notepad as a pithy, functional chronicle of their activities.

I’ve written before about the various reasons why I enjoy poker. A good while ago I wrote a fanciful post in which I listed five motives, assigning each a letter -- P = profit; O = opponents; K = knowledge; E = enjoyment; R = risk -- as a way of addressing the subject. There I explained that I play poker because I like making a little cabbage, I like competition, I like puzzles and trying to solve them, I like the social side of the game (even if it is much muted online), and, finally, I do like taking occasional (if carefully managed) risks.

I think all of those reasons more or less apply to writing about poker, too, though the hierarchy is necessarily different.

There’s a profit motive, I suppose, but it is minimal. (Woe to any poor soul who gets into poker writing for the money.) Also, anyone who writes for an audience is probably competitive (to some extent), too. There’s a challenge that comes with trying to “win” over readers to accept one’s views, or simply to be interested in what one has to say. And, of course, there’s always some form of risk involved whenever one decides to publish those views to the world.

The two most similar motives, though, are the social aspect of writing and the intellectual stimulation writing provides.

Those of us who do keep poker blogs and/or contribute to poker forums have all experienced (more or less) the fun of interacting with others with similar interests. This is one way we find each other -- by writing about ourselves, responding to others’ words, etc. And I think for most of us this is probably the primary reason why we write, namely, to communicate (and not simply “broadcast”).

Writing is also a manner of problem solving, of working out a kind of intellectual puzzle. One has something to say. It might be quite clear and explicit what that something is, in which case the puzzle isn’t too difficult to solve. Like folding eight-trey offsuit from under the gun. Or that something might be a bit more elusive, in which case one writes in order to solve the mystery. (We learn to write, then we write to learn.)

Raymond Chandler Raymond Chandler once claimed that “everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.”

A bit of bluster, there, as well as another subtle shot at literary critics, of whom Chandler was no fan. But if I understand what he’s saying, Chandler seems to be indicating that as long as the writer keeps writing, he or she is still trying to figure out what writing is. It remains an unsolved puzzle.

Much like poker, yes?

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Blogger Random Table Draw said...

Well thought out sir. Glad to have gotten to meet you. Will you be covering any WPT events in the future?

7/21/2008 4:13 PM  
Blogger MyPokerThoughts said...

Yea, I'd have to agree somewhat with what Raymond Chandler said about how learning a bunch about something can take away the desire to write about it. Good quote!

7/21/2008 4:38 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thx guys. No WPT plans at present, Waldo.

7/21/2008 7:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I had been able to spend more time at the Series this year, but I'm glad that I got to meet you and talk for at least a handful of times.

I've never been comfortable with the C.B.-nature of poker blogs, where everyone has a "handle" that they blog under. Multiple names for everyone just confuses me, and makes it even tougher for me to remember who's who in the poker world online. ("Change100" is an enigma that I may never wrap my mind around, even though I've met her many, many times.)

I can finally get past all of that, because now I can clearly put a face to your name(s). Phew!

It was a pleasure getting to know you, and I hope you'll be able to do more field reporting in poker in the future.

7/22/2008 12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's great that the internet is able to let writers such as yourself write about what you love and share it with people like me from around the world. If there is something you like, there is a pretty good chance there is someone writing about it.

7/22/2008 11:57 PM  

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