Monday, June 15, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 19: The Meisner Technique

Good poker players are also good actorsProbably the easiest of the 14 days I have worked thus far at the World Series of Poker yesterday, for a couple of reasons. One, the final day of Event No. 26 ($1,500 Limit Hold’em) only lasted into the sixth scheduled one-hour level of play, which means with breaks it was only about an eight-hour day -- by far the shortest I’ve had this summer. Also, I was teamed with Change100, whose experience at these things helps make everything easier for those working alongside her.

We went from 15 players to six in less than two levels, as the stakes had risen to the point where all of the short stacks really only had one big hand left in them. When we got to three players (Al Barbieri, Tomas Alenius, and Jason Tam), each had about the same amount of chips (around 900,000). With limits of 30,000/60,000, that meant each had about 15 big bets, which was the highest that average had been since Level 2, I think. Took a little while, then, for Barbieri to go out in third. After that it was probably 50-60 hands or so before Tam was finally eliminated in second. Had a big full house-over-flush hand there near the end that helped Alenius to victory.

I was writing yesterday about how even though this event had evolved into something of a card-catching contest, there was still a great deal of skill involved, as players had to make correct decisions over and over again, hand after hand. Surely it helped that Alenius caught some cards right at the end like that, but he’d successfully negotiated his way through something like 1,100-1,200 hands or so (I’d estimate) before getting there.

And after he got there, I got outta there, well before midnight for a change.

'Moon' (2009)I have wheels here for my stay, though generally the only time I spend in the rental car is driving to and from the Rio. There’s a CD player in the car, but I have no discs, and so I’ve been listening to the radio during these quick trips. Such gawd-awful stuff up and down the dial, really. (Who else is sick of that Vocoder effect on every other pop song?) More often than not I end up listening to the NPR station where I heard an interesting interview a couple of days ago with the actor Sam Rockwell. He was talking about his experience filming this new movie called Moon that has just gone into limited release this week.

The movie is directed by Duncan Jones (a.k.a. Zowie Bowie, son of David). Sounds like an interesting flick, for sure, in which Rockwell plays a mine technician working on the moon in isolation, with a robot his only companion. Not entirely sure how the story goes, but I think Rockwell’s character is alone for most of the film, and Rockwell himself the only actor on screen for much of it. Rockwell’s character ends up suffering from some mental difficulties, and there are scenes in which he is alone but hallucinating (I think?), and appears to be interacting with others -- including himself.

In the interview, Rockwell talks about the challenge of the shoot, which was itself very isolating. In particular, he struggled with the scenes in which he was playing opposite himself -- scenes that had to be shot in sequence using the “green screen.” The big problem faced by Rockwell in those scenes was the fact that he had been trained in the Meisner technique -- a kind of acting that is primarily based on reacting to others’ behaviors, something that wasn’t really possible for Rockwell when shooting these scenes.

Sanford MeisnerI asked Change about the Meisner technique a little bit yesterday. I knew she’d know more about it than I did, given her Hollyweird background. Is derived from Stanislavski and the whole “method acting” movement that has had such a profound influence on cinema over the last century. Named after the American Sanford Meisner (pictured).

When covering this last event, I was thinking a lot about this Meisner technique by which an actor primarily responds to others’ cues. Just observing a tableful of players, one can readily see that some of the players seem to be responding more to their opponents’ behaviors and actions than others. In fact, I’m starting to become more and more convinced that this may well be the most valuable skill in poker -- that is, being able to fashion one’s own “acting” according to how others are performing their “roles” -- and that generally the game’s elite is primarily made up of players who’ve been able to master that very skill.

Maybe it’s just another way of stating an obvious truth about poker -- that being able to read one’s opponents is of foremost importance, and one’s own “style” necessarily must be shaped according to the styles of the players one is up against. I think it’s interesting, and maybe even helpful, to consider this activity as a kind of “method acting” which requires (and can be improved by) conscious, thorough training.

A lot easier said than done, though.

Am off today, then back on tomorrow to cover another of those big field, $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em events, Event No. 34. (Wow, are we up to 34 already?) To follow today’s action, including the finale of that World Championship Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em (Event No. 29), go over to PokerNews’ live reporting page for all the skinny.

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Blogger Random Table Draw said...

Its posts like this that remind me why I keep coming back. Posts about poker that are really not about poker but what goes into the theory and development of the game/player. They also make me realise why I stick to my campy, less prep intensive time. You sir, are a credit to bloggers, writers and reporters everywhere. Doubt there is a Pulitzer in teh p0k3r world, but there should be.

Anyway...keep up the good work.

6/15/2009 3:24 PM  
Blogger bellatrix78 said...

Heads-up poker, man! All about reacting and not acting

6/15/2009 4:26 PM  
Blogger Mike G said...


6/15/2009 4:47 PM  
Blogger angeroo said...

Great thoughts re: the Meisner technique. (That should be a poker award handed out every year at the WSOP, The Meisner!) It strikes me that this is another aspect of higher-level thinking (along the lines of Sklansky and Vizzini). Here, though, you're thinking particularly about the implications of "what does my opponent think I think he thinks I think, etc.," that is, treating the answers to these questions as malleable rather than fixed. Thinking about how your opponents' perceptions can be deployed or manipulated, how you can confirm or alter what "he thinks" by improvising your own character's actions and reactions. And when you're totally in the zone, like a method actor, you're not even calculating your own behaviors and their effects in a self-conscious, "meta-" sort of way, you're just "playing the role" so naturally that you're really just "being" the character (i.e. the particular type of player holding the particular hand that, if the opponent buys your performance, going to net you the most chips in this situation).

6/16/2009 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Cadmunkey said...

I'm really looking forward to "Moon". I think Rockwells an underrated actor and this film could elevate his career. Hopefully it gets good reviews, we shall see. Btw thanks for keeping your blog updated even tho you're cranking out the 12 hour days!

6/17/2009 6:49 AM  

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