Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breakfast and Poker

BreakfastGood morning, all. Sleep well?

We are presently moving through a unit called “The Culture of Poker” in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. After talking about all the cheating that went on in the 19th century (and well into the 20th), then the relatively “square” games of the latter decades of the 20th and today, we’re turning our attention to the poker scenes in California and Las Vegas over the next few meetings.

One of our readings in this part of the course is a chapter from David Spanier’s 1977 Total Poker titled “Breakfast in Vegas,” a neat sketch of the scene there circa mid-1970s that also includes a brief look at Gardena, too.

Spanier provides a colorful, thoughtful portrait of Vegas in this brief chapter, focusing in particular on the morning, his “favorite time of day in Vegas.”

'Total Poker' (1977) by David SpanierThere are at least a couple of reasons why Spanier says he likes breakfast in Vegas so much. One is how the nonstop, 24-7 nature of the city produces a kind of wonder in the visiting Englishman who can “eat his breakfast, saunter through the door, and whamm! there are one hundred games going on all over town just waiting for him.”

Another reason why he likes the early morning hours in Vegas is somewhat less specific to the actual city, I think. It’s that feeling that we all have experienced upon first waking -- when the entire day lies before us -- that we still have time to accomplish a great deal, that the possibilities of the day are at their least limited.

Such a feeling gets accentuated somewhat there in the gambling mecca, of course, as Spanier explains:

“The gamblers sip their coffee, mentally run over the remaining dollar bills in their wallets, figure out maybe it’s not so bad after all. If the dice had just rolled a couple of times the other way, if they had doubled down a couple of times more, they would be back to almost even. Yeah! They take a second cup of coffee and begin to slide toward optimism.”

It’s a new day. A kind of rebirth, you might say. And anything can happen.

'Don't Listen to Phil Hellmuth' (2010) by Dusty Schmidt and Paul Christopher HoppeSpeaking of breakfast, I am also reading the new poker strategy book by Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt and Paul Christopher Hoppe awesomely-titled Don’t Listen to Phil Hellmuth, which I’ll be reviewing soon over on Betfair Poker. Came across an interesting passage there in which breakfast and poker were linked in a different way.

As you might have heard, the book is organized around debunking a lot of commonly-repeated advice (some uttered by Hellmuth over the years), the purpose being to show how such bromides are either outdated, overly simplistic, misleading, or just plain wrong. A nifty idea for a book, and especially enjoyable for someone like me who has read a lot of the books that contain those ideas to which Schmidt and Hoppe are responding.

One of the “myths” or occasionally-recommended bits of advice the authors consider is the one that says “make all your preflop raises the same size” so as not to convey to your opponents any potential information about the strength of your hand.

You can imagine how Schmidt and Hoppe poke holes in this idea. I’m not going to rehearse all of their points here but will say they all serve the larger purpose of always keeping one’s mind open to alternate lines preflop. Rather than go on “auto-pilot” here (say the authors), think about the specific situation and what play might serve one’s purposes the best when planning the hand.

They end the chapter with a nifty simile, I think, that compares such active, critical thinking before the flop to starting the day with a nutritious, health-improving meal.

"Overly static preflop play can lead to overly static postflop play," they explain. "Before you know it, you can be auto-piloting ABC poker on all four streets. Starting your imagination and paying attention preflop is like eating a good breakfast. It gets your hand started on the right track."

Well put, I’d say. Hmm... think I’ll go fix myself a bowl of cereal and maybe eat a piece of fruit. The day awaits!

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