Friday, September 23, 2011

The Culture of Poker

Department of Justice & Full Tilt PokerAm a little bit spent with all this reading/writing/hearing/thinking about the Full Tilt Poker mess. Aren’t you? Still lots to digest. And, really, the more you take in, the more likely you are to suffer from a case of indigestion.

I mean the last 24 hours alone have been stuffed, so to speak.

There was NoahSD’s enlightening interview with Tom “durrrr” Dwan over on Subject:Poker. Followed by Noah’s overnight appearance on a special episode of the Two Plus Two Pokercast (also enlightening).

Yesterday QuadJacks interviewed the reluctant attorney, Jeff Ifrah, whose firm wants to withdraw from representing Full Tilt (I believe) though he continues to represent them as they make their case to the Alderney Gambling Control Commission not to pull the plug once and for all. (I would link, but I am not seeing it on the site -- perhaps it is part of that content for which QJ is now charging?)

Relatedly, last night came that story regarding a possible investor perhaps willing to buy the company, and all the tremendous liabilities that would go along with it.

And today came news that the DOJ has issued a warrant to seize assets belonging to Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and Rafe Furst (i.e., the four named in the amendment to the civil complaint). The guv’ment be going after accounts listed under the names of the first three, plus another Swiss account that is apparently connected with Furst. Read more about that at Subject:Poker, too.

Regarding the latter, I’d been wondering about the more $443 million that had wound its way into those “FTP Insider accounts” and the suggestion (made by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara) that the owners and board members had simply “lined their own pockets” with that loot. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed perhaps that what was really happening was an attempt to squirrel the company’s money away in places where it might be safe from seizure. Who knows, really... but it looks as though if that were the idea, it hasn’t worked out so well.

Like so many other ideas Full Tilt Poker has had, I guess.

Anyhow, I’m going to leave it all alone for now. Coincidentally, in my Poker in American Film and Culture class we’re about to move into the unit I call “the culture of poker” where we are starting with some 19th century texts that help demonstrate how prevalent cheating was. Indeed, how cheating was to be expected whenever one sat down at a game.

'Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi' by George Devol (1887)For example, we’re reading an excerpt from George Devol’s 1887 memoir Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi in which he describes getting involved in a game full of cheaters on a riverboat. He knows they are “stocking the cards,” and early on loses a few bucks with three queens to another’s three aces. Then he loses some more. Then he suggests they play a little higher.

Finally there comes a hand in which he’s dealt three jacks. It’s another set-up, he knows. But he keeps on raising, because -- as he tells us without a hint of embarrassment -- he’s kept four fives out of the deck and sneakily switches them into his hand before the showdown.

When Devol wins the hand, the cheaters know he’s cheated. One pulls a knife and says “You are a gambler, and I want my money back.”

“I will give it back, as I don’t want you to think I did not win it fairly” says Devol. But just as he looks like he’s about to give them the money, he pulls out “old Betsy Jane” -- his gun. He then demands they apologize, keeps the money, and it sounds like they all somehow coexisted thereafter without further incident until the ship reached its destination.

Like I say, Devol offers no apologies. Cheating -- and a readiness to draw old Betsy Jane, if needed -- was part of what it meant to be “a gambler.” Indeed, in Devol’s apparent system of acceptable behavior, cheating essentially fits within the parameters of what it meant to play “fairly.”

From there we’re moving to the 20th century and eventually into contemporary stories and anecdotes that reveal the changing culture of poker. Where the idea was we’d be drawing a contrast between poker’s early history and the “square game” it eventually would become.

So goes the argument, anyway. But it’s getting harder and harder to appreciate that contrast, dontcha know?

Speaking of, check out this trailer for the forthcoming documentary All In: The Poker Movie, which I challenge you to watch without rolling your eyes:

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took up your task of watching the video without rolling my eyes. I failed.

"Heroes of poker don't cheat" got me.

9/26/2011 1:02 PM  

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