Monday, November 05, 2012

Travel Report: APPT Macau, ACOP Warm-Up, Day 2

It is Tuesday morning in Macau. My post will be dated Monday, and I know it is still Monday for many of my readers back in the U.S. But I also know everyone is thinking about Tuesday, anyway, so perhaps it is appropriate somehow I write you from there.

I’ve just returned from a visit to the breakfast buffet downstairs, a daily ritual as it includes procuring the two cups of strong black coffee required by me to continue further. On the walk down and back up, I glanced at television screens along the way set to one of the American news channels on the line-up here at the Grand Waldo Hotel (pictured above). The scrolling items and other headlines consistently indicate various pronouncements about tomorrow’s presidential election.

I usually find some nourishment to go along with the caffeine, and during the time I spend down there I’ve been carrying my used paperback copy of Garry Wills’s absorbing Nixon Agonistes. Am about halfway through, and was just reading yet another keen passage in which the author describes American culture and its government.

Not to rehearse the entire argument, Wills here speaks of the significant component of chance that influences success or failure for Americans, then characterizes how government more or less operates to oversee or manage how ideals of rewarding merit or skill or work can be maintained in such an environment.

People “luck” into money, resources, or other favorable circumstances all the time. They also earn those things, too. Yet all are playing the same game, so to speak. Characterizing capitalist society as a kind of contest in which the natural gifts of the “player” and the vagaries of chance are both important factors, those who govern (Wills explains) seek ways to “contrive the systematization of luck,” with political or ideological differences often manifesting themselves according to one’s approach to that task.

It all resonates strongly with poker, of course. In fact this very idea -- about American society being like a game in which luck and skill both matter -- has become a kind of a central tenet for me whenever I am called upon to argue for the peculiar “American-ness” of poker. (One of a few tenets, actually.)

Continuing the discussion, Wills addresses the oft-employed card-dealing metaphor suggested by FDR’s “New Deal” from long ago. “The New Deal was this attempt at systematization.... Some people had been dealt out of the game, or given too few cards, or cards from the bottom of the deck. To protect the game, the government would give everyone a new deal, making sure it was a fair deal....”

The problem, Wills goes one to say, is that the perceived need for “new deals” just keep happening over and over again. “Each time the cards have been newly dealt, we must collect and reshuffle them to allow for the new players who have drifted up to the table; we are endlessly ‘dealing,’ never getting to the game.”

I think back to the tournament I’m covering today, the $25,000 (HKD) Asia Championship of Poker Warm-Up event in which 18 players remain, Johnny Chan and Joseph Cheong among them. We’ll play down to a winner tonight, which will likely mean another lengthy day of poker.

That the game involves a lot of luck has been shown over and over already, just as every poker tournament does. That it also involves skill has been demonstrated, too, of course.

But one thing that’s somehow assuring is the way the rules of the game are maintained throughout. Each “new deal” is made according to the same principles as the one that came before. That is to say, these “new deals” aren’t like the ones the U.S. government is making over and over when constantly changing the game. As Wills judges the use of the poker analogy, “the metaphor is a mess.”

I imagine I’ll get to sleep one more time -- again, probably just for a few hours -- before waking up tomorrow (Wednesday) and tuning in to the American news channels here to see how things are playing out on Tuesday night. If the presidential election is close, it’ll probably still be in doubt by the time I go start covering the ACOP Main Event on Wednesday afternoon.

Of course, no matter who wins the election, the future of the “game” will be in doubt, too.

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