Monday, June 26, 2017

New Poker Reads to Recommend

Checking in briefly to let you know I’m still here, up to my eyeballs at the moment with World Series of Poker-related stuff as well as teaching a summer session version of my “Poker in American Film and Culture.”

There’s also the usual, endless amount of farm work to be done. We’ve picked up a new barn cat who just appeared one day and has now moved in permanently. Just six months or so, and impossibly cute. We call her Nancy.

But you didn’t come here for news flashes about felines. Let me share something of use to you -- recommendations of a couple of new poker titles, both of which can be filed under the heading of something a little out-of-the-ordinary when it comes to this niche genre.

One is my friend Tommy Angelo’s new one Painless Poker, a book he first started telling me about several years ago and which has finally made it to the presses. I’m about halfway through this one now, and it has been an entirely enjoyable ride thus far.

Painless Poker is an entirely unique poker book, compiling both a wide variety of advice to players and some enjoyable, insightful character creation and examples of storytelling. If you’ve read Tommy’s earlier books -- Elements of Poker or A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales -- you’ll recognize he takes a similar approach toward combining entertainment and enlightenment with Painless Poker.

Rather than explain the narrative frame, I’ll let Tommy do that himself -- check out this interview we did for PokerNews a while back that introduces the book and includes an excerpt: “Tommy Angelo Presents His New Book ‘Painless Poker.’

The other book I wanted to recommend is a nifty, slim history telling the remarkable story of poker’s prominence in Gardena, California during the middle decades of the 20th century, a book called Gardena Poker Clubs: A High-Stakes History by Max Votolato.

I found out about this book after doing a bit of writing myself about California Poker for my ongoing “Poker & Pop Culture” series of articles for PokerNews. One article in particular concentrated on a recent documentary Votolato made titled Freeway City that presented the history of Gardena with considerable attention given to the role the several famous poker rooms played in the city’s story.

The experience making that film led Votolato to follow-up with the book where he could share a lot more about the various figures and card clubs. It’s a neat, well-made volume with lots of pictures -- really a valuable resource to those interested in poker’s historical development during the 20th century.

So there are a couple of summer reads for you. And of course, if you’re looking for something besides poker to read about while on the beach, you can always pick up my novel Obsessica as well.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Revelation Regarding the (Alleged) Moss-Dandolos Match

Busy days here on the farm of late, although like everyone I’ve been following all that has gone on at the World Series of Poker thus far. Hard to believe they are only about two weeks into the series, as they’ve already gotten up to the 30th event today.

Have been glad to track the updates on PokerNews once more, and am tuning in over at PokerGO now and then. Speaking of the latter, they finally did get PayPal working and so I got a monthly subscription. They have it on Roku now, too, although I never have been able to get anything to load over there (it seems to stick in a “Retrieving” cycle and never quite opens the live event).

I did want to touch base, though, and let visitors know about a recent “Poker & Pop Culture” column of mine that relates somewhat to the history of the WSOP.

A few weeks back I ran a revised and expanded version of a column focusing on a famous heads-up poker game between Johnny Moss and Nick “The Greek” Dandolos. If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably heard of that match before.

According to most accounts, the pair got together sometime around 1951 (or thereabouts) at Binion’s Horseshoe to play a high-stakes match that lasted several months, with Moss ultimately said to have come away a big winner ($2 million or more, say some). The game was open to the public, goes the story, and for that reason sometimes gets linked to the later idea of the WSOP first run at Binion’s in 1970.

That column, titled “Moss and Dandolos at the Horseshoe - Legend or Myth?” was really more about the many stories about the game than about the game itself.

I included in there how one of the most referenced sources for details regarding the match is Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town (1983), a favorite poker book of mine that I’ve written about here many, many times over the years.

I also included a bit from Jesse May regarding how some of those who talked to Alvarez for his book (including Moss) likely embellished their tales more than a little bit.

In any case, about a week after that column went up I had a nice surprise when I got a note from a person who works for Jack Binion. The note asked if I could get in touch, as Mr. Binion had some information to share about the Moss-Dandolos story that could help clear up a lot of the uncertainty surrounding it.

I called and after a couple more exchanges ended up getting some fairly remarkable memories from Jack Binion regarding the alleged match. I say “alleged” because one of the clarifications he made was to explain that the match never really happened! At least not at Binion’s, and not in public. And likely not for the super-high stakes often cited, either.

I won’t give away the rest of the story here, but instead point you over to the newer article that shares Jack Binion’s insight:

Poker & Pop Culture: Jack Binion Sorts Fact From Fiction Regarding Moss-Dandolos Match.”

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

It’s Getting Better All the Time: 50 Years of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

I was probably around 12 years old when I got my first copy of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, perhaps just a little earlier.

That’s the age -- 12 -- of the protagonist in my new novel Obsessica. Have had some more readers and a couple of very nice reviews over on Amazon since the last time I brought it up over here. I’m actually in the middle of getting the ebook version together, and also have some other plans to promote it a little more going forward -- more on that soon.

I was chatting with someone about the book and stumbled into an observation about 12-year-olds. It’s an idea that might well have come from the narrator of Obsessica, who is writing as an adult about something he experienced when he was that age.

“We’re all 12, really, or thereabouts,” I said. “That is, there’s a point in there somewhere before we’ve grown up when we become who we end up being, and no matter how much we change after that we can’t really leave behind that first-finished-draft of ourselves.”

If that’s true, it matters that I was around 12 when I first listened to and loved Sgt. Pepper.

Later I would learn more about the Beatles, reading books and like many engaging in a kind of protracted study of every little detail of their history, including all things Sgt. Pepper. But well before that more intellectual engagement took place came the deep impression caused by many, many listenings back when I was a kid -- back when the record, like other things I experienced, inevitably became part of who I am.

I love the songs. All of them. And the idea. During their first few years of recording and performing, the Beatles provided a kind of template for the whole concept of a “band” (at least in the realm of popular music). Then with Sgt. Pepper they invented a fictional version of themselves to enable even greater experimentation.

They were already larger than life by then. But Sgt. Pepper was an even greater revelation -- about what the Beatles could do, and about what could be done by others, too.

In the title song, Sgt. Pepper is a character described as having “taught the band to play.” Like a mentor or muse or something. Which, of course, is what the album has served as for countless bands and musicians and people who yearn to be creative in other ways.

People talk about it being a “concept album” which it is. To me the analogue is a short story collection like Dubliners, Winesburg, Ohio, Nine Stories, or What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Different episodes, different characters, different moods, all connected by common thematic threads relating a particular ethos and vision emanating from the artist.

Sgt. Pepper features a variety of characters and voices and perspectives, complemented by the many different styles -- rock, blues, music hall, psychedelic, vaudeville, classical, traditional Indian, avant-garde -- all made to fit inside so-called “pop” formats.

The variety was more than enough to stimulate my still forming brain, with the record almost feeling like one “novelty” song after another. It’s rocking and relaxing, moving and melodramatic, catchy and complex, funny and frightening.

I suppose it’s true that an impressionable 12-year-old probably experiences these things more deeply than a cynical adult. But there I was, listening to Sgt. Pepper over and again on the stereo console, ensuring that decades later I’d still be thinking these thoughts and feeling these feelings when listening again.

I’ve written here about the Beatles many times before, including telling the story of my father playing the Red and Blue albums on eight-track player that came with an old Plymouth Valiant, and going with Vera to see the Cirque du Soleil show Love, and going to see Cheap Trick perform the whole of Sgt. Pepper, also in Las Vegas.

And (I must not omit) describing the card game I invented last year called “Sgt. Pepper,” a Badugi variant. Here are the complete rules:

Pulling out my Sgt. Pepper LP today, I’m finding tucked inside a copy of the fan mag The Beatles Monthly, dated June 1987. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when it was twenty years ago today the Beatles released their album that begins with the lyric “it was twenty years ago today.”

And now it’s fifty years ago today, the LP being released in the U.K. on June 1, 1967 and in the U.S. the next day. And everyone is listening to and talking about Sgt. Pepper and acting like kids again.

And I’m setting the needle down to listen -- again -- knowing even before the orchestra starts warming up that it’s guaranteed to raise a smile.

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