shipitfish: (cincinnati-kid-betting)

Although my wife cannot understand why I refuse to remove it from the TiVo, perhaps my other readers can. My wife is the biggest film buff that I know, and keeps a online movie review journal, so perhaps even she can reap some benefit from my discussion here of this film. Perhaps it will make up for it floating around the TiVo for as long as it has. A few months ago, The Cincinnati Kid aired on Turner Classic Movies. I've saved it, watching parts of it from time to time over the past few months, and I watched parts of it again this morning. I have seen it more times than any other poker movie, and I have seen just about every one of them. I do have a bit of goofy, pointless pride about my connection to this one, though, as I first saw it in graduate school while sitting in my living room in the middle of the actual Cincinnati, just after returning from a conference in New Orleans. (The actual action of the film takes place entirely there; The “Kid” himself is a transplant, hence the name.)

This movie has often been criticized, because for some, much of the “poker isn't real enough“. I actually disagree pretty strongly; I frankly think that everyone is quibbling about the wrong things.

I am going delve into some analysis of the movie, but not from the perspective you usually see it. The poker accuracy isn't all that bad, frankly, despite the years of debate about it. I think most tend to look too much at the technical details and not its thematic study of poker. I am going to hide it the bulk of the discussion behind this cut, because while the movie was released in 1965 and spoiler time has long since passed, I know that some of my regular readers haven't seen the movie, and you should before poisoning yourself with the age-old debate about it. )

The last word on the subject is that I have yet to see a better poker movie. The Cincinnati Kid shows with nuance and depth what poker is. Poker changes people's lives; it becomes a confined space where their deepest fears and aspirations manifest. The Kid, both the film itself and the character (played flawlessly by Steve McQueen) gives us a window into how poker takes hold and subtly changes people as they face the personal challenges that were once concealed, and are now made obvious in the game. If you see only one poker movie in your life, see this one. BTW, leave Rounders last on your list, as it's deeply overrated even if the poker is more “accurate”.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I am sitting here slowly recovering from the “bad beat” W.D. put on me — not a poker one, but a plane-caught cold he brought back from Asia and shared with the office. The coughing is annoying, so to distract myself, I'm playing micro-limit online poker (so I don't abuse my bankroll while sick) and watching television.

Of course, nearly every hour of the day there's another poker show on televison. Most of them are pointless. Producers have not completely figured out yet: people don't want to watch amatuers play, as if poker were some sort of game show!

Perhaps the worst of these shows is YES Network and Party Poker's Boston vs. New York Poker Challenge. I suppose the worst part about this game to me is that I have played with at least half of the players. As someone who spent a lot of time playing poker in both Boston and NYC during the poker boom, I've run into just about everyone who has spent more than a few weeks at poker games in either city.

And, for about fifteen seconds, my reaction to the show was: “Wow, people I know on TV”. Then, I realized that I didn't really like hanging out with nearly any of them when I played regularly in the home games and clubs of Boston and NYC! Of the half I know, there is only one person on the whole show who has extremely strong poker skills (he's a Boston player previously mentioned in this journal years back, for those who want to hunt). And, while he's not a bad guy, he's not the friendliest of folks — he plays poker to take people's money, not to make friends. The rest, well, their company is not the most high quality out there.

Truth is, sitting here, coughing and watching this awful show like it's a train wreck I can't turn my head from, I am reminded that, in poker, I spend a lot of time with unlikeable people. There's a meme going around the NYC poker blogs that states if you want to be a winning poker player, you have to hang around with losers. It's a fact that is difficult to argue; good players choose good games with weak competition. Weak players are, by definition, losers.

On the other hand, it is not that simple. I was a fish in my River Street NL days. While I might have been a loser (per se) in the game, I was working hard to get better at the game and learn more. I was able to keep even by the final days, because I simply passed chips from the truely terrible players to the very good ones.

I wonder if I felt so strongly and positively about that game and the people in it because I was a little bit the fish. When I play now, and find tables with only two or three strong players out of ten, and the rest mostly jerks who I wouldn't think to spend time with otherwise, I wonder why I am playing. If it's for the money merely, I have to consider if I would stay in a job with a mix of co-workers identical to the nightly line up at your average NYC, Foxwoods, or AC poker game. And online? Heck, I can barely stand to have the chat boxes on at all. The level of homophobic remarks alone are enough to make any reasonable person ill.

Ironically, I had been thinking lately that I want to see if the New York clubs are still as bad in this respect as they were the last few times I went. Of course, I won't discover another River Street hiding under a subway station in downtown Manhattan. But, perhaps there is a community of players that has a good mix, where the losers aren't insufferable. Or, maybe the games will be so lucrative again that I won't care so much.

Whatever the NYC poker scene is now or becomes, I'm sure that I don't want to watch it on TV. If I am in a game myself, I have to watch the other players as I try to think as they do and learn as much as I can about their psychology. But, if they aren't the best players in the world, it's going to be downright boring to do that as a mere spectator. If it wasn't for the coughing fits drowning out weak players explaining how they are “in it to win it”, I am sure I'd have changed the channel by now. Oh, wait, I have a High Stakes Poker episode on TiVo.

shipitfish: (river-street-chips)

[ By popular request, here's the second entry in my River Street series. ]

It was every Tuesday. I was fortunate to have an office that didn't even get moving at all until 10:00, and sometimes later. I even came in a bit after that — around 11:00 — on Wednesdays and Fridays to make it easier to manage. I had to go. I had to be there. My week was planned around it. It was River Street.

What was the magic? I'm still not sure, even a year later. The feeling struck me even earlier this month, as I pulled into Cambridge for a conference at MIT, and saw the Riverside Pizza and the empty lot, and that building. The building of Greg's old apartment. The first apartment of River Street; it's where the magic happened.

Through February 2004, we were still self-dealing, and continued to do so into March. The limit game became goofy, fun and interesting. I realize now that we were slowly building the cast of characters that would become the center of the NL HE game — stakes always escalating — that would define River Street for most of those who came later.


I remember [livejournal.com profile] nick_marden's first arrival vividly. A unseasonably warm night in February 2004 a slightly chubby, broad-shouldered, smiling and friendly fellow stormed into Greg's living room. As Sydney jumped and barked around his legs, from under his Red Sox cap, he bellowed: I was just driving through Central Square with my head out the window trying to reboot the three Windows boxes on the roof of my car. Do you know how hard it is to reboot Windows while driving with your head out the car window?. My only thought: Who is this guy?!?!

Nick is that extroverted fellow, somewhat like myself. I immediately felt kinship to this guy — he was a computer geek, he was exuberant, he was thoughtful, he was friendly. We had a lot in common, and we quickly became friends. Well, at least we did eventually; for a while, he was was my friendly neighborhood fish.

Through February and March of 2004, I remained fearful of the NL game. I felt I was totally outclassed in the game, and I surely was — at the time I had a very poor understanding of the complexity of NL HE and had too much of a limit mindset toward the game. But, $2/$4 limit HE were my usual stakes anyway, and that limit game through February was rocking with new players. I probably only had six months of careful study ahead of them, but poker is about selecting games where you have relative, not absolute, edge. I certainly had one here, especially against Nick.

Nick started as a tight-weak player; many good players (including myself) start their poker play this way. This made Nick incredibly bluffable. I'd be sure to sit on immediately on his left — a treat anyway because he was a fun guy to talk to — and I'd three-bet him every time he'd raise. I'd bet the flop, and if he didn't fold there, I could bet the turn and the river, and he'd almost never call me with anything less than a strong top-pair. I got lucky enough that the few times he did call me, I had hit some goofy draw. He caught on after a few weeks, but it was easy pickings early on.

After some time, Nick and I exchanged contact information, and we became friends outside poker. I also eventually told him what I was doing and how to avoid it. I taught him everything I knew about how to beat the games, and being the smart guy he is, he soaked up the knowledge and became a formidable opponent. We played thousands of hands on Poker Room, watching each other's table and learning the game. These days, Nick ranks on the short list of my best friends in the world, despite that I have moved down to New York. When anyone questions whether or not poker is good activity, I think about how I met one of my best friend thanks to the game. It's all part of what made River Street so special for me.

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November 2016

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