Thursday, June 25, 2015

Colson Whitehead's book The Noble Hustle

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Colson Whitehead's book The Noble Hustle

I just finished this book.  I liked it.  Not everyone would, but perhaps more than liked other poker books.  It is nonfiction.

The Noble Hustle:  Poker, beef jerky, and Death

The tone of the book is set by the country the author imagines he comes from

Anhedonia   -  The inability to experience pleasure

This gives him one advantage.  He has a perfectly natural dead expression, a true poker face.

"We anhedonians have adapted to long periods between good news.  Out national animal is the hope camel.  We have no national bird.  All the birds are dead."p.47

"For the citizens of the Republic of Anhedonia, luck is merely the temporary state of outrunning your impending disasters."p.96

Here is background information

Colson is not writing a novel this time, although it reads like one.
Instead he is telling the story of being in the 2011 WSOP, not because he was a polished poker player, but because he was offered a free buy-in if he would write an article about his experiences.

This is not your typical poker book.  It is linquistically wild and fast moving with bizarre metaphor, allusion, and commentary.  He laughs at all of it, including himself.
At the same time, it is easy to identify with the poker stories. 
I don't much like the WSOP, where I experience  the game as a cross between a ProBass fishing tournament blended into a rather bad Hollywood flick, so for this book to keep my attention until the end is saying a lot.
But then I'm a frugal guy.
So is Colson in real life.
So I get him.

Ironically, I get him in spite of the fact that his style is one of a modern generation and not what usually appeals to me at all.   I don't ready too many book that flow......or should I say spurt like this one. 
I suppose partly I liked it because my son Frank liked it, read it, sent it for a Father's day gift. 

I also liked it because it was not an egomaniac book of directive instruction.  Here was a fellow like me, although much younger, caught in an adventure of poker playing.

It got a great kick out of his naming of stereotypical players:

Big Mitch is a potbellied endomorph in fabric-softened Khaki sorts and polo shirt, a middle aged white guy here with his wife, who was off dropping chips on the roulette felt according to her patented system."p.10

Methy Mike is a harrowed man who  had been tested in untold skirmishes....  If Methy Mike had been hitched, the lady had packed her bags long ago and if they had spawned, their parenting goals probably ended with making sure their kid didn't get a tattoo on her face, and they did not always succeed....Methy Mikes are on a first name basis with the bosses and dealers and cocktail waitresses, and you can count on a bit of catching up.....They are weathered by the sun, by their lifestyles, which you can only guess at, the underlying narrative of their decay, and resemble unfortunates who have been dragged on chains from the back of a beat-up van and left to desiccate in the desert....

And then there was Robotron, lean and wiry and hunkered down, a young man with sunlasses and earbuds, his hoodie cinched tight around his face like a school shooter or a bathroom loiterer...  Robotron is only here tonight because the Feds shut down all the US online poker sites.

He did not name old guys like me, but here is one he encounters:

"an elderly white man who bent over his chips, squinting through a magnifying attachment that barnacled on his thick specs like a jeweler's loupe.  Her pondered before acting, as if reviewing a lifetime of hands and confrontations, or fighting off a nap."

This fellow is really not much like me, but I've met him at the tables.

Here are some other bits I found worth noting:

"Gamblers and the lovesick want to bend reality.  But it's never going to happen.  If you woke the hell up, you'd understand that and stop chasing."

Like all poker books, some of the places he writes about have closed.  Showboat at Atlantic City, for example.  There is never much history in casinos.  They just don't last.

There is quite a bit about his reading to prepare for the game.  I have never found strategy books of much value.  I can't seem to absorb, remember and apply anything.  He seems to respect the Dan Harrington writings of which I'm not familiar.

Of course, I rarely play tournaments and not for big bucks but just for amusement or as freerolls earned by accumulated hours. 
So, his term for the blinds, Wave of Mutilation, does not affect my games.  In NL I like 1-1 games because the blinds really don't matter very much.  Often 1-1 is a post flop game.  I like that.  It is very different from the higher stakes games and from tournaments.

"I pity people who've never been to Vegas.  Who dismissthe city without setting foot on its carpeted sidewalks,  I'll forgive the sanctimony in the question, "But what do you do there?  The obnoxious self-regard are as American as smallpox blankets and supersize meals. "p.101

Since this is nonfiction, the people mentioned are not characters, but real folks.  Matt Matros plays a role in his adventure.

as do other unnamed players, like the woman who becomes his coach.

Here is a bit for the weekly poker game
"Everyone tilts, but he who tilts less, tilts best."

"SitnGoes were not, as I mistakenly thought, adult diapers for poker players, so they don't have to leave the table."  p.149

I enjoyed the reference to the Butterfly Affect which I think I first experienced with a Ray Bradbury story, but which does permeate the culture and certainly apply to our experience of poker.

Wild Bill once gave a seat up in the Flamingo to a pretty young girl who was just behind him on the list.  Within a few hands, she hit a royal flush for a Bonus payout of $1400.  It could have been Bill.

Or not, since randomness is more like a RNG than destiny.

I also like the idea that Colson knows his limitation.

"I would never understand the game the way they did, no matter how much I studied or hit the tables.  The part of the brain these guys used for cards, I used to keep meticulous account of my regrets."

This is exactly why I stay away from high priced tournaments and use table selection as my major source of advantage at the lower stakes and limit games.

"Our country disdains a risk reward game that millions of Americans play, then bails out Wall Street sharks who bet unfathomable sums.  I can only conclude that this contradictory status has little to do with the skills required for each pursuit.  No, for some reason, lawmakers just don't like poker." p.  163

 I suggest that the reason poker takes a back seat is the same reason it takes a back seat in casinos.  It is a lost leader.  Government now is like the mob.  They get their 'taste' by setting up negative expectation games and luring in folks to fleece.  It is the same reason that any video poker that pays over 100% is illegal in NY State.  It is not about disliking poker;  it is about liking taxation more than providing services.

One new concept for me was the concept of M and I thought it would help my tournament play, but I doubt I'll remember it.  I barely remember how to figure outs and I only do the math for chasing flushes and straights in a general way.

" To calculate M, you add the Big Blind, the Small Blind, and all the antes you have to pay into the pot each round, and the sum is how much it costs to play one orbit"

"Establishing table image is like when you stab the leader of the Aryan Assholes in the neck with a fork after your first day in prison: tellin' em how you do it back home." p.186

on the Fremont Experience:

"Tourists foolish enough to be ensnared by the promos for this crummy light show look up for a few minutes, and then it's over.  They drift away.  The night is young, the city endless, and there are so many more disappointments to savor before dawn."  p.  206

Talks about his poker knowledge slipping away Flowers for Algernon style.

Well, I don't know if I ever knew anything that matched the top of that curve, but I sure do feel the slipping of knowledge in every category. 
In two years I will have forgotten reading this book.  So, I'm happy to have these notes.

No comments:

Post a Comment