Monday, April 23, 2012

read 'em and weep

Went to Vogt's Bier-Express for a Duckstein.  They had two poker tables set up at the back of the room. A guy told me the tournament started at 8: 25€ buy-in (3000 chips), with an hour during which 20€ rebuys got you 6000 chips. No-limit Texas Hold 'em.  I don't have much experience of live games, and when I play online I normally play limit games, which is safe though not very exciting. He said it did not matter, and the dealer explained how the system worked. 

I played with extreme caution, apologetically.  Another player said encouragingly that it was fine to fold, this was good tournament play in the early stages. This player also advised me to be more careful in looking at my cards, because otherwise people could see them - no one would do so intentionally, but sometimes they could not help seeing.  Another player explained that if I was still in the game I must put my cards back on the side of the table, rather than holding them, because otherwise people would not know I was in the game. Toward the end of the first hour I got a pair of Aces which won several thousand chips, and then an Ace and a King which won a few thousand more.  Much later I went all in with K8 of clubs, winning a few thousand chips.  The net result (mainly because the other players were much more aggressive) was that I came third in the tournament, winning 130 euros.  Each time I won a hand the other players congratulated me, and at the end they all congratulated me on coming out ahead. There was a pause during which we were brought a complimentary meal from the Currywurst place next door; then the players settled in to play a cash game.  They explained that I could play if I wanted to but I did not have to, so I watched for a while.  They were betting as much as 100€ on a hand, which wasn't money I would be happy to have at stake with only my modest skills to defend it.  The player who had advised about care in looking at my cards told me kindly that it was dangerous to play in cash games.  The general ambience, in case you're missing this, was one of care for an inexperienced player.

In my admittedly limited experience this is typical of the world of poker.  The object of the game is to take money off other players, but within that context there is a code of honour which includes not taking advantage of the inexperienced. 

I came to poker after having a book published; this world stood in startling contrast to the world of publishing.  To the uninitiated, it is in the interest of everyone involved in a book to explain how things work to the novice.  The publisher has tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake; the writer, her entire livelihood. But there is no analogue for the code of honour of the world of poker. There is no one to explain how the system works, or where you might put yourself at a disadvantage by showing your cards.  If you ask questions, people lie to you.  The terms of your contract are words on a piece of paper.  If you bring in an agent you don't get someone who will give you a truthful explanation, the kind of thing you might get from a group of strangers at a poker table; you get another round of the runaround. 

Most people in this business seem to be in denial about the writer's exposure to risk.  I think I imagined, when I was put in touch with Bill Clegg, that he would have a clearer view of this; having left so many writers high and dry, he would naturally be anxious to protect new clients from risk. This point of view turned out to be not only wrong but offensive. It's probably impossible to convey how touching it is to find so much concern among people who profess not even a trace element of interest in literature.

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