Sunday, October 25, 2009

In which I play a new game--and crush it

Cardgrrl and I had another non-poker day today. It was spent at the home of her closest friends, a husband-and-wife pair that she has known since college days. I had exchanged some correspondence with them in advance, and had anticipated that meeting them would be one of the best parts of the trip. I was right. They proved to be a completely delightful couple that I hope will be in my circle of friends for a long time to come.

The highlight of the visit was playing a game that Cardgrrl has played with them (and their two teenage sons, one of which was there, the other of which is off to college) frequently in the past: "Apples to Apples." This is absolutely one of the best games I've ever enountered. It is simple in premise, virtually instant to learn, fast-paced, funny, creative, and endlessly entertaining. Each player has seven red cards, on each of which is the name of a person, place, or thing (James Dean, oil spill, the Eiffel Tower, high school reunion, the ozone layer, babies, loan shark, girlfriends). One player, acting as judge, selects a green card from the pack. The green cards contain a concept or quality (silly, fake, manly, touchy-feely, clean, demanding, etc.). Players select from their red cards the one that they think the judge will decide best fits the category or characteristic specified on the green card. The judge can make the decision on any basis he or she wishes (the most literally correct, the funniest, the most ironic, or even random). The person whose red card is selected by the judge keeps that green card, and the first player with seven green cards wins.

I won twice in a row. And I have to tell you, it wasn't even close. In the first game, nobody had more than three when I hit seven. In the second somebody had gotten to five, but none of the others had more than three.

In other words, I crushed. (Here's that "insufferable" thing again that Cardgrrl was talking about. Don't worry--it won't last long.)

A large part of it is luck--having cards that perfectly fit and that are kind of obvious winners. E.g., I had "First man on the moon" when the category was "Technological." Hard to top that. (I also had "Skinheads" when the green card said "Hostile," and thought it was a shoe-in, but lost a close decision to "Attack on Pearl Harbor.") But some of the game is also getting inside the head of the judge and anticipating what he or she will find compelling. E.g., I submitted "Eiffel Tower" for the "Manly" green card, thinking that the judge (the teenage son) would find the phallic symbolism an irresistibly cutesy way to make his decision--and he did. Similarly, I guessed that our hostess, then serving as judge, would appreciate the lateralness of "talk radio" submitted for the "chewy" green card--i.e., topics for discussion on the radio being stuff to chew on, as in "chew the fat." She did, and on that basis.

Do you see poker parallels here? I sure do (though, of course, I tend to see them everywhere, so it's not saying much). You have to be able to see the game from the perspective of somebody else in order to be successful. I won a green card by correctly anticipating that our host would think "Corvettes" were more "Neat" than whatever others were submitting, but I would not have made the same choice if, say, Cardgrrl had been the judge that round--just as I will be more inclined to play a tricky little hand like 5-7 offsuit against an opponent that I believe has a big pair and will get too married to it than against a cautious player who is good at smelling traps and getting out of them, and will be more inclined to fire the three-barrel bluff at the overly nitty play-only-the-nuts guy than at the calling station.

A couple of years ago I briefly was part of a small group of players who shared difficult poker hands via email discussion. It didn't last long. I confess that I didn't contribute much. (Some of them are readers--so, sorry, guys.) Here's why: Every time I thought about submitting a hand for consideration, it boiled down to a question of deciding how this particular player would react to a bluff, value-bet, or whatever, or what cards he might have in this specific situation. But how to convey by email what information I had on that point? Consider, for example, this hand, which took me forever to write up, because of trying to explain everything I had gathered about my opponent, how previous hands had played out, what his emotional state and image of me likely were, etc. I just couldn't find the time or inclination to type out that level of detail very often. But that's just what one needs in order to make good decisions in poker--particularly in no-limit games--whether on the spot or after the fact. Who you are playing against is an enormous part of every decision you have to make.

As for "Apples to Apples," if we're being honest, most of my success today was the proverbial beginner's luck of having superior cards. After all, my four opponents not only know each other much better than I know any of them (or they me), but they have played this exact game against each other many times. So I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that it was some poker-honed, ultra-superior, mind-penetrating radar that brought the wins. But it was definitely in my thoughts the whole time that seeing things as other players see them was a crucial element to that game, as well as to the one with which I'm more familiar.

Cardgrrl and I are going to a live deep-stack tournament tomorrow, probably to be followed by a cash game. I hope that I am able to carry over at least a little bit of the good fortune I had today, and also remember how useful it can be to get inside the other players' heads.


phrankguy1 said...

Apples to apples is great! Glad you enjoyed it! From what you've written it seems you are enjoying the east coast getaway, good for you.

Anonymous said...

Wish I could say we let him win, just to be friendly, but it simply ain't so. The man dominated and we thoroughly enjoyed it. ;-)

The Hostess