Saturday, October 10, 2009

Poker gems, #317

James McManus, in Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, being released October 27, as excerpted in Card Player magazine May 9, 2007 (available online here). (Thanks to my friend Shamus for reminding me of this in an email this morning.)

By the 1870s, as the nation tentatively recovered from the bloodiest conflict in human history, genuine and self-proclaimed experts began publishing books on the new poker variants brought home by veterans. Among the most lucid of these was math professor Henry T. Winterblossom's The Game of Draw Poker (1875). The 72-page primer begins with a brief history of cards, followed by caveats about the morality of playing for money: "Poker, unfortunately, is one of the few games that cannot be played so as to afford any pleasure, without the interchange of money. Indeed one might as well go on a gunning expedition with blank cartridges, as to play poker for 'fun.'" He puts its corrupting potential on a par with faro and betting on horse races, even warning prospective readers: "If they have never indulged in the game, they are earnestly exhorted at this point to seek no further information, but to remain happy in their innocence" - which sounds like a quaintly Victorian selling point similar to warning viewers about the Strong Sexual Content of an HBO series. "It is unnecessary to say that the game should never be permitted to enter the family circle, no matter how trifling the stake proposed may be," he tut-tuts, all part of his wobbly balancing act. "Those who have winked at [the morality of poker], and those who have denounced it, may both be in the wrong. It must be admitted, however, by its most bitter enemy that, as a source of recreation, when moderately indulged in, and stripped of its objection-able features, it presents advantages not to be obtained in any other amusement."


[H]e advises readers to "keep steadily in view the principle of conservatism." He admits that while this strategy "may perhaps to a limited degree be open to the charge of timidity, no one will regret in the end having pursued it. The most brilliant play is rarely satisfactory when it terminates in a loss."

As one of the first pokeraticians to focus on psychology, he notes that "a thorough exhibition of each individual character is revealed at every step of the game." More than that, "even the most casual observer cannot help perceiving that the commodity known as selfishness predominates to an unlimited degree, notwithstanding the various contrivances the players adopt to conceal its presence." In keeping with Adam Smith's and Alexander Hamilton's insights about market capitalism, he makes clear that poker is "not only a selfish game, but one that every subterfuge that can be brought to bear is introduced; every artifice that the laws of the game will permit, is pressed into service; and all directed at one object, viz: to win your money."

1 comment:

The Blue Knave said...

"The most brilliant play is rarely satisfactory when it terminates in a loss."

I love that!