Belly Busters and Pocket Rockets

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Only a person with a passion for poker could understand. The Texas Holdem trend and online possibilities have spawned a new generation of card sharks; there are also those who’ve been bluffing, holding and folding for years. For the newcomers and old-timers, the love of the game goes far beyond the chips and ka-ching- -for them poker’s about being in the zone, having the world fall away, feeling those cards in your hand and gaining some priceless insights into your fellow man. The “Passion for Poker” is our first installment in the Passion Thursday series. If you have a great poker story– or know someone who does– post a comment, please. We’d love to hear from you.

Bernard Lee

Bernard Lee just placed 13th in the “No-Limit Texas Holdem” tournament at the World Series of Poker, WSOP. He’s a Marketing Manager at Boston Scientific who lives in Wayland, MA. He’s been playing since he was 10. When Bernard reached 18 he thought that beating his dad and and uncle was an enormous triumph…. little did he know.

from Chelsea’s pre-interview notes:

When I was a kid my father, uncle, their friends would be playing poker. You’d hear this screaming, you’d hear this rivalry/camaraderie, you could hear the chips, and cards being shuffled—you wanted to be one of the men.

I learned the game when I was 10. My father taught me how to play. I wanted to know the language of poker—I wanted to understand what the excitement was all about., ‘Why are they cheering? What’s going on?’ I didn’t want to be an outsider. I loved the game from the very first minute—it’s like golf—you can never master it.

Online poker has changed everything. This year, at the World Series of Poker, there are so many amateurs playing, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Without online poker these tournaments would still be exclusive–it’ s the stories of these so called “no-names” that make poker a great game.

Barbara Friedell

Barbara, who just turned 60, has been playing poker for 14 years. What makes this year particularly intersting is that it marks her first time playing in the World Series of Poker. To up the ante, her winnings were going to finance monasteries in Tibet. Every day the Tibetan Monks were chanting for her but early into the tournament she played a bad hand. Nonetheless she’ll still make her annual charitable contribution.

from Chelsea’s pre-interview notes:

I’ve hiked the Himalayas many times—whenever I do hike I think ‘this is where I was meant to be.’ You start out early in the morning—you get to the top of the pass and there is this incredible view, there is no one around and it is so quiet. You have this great sense of peace. The moment is absolutely THERE. All your senses are on overload. When you are playing poker it’s a similar sensation– you have to be aware of your surroundings, in both the casino, an in the Himalayas, you have to be in the moment.

Annie Duke

Annie Duke is going to make a brief appearance. She’s considered one of the best — if not the best — female poker players in the world. She fell into poker when she fell out of a PhD program. For five years Annie had been studying cognative psychology. To learn more about Annie Duke’s life in the world of poker check out her forthcoming book, Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker

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  • Not only has poker become suddenly hip online, but even in conservative Utah.

    In high schools around the state, my friends have started spending lunch periods (and occasionally class periods) playing Hold ‘Em, and they gravitate around a couple of students who carry around cards and heavy sets of chips in their backpacks. In the journalism room at my high school, it has become an almost venerable institution of gambling, and there’s a set of cards chips an editor has stashed away in a drawer that people gather to play with whenever its convenient. While there’s been a lot of talk in the media about how poker or Hold ‘Em has become increasingly friendly to female players, it should be noted that in Utah high schools, at least, players are almost exclusively male. Not due to any sort of discrimination, but interested females are far and few between.

    The boys play about five dollars a game, so while it’s not quite enough to break anyone’s allowance, it still is, nonetheless, enough to be breaking Utah’s stringent gambling laws. Everything’s been going under the radar so far though.

  • Critic as a I am about blogging, don’t get me started on poker. At least blogging is socially constructive. The Boston Globe had the nerve to give a blah editorial about the craze, and within it announce that they were launching not one but two poker columns.

    I would like to hear on public radio things that people are passionate about which outside of manufactured cultural trends (and that goes for bitchn’ stitchers, too).

    I wonder why poker now, and not, say, frisbee, which involves round discs as well, though they’re passed around quite freely. Frisbee at least gets you some air. I suppose we live in an age now where our leadership bluffs its way around about its financial situation. Texas: hold ’em next time.

  • So public radio shouldn’t do shows about cultural trends that people may have a passion for? And furthermore, they ought to restrict their programming to “passions” that are definitively socially constructive?

    It seems to me that Open Source is a forum where people can dissect these trends in a manner different from that of the mass media, and I’ve always found that whenever public radio does shows on popular activities, it almost always sheds light on an aspect that isn’t immediately obvious, but nonetheless intriguing.

    Incidentally, I like your last name.

  • Sofi– I have no more sway over what ROS covers than any other listener. I didn’t say that I wanted to hear only about socially constructive passions; I was merely making . I would be willing to hear about your tin mints, if it can make for a good hour of radio.

    The poker craze is hyped enough. I like to hear about people passionate about things independent of what the culture instructs them. I’d love to hear from the few diehards still patronizing the Wonderland dog track.

    But carry on; if there is a new spin to poker, bring it on.

  • Fair enough.

  • the most interesting thing to me about the poker craze is people who can make a living at it. Sports Illustrated had an article about this May 30th about college kids who play (subscription required or get in touch with me and i’ll hook you up with a copy) []. the precursor of people being able to make so much money is that there are a lot of suckers out there, like PT Barnum said.

    i also saw an article online about a guy who’s financing his startup making 100$/hr playing poker online [].

    fwiw, i think the fascination (including mine) is ‘hey, i could do this. i could make a bunch of money.’ it’s somewhere in b/t entrepreneurism and winning the lottery, a mix of skill and luck.

    hope this helps (though you may not decide to go this way…)

  • Easy to kick down a barn, Jon — why not venture as far as actually suggesting a topic ?

  • as I said: “I’d love to hear from the few diehards still patronizing the Wonderland dog track.” But I’ll cede to the great poker stories out there…

  • Abby

    How does Poker compare to bridge?

  • ann arky

    I think the above comments highlight the need to have this type of discussion in public forums. It’s easy to dismiss playing a hyped-up game such as Texas hold-em as being just another fad to occupy bourgeois ESPN viewers…but the thing to keep in mind that this IS something REAL people ARE passionate about. There is no need to make it yet another battleground in the culture wars, and there’s certainly no need to try and scientifically dissect the game to show its complexity or lack thereof. There is a depth to every game, though that doesn’t matter much when you step back and see that it’s simply something people enjoy doing and are passionate about – who is to judge whose passtime (or career) is deeper or more complex than others? And who cares where your particular passion falls in that dubious spectrum, if it’s something you are truly passionate about?

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