Monday, February 23, 2015

The Thinking Poker Diaries, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 - A Review

The market for poker books is drying up. After "Positively Fifth Street" and the Chris Moneymaker generated poker frenzy of the early 2000s the general public's interest in reading about and learning about poker has waned considerably.

If you got on the bandwagon early or were there already and had your work resuscitated (a la Doyle Brunson's "Super System") you had a good run. Your books pushed the other ones out of the "games and puzzles" section of Barnes and Noble and had multiple shelves to themselves. 

 I bought into the hype hoping to lose myself in the world of poker and maybe even win a few bucks. My home bookcase still has a shelf or two filled with the worn, dog-eared copies of a few of my favorites:

* "Tournament Poker for Advanced Player," by David Sklansky
* "Killer Poker Online," by John Vorhaus
* "Hold'em Excellence," by Lou Krieger
* "Play Poker Like the Pros," by Phil Hellmuth, Jr,
* Winning Low Limit Hold'em," by Lee Jones (still my absolute favorite)

Along with the "how to" books came a few books that were more about the poker scene or the poker "life" than about the game itself. A few of these, too, had been around before the bonanza and were very worth reading:

* "Big Deal," by Anthony Holden
* "Poker Nation," by Andy Bellin
* "The Biggest Game in Town," by A. Alvarez, along with Jim McManus' "Fifth Street" my favorites of this genre.

Andrew Brokos' series "The Thinking Poker Diaries: Stories and Strategic Thoughts from Poker's Premier Event" is a combination of both these types - how to books and poker life books. I've read Volumes 1 and 2 and the 3rd has just come out and I am sure I will read that one too. 

What I like about these books (I read both of them on Kindle) is more the feeling you get while reading them than what is being said. For sure Mr. Brokos knows what he's talking about. Anyone who finishes in the money multiple times at the WSOP is worthy of a listen. If you are looking for strategies for playing various levels of tournament action you will find it here. He offers advice on bluffing, playing short stacks, playing on the bubble, and learning how to dominate at the table. He also gives play by play, blow by blow accounts of pivotal hands he has played - a gold mine for some readers, not so much fun for others. Good poker players have remarkable memories and who am I to criticize them for recounting hands that are meant to teach valuable lessons to novice players.

There is value in these books just for those things - instruction, strategy, nuance. But for me, the aura of these short reports is what I like best. I am sure they are called "diaries" for that reason. Mr. Brokos does not shy away from sharing his emotional attachment to the game, the pull it exerts on one's "normal" life, his failings and bad decisions which he readily admits and owns. The latter trait, a gift in my estimation, is far from the haughty, invulnerable tone of most other poker players and poker writers.

If you seek an easy read that will not leave you feeling like a dunce you should try these. They are available on Amazon in hold-in-your-hand versions or digitally for Kindle. (You can download a Kindle reader to your mobile phone, tablet or computer for FREE.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Back at the Table in New York

No, not the poker table or even the blackjack table. But, the New York State Gaming Facility Location Board is back at the negotiation table and will begin hammering out the process for filling the fourth casino slot in the ensuing months.

According to an article by Joseph Spector (@GannettAlbany), Gannet's Albany Bureau Chief, in this Sunday's Gannet chain newspapers, the Board will meet in Manhattan this coming Friday, February 27, 2015 to release the documents behind their December 2014 decision to place three casinos around the state. At the meeting they will also detail plans for new bidding on a fourth casino to be located in the Southern Tier, more as a way of placating unhappy bidders and residents, than as a means to make right what some see as a wrong in only choosing to pick three casino locations.

What once looked like a promising proposal to build full scale casinos in New York has turned into a charade with the board and everyone else sticking to their guns regarding the legislature's original purpose for approving casinos in NY at all - economic development in otherwise depressed areas like the Southern Tier, the Catskills, and other sites away from New York City.

 Has this approach worked in Atlantic City? It seemed to have worked for a while although it really never improved the surrounding area or created enough well paying jobs for local residents. Recently AC has fizzled on all accounts and 4 casinos have closed in the past year as everyone is well aware.

Casinos along the Mississippi River have met with mixed reviews, many of them closing for lack of patrons. The story as far as economic development is concerned in the surrounding area is just as bleak.

Building a casino in order to bolster the local economy is a mistake and no self respecting gaming company would build one for that reason, although they will pay lip-service to that ideal while the contracts are being handed out. Casinos are around to make money for the owners and for whatever taxing agency gets a cut. Nothing more, nothing less. People flock to casinos, when they do, not to contribute to a local economy but to have a good time and maybe win some money. For that they are willing to travel a reasonable amount of time - anything over 90 minutes starts to get iffy.

At this point, New York's entire process in questionable in my humble opinion. Wherever they build them they will be enormously popular for a very limited, short time period immediately after they open. Over time people will lose interest.

The best case scenario for full scale casinos in New York has been overlooked, purposely, I'm sure. Take the racinos in Yonkers and Queens and let them develop other types of gaming, mostly table games and poker. They will flourish even more than they are now. People from the most densely populated area of New York will go often and stay long. Owners will make lots of money and lots of taxes will be generated for the state and local governments. All the rest is political nonsense that will end up costing billions for little result.

Remember Atlantic City! Remember Tunica!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Changes Are On The Way

Very few things change in this world without a whole lot of motivation for change. The "Who Moved My Cheese" mind set is alive and well in America and elsewhere.

The casino/gaming industry is no exception. Many of the games that are available to gamblers on the casino floor have changed little in decades. They have historically made money for casinos and as long as they continue to do so they will remain.

The issue of slot machines may prove to be the exception to the rule. The one-armed bandits of the 70s and 80s and decades before that have given way to electronic gizmos that ring, gong, toot, holler, and belch in ways unimagined 40 or 50 years ago. The switch from handles to buttons may have lost the casinos some customers but slots have continued to be the big earner for casinos - until recently, that is.

 In November of 2014 I wrote here about the dissatisfaction twenty somethings display regarding slot machines, even glitzy, computer-like ones. It seems that what they dislike is not the electronic nature of them but the "chance" nature of them - no skill involved at all. This is not what younger people are used to. Their phones, iPads, and other mobile devices are full of apps that allow them to demonstrate some kind of skill and they like that. Line up a bunch of candies; shoot down a few airplanes; skillfully build a city. They enjoy these challenges so much that they are willing to pay for the right to play on, move to another level, or buy another life.

When money suddenly becomes  a variable, smart corporations will stand up and listen.

The link below is to a very recent article on the KNPR News (Nevada Public Radio) website by Chris Sieroty detailing the efforts of A.G. Burnett, Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, to support a bill in the Nevada Legislature that would allow skill based games on casino floors.

There will be naysayers and those holding on to their "cheese," but if moves like this bring more young people into the casinos to play, not just to drink, dance, and carouse as they have been, it will become a reality a lot sooner than anyone expected.