Sunday, July 24, 2005

Nonfiction: Poker Night

Dealer’s Choice: The Complete Handbook of Saturday Night Poker, by Janes Ernest, Phil Foglio, and Mike Selinker, Overlook Duckworth, 2005

Pay attention, because this review will tell you how to make money at poker.

I’m part of a pretty eclectic and erratic poker group that meets about once a month or so at “Castle Pikachu”, a painted lady up in the Greenwood area north of the city. The hosts are noted cartoonists Phil and Kaja Foglio, who are the creators of the Girl Genius comic (which is now On-Line – go check it out). The number and identities of the players change over time, but consists of other cartoonists, writers, game designers, programmers, air force veterans, a professional magician, mini-robot builders, and other bloggers (who range from small personal journals to regulars on the Daily Kos). There are usually four or so hubs to this Friday party, one upstairs with the kids, one down in the living room, one in the kitchen, and, of course, one at the poker table.

This is nickel-dime-quarter poker, easy for those short of money or limited of attention span, and enlivened by all manner of poker variants(“the game is Hamlet – Kings are dead, Queens are wild, and Jacks are low”). Now you’re sitting around with game designers, so some of the variants turn very variant indeed.

So it was only a matter of time before all this turned into a book. Phil (who does wonderful cartoons), Mike Selinker (former WotC guru and puzzle-maker for Games Magazine) and James Ernest (owner/designer/sage of Cheap Ass Games, makers of Kill Dr, Lucky and the now-renamed Before I Kill you, Mr Bond) have conspired to put together to put together a great big book of poker variants.

Let me get this out of the way first – this book has the worst cover in Christendom. You have an award-winning cartoonist among your writers with a distinctive style (who does great cartoons all the way through the book) and you choose as your cover the typical lame poker-book cover – Green felt background, chips, and cards. And they probably wonder why this book is doing just OK on Amazon, and much better in the brick-and-mortar stores (where people can, you know, actually LOOK at it).

The contents, however, are delightful. They go through the basics of setting up a Friday night (well, they call it Saturday night, another marketing weirdness) poker game, the basics, and delve into a huge number of variants, ranging from the mildly amusing (Seven Nice Cards, Jane Austen, Call the King), to the positively deadly (Heinz 57, Diablo). Some of my favorites are in here, along with a couple that will drive me from the table.

And, James, Phil, and Mike also write it all in a very accessible, readable, fashion, like someone at one of these poker games talking about the game. Their stories get into all the details that they know, relating both facts and folklore, and they tend to mock themselves, their fellow cardplayers, and anything else they find within range. It has a great voice, and that voice is a frankenstien of James, Phil, and Mike (Frankenstein, of course, is another game entirely).

I have to note that book mocks in particular “Jeff the Math Genius”. I must confess that I am not Jeff the Math Genius, but rather another Jeff entirely. I call Jeff the Math Genius by the name “Jeff Prime”, since he has been playing longer than I have. Sorry about that. I’m not the Jeff you’re looking for.

Oh yeah, the money-making thing. Last time I was playing poker, I said to Phil “I’m going to have to get a copy of that book.”

Phil says, “I have extras. I’ll sell you one.”

And that, folks, is how to make money at poker.

More later,