All-In Magazine: The Viral Phenomenon of Poker Blogs

The following article appeared in the premiere issue of ALL IN
Magazine

The Viral Phenomenon of

Poker Blogs

by HDouble

…and then I hit my set on the river, and check-raised Howard Lederer to
scoop a $60,000 pot.  And then I woke up.

Everybody loves to read about the biggest game in town—Scotty
Nguyen’s great laydown on the river or Daniel Negreanu’s
stone cold all-in bluff in the latest World Poker Tour event.  But
how did these guys get the bankroll to play in these game?  You’re
not going to be sitting at Phil Ivey’s table anytime soon if
you try to pull off some of these professional moves in your typical
low limit game.  Watching the pros may help your game if you’re
playing $2,000-$4,000 hold ‘em, but if you pull a Howard Lederer
and try staring down your opponent in your local $3-$6 game, you
might get a bad beat of a different kind.  Is there any body
out there writing about what it takes to grind your way up through
the limits, one big bet at a time?

That’s where poker weblogs (or blogs) come in. Blogs are
online journals documenting the good, the bad, and the ugly on the
road to poker excellence.  Of course, there are blogs of all
sorts, from political blogs, to blogs about blogs. With the growing
popularity of poker, coupled with the cult-like and viral nature
of the poker community, it should come as no surprise that poker
blogs are one of the fastest growing trends on the web.  These
online journals offer a window into the writer’s intensely
personal struggle with the game of poker.   Unlike magazine
articles, which offer a focused look at a single topic, a blogger’s
frequent updates often cover a wide range of topics.  Reading
a blog is a lot like a one-way dialogue in which you get to know
the author, sharing his frustration over a bad beat, or his joy over
a big win.  One blogger suggested that poker blogs are like
reality TV on the web—the reader is along for the unscripted
roller coaster ride through the poker world.  Sure, it’s
fun to read about Phil Hellmuth’s explanation of how he knew
Erik Seidel had a set, but it’s a lot easier to identify with
someone who’s playing the same limit as you are.  Of course,
I’m a little bit biased.

The Evolution of Poker Blogs

Having just retired from a two-year gig playing semi-pro football,
I was struggling to accept the fact that I probably would never make
the highlight reel on SportsCenter.  As I wistfully mourned
the death of my athletic life, I found myself surrounded by pizza
boxes, automatically thumbing the remote to ESPN out of habit.  I
was confused to see a bunch of fat guys with sunglasses pushing huge
stacks of chips around… this was the SPORTS channel, right?  The
WORLD SERIES of Poker?  This is a joke right?  Part of
me laughed at the idea of calling a card game a sport, but I was
strangely enthralled… the drama of no-limit poker intrigued
me, and I felt a strange rush every time a player said “all-in” and
put his tournament life on the line.  Best of all, some rookie
named Moneymaker was showing the pros how to play after winning his
way into this $10K tournament as a longshot in a $40 satellite.

After I snapped out of my strange poker hypnosis, I turned off
the TV, smirking as the pros were dominated by a first time tournament
player.  The next day at the office was a typical one— boring.  Except
today, I couldn’t escape the visions of all-in bets and chips
being stacked like towers.  The seed had been planted, and minutes
later, I found myself at the bookstore with a stack of poker books
in the checkout line.  I was fascinated—the hard edges
of mathematics, the many faces of psychology, and the common sense
economics greeted me on every page of the poker books.

I dove headfirst into the wisdom of Sklansky, Cloutier, and Krieger,
and pored through the archives of the online poker literature on
rec.gambling.poker.  With visions of towering chip stacks and
check-raises dancing through my head, I finally mustered up the courage
to pony up some cash and sit at the lowest limit table at the nearest
card room. A few check-raises and $100 later, I was hooked.

Poker quickly took over my life.  I found myself thinking
about poker more and more, and spent many a lunch break brushing
food off of the printed pages of rec.gambling.poker.  Pretty
soon there was nothing left to read—there were plenty of books
espousing theories on how to beat the “big” games, but
advice on profitable play against the fish in the no fold ‘em
games down the street was nowhere to be found.

There are always plenty of frustrated rants when the cards go cold,
but it’s a demoralizing frostbite to the beginner.  Every
poker player knows about those nights when you watch your chips disappear
after your pocket Aces get cracked by some clown who thinks that
7-2 offsuit is a good hand to call three bets with.  It was
nights like those which made me wonder if anybody else was going
through the same frustration I was, or if the poker gods were punishing
me for something I did in my past life.

Risking becoming a full-fledged nerd, I began posting my thoughts
to a website detailing the ups and downs of each session.  I
began my journal not only as a springboard to develop my own poker
skills, but also in hopes that my ramblings might end up helping
somebody get through the stretches of cold cards.  I’d
always secretly dreamed of being a writer, and it seemed that this
was my chance—by some strange stroke of fate I was destined
to write about poker.  After a few weeks, I started receiving
emails from readers who wrote that my poker blog had helped them
improve their game.  I also received emails from other poker
players who were keeping journals online—my poker reading list
grew as I became aware of more poker blogs, and my game profited
from the gems hidden in these journals.  In addition to the
strategy tips, the blogs were full of hilarious stories that illustrated
how fun the game could be. More emails were exchanged with fellow
poker bloggers, and new blogs kept popping up, keeping pace with
the exponential growth of poker throughout the nation.

Poker has only gotten bigger in the past year, and the number of
poker bloggers continues to increase.  It’s been about
a year now since I gave birth to my blog, and I’m constantly
amazed at the quality and quantity of writing produced by my fellow
amateur poker players.  Poker blogs have drastically grown in
number—while only a handful of poker journals were online in
2000, there are now over 200 poker blogs. Everybody’s writing
about poker—from high school students playing $.50-$1 online
to the star of Stand By Me, Wil Wheaton.  Want to beat
the games in Italy? This quote from an Italian poker blogger may
help:  “Un’altra interessante strategia preflop, che corregge
quella famosa di Sklansky.”

But it’s not all roses. For every poker blog worth its salt,
there are ten that you wouldn’t even want to wipe your poker
chips with.  The new trend is to capitalize on the popularity
of poker blogs to thinly disguise a “shill” site selling
you one thing or another.  There are over 200 sites that call
themselves “poker blogs,” although many of them have
more sales pitches than an infomercial.

It’s not all bad though.  I’m here to guide you
through the poker blog wilderness, leading you to the best and brightest
of poker writing on the web.  Without further ado, I give you…

The Best of the Blogs

PokerWorks

Debuting in 2000, PokerWorks is one of the longest
running blogs of the bunch.  The author, Linda, is a veteran high-limit dealer
at the Bellagio, and her blog offers a unique view of the other side
of the table.  PokerWorks offers readers a rare glimpse into
the highest limit poker games on the planet from the dealer’s
perspective. She preaches gospel on Devilfish, Sam Farha, and all
the other high rollers who frequent the Bellagio, including celebrities
such as Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and A-Rod.  She’s seen
it all, including her share of world famous tournament winners
scraping the bottom of the barrel:

They jump into a ring game and can’t win.  Ouch!!  It
hurts when they hit the bottom.  The funds have ran out.  They’re
borrowing to play, making deals, looking for any angle – none of
this could be their fault because they are a Name Brand Player!!    They
swear when they lose, they’re inconsiderate and slow the game down
by holding their hand and mumbling for twenty minutes when they
know they’ve lost, they ridicule the new players, they berate the
dealers and glare at them, they throw their cards, (and what the
hell is that all about???), and no one is supposed to say a word
to them about their insufferable behavior because they are a Name
Brand Player.

To which this writer says plain and simply,  “So
What?”

Guinness and Poker

Dubbed “The Godfather of Poker Bloggers”, the author
of Guinness and Poker brings his extensive 5-year background in the
online poker world and a six-pack of Irish draught to the table.  Guinness
and Poker acts as headquarters for all things poker, including links
to daily poker news articles, notable tidbits from assorted poker
message boards, and highlights from recent poker blog updates.  Well
known for his Guinness-fueled ramblings, Iggy’s blog is always
good for a laugh and expert advice on how to sharpen your play:

For the record, I’m playing far looser and aggressive
in tournaments than I ever would in NL ring games. As a matter
of fact
, because of all the
great poker blogging tips about the NL ring games online, I’ve
been playing them the last few days. And yes, it truly is insane.
If you are able to practice extreme patience and not let the egregious
bad beats affect you, these are veritable ATM machines.
Sure,
I’ve had Mister Runner-Runner beat me three pots in a row, but
you will get his stack over the long haul if you can successfully
tag and track him.

On any given day, at any given moment, the improbable triumphs
over the probable, and appears to do so frustratingly often. But,
over the long haul, luck gives way to the favorite.


Lion Tales

Lion Tales offers more insight into the world
of high stakes poker, chronicling one man’s quest to make it to the final table on
the World Poker Tour.  Author Richard Brodie’s blog is
full of jealousy-inspiring tales of hob-nobbing with legends Gus
Hansen, Howard Lederer, and Andy Bloch.  The Lion’s
wry humor and poker skills come through in this tale of knocking
out
Phil Ivey in the 2004 Reno World Poker Challenge:

I had 215,000 chips when we got down to 28 players
and started going hand-for-hand. Phil Ivey had lost most of the rest
of his chips to Londoner Tony Bloom on his left, bluffing all-in
preflop with Queen-Nine suited against Tony’s pocket Aces. Phil continued
to raise under the gun with his short stack but the third time I
called with pocket Tens and Phil was out on the bubble. The 27 of
us left were guaranteed $9802 each. I breathed a sigh of relief,
having taken care of another couple months of the cable bill.


Poker Grub

On the other end of the spectrum is Grubby,
a mid-limit player and playwright whose name comes from for his propensity
for unhealthy
food.  Grubby’s blog began with this infamous credo:

I have a modest job that pays rent and bills with
barely anything left over.



Poker will henceforth subsidize
my food intake. If I don’t win, I don’t eat. And that makes Grubby
grumpy.

Poker Grub is probably the most humorous blog out there, and his
now famous “Hammer Challenge” set off a domino-effect
of horrendous online play in the poker blog community, offering a
prize for the first poker blogger to send evidence of winning with
the worst hand in poker, the mighty 7-2 offsuit:

Your big hands not holding up? Keep getting
sucked out on the river? Tired of folding rags? Want to instantly
tilt the table? Try playing The Hammer!

I’ll send $5 to the first blogger to win
with this hand. For every day that passes without someone winning,
I will add $5. If no one has won after 50 days, the challenge is
null and void (don’t want to lose my shirt, dontchaknow).

In order to qualify for the prize, the winner
also had to type “HAMMER!” in the chat box after showing
down his hand.  This resulted in a collection of hilarious rants
from the unsuspecting victims of the mighty hammer.


Mean Gene

A low-limit player who is running for president
this year, Mean Gene uses his superb writing skills and degree in
journalism to come
up with posts with titles like “The Unbearable Lightness of
Being Phil Hellmuth” and “Confessions of a Dangerous
Fish.”  Gene’s brilliance is evident in his unique
perspective on one of poker’s most talked about players:

The talent that differentiates Phil from other
players is his much-talked-about skill at reading people. Even
other pros talk in hushed voices about how Phil just seems to “know” what
cards the other player hold. “I’m a psychological profiler,
that’s what I do—I read people,” Phil was quoted
recently in a sycophantic article. During the WSOP he said, “I
just seem to be able to look into people’s souls…everything
they do at the table tells a story, and I’m very good at
reading people’s stories”. This bothers me. There is
something decidedly sinister about a guy who consistently shows
his contempt for others yet possesses the ability to deduce what
that person is thinking. Joseph Stalin had the ability to read
people and sense their weaknesses, and he ended up one of the greatest
mass murderers in history. I of course don’t equate Phil Hellmuth
with one of mankind’s most vicious dictators, but perhaps the comparison
helps put things in perspective—Poker Brat versus Pure Evil.


The Tao of Poker

Pauly brings his Hunter Thompson-like
insanity and his background as a writer to the capture the New York
City poker scene.  Since
he made plenty of dough trading stocks on Wall Street, he has the
luxury of traveling around the country and playing poker at all
hours of the day.  His blog is full of chemical-induced
diatribes on topics ranging from betting on the Oscars to losing
big in Vegas:

What the hell happened? I guess the Vegas Gods purposely
booked Phish for three days because they knew it would draw me
and my entire wad of cash out into the middle of the desert, where
I’d quickly fall ill to the fatal illness of greed and debauchery.
I am a weak person, it’s a known fact. And yes, the demons of Vegas
quietly lulled me into entangling myself into their web of despair
and darkness and gluttony. Like a mirage in the distance, I thought
I saw sand angels dancing and twirling in the cool Nevada night,
their soft voices enticing me with orgasmic whispers and tickling
me with smooth feathers.
But I was wrong. I was ambushed by gutless thieves,
an army of henchmen who shook me until all the change and hundred
dollar bills fell off of my body.


Felicia Lee

Not only does Felicia Lee offer extensive
live-tournament experiences from Laughlin to Las Vegas, her superb
people-reading skills bring
us deep into the psychology of tournament poker.  Behind her
pretty face is a tough, aggressive tournament expert who’s
not afraid to mix it up in the biggest games.  Felicia can
often be found facing off against the best of the best in Vegas,
as her recent tangle with Ted Forrest in the World Series of
Poker $1500 Stud Event illustrates:

One strange play happened when I was a severely short stack.
This was hours into the tournament, and I had just taken a big
beat. I was lucky enough to be the bring-in on the following hand.
Ted limped in, my only competitor. On fourth, I immediately caught
a second nine, to go with my nine in the hole. Ted also had a nine
doorcard. Ted bet out. I figured it wasn’t going to get any better
than this, so I immediately raised. Ted studied me for quite a
while. I’m not easily intimidated, so I just watched him, as well.
He knew how short I was; he knew I couldn’t even get through this
hand.

Finally he said, “I don’t want to try to
eliminate you with the worst hand. I want you to stay right here.
All I have is a draw.”

The Poker Penguin

The Poker Penguin is a super smart
New Zealander who has a penchant for showing how the world’s great
achievements apply to poker.  The
Penguin explains how Schrodinger’s Cat, climbing Mt. Everest,
and the Seven Sins can help your game. It sounds strange until
you see how well the guy creates metaphor:

There is something immensely powerful about making
a big all-in raise. It is a statement of machismo. It as close
as most fish will get to being the gunfighter striding out into
the street at high noon. This is immensely appealing as it offers
the player a chance to create a dramatic showdown in the poker
story that they are the hero of. I’m veering dangerously close
to narrative theory. The basic idea that I’m playing with here
is that people create stories out of events past and future to
give meaning to their life, and to justify a course of action.
When confronted with the gung ho slogan “lead follow
or get the hell out of the way”, few people want to admit to themselves
that they are the kind of man who meekly gets the hell out of the
way. John Wayne wouldn’t fold his bottom pair.


Chris Halverson

An up-and-coming poker player who
doubles as a java programmer by day, Chris Halverson uses his analytical
mind to dissect the low-limit
games. Chris is a relatively new player, so his readers get to
witness his progress up the ladder of limits.  Every week
there’s a new epiphany, and you can feel the light bulb going
off in that big brain of his.  Check out Chris’ description
of the first hand he ever won:

A couple hands go by when I look down and see big
slick offsuit. If you’ve seen the Fox Sports showing of the “Showdown
at the Sands”, you’ll remember how they had some players hooked up
to heart monitors. If I had been hooked up to one at this time I
would have short-circuited it. My heart was pounding. I hadn’t been
at the table long enough to establish how I would play, so when I
raised I got 6 callers. My mind flashed. Was I playing online? Where
am I? Oh well, let’s see the flop. KKQ. One bet called around to
me. When I called out “Raise” and reached for my chips my hand was
shaking. I was hoping nobody could see it, but I could and I was
having trouble grabbing the chips. I toss them in front of me and
keep looking at the felt. I was nervous as hell and was hoping nobody
could tell. I get four callers. Turn and river are rags and bet out
each time and have one caller at the end. I flip them over and he
mucks. I win! I was shaking as I was trying to stack all my chips.
Cards are flying, I’ve got chips all over the place and I was trying
like hell not to make too much of it. You know, like I do this all
the time.


Wil Wheaton

The most famous of the bloggers listed
here, Wil’s background
as an actor (starring in “Stand By Me” and “Star
Trek: The Next Generation”) prepared him well for keeping his
poker face on during a stone cold bluff.  Although Wil’s
blog covers a lot more than poker, he’s recently been focusing
on taking his poker game to another level.  Wil’s writing
skills and sense of humor were put on display in his tale of a
no-limit tournament in a back alley Hollywood speakeasy with plenty
of industry
big shots:

Finally, my cards start to come. I stick to my plan,
and double through Mrs. Funnypants, the well-known comedienne.
On the next hand, Mr. I’m In The Music Industry goes all-in against
me with pocket tens. I’ve got a good chip lead on him, so I loosen
up and call him with K-9. There’s a king on the flop, it holds
up, and I bust him out. It’s the first time I’ve ever busted anyone
out, and I feel like Howard Fucking Lederer. I sneak a look at
Mr. Lawyer as I rake in the pot. He’s busy shuffling his chips.


The Cards Speak

Last, and hopefully not least, comes
the blog of yours truly.  My
ramblings cover everything from advice on how to beat the wild no
fold ‘em games in my hometown of Los Angeles to why “The
Hustler” is a better movie than “Rounders.”  Recently
I attempted to extract the poker wisdom from one of my favorite movies, “The
Big Lebowski”:

Walter Sobchak: Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your
homework, Larry?

The Dude: Look, man…

Walter Sobchak: Dude, please? Is this your homework, Larry?

The Dude: Just ask him about the car.

Walter Sobchak: Is this yours, Larry? Is this your homework,
Larry?

The Dude: Is that your car out front?

Walter Sobchak: Is this your homework, Larry?

The Dude: We know it’s his fucking homework! Where’s the fucking
money, you little brat?

This quote goes out to the worst play in online
poker– the infamous disconnect—your opponent pulls the plug
when you bet big on the river, avoiding a river call by abusing the
system. PartyPoker is finally going to disable this in Multi-Table
Tournaments, but even in $3-6 limit ring games, I’ll see some clown
time out on the river after I check-raise them.  Mysteriously,
they’re immediately back before the next hand is dealt. It’s one
big bet, suck it up. If you see somebody type “Where’s the fucking
money, you little brat?” in the chat after an obvious plug-pulling,
you’ll know who it is.

So there you have it, the good, the bad, and the ugly of Poker Blogs.  If
you’re tired of the old poker guard, and want to hear the new
voice of poker, check out the poker blogs for a breath of fresh air.

Comments are closed