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Posted by on Mar 5, 2013 in Blog, General Poker, World Series of Poker | 4 comments

Msot Embrassing Momnets: My Wrost Typos Ever

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You can’t write thousands of poker tournament reports without making a few mistakes.

Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve made a shitload.

Fortunately, things are much easier now than they used to be.  Today, there’s spellchecker software.  Events like the World Series of Poker also hire more staff, which proofreads official reports before they’re released to media.

But back in the bad old days, I used to do most of the writing and sending out on my own.  Since virtually all official reports were written very late a night, or even the following morning, they were often infused with errors.  Some proved quite embarrassing.

Here’s what I call “the Dirty Dozen”:

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(1)  SPELLING THE WINNER’S NAME WRONG — You might think that winning a World Series of Poker gold bracelet and perhaps a million dollars in prize money would be enough to motivate the person responsible for writing the “official report” to spell the winner’s name right.  Wrong!  I’ve done this more times than I care to admit.  Sometimes, no one notices — especially when Russians or Ukrainians win.  But I’ve butchered even the simplest of names.  To this day, I still have to re-look up Erik Seidel (it’s with a K), Carlos Mortensen (it’s with an E), Jennifer Harman (it’s with an A), and Mike Matusow (it’s with a U and an O).  I’m a hurribel speller.

(2)  “HE’S QUITE A PORKER PLAYER” — Some time ago, a heavy-set man finished in the top five at a final table at the U.S. Poker Championships in Atlantic City.  I won’t reveal the name of the player, for obvious reasons.  The big man played terrifically but just got very unlucky on the final hand.  In the official report, I meant to write “(NAME) is quite a poker player.”  Well, let’s just say I stuck in one extra letter (an R) — the worst letter imaginable.

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Posted by on Mar 2, 2013 in Blog, Essays | 2 comments

An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi

 

The Amazing Randi Photo

 

James Randi defies description.

One of the world’s most fascinating people, he’s performed more extraordinary acts of magic in his 84 years than anyone in show business.  And when I say “magic,” I’m not necessarily referring to parlor tricks or death-defying physical stunts.  He’s the personal junction between past and present — a centerpiece connecting the great Houdini and Blackstone to modern-day magical marvels Copperfield and Blaine.

But Randi has done much more than just trick us.  To the contrary, he’s enlightened us.  He’s educated us.  He’s made us more curious about the things we see.  He’s taken performance art to unprecedented heights.  He’s even transformed himself into an intellectual and academic.  He started out performing stunning feats in front of the camera and for stage audiences — but ultimately came to share his profound wisdom as an author, speaker, paranormal investigator, and above all else — a seeker of truth.

Randi is a gift to humanity.

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Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 0 comments

Staring Death in the Eye and Not Blinking: On Christopher Hitchens and “Mortality”

 

hitchens-book-review

 

Readers and friends, sometimes one and the same, sometimes not, know of my profound affection for the words and ideas of the late writer and polemic Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens, who died nearly a year ago, penned some 15 books over the course a bombastically bountiful career that spanned nearly three decades — the first half spent in the U.K., the nation of his birth, and the later half in the U.S., the country to which he eventually attached himself as a naturalized citizen.  But his real citizenry was to free thought, ideas, and debate.

His writings which later morphed into hundreds of speeches and lectures, weren’t merely a concoction of loose words and phrases, they were carefully calculated steamrollers which flattened centuries’ accumulation of myths, trouncing the idolatry attached to those he so deservedly disdained, including most famously — Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa.

Love him or hate him, you had to respect the man everyone who was fortunate enough to be included his inner circle of Vanity Fair elite lovingly called “Hitch.”

Hitch was unquestionably the bravest writer of our generation, almost recklessly unafraid of the fallout he would inevitably encounter for expressing what would both literally and figuratively be blasphemous to all aspects of our popular culture.  I mean, you may not like to hear the things he said or read the things he wrote, and might not agree with the man, but one must admit — it takes balls to tear down Mother Teresa.  Henry Kissinger, less so.

Consider the answer he once gave to a question as to what’s the most overrated virtue.  Without any hestitation or ambiguity, Hitchens roared — “Faith, closely followed – in the overall shortage of time – by patience.”

There would indeed be a sad irony to Hitchens’ blistering answer here, which would be prophetic.  No doubt, Hitchens’ life did finally run out of time, at a far less than complete 62 years.  During the later stages of physical decline, mentally as strong as ever, he expressed his greatest regret at not being able to go another twenty more years, continuing to wage the war against intellectual servitude, where ever he saw it.  And yet, faced with his own impending death and awareness thereof, Hitchens never once wavered from his own faith, a faith not cast towards some imaginary heaven, but the faith focused inward to the self.  Hitchens never compromised his beliefs nor wavered in his consistency.  One had to admire that.

During the final excruciatingly painful year of his life, when he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, and as he became increasingly aware of the fate awaiting him which would have no happy ending in spite of all the best doctors and alternative therapies, many who followed his career were eager to see the final fateful chapter played out.  Instigated by his ceaseless bashing of religion with such veracity, some wondered if he might actually undergo a “foxhole conversion.”

That final melancholic year of his life, while being perhaps the most poignant era of his writing and speaking career, was also the most gripping.  It was a car crash, a rubber-necking vouyeristic exercise for many driving by on life’s conjested highway, particularly for those who may have relished in the twisted irony of seeing a man put the ultimate test of his own “faith.”  And that is the faith in one’s own constitution and belief set.  Which, no matter what one’s views, are not always easy things to stand by.

Mortality is the final book written by Hitchens.  It’s a far more personal narrative than anything previously written by the Oxford-educated iconoclast who made a career of arguing with cozy intellectual comfort zone of conventional wisdom.

To those unfamiliar with Hitchens – the man and his writings – the biggest surprise might be the absence of metaphorical violins in the narrative.  Alas, there are no strings attached to these words, though if you admired the man as I did, his brave personal toil ultimately does pull at the heartstrings.  To those more familiar with the man, remaining steadfastly convinced and comfortable with his position on matters of the spirit was hardly a surprise at all.  It was, in fact, to be expected.  It’s a walk to the gallows with a head held high.  Even deviant.

At only 104 pages long, this is by far the shortest book of the author’s career.  One plainly sees this is an incomplete work, just as it should be.  There’s really no way to wrap it all up and put a pretty bow on top, as other memoirs of famous dying people often do, and Hitchens’ previous release Hitch-22 pretty much already covered all the bases of a career from A to Z.  This is a closer examination of the “W-X-Y-Z” period of a man’s existence, embellished with far more personal revelations that previously released.  We all know how this book is going to end, and the engrossment comes not from some 24th-hour surprise or late conversion, but rather from Hitchens’ poignant honesty, his refusal to airbrush his own angst which ultimately becomes the acquiescence of fate.

Indeed, while all of Hitchens other masterful works challenged us to think and taught us how to live, Mortality teaches us how to die, with honesty and dignity, while remaining true to ourselves.  And that might be Hitchens’ most poignant parting gift to us all.

 

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Posted by on Sep 21, 2012 in Blog, Music and Concert Reviews, Travel | 2 comments

Who Would Pay Money to See This Quack?

 

Fraud Sylvia Browne

 

On the list of the world’s most hideous people, this piece of shit is very near the top.

Her name is Sylvia Browne, and for those of you fortunate enough to have never heard of her, she’s a self-described “spiritual teacher and psychic.”

And in a related news story — I’m the Pope.

This charlatan might have some mild entertainment value if some people didn’t take her so seriously.  In a sort of Andy Kaufman sort of way, she could be a knee-slapping riot.  If she was performing on The Gong Show, her charade would be so fucking bad, it actually might be pretty good.

Trouble is — she’s not amusing people.  To the contrary, she’s hurting people.  Lots of people.  She’s been touring the country during the last few months, shaking down her hopeless audience members (and dare I say “fans”) who have absolutely no clue they’re little more than the latest generation of frightened townsfolk getting pitched with the snake-oil.

It’s really hard to believe we’re living in the 21st Century here — that people believe the same bullshit that’s been shoveled since the days of Pythia, the very first Sylvia Browne incarnate who did her very own Three-Card Monte act way back in ancient Greece.  At least poor Pytha had the decency to commit suicide at the age of 30 — thus sparing the world’s most advanced society at the time more of her delusions.  Browne couldn’t do us that favor.  She’s still conning people to this day, and going strong well into her 70s.

No doubt, Browne is very good at what she does.  He’s a real pro.  Indeed, most con-artists are good at what they do.  She’s flim-flammed her devotees — typically made up of older, poorly-educated women grappling with depression.  Browne has even managed to convince some of these people that she possesses supernatural powers.  And so, she does what any heartless self-promoting opportunist would do.  She bilks her followers out of a few bucks.  Make that 47 bucks a pop, which is the standard ticket prize for her show.

Browne spends much of her time flying around the country masquerading as some kind of 100,00-watt antenna to the grave.  Her act pretty much consists of duping people who are so emotionally vulnerable and so utterly desperate for answers, that they’ll often drive hundreds of miles to witness her onstage “readings.”  Many come with hopes they’ll get lucky enough to be chosen amongst hundreds with similar problems sitting in what amounts to a clusterfuck of basketcases.  Most seek answers to questions which simply cannot be answered.  They beg for solace.  They long for inner peace.  And the grand dame of duplicity, Sylvia Browne is right there on center stage to deliver on cue what they’re so desperate to hear — even if it means abandoning all sense of human decency.

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Posted by on Sep 12, 2012 in Blog, General Poker, Las Vegas, Video 1, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

Players Television Network — Looking Back on the Life of Stu Ungar

Photo by Ulvis Alberts (1981)

 

Writer’s Note:   Last week, Stu Ungar would have celebrated his 59th birthday (Birthdate — September 8, 1953).

 

The short-lived Players Television Network debuted at the 2005 World Series of Poker.

I was asked to moderate two panel discussions, which were later broadcast via “On Demand.”  The first show was on the late great poker legend Stu Ungar.  The second show was a panel discussion about the business of online poker.

I wasn’t at all prepared to assume the role of moderator.  I recall leaving the rigors of my job at the WSOP for an hour our so, getting abruptly fitted with a microphone, and then walking out and taking a seat in front of a live studio audience and rolling television cameras with no script.

The good thing about the unrehearsed format is that everything was spontaneous.  The bad thing is the show could have been much crisper had I been prepared.  Looking back now, I certainly would have asked more penetrating questions than what appear here.

Fortunately, the four guests who appeared on the Stu Ungar segment were outstanding.  Madeline Ungar (Stuey’s former wife), Stefanie Ungar (Stuey’s Daughter), Larry Grossman (Las Vegas radio personality and gambling authority) and Peter Alson (writer and my co-author on Stuey’s biography “One of a Kind”) were all in top form.

In the coming weeks and months ahead, from time to time, I’ll be writing more about my personal recollections of Ungar — particularly during that tragic final year of his life when I spent the most time with him.  I look forward to telling some stories that were not included in the book which might interest poker fans.

In the meantime, here’s the panel discussion from 2005 that runs about 30 minutes in length.

 

 

 

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