Jackpot Jay's readers -- and, in many cases, ex-readers -- are not just in a bad mood, they're getting downright surly.
Their primary gripe is that I revealed the name of the winner of the World Series of Poker prior to ESPN's broadcasts of the event (beginning tonight, July 6, at 9 p.m.).
Here's a small sampling of their e-mailed thoughts on this matter:
And those are just the printable responses.
After careful consideration of the above, and all the other angry e-mails, here's my current position on the matter:
It's occurred to me that it is easy to cheat in internet poker. All you do is get a friend or two with another computer and join the same table. Now you can know/see two other player's cards and make your decisions as such. Is this a problem?
-- Jonathon, Irvine, California
I've never played on the internet (I have a Mac at home, which requires software and other knowledge that is well beyond a Luddite like me), though I will soon. But send me your thoughts/experiences vis-à-vis cheating on the 'net to a get a thread going, and I'll also try to get some folks from the major poker sites to explain what they do to control cheating.
My thinking at the time was that the winner's name had appeared, on the day after the event, in virtually every newspaper in the country -- and on the front page in several major cities. His picture has been on the cover of every gambling and card-playing publication, so you couldn't go into a public poker room anywhere in the world without knowing who won. He was all over the TV -- or soon would be -- including such well-watched programs as Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel. In other words, I assumed that anybody who was interested in poker would already know who won.
Obviously, I was wrong.
Several readers, more temperate than those quoted above, suggested I should have issued a 'revelation alert' in the column before the point at which I mentioned the winner, something like:
Caution! Newsbreak coming! For those who want to remain ignorant of the winner of this year's World Series of Poker, the better to enjoy the ESPN broadcasts later this year, READ NO FURTHER! THAT MEANS YOU!
Good point. Sorry, all.
Another thing that seemed to irritate the crap out of many readers was my column on whether poker should be considered a sport. Kent from Arlington, Virginia, wrote:
"I started to read your article, but very quickly realized it sucked and stopped reading. So, I have no idea what your conclusion regarding poker as a sport is. But I have come up with my own conclusion: You suck."
Now I don't know about you, but when I get a piece of strong criticism like that, it tends to force me to evaluate myself and my life. And all I can say is this:
Kent, after thinking about it for quite a while, I've come to the following conclusion. You are absolutely right! My writing sucks, and so do I. But now what do I do? Sincerely, Jackpot Jay.
Kent's opinion aside, the Is Poker a Sport? column sparked an interesting debate, with most correspondents voting "no," but not for the same reason. Clearly, Page 2 readers have quite an idiosyncratic range of what sport is ... and isn't.
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"By your rationale, anything in which two people can compete is a sport. Thus, I invite you to watch as two mortgage brokers battle to give me a better interest rate. They're fat, bald and have trouble breathing at times, but they can work with figures like no one's business."
From Rufus of LA:
"When I was a kid, my dad defined a sport as: Any competition that had 1) a winner, 2) a ball, and/or 3) a fight. I think that covers just about anything I'd pay to watch. Poker is a fun game, but it's not a sport in my book."
From Lucas of Toronto:
" 'And nobody would question whether bowling or golf or pool are sports.' Are you kidding me? I like to golf, bowl and play pool. I find all three fun, but golf is the only one I would ever contemplate calling a sport. Just because something requires skill, talent and dexterity does not make it a sport. Typing quickly and accurately requires all of those things. Please, for the love of all things good, tell me you don't think typing is a sport. By the way, any chance ESPN2 will be covering the 2004 World Speed-Typing Championships?"
From Ethan of Berkeley, California:
"Babe, bowling, golf and pool are games. Poker is a game. If you can eat and not risk physical injury while doing it, it's a game."
From Tom of Haddon Heights, New Jersey:
"Jay, my man! Poker is not a sport! Poker is a game. Chess is a game. Bowling is a game. Golf is a sport. Billiards and darts are not sports. The difference: A sport, at a minimum, places some sort of physical stress on a person, and a person playing must have some chance, however remote, of being injured, or at least working up a sweat. The worst threat of injury poker players face is gashing their forehead on the table when they go all in with 4-9 offsuit and the big blind calls them and turns over a pair of kings. Casino poker's been ruined for me anyway -- everybody's doing it now. Every white guy with a pulse and a FUBU shirt is playing now. They've trashed the casinos. The gentility is gone from the game. Hopefully, Kornheiser is right."
From Adam Lynch of Chicago:
"If you can smoke 1/2 pack of cigarettes while competing at it at the highest level (see John Daly, PGA tour), then there is no way in he-double hockey sticks that it is a sport."
From JMan of Eureka, California:
"Poker is a sport just like running a marathon is a sport. You must have seen the WPT event where Gus Hansen is lifting weights in the gym. And you must have sat on your numb butt for a 10-hour session of no-limit, where you must stay alert and clearheaded while time ruins your endurance and ability to think. I can barely watch TV 10 hours a day for six days in a row, let alone bet hundreds of thousands on life-changing decisions. The physical exertion is obvious to anyone who's ever played a big tourney. You can leave that ring game when you're tired, but you stay in a tourney till you bust, and physical conditioning is only laughed at by those used to old school soft competition. Just like modern baseball would kick Babe Ruth's butt (or at least make him an average DH), the new world of poker will give the edge to sober, fit players. With software, books and the internet, every boy genius can now be a fantastic player if they want, and the only thing separating the good from the best will be endurance."
The vast majority of my faithful readers seemed to agree that the Unabomber is a pestilence. However, that might not be a bad thing. As Nate Pendleton of Encinitas, California, snarkily explained:
"The kids loved it, and, if your worst fears come true, us players will have a bunch of new insane kids paying us off big on a regular basis. Sounds like a tremendous blow to poker to me."
Price from Chicago respectfully disagreed (while offering up an oddly backhanded compliment):
"The bomber is in your head and you haven't even sat at the table. Come on, man, you're better than that."
Now, it's time to answer a few questions and respond to a few personal "criticisms."
Jay, being a huge fan of poker and possibly part of the "fad-of-the-moment" players, I have to ask you what your age is? Judging by your fear of change and personality in the poker rooms, I'm guessing 45-50. I'm 26 and am a very good player. I've won some poker tournaments of 200-300 people and more often than not I'd welcome with open arms a Unabomber to the table I'm seated at. Sure, he'll pull a lucky draw out of his butt from time to time, but a good player will take his chips, and his actions won't bother you when your stack gets bigger due to his lack of knowledge. Brenes was actually beginning to ham it up to the crowd along with him, and everyone in the crowd and the announcers liked the change of pace. I guess we're all wrong and you're right. Loosen up and welcome these players you obviously feel superior to and just take their money and don't complain. I have enjoyed your articles and am looking forward to your book. It just must be very uncomfortable for you to sit at poker tables for hours with that stick up your butt.
-- Bryce, Mount Airy, Maryland
Bryce: If you're really looking forward to my book, all I can say is, "Amen, brother." (By the way, I'm 60 and still moaning about TV pushing my beloved radio dramas into the Where Are They Now? files.)
This may sound weird, but when do they let you go to the bathroom during a tournament?
-- Mike, Skokie, Illinois
Mike: As you can see from my response to Bryce, my kidneys are 60 years old, so your question doesn't seem the slightest bit weird to me. Most tournaments, I was relieved to discover, have bathroom breaks every two hours or less. Plus, in an emergency, you can just get up and miss a few hands. They'll fold your cards while you are gone -- and take appropriate blinds and antes off your chip pile -- but there are no other penalties for prematurely answering nature's call.
Clint Eastwood was holding a SHOTGUN, not a Spencer rifle, when he aimed it at Hackman.
-- Terry, Bethune, South Carolina
Terry: Oops. Don't tell Charlton Heston, okay?
I was wondering what your best recipe for dealing with the always-dreaded bad beat is. I busted out of a tourney the other night on a tough one (A-K vs. A-Q) and finished 49th, only to see the evil perpetrator go on to finish fifth with "my" chips.
-- Jon, Los Angeles
Jon: First of all, walk away and don't play again at least till the next day. I lost a one-table tournament at Foxwoods last week -- and $1,000 -- the exact same way you did, A-K to A-Q. Didn't walk away, dropped another $1,200 or so, felt like a schmuck when I eventually remembered to walk away. Also, keep reminding yourself that a good player is going to be the victim of bad beats far more often than the victimizer for one good and true reason: Good players usually go in with the better hand. In the long run, if you are really good, Santa will reward you.
Teddy KGB pounded Oreos at his club before Mike McD busted him up, but would he be allowed to eat them at a real tournament table?
-- Brian, Chicago
My wife bought me "Positively Fifth Street" for Father's Day, thanks to your article, and I got in huge trouble when she read the first couple of pages. Her response: "This is porn ... you're not reading this." Do you have any other suggestions for books less racy?
-- Tom, San Diego
What book(s) do you recommend for newcomers to hold 'em poker?
-- Matt, Boston
I'm already on record as anointing A. Alvarez's "The Biggest Game in Town" (on the 1981 World Series of Poker) as the best poker book ever written. If you can find a copy of it, Jon Bradshaw's "Fast Company" is also very good (not strictly a poker book, it's a collection of profiles of six famous American hustlers, some of whom played poker). And, Tom, if you're a chick-flick kind of guy, you might enjoy Katy Lederer's "Poker Face," which is more a "Liar's Club" kind of beautifully poetic memoir than a poker book, though Katy -- the sister of world champions Howard Lederer and Annie Duke -- also has a few fascinating family poker tales to tell.
Matt, if you are a true beginner, I'd recommend "How to Play Poker Like the Pros," by Phil Hellmuth. It's accessible enough for a newcomer without any talking down, and the writing style is entertaining. (As soon as you become more accomplished at the game, make sure to read Doyle Brunson's "Super System." Since it was written more than 25 years ago, it's a bit outdated, theory-wise, but it's still the bible on the most important attribute any poker player could ever hope to develop -- aggressiveness.)
Although I cannot possibly be as hip as your hip friends, I feel compelled to make a couple of points regarding your Dave Foley comments. Mr. Foley was probably joking when he claimed to know nothing about poker. He is, by all accounts, a highly intelligent and well-prepared actor. I suspect that he did not go into a televised tournament unprepared. Second, Mr. Foley is Canadian, which means that he was: (A) probably being humble about his skills; and (B) couldn't care less about the effect his poker playing has on "America." If you want a good laugh, you should check out Mr. Foley's work in "The Wrong Guy" (which co-stars the wonderfully-easy-on-the-eyes Jennifer Tilly).
-- Patrick Burkhart, Whitefish, Montana
Patrick: You'll never believe how happy you've made my hopelessly unhip friends with your totally inaccurate description of them. You were not the only one to chastise me for my lack of familiarity and respect for Dave Foley, though you were, by far, the most gentle. On my own behalf, I can only say: I know who Jennifer Tilly is.
You mentioned in a recent column that you attended Harpur College in Binghamton, NY. There were some incredible Grateful Dead shows at Harpur College in the early seventies. Were you fortunate enough to attend any of them and, if so, what did you think?
-- Jack, Greenwich, Connecticut
Jack: Did I ever. They were great (one lasted from 8 at night till 8 the next morning), and the refreshments were, too, if you know what I mean.
ATTENTION, IRS: HOW JAY IS DOING IN HIS NEW CAREER
Last week: minus $2,000 (don't ask)
CTD (career-to-date): plus $6,500
Jay Lovinger, a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2, is writing on his poker adventures for ESPN.com and also writing a book for HarperCollins. You can watch the 2004 World Series of Poker starting July 6 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.