Monday, October 03, 2005

Penn Jillette's New Book

I've just finished reading "How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard," co-authored by Penn Jillette and Mickey D. Lynn. The book purports to be a how-to manual of cheating from a master card-cheat, crook and hustler, as recounted to (and written down by) Jillette and Lynn. I'm not sure if it's a genuine account, a composite account from many card-sharps, or a fiction from the whole cloth, and I don't care. It was a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable read.

I don't know when I've ever read a book that was more hard-boiled. It read like a cross between the classic con-man study The Big Con and a Dashiell Hammett novel. The author's account makes him out to be a genuine sociopath, and his descriptions of dealing bottoms and seconds, goading other players into acting badly, sneaking chips and the contents of home-game strongboxes are filled with a gleeful species of braggadocio that makes it clear that this guy is a lot more fun to read about than to meet (likewise, the HOWTOs for surviving the inevitable beatings you'll endure when you get caught are clear enough warning to me that moral considerations aside, cheating at cards is just a bad idea).

There's an hilarious appendix of card-sharp lingo that tells many tales -- I love slang and jargon and word-play.

I've always been a fan of this little sub-genre of narrative accounts of con-men, gamblers and so forth. I don't gamble at all, don't even play the lotto (we call it the stupidity tax in my household) but I find reading about the crazy, hell-for-leather, grifting exploits of amoral con-artists just fascinating.

The book's got many grace-notes but my favorite is that when you remove the dust-jacket, there's a different title printed on the back of the book (nominally so you can read it without arousing suspicion): THE HISTORY OF PLAYING CARDS IN AMERICA BY DB RICHARDS.

Home games are ripe for the picking. There are more George games going on in a bullshit town than you'll ever find at the swankiest casino in Vegas. A lot of people would rather blow their money in their weekly payday game than spend a bundle on tickets and hotels to get to the closest casino. If they stay at home, they have more money to play with and more to lose to you. Why should you split your money with Wayne Newton.

There are pros and there are cons (other than you) in the home game. First, you'll have to play with a lot of idiots. Don't let them frustrate you. Many of them won't know the game. Almost every single one of them will believe that they're a "much better than average" player. They'll try to be hip and act like riverboat gamblers. One guy I played with proudly showed his pocket aces and announced that he had "US Air" instead of "American Airlines" (A-A). They'll make you sick because they're so stupid and so easily taken. Don't get cynical. They're like children. Be patient and support them. Children aren't smart; they're little robots that do and feel what you teach them to do and feel. Unlike children, home game players won't give you their love, they'll only give you their money. And that's better any day.


TOTH to Cory Doctorow



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