Monday, July 24, 2006

Tournament Poker is for Sissies

If you're a fan of poker, and you haven't been watching High Stakes Poker on GSN, you're missing out on the truest poker game you will ever see. While most tournament final tables are little more than edited sideshows featuring mostly lottery winners, High Stakes Poker shows a REAL poker game, with real serious money on the line. If Todd Brunson busts out of a WPT tournament, he's out $10,000, which is pretty much what he probably gives away in tips while he's at the casino. No big deal. However, watch Todd call off 40 or 50 grand in a live poker game, and see him transformed from an even tempered ambassador of poker to a snarling beast, yelling at those slowing up the game while he's stuck. Just like the game at your local casino! This is a game where you see professionals in their element, and you see who can really play. You find out who has the heart of a lion and who can't take the heat. No satellite qualifiers here, this is the real deal, and no one is in a big hurry to risk $100,000 of real money on a pre-flop coin flip with AK.

You can also see, here like nowhere else:

The legendary Mike Matusow blow up:

Due to traditional coverage of poker, most viewers are led to believe that Matusow is some kind of clown who managed to stumble into a few lucky tournament situations. In fact, Mike is a brilliant poker mind who made the final table of the WSOP main event twice, and went deep a third time, in the era of massive WSOP fields. He can instantly calculate outs and has an incredible sense of whether another player is strong or weak. He also has a tendency to play too long, get tired, and make big mistakes. These mistakes typically are in the order of seeing flops with the same kind of trouble hands that he handled brilliantly earlier in the session, and getting in the kind of disastrous trouble that makes most players never want to play these hands in the first place (I identify a lot with Mike). On High Stakes Poker, you can watch the entire dramatic arc, from success, to a chance at redemption lost (leaving the game at the right time), to the tragic conclusion.

Antonio Esfandiari's Frustration:

See Antonio take brutal beats and get his bluffs picked off at every turn, leading him to consider quitting poker and taking up a career in furniture sales. Who among us hasn't felt this way? Isn't it nice to know the poker demigods do too?

Tournament poker, while fun and exciting to watch, isn't that relatable. Making a high stakes final table is something most of us can only dream about, and once you get to the final table, frankly, the hard part is over. GSN's High Stakes Poker is just like the game you and I play, and the players act just like we do. They joke around when they're winning, they get moody when they're losing, and they agonize whenever anyone puts them all in. The poker stars are human after all. Which is comforting, and more than a little educational too.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Superman Returns...As a Political Tool.

I've seen Superman Returns. It's pretty good. Unlike "Batman Begins," this movie is not an attempt to update the movie hero legend for a modern age. It plays like yet another sequel in the Christopher Reeve series, and in fact its star, Brandon Routh, seems to be channeling Reeve at times. Ditto Kevin Spacey with respect to Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor. Although it retains much of the cheesiness of the original, it works, because in the end, Superman is a fairly cheesy hero. That is to say, he is far too good and pure for anyone to take him completely seriously. That having been said, there's something about Superman that represents what movies were always supposed to have been about. Taking you away for a few hours from a cruel world where the bad guys usually win (and then stack the Supreme Court) and justice is often in short supply, to a place where good always triumphs over evil, and everyone can tell the difference.

In any event, like this movie or not, everyone can agree that it is a relatively harmless popcorn flick. Or can they? Incredible as it may seem, the Right Wing media has adopted a pet crusade against the Superman movie for being endemic of the evils of Hollywood and their twisted values of "hating America" and "promoting the gay agenda."

As far as the latter, I don't know where anyone got it from. Sure he's pretty and wears a tight costume (see my previous post), but I didn't see Superman behave in this movie any differently from the way a heterosexual male would act, assuming they legitimately were raised with the values of a boy scout. Somehow, however, both sides of the political spectrum have seized upon Superman's having a secret identity as somehow being a metaphor for being in the closet. In point of fact, no closets appear in this movie, and Clark Kent usually changes into Superman by tearing off his civilian clothes wherever he happens to be, counting on his super speed to blur the vision of any witnesses. I'm assuming that this whole issue is coming from the Left's desperate need to grab onto allies wherever they can find them, and the Right's desperate need to generate bogeymen in the same fashion (I mean, can you imagine if Superman really were gay? He'd push that homosexual agenda through in a hearbeat...if only anyone knew exactly what it was.)

The other issue is that Superman is no longer OUR hero. He is an international hero, and his credo to stand for truth and justice is significantly absent the "American Way" that traditionally ended his famous phrase. This signals the Right Wing that Hollywood hates America. I suspect, if they hate anything, it is what the American Way has become, which is certainly quite different from what it was in the 1940s and 50s, and at least half the country will agree it has very little to do with truth or justice.

When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1939, the American Way (in theory) was that everyone, be they man, woman, black, white, jew, christian, gay, straight,rich, poor, etc. etc. had equal rights and opportunity in this country. That ANYONE for example, could marry their loved one. That ANYONE could get rich. That ANYONE could become President of the United States (these days it seems like anyone can, in a lot of ways, but that's not quite what is meant). It stood in contrast to the German Way, which was unilateral power uber alles, over all, with the rights of certain citizens abridged out of necessity in order to preserve the German way of life and the security of the German state. Sound familiar?

The thing that saddens me the most is that I'm fairly confident that the Right Wing doesn't want "Superman for America" because of his strong, middle American values, because he fights for what he believes is right, or because he's a hero. They want him because he can kick ass while draped in a facsimile of the flag. Well that's not really what Superman is about, and that I think, is why the creators of Superman Returns were not so sure that "Superman" and "The American Way" fit together so well anymore.

But conservatives, don't worry. You've still got Captain America. No one can take him away from you.