October 11, 2007

Meet the pros

Maggie tipped me off to a This American Life episode that got re-run last month called Meet the Pros. The middle act chronicles Ira Glass's trip to the World Series of Poker in 2001.

As the episode originally aired in 2001, you get a view of poker that is only 6 years old but is from a completely different era. In 2001, amateur Chris Moneymaker hadn't yet won the WSOP which subsequently encouraged the masses to give poker a try (there were 10 times as many entrants in this year's WSOP as in 2001). And the World Poker Tour and its hole card cam hadn't yet debuted on TV.

This is a glimpse back at poker right on the cusp of its big break.

The story chronicles how Ira Glass gets swept up in the action and has to come to terms with his own poker jones. There's a wide-eyedness to his commentary that I find really endearing. In reviewing the rules of hold'em, Glass mentions that the five community cards are there "for everybody to share." The drawn-out way he says "share" makes it seem like he's talking about kindergarteners with a box of crayons.

Glass also has some great interviews with pros Jennifer Harman, Phil Gordon, Paul Phillips, Rafe Hurst and Mike Laing (this is around the time that Mike was flipping quarters for $25,000 with Andy Beal, as mentioned in The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King.)

As this is before pro poker players became quasi-celebrities, you get a less mediated, less polished account of what it's like to be a pro (I also think Glass does a great job of drawing his subjects out). Jennifer Harman talks about how she couldn't sleep for days after she first lost $30,000 in a session. Mike Laing talks about how he hopes his son doesn't become a pro. And, Phil Gordon reveals that he lost his wife because he didn't want to give up his life of gambling adventure.

I'd resisted the pull of This American Life for many years ... really without a good reason for doing so. But I've come around because of stuff like this and the unparalleled Break-Up episode. (Starlee Kine, who is the star of the Break-Up show, has a supporting role in Glass's story about poker).

No comments: