Posts Tagged ‘Annie Duke’

Oh the Ridiculousness

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

I have a new book out. Well, a bookette. Well, an e-bookette. Anyway here it is.

And here is what’s said about it.

“With tongue planted firmly in cheek, noted novelist and poker raconteur John Vorhaus pulls off the devastatingly rare “self-spoof,” going to town on his and Annie Duke’s bestselling book, DECIDE TO PLAY GREAT POKER. Study the ways of the drunken master (an Ascended Stairmaster). Correlate drinking frequencies to bluffing frequencies. Learn not to drink with Finns. Also contains the complete rules of Hold’em War and important breakthroughs in strip poker.

“The good news about drinking and playing poker is if you’re a really, really, really, really bad player to begin with, drinking won’t materially hurt your game. Same with this book: If you have no game to begin with, this won’t make it worse.”

So there you have it. And if you must have it, go straight to Amazon and DECIDE TO PLAY DRUNK POKER.

At only $2.99 it’s bound to make a great bathroom book — if you take your Kindle or laptop to the bathroom, that is. Or maybe you’ll read it with your breakfast cereal. I don’t know. I only know that I stand beside this product 100 percent: You must be completely satisfied with your purchase or your money cheerfully retained.

More later, -jv

Running Up to Vegas

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

I’ll be heading up to Las Vegas for a few days next week, to do book-launch events associated with Decide to Play Great Poker (now number one in poker books on Amazon and I’ll be damned). A Barnes & Noble in-store, some local TV, then a biggish event at the Rio where, I can confidently predict, the line of people wanting Annie Duke’s signature will be — oh, let’s call it somewhat — longer than mine. This doesn’t bother me. Really. As I’ve pointed out in the past, she has 31,000 Twitter followers, whereas I have 200. Who wouldn’t be happy drafting along in that slip-stream?

Let’s not forget that Annie and I go way back. She hired me in 1996 to write for the short-lived and long-lamented magazine Poker World, and gave me the opportunity to write my first published poker fiction. Later, she hired me on at UltimateBet as content provider and blogger without portfolio. Was it only five years ago that I spent the whole six weeks of the World Series of Poker blogging for UB and doing final-table commentary for Bluff Radio? Seems like a lifetime. So much has changed since then. Yet here I still am, still writing about poker, still making some kind of splash. I’ll be interested to see me in Vegas. I haven’t been there for quite some time.

Now, in the name of nostalgia, here are a few photos from my many blogging road trips to Vegas and a reprint of the first story I ever wrote for Poker World. More later, -jv

This was an ice sculpture at a press party. No ice sculptures anymore. No press parties. No UB.

The big hue and cry was over players wearing logos that promoted online gambling. Since there was a distinction between the money side (.com) and the free-play side (.net) it was determined that players could wear their brands, but only with the .net suffix pasted over the .com. You can see how I treated this outcome.

Offered without comment.

I collected all the chocolates they left in my hotel room and glued them into a super-tower. Why? Oh, hell, do I ever know why?

by John Vorhaus

If money is joy,

is not more money more joy?

Back in the slick middle of the ‘90s, everyone with a flash  computer and a fast modem and an itch to get rich on the internet kicked around sexy techno phrases — “content provider” “ethernet link” — like so many badminton birds. Plastic, magic words, they resonated of treasure in the same way that Cibola, legendary Seven Cities of Gold, once ached in the hearts of  Spanish explorers. Investment bankers hemorrhaged at the checkbook in their urgency to fund any start-up shop that mentioned web presence in its marketing plan. The wild west and the Roaring Twenties and a great good gold rush all rolled into one.

Any good gold rush, it’s the shopkeepers not the prospectors who grab the cash. So it was for John Balthazar Calvin, who got in early with a phat database, cashed out to a greedy media megalith, made a shipload of dough. He was flush; he should have been happy.

But Calvin was a buzz-chaser, never happy with anything except the next thing, the new challenge, the great beguiling unknown. Ignis fatuus, they call it, will o’ the wisp. It sucked him in like Cibola sucked in Spaniards for four generations in the 16th century, until the New World was all subdued and its native Americans reduced to myth and physical shadows.

John Calvin fell into poker, pure pursuit of the buzz. Soon became a ghost, haunting the card clubs of Southern California, seeking the weak game, the soft target he could shred with his superfine mind.

Calvin played great poker, innately great. He could read opponents, parse pot odds, catalog tells, all with an unstudied ease that seemed to flow from his pores. And so won big, though the more he won the less the money moved him. He wanted a game with something full and real and scary at stake.

One night he’s ripping up a stud game in the top section of the Palms Palace when a gnomelike little man whispers in his ear, “Heard you like action.” Slips a folded piece of paper into John’s pocket. Nothing but a date and a time and a place; a map just the same, delusive ticket to the Seven Cities of Gold.

As conquistadors would, armed with their muskets and their Jesuit justification, John Calvin followed the map to a home high in the Hollymont Hills. Found there a game that was no limit in the truest sense: What you see is what you bet, and nothing less than everything is always on the line.

This all explained by his host, monocled Aldo Janiger. “We don’t bother much with money in this game,” said Janiger. “Meaningless exchange of trinkets from where we sit. We play for true value.”

“Fine,” said John Calvin, the buzz boiling his blood. “Name your stakes.”

Stakes named: car, home, business; all assets, convertible like a sofa or not. Furniture, phones, cans in the pantry. Underwear. Socks. Everything you got. Lose here and it’s square one, pal; your life begins again, with damn-all to bootstrap your ass.

All Calvin said: “Deal me in.”

Astonishing pots. Pink slips, trust deeds, mortgages, zero coupon bonds, business franchises; nothing less than everything. Fortunes gained and lost with the recklessness of dimes and nickels pitched across schoolyard cement. At one point, Calvin found himself the owner of a Telluride slopeside condo, but as he didn’t ski, he put it in the next pot; easy come, irrelevant go.

Life is defining moments. John Calvin’s came just at midnight when his seven stud dream/nightmare/dream hand began with ace-ten underneath and an ace with its face to the sky. He pushed the keys to his Land Rover into the pot.

Janiger said, “See your wheels, raise you my MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.”

“Call.” Cold. A cold call.

Janiger showed a queen, and Calvin put him on a pair, so Janiger’s next card, a four, scared him not at all.

“The contents of my safe deposit box,” bet Calvin.

“Call with mine,” said Janiger, and Calvin knew he was getting odds, because his own box held just some indifferently performing certificates of stock, plus a gun he’d ratholed there in a paranoiac pique one day.

Fifth street, a third ace. Janiger caught a suited jack. Went all in: Slid his home, cars, kids’ trust funds, a reverent Picasso and desultory diamond tie pins into the pot. Calvin called: all his own material goods, up to and including a set of  sexy Texas oil wells.

Forget the dull particulars of Janiger’s flush catch. Focus instead on the expression on Calvin’s face as confidence bled into shock and thence to grim awareness. He’d lost it all, capital A All.

Lost to win, somehow, or anyhow that’s how Calvin saw it. A man who’d made money, then more money, till he bent beneath the weight of wealth. Till he went  into the Hollymont Hills one night, siphoned it all off into a card game. A card game. And set himself free.

John Balthazar Calvin went home, changed into comfortable shoes, shrugged into a warmish coat. “You don’t own things,” he said to his house as he bade it farewell. “Things own you.” A man not owned is a free man. John Balthazar Calvin, free man, strolled out into the pre-dawn dark, elated to find the great unknown tomorrow just around the corner.

Reality is subjective: What you see depends on where you stand. From where he stood he could see a place the rest of us with our heavily husband-and-wived lives never get to see. Life, take two, and no telling what might happen next.

What might happen next? Got an idea for fast cash on the i-net? I know a man between jobs just now who’s interested in anything so long as it’s the new thing. He can turn your notion into gold. John Balthazar Calvin. He’s just around the corner, just out ahead of his hand.

If money is joy, then more money is more joy. But money’s only joyful if there’s nothing joyful in your life. Check it out.

Skipping Through Schiphol

Friday, June 24th, 2011

No blog posts these past few days for a variety of reasons. Scant free time, for one thing, for between work sessions and social gatherings after, well, Amsterdam, like gas, expands to fill the available space. Besides, much of those doings were cloaked in, if not exactly secrecy, discretion; I could tell you, but then I’d have to hit you with a large pillow. And that would be weird.

The biggest problem was that I shifted hotels, and while the new place was much more centrally located (and much closer, crucially,  to the Holland Casino in Max Eueweplein), it had — henceforth and forever the benchmark, by definition — the world’s sketchiest internet. I’m not saying that the wireless signal was weak; I’m saying that sometimes it would spontaneously deconstruct, taking my whole computer with it, necessitating an entire system reboot. I could barely upload a tweet, much less a picture. I decided to wait and post later, rather than look in the hotel mirror and watch my own head explode.

So now I’m in the British Airways lounge at Schiphol Airport, which is pronounced “ski-pole,” not “she-pole,” which makes no sense to me, since every other word in Dutch seems to come fraught with a mind-numbing and phlegm-inducing collection of guttural “ch” sounds. Don’t get me wrong: I love Holland and the Dutch and everything about them, but their language reminds me of a question I was asked once after a trip to Wales. “Now that you’ve been there,” someone said, “do you find the Welsh language pleasing to the ear?”

“Well, yeah,” I replied, “compared to Klingon.”

With work (and attendant socializing) completed, I was determined to make my way to the Holland Casino and see if I couldn’t iron out a few slackjaws over a friendly game of no-limit Texas hold’em. I’d been there before, and I’d kind of gotten crushed, for the Dutch play their poker fast and hard, and they’d gone through me like the proverbial freight train through the wind. “The thing you must understand about the Dutch,” I’d been told at the time, “is that we are all either farmers or pirates.” Well, okay, then.

Still, I’m a different player now. Thanks to my ongoing transformation under the tutelage of Decide to Play Great Poker, I enter every game I play feeling like finally, at last, I really know what I’m doing. Both globally — my goal for a given game — and locally — my play of every betting street on every hand — my default state of mind now is “dialed in.” That’s a consummation devoutly to be wished. (And always the standard disclaimer: though I’m co-author of the book, all the great conceptual stuff — the transformational stuff — is Annie Duke’s, not mine.)

Anyway, the details of the session don’t matter much, except for this: I had my choice of games, a small one against weak players, or a larger one against some weak players but also several very good ones. In past I’d have chosen the smaller game, seeking the softer target with the attendant lower risk of “getting hurt too bad.” This time I went for the big game, and even though I knew it was a tough lineup, I also knew I could beat it. All I had to do was play as tough as they played. And now I can.

You know, I don’t want to beat the dead horse of this, but the more I think about the impact of Decide on my game, I’m aware that it’s less about the lines of play I’ve learned than about the underlying confidence I’ve acquired. And the larger point is this: You can do something for a long, long time, think you’re really pretty good at it, and then suddenly, if the circumstances are right, experience a whole order of magnitude’s growth. It’s worth keeping in mind. Life is long. When we think we’re stuck, or plateaued, probably we’re not as stuck or plateaued as we think.

But don’t think I spent all my free time at the poker table. I walked Amsterdam, and walked and walked and walked it. Something about the city — so flat, so small, so full of the Dutch  — I could (and did) stroll around for hours. Yes, yes, yes, I saw the Red Light District and the coffeeshops (holding each at appropriately anthropological arm’s length) but that’s not really the point. It’s not even the point that the Dutch are so mellow (except for the pirates). It’s that I feel so mellow when I’m among them. Is tranquility infectious? It in Amsterdam, at least for me.

Okay, pictures, then out. I’ve got a plane home to catch.

More later, -jv

Five Beer Reviews Without the Word “Hoppy”

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I have so much to share with you. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know the story behind this?

But it’s almost midnight, I have to be awake in too few hours, and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those nights. So I’ll have to limit tonight’s bloggage to my attempt to review five beers without using the word “hoppy,” courtesy of a hand-crafted Belgian style brewery called Brouwerij ‘t IJ, conveniently located in the shadow of this windmill.

… de Gooyer, if you want to Google it.

Okay, the five beers, left to right

PLZEN: 7-Up grows up.

IJWIT: If wheat’s your mother, this is mother’s milk.

NATTE: And by Natte we mean nutty.

ZATTE: Starts like lemon zest, finishes like formaldehyde.

COLUMBUS: I want to say hoppy. Oops, I lose.

More later, -jv

Here I am in Amster(shh)

Monday, June 20th, 2011

When I was a kid we used to sing this song: “Amster, Amster, shh, shh, shh – you must not say that naughty word” (dam(n) in case you’re wondering). Ah the lost innocence. Well, anyway, here I am in Amstershh, and it’s every bit as scenic and flat and wonderful as I remember. The canals are still here.

And the “art” is still here, although some of it always strikes me as Emperor’s New Clothes stuff:

The Rijksmuseum is still here, still as hard to spell as ever, and still — as seemingly ever — in a state of renovation. This is actually good news, for they’ve opened a small satellite exhibit, kind of a “Rijks Lite” or “greatest hits” version of the museum, including many Rembrandts (including the granddaddy of them all, “The Night Watch.”) The beauty of this is that you get Rijks-without-guilt. You can see the whole temporary exhibit in just an hour, and not feel self-conscious that you didn’t spend more of your precious Amsterdam time inside a museum. I took a couple of photos..

…before the docent informed me that photographs are not allowed. Shame. I’d have taken a picture of the “no photos” sign if I’d seen it.

Meanwhile, we know that the Dutch are famous for porcelain, but who knew it extended to faces?

I kind of feel like I’m taking this trip on speed. It’s so short — just four days, really, with two of those committed to the work I’ve come here to do (discussing adaptation and development of television shows across cultural and national platforms — woo-hoo!) The rest of the time, I have to choose from among an embarrassment of riches. Van Gogh Museum? (Been there, but who gets tired of van Goghs?) Anne Frank House (a stone bummer – probably opt for the Resistance Museum instead). Heineken brewery tour? Hey, I did that when I was 20. I remember that it was fun — and then I remember that I don’t remember much afterwards. And let’s not forget the Holland Casino, where I could drop in and show them how it works when you DECIDE TO PLAY GREAT POKER. Probably I’ll just wander and let myself go where my feet take me. In terms of scenery, architecture and people-watching, I know of no other city anywhere where it’s more fun and rewarding just to stroll.

The real trick will be to stay ahead of jet lag. If I get caught up in a “white night,” where I sleep not at all, then I’ll be crap all the next day — and the next two days are work days. Fortunately, I’ve got my melatonin regime dialed in, so I’ll get at least some quality ZZZ each night. It’s a trick one must develop for these crazy one-week jaunts across nine time zones. Without melatonin I don’t know where I’d be. If you don’t know,

Melatonin (Listeni /ˌmɛləˈtnɪn/), also known chemically as N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine,[1] is a naturally occurring compound found in animals, plants and microbes.[2][3] In animals, circulating levels of the hormone melatonin vary in a daily cycle, thereby allowing the entrainment of the circadian rhythms of several biological functions.[4]

And let me tell you, it works great. I feel all entrained. At least for now. But ask me again when it’s three in the morning, I’m channel-surfing among Dutch TV stations and hating life.

For now, though, I’m loving life. Got the Rijksmuseum ticked right off my list.

Closing photo: real house or doll house? U decide.

More later from Amstershh. -jv

I’m All A-Twitter

Friday, June 17th, 2011

So I decide to spend this week honing my social networking chops, and now I’m more social than ever – but also more confused. I started by friending everyone in the known universe (well, in the universe of people known to me) and I’ll friend you, too, if you but ask. I’ve bulked up my twitter feed (@TrueFactBarFact) to almost 200 (well, almost 170) followers. Then I pimped out my Amazon author page, adding photos, videos, news of upcoming events, blabbity blabbity blah blah blah. I think I’ve even arranged for this blog feed to go straight there, so if you’re passionate about reading the same thing twice, why, now you can.

But you know what? It all seems like a great big circle somehow. I point my Facebook friends to my Twitter feed, tweet on Twitter that I can be found here in my blog, blog about my Amazon page, and promote my Facebook presence on Amazon. Goodness! Is it any wonder that I have a big, fat, socially networked headache right now? Meanwhile, my lovely dog, Temp, dozes at my feet, and the only social network he cares about is the one that delivers him treats.

I guess all I care about is treats, too, where treats = presence and, ultimately, book sales. Because that’s what all this social networking is all about in the end. I’ve got books to promote (the new one, DECIDE) and workshops (LIVING THE WRITER’S LIFE in Pasadena on August 13) and, more broadly, my “brand,” such as it is. One thing I’ve learned as an author is that no one promotes you harder than yourself, not your publisher, not your publicist, no one. So if the word is going to get out, it’s up to, well, me to make it so.

It could be a colossal waste of time, of course, but you know what they say: “Self-indulgence is its own reward.” So follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Or, you know, don’t. I’ll be wasting the time either way.

Speaking of wasting time, I just searched and it turns out that no one owns that domain name yet. I’m bipping right over to my GoDaddy account to register it right now, because who knows? It could be the big viral breakthrough I’ve been looking for.

Off to Amsterdam tomorrow. Reports to follow.

More later, -jv

The Thing About DECIDE

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I’m always thrilled when the first box of a new book of mine shows up on my doorstep. The latest looks like this.

… and can be found at Amazon @ but that’s not really the point. The point is this: the more I think about this book, the more I realize what a foundation it is for a poker player’s game. Honestly, no matter what your level of development, DECIDE’ll take you to the next level or the one after that or the one after that. And it’ll do so repeatedly, every time you re-read it (as I am right now — at last I get to enjoy the book as a reader not a proofreader).

You know, years ago my friend Bill Bleich and I used to throw the I Ching before we went to play poker, and we let those symbolic stones dictate what image we’d bring to the club: frisky, loose, tight, aggressive, clueless, whatever; the I Ching told us how to play. I was musing on that today and realized that, among other things, DECIDE lets you be completely blind to your image. You can take the correct line of play (you’ll always know what it is) and then dress it up with any threat-posture or nonsense-posture or clueless-posture you wish. It simply doesn’t matter what image you project, because your fundamental play of each and every hand will be so strong.

And you know what? As I write these words I think I sound very much like a guy who’s hawking his own wares. But I don’t feel like that at all. Rather, I feel like I’m proselytizing for the new religion, one I have a huge affinity for, regardless of any role I may have played in its genesis. No, I can put it more simply: I’m a fan; I’m reading a book that’s changed everything for me in poker, and I know it’ll have that effect on virtually everyone who reads it.

So check it out on Amazon (many positive reviews – yay) or check out the excerpts at But in any case, do get acquainted with this book. Although I wrote it, I didn’t conceive it, so therefore I can say without fear of looking “up myself” that it’s the best poker book of this generation. Check it and see.

More later, -jv

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Friday, June 10th, 2011

What’s special about this place?

It’s the San Francisco Bay Area card room where today I won — first place, last man standing — a no-limit Texas hold’em tournament. This is of note not because it’s my first tournament win (it’s not) but because I ran through the field with a confidence and competence borne of my absorption (at last!) of the new poker book I’ve co-authored with Annie Duke, DECIDE TO PLAY GREAT POKER. I did. And it worked.

Campers, if you’re among my non-poker playing readers, feel free to do nothing more with this post than to say (or think silently to yourself) mazel tov, JV. But if you DO play poker and you want to play better, this is a book you simply must get. I’m saying that now not just as co-author, but also a user and, in fact, disciple. Annie Duke is the smartest cat in pokerdom, and now I know what she knows. You can, too.

More later, -jv

(Still a little high off the win – can you tell?)