Posts Tagged ‘killer poker’

Well Now There’s This

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I think that pictures of snow must be the most boring thing in the world to people who regularly see snow. (I also think that light switches on the outsides of bathrooms are about the worst idea ever). For the rest of us, such snaps have a certain “watching a train wreck” quality. It’s not the beauty we’re drawn to, but the appalling implied chaos. First we have an immediate stretch of  treacherous walking and driving. This is followed by a period of extended slush/muck, during which mud and guck of every unspeakable description seems to leap from the ground onto your shoes and boots, pants, jacket, everywhere; and getting from point A to point B becomes such a boggy slog that you think, “Hell, maybe I’ll just stay indoors today. I mean, really, who needs food?” As snow turns to ice, it’s piled into huge dark mounds by city workers who contribute their own cigarette butts and Dunkin’ Donuts cups to the aggregate, as if out to create a post-modern sculpture upon the guiding artistic principles of chaos and inconvenience. These mounds will linger for weeks and months, until gradually melting away in the spring to reveal lost shoes, mittens, hats and the odd iced animal. Good times.

Yet when it’s fresh, it sure do look purty. So now there’s this.

And if you’re not from snow country, let me just say that the novelty wears off almost the instant it sets in.

I did get in a nice walkabout last night before the weather set in, and captured this picture of The Church of the Holy Blah Blah Blah (sorry, I never was good at tracking facts).

Plus a damned intriguing ghost rider in the sky.

Somewhere in the past week I also stumbled upon Jedi Salad

Made with real Jedis, I suppose.

We close this post with the estimable Plateau of Cheese. You will find it on the map not far from the Jagged Peaks of Tortellini and the Lake of Spilt Milk (over which there is no use crying).

Okay, that’s enough of this nonsense. There’s a world of snow out there just waiting to envelop me in its chilly moist embrace, so I’d better get cracking. You know the expression “Winter Wonderland?” It’s just like that.

Without the wonderland part.

More later, -jv

“Now Saving Bulgaria”

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

For fairly obvious reasons, these weeks when I download my pictures I download them to a file labeled “Bulgaria.” Just now I went to save all my changes and I was informed that I was “now saving Bulgaria.” That made me feel rather good.

But seriously, it’s only a television show.

I had a chance to take a long walk around today, camera in hand. As always, I set out to take pictures of important cultural artifacts.

This has to be important. It is on a very high pillar.

I like to show folks the typical sights of the city, including its streets and sculptures.



But my plan always goes to hell and I end up taking pictures of dogs instead.

(True fact or bar fact: there are more stray dogs in Sofia than people.)

And then things just degenerate into silly sign captures, like this one that, at least, tells it like it is.

And this one that, based on investigation, tells it like it isn’t.

Because that was not one New York tasting hot dog.

And then this one…

…which, to my non-Cyrillic-reading eye, initially struck me as “bimbo outlet,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Anyway, all in all a pretty picturesque and picture-driven stroll around town. My mental map is now good and dialed in. I know where two Subways are (and two metro stations), plus two Irish bars, many Non-Stop stores in case I need a can of peaches at 3 a.m., what looks like the world’s sketchiest Chinese restaurant, plus the National Theater and the National Gallery and this palace and that church and blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, folks. I’d rather take pictures of signs.

More later, -jv

PS: Bar fact, which you knew.

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

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?)

Decide to Play Great Poker

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

That’s the name of my massive new poker tome, co-authored with the fabulous and brilliant Annie Duke. The book will be out round-about the first of June, but you can pre-order it now, by clicking, well, here. Want to know who’s responsible for what in the book? All the brilliant concepts are hers; most of the pretty prose is mine. Here’s the lovely cover.

And here’s an excerpt. You know what they say: The first taste is free.

Excerpt from Decide to Play Great Poker

Decide to Play Great Poker by me and John Vorhaus is finally almost here. It was two years in the writing and I am so proud of this book. You can read a small excerpt from the book below and you can preorder the book on Amazon here.

Before getting to the first excerpt (I will be posting at least one more), a bit about the approach of the book. It is a different take on the game of poker, approaching from a decision making point of view. The goal of the book is to get the reader to really start playing purposeful, goal oriented poker, problem solving situations, understanding deeply all the factors that good play in a hand depend on.  As an example, much of the book is dedicated to post flop play but in a way which really gets the reader to understand how small changes in a situation can drastically change how a hand is played. So the first type of hand tackled in the post flop section of the book is a set. The book looks at what you do when you flop a set of 9′s (a big hand, almost certainly the best hand in hold’em). It starts with a situation where you flop a set of 9′s, you are heads up, you are last to act, you were the preflop raiser and the board isn’t scary, like As9h3d. Once that situation is covered, the preflop raise is changed to your opponent. Then we put you out of position and make you the preflop raiser. Then we make the other guy the raiser. Then we add more people to the table and go through those scenarios again. Then we start all over at heads up but change the board to something scary, like AsTc9c. The book applies this method to a variety of hand categories, like big hands, big draws, small draws, one pair, etc. We methodically dissect what the best players in the world mean when they answer your question about how they play a hand with, “It depends.”  This book tells you what it depends on.

So, without further ado, the excerpt. This particular excerpt is about why your primary goal at the tables is to reduce uncertainty.

Your Primary Goal is to Reduce Uncertainty
Reducing uncertainty makes all our decisions easier by completing the information picture. Of course, there are two other ways to make your decisions easier. One, you can opt out of the decision-making process entirely by folding. If you fold, you have no more decisions to make during the hand. Two, you can also opt out of the decision-making process by putting all your chips in the pot. Once you’re all-in, you have no more decisions to make. We’ll discuss the all-in play later and when and how to apply that tool. For now, just recognize that of all the tools at your disposal, the all-in tool is something of a blunt instrument. You’ll want to use it sparingly.
So our main goal is to try to reduce our uncertainty and make our decisions easier. At the same time, we also have a secondary goal: to make our opponents’ decisions in relation to us harder. If poker is a decision-making problem and if you can make better decisions than your opponents, you’ll end up with all the money.
How do you make better decisions than your opponents? Not just by being smarter than they are (though presumably you are), but also by making your decisions easy and their decisions tough. How important is this? Is crucial important enough? Because if you think about one given hand of hold ’em, in Vegas let’s say, where four raises per betting round are allowed, that makes five possible decision points on each betting round and four rounds of betting per hand. That sounds like 20 chances for you to make a slightly better decision than your opponents. Trust me, even if you’re only a slightly better decision-maker than your opponents, you’ll end up winning all the money in the world if you have 20 chances per hand to leverage that small decision-making edge. And if you become a much better decision maker than your opponents? The mind boggles.
Viewed through a certain filter, poker is a bidding war. I set a price and you set a price back to me, then I set a price back to you, and every time we have this little pricing war where we each put bids out there, we give ourselves an opportunity to make a good decision or a poor one. Every time we can force our opponents into a bad decision, we win. I want to repeat that, because it’s fundamental to what this book is about.
Notice that nowhere in this discussion have I said that making money is the goal. Why isn’t it? Simple. Making money is not the goal. Money, in this game, is just the fallout from good goal-setting and decision-making. You end up with all the money through your good decisions. Money is merely our score keeper. You could just as well be playing for matchsticks or marbles or dandelion fluff.
It might seem to be a trivial distinction, but it’s not and here’s why: If you set your goal as making money, you tend to play poorly when you’re losing, because you’re focusing mainly on outcomes. However, if you set your goal as being a good decision-maker, it won’t matter whether you’re winning or losing, because all that matters—all that matters—is the quality of your decisions, not the outcomes of those decisions.
Look, you’ll sometimes lose when you get all your money in with pocket aces against your opponent’s pocket fives. You’ll get drawn out on about 18% of the time. But here’s the thing: You won’t care. Why not? Because you made a good decision to get your money in with the best hand and your opponent made a bad decision to call. You won the decision war. So what if the outcome didn’t fall your way? In the long run, it will. And the long run is the only thing that any serious poker player cares about.
Bad beats? Who cares about bad beats? Let me tell you, if I never took a bad beat, I’d be playing in some really terrible games. I want bad beats. I adore bad beats. Every time someone puts a bad beat on me, it means they got their money into the pot with the worst of it. Folks, that’s a bad decision—just the sort of decisions you want your opponents to be making. Bad beats make me happy. Bad beats mean I’m in a good game, that I’ve chosen well. Hooray for bad beats!
So before you go any further in this book, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Are you prepared to make great decisions and ignore bad outcomes? If you are, you’re ready to take your game to the next level. You’re ready to focus on information and decisions and let the rest of the noise just float away. If you think you’re ready for that, then here we go, because here comes the dealer to toss us some cards …
This book is going to change everything, poker-wise. It’s so brilliant that I wrote it, have read it many, many times, and it still routinely makes my head explode. That’s how wise Annie is. As for my pretty words, well… you know…
More later, -jv

The Doo Dah Bookfest

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Hello Campers,

I had a fun weekend here in sunny SoCal, dropping in on the semi-famous Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena on Saturday, and rocking the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday. At the latter I signed a bunch of books and pontificated most punditally on a panel (on writing comedy, natch). At the former, I just sat in the crowd, agog, as tortillas and marshmallows (the traditional projectiles of the Doo Dah Parade flew.

Brief photo essay:

Well, this wasn’t really from the parade, but from my pre-parade breakfast at Denny’s. We live in a perfect world, folks; you can get bacon on your sundae.

Everything old is new again at the Doo Dah parade.

And even dogs get into the act. Meanwhile, at the LATBF…

…I signed books at the Vroman’s tent (note the fan agog in the background — as if.)

…signed somewhat less frantically after my panel appearance.

…a panel I shared with (l. to r.) Don Winslow, Lee Goldberg and Thomas Perry, estimable authors one and all. Thanks especially to Lee for moderating so immoderately.

And so how do you feel about the death of Osama Bin-Laden? Me, I feel, well, not much of anything at all. I can’t see it making much of a difference on the geo-political scene, can you? I mean, it’s not like those with a suicide-bomber bent are suddenly going to say, “Well, that’s over, we can all go home now.” If anything, I imagine it’ll fan the flames.

Oh, like those flames need fanning.

You know what? That’s too bummeresque for a pleasant Sunday night. Let’s go back to the Doo Dah. This here is Snotty Scotty and the Hankies.

And on that musical note, let’s say…

More later, -jv

Said Winston Churchill

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”

That quote is on my mind just now because today I finished (well, finished enough to send to my agent) my next novel, LUCY IN THE SKY (A Sixties Trip). It’s a departure for me. No cons, not comedy (well, not much). It’s a coming of age story about a 15-year-old boy living in Milwaukee in 1969 who wants to be a hippie in the worst way. Well, he doesn’t know what a hippie is, really, he just knows that there are none around here, as far as the eye can see. And then, one day, this smart, sexy, incredibly hip 17-year-old girl turns up on the family doorstep, and Gene is instantly in love. Just one problem…she’s his cousin. Well, it turns out she’s not his cousin and — well, I guess you’ll have to wait to find out the rest. Right now I’m on pins/needles wondering what kind of reception the MS will get from my agent.

I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done.

I think it may be the worst.

Truth is, I’ve lost all perspective.

But Churchill said it: you have to fling the beast.

The beast is flung.

I feel empty inside, drained, like I always do when I finish a big project. This one has consumed my days for the past six months (and I think if you can knock out a novel in six months, you’re doing all right.) Tomorrow I’ll have to find something totally else to do. I’ll try, as usual, to take some time off before starting another big project. I’ll fail, as usual, sooner rather than later, because writing is the itch I always need to scratch. But for now, I’m “taking the win.” I’m enjoying the fact of a job, well, done.

And watching the Red Sox. Go Sox.

More later, -jv

A Free Read

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Want to score a free copy of THE ALBUQUERQUE TURKEY? Just click below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Albuquerque Turkey (Hardcover) by John Vorhaus

The Albuquerque Turkey

by John Vorhaus

Giveaway ends February 23, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win