Friday, March 09, 2012

Poker School 101

Words slightly fail me regarding last night's Poker School but “challenging” is the one I’ve come up with. It took quite a while to even start the class because this involved breaking up a heated debate regarding the best way to deal with tennis elbow.

What tennis elbow looks like

After two hours or so, it appeared no solid conclusions had been reached however and I was then able to start teaching the fundamentals of Texas Hold’em.

Almost immediately my students decided to multi-task - combining this week’s Poker School with NEXT week’s Cinnamon course on wine tasting. Almost everyone was conscientiously and bravely working their way through Cinnamon's range of Riojas while simultaneously trying to master the four key words of poker terminology (bet, fold, check and raise). Congrats to James for being the ONLY player who ever actually used the correct word at the correct time.

Sally came up with so many different ways to say "I fold" (without actually saying "I fold") that I thought she was using a Thesaurus. (“I’m out”, “I quit”, “I bail” and “no” all came up – well done Sally!!!).

Tim’s tragedian responses (nearly every hand) to finding out that his totally crap hole cards WOULD have given him full house if only he had stayed in were Oscar-worthy. First would come the raised eyebrows and early look of horror (the flop). The turn card would have him on his feet, pointing furiously at the table and looking around for someone to blame. And by the river, he’d be throwing his arms in the air, groaning and gesticulating wildly. Even Othello would have been pushed to make more fuss.

Tim after every hand

Jane was a shoe-in for the “Mathematically Precise Dealing Award”, laying down such neat and tidy flops, I thought she must be using a T-Square. She dealt one hand so slowly I thought it WAS next week and almost had a glass of Rioja. I was very worried she would start labeling things.

Rick appeared to be paying attention and was very busy taking notes. At the time I assumed these were aides-de-memoire for his next game of poker, but I now realize they were notes for his next script.

Peter gets the “Swedish Internet Pro Award” for raising absolutely every hand without the slightly regard to the cards he’d actually been dealt. This gave him a lovely pot on one occasion when he accidentally hit two pair, but most of the time this proved an unsuccessful strategy.

I looked up “Top 5 Worst Starting Hands for Texas Hold 'Em” this morning and I strongly believe Peter managed to play them all. (FYI, they are 2-7 (offsuit), 2-8 (offsuit), 3-8 (offsuit), 2-9 (offsuit) and 2-6 (offsuit) The notes for 2-7 offsuit read: “This is the worst hand to start with in Texas Hold 'Em because there are so few good options: you have no straight draw, no flush draw, and even if you wind up with a pair of 7s or a pair of 2s, you're very unlikely to have the best hand. Of course, you'll see some crazy flops every now and then. But just because you might see a rare 7-7-2 flop once in a blue moon doesn't make this a good hand to play.” To Peter, these are all excellent starting hands and require a strong raise.


Once the class finally broke up, with Tim mysteriously having made a profit on the poker, but a record-breaking loss on the Rioja, the debate on tennis elbow fired up again with the conclusion that Jane would be mad to play tennis tonight, but probably will.

All students (apart from James and Dave) will be required to retake the class.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Prosopagnosia – a beginner’s guide

Foreword: As I have no idea whether I can be funny in print anymore and I made two people laugh in the bar last night, I’m going to have another bash at writing my blog. As will become clear, I have absolutely no idea who those two people were and that’s not because I was drunk, or because I don’t know those people, it’s because I have PROSOPAGNOSIA.

According to Wikipedia, Prosopagnosia is a disorder where the ability to recognize faces is impaired. Apparently it’s inherited and about 2.5% of the population suffer from it. I first heard about it when I read Oliver Sack’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”.

“Ha ha”, I thought, “Man can’t recognize his wife. Ha ha ha”. The reason I thought “Ha ha ha” was because this was back in 1988 and “lol” hadn’t been invented yet. And also because I didn’t realize that I had it myself.

Thus far I have managed to avoid thinking people are hats (apart from during Carnival) but almost daily I have incidents where I meet people and totally fail to recognize them. Being a Prosopagnostic is particularly hard living in a small town as you are constantly bumping into people you know, or are supposed to know. My advice to Prosopagnostics is to either wear a t-shirt saying “I am Prosopagnostic. This is why I don’t recognize you” or move to a large city, or just keep moving. Avoid building up any friendships, and don’t use the same shops or services more than once.

My favourite ever case of Prosopagnosia happened to my best friend Rachel. She was walking down the Kings Road one day and bumped into her mother who totally blanked her. “Mum”, she said, “it’s me.” “Oh sorry, darling, I didn’t recognize you out of context”. I actually always recognize my mother but that’s because she is always in the same place.

The weird thing about my Prosopagnosia is that the number of people that I CAN recognize is astonisingly high. I can see a poker player for the first time in five years and not only recognize them, but also spell their name correctly, complete with any umlauts or circumflexes they are using as affectation. Sometimes I can even tell them interesting facts such as the fact that they used to be the Idaho Risk Champion or were born north of the Arctic Circle.

But I can’t recognize Aaron Gustavson or Harrison Gimbel and it doesn’t matter how many times I meet them. It’s particularly embarrassing because both have won major tournaments and been interviewed by me at some length. Aaron won EPT London in 2009 for £850,000. That’s a lot of money and you would think it would be in anyone’s interest to remember what Aaron looks like especially if you’re in a bar ... which is where I always am when I fail to recognize him. Again, despite the bar reference, I need to stress: I am not drunk, I have Prosopagnosia.

Aaron is a good-natured lad so he never minds reminding me that yes, we have met before, and why. The last time we met (the day after we had spent an entire evening sitting next to each other) was in a bar in San Remo and at that point I took a picture of him and put it next to his name in my phone. We haven’t met since – or at least I don’t think so.

Aaron Gustavson (possibly)

Harrison Gimbel won the PCA in 2010 for $2.2 million, even more reason to remember him than Aaron really. I interviewed Harrison several times during that event but every time I’ve seen him since, he’s had to tell me who he is.

Harrison Gimbel (definitely)

The third player I can’t recognize is Kent Lundmark who won EPT Barcelona but as no one can remember Kent unless he is wearing his blue-and-white striped hoodie, this does not count as Prosopagnosia. And in Kent’s case, he almost always IS wearing his blue-and-white striped hoodie so that’s OK. The fourth unrecognizable player is Carlos Mortensen. I have no idea what Carlos wears because I’ve never seen him, although I notice from my player lists that he’s often there. Carlos Mortensen was World Champion in 2001 but absolutely no one can recognize him, even if he is sitting under a giant poster of himself (like he was at EPT Barcelona one year).

With Joserafa, I have double Prosopagnosia. Joserafa is two people called Jose and Rafa. I have known Joserafa really well for about six years. They are our Spanish PR guys and great friends of mine. One is very tall and the other is shorter (very short actually but I’m worried he’ll read this so let’s just say shorter). The first time I ever met Joserafa, I got their names the wrong way round. Jose is the tall one, Rafa is the other one but I got it wrong and now, no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember which is which. I now call both of them Joserafa. They call me Mad.

Joserafa and me in Joserafa's favourite city (Malaga)

Apologies also to Gugga and Aisling (who, in my head, are now known as Aislinggugga).

Prosopagnosia is also tricky if you’re on an internet dating site and send a message to someone you know, but don’t recognize. That happened to me two weeks ago. I play tennis with the guy every Friday night.

The other problem with my Prosopagnosia is that it is segueing straight into my perfectly normal age-related memory loss. Luckily I hang out with lots of people who are 35 and it’s afflicting all of us. We are so hopeless at remembering the score in tennis, that it often takes us five minutes of backtracking to work it out. Last night it was so bad that a guy playing on the adjacent court asked if he could keep the score on our behalf. I have no idea who he was.