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Hats and Rose-colored glasses March 22, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : books,poker , add a comment

I first heard about Martha Frankel’s new memoir, Hats and Eyeglasses about online poker addiction, in a lurid piece on NPR. I was laughing while listening because the  interviewer was very bad at masking extreme SchadenFruede, or pleasure in the misfortune of others. Her questioning style was in the vein of a modern day morality tale, and I kept expecting the next inquiry to be "Why didn’t you stop playing after losing your first 300$ in ten minutes?" and "what was the difference between your advance for this book and the total credit card debt?" and "did it destroy your sex life?"

Martha Frankel, like me,  grew up in a house of games, where "Never play to an inside straight" was as important of a principle as "use butter when baking." Later she became a celebrity interviewer, famous writer, and her fascination for poker grew. It’s hard to tell whether she was talented or just fascinated, because in the book, she makes it seem like it took her a long time to grasp very basic things, like the ranking of hands.This could be just to make the book more accesible. In Positively Fifth Street,James McManus did the same sort of thing, and he was known as a very good player, so his "geewhiz" attitude was definitely disingenous. In Martha’s case her skill level is less clear, but she wins in live play, in casinos and cruises, largely due to her poker coach and cousin Keith’s excellent mantra to "Crush them all by folding." (That’s really my friend Donny’s quote, but same point.)

The worst thing about the book is that Martha strongly implies that there is rampant cheating, robots and collusion in online games. She does allow the possibility that she played badly on Paradise Poker, but  briskly, as if it’s a minor possibility not worth more than a paragraph or two. The childhood stories are so much more vivid and considered than her account of addictive internet gambling spell, which is both the book’s selling point (that’s all NPR wanted to talk to her about), but also its most superficial and defensive part. Despite the hidden truths that remain, most poker players hate to admit when they lost, so what Frankel did reveal required bravery.

Hats and Eyeglasses offers insight into gambling addiction and the risks and benefits of an extremely independent marriage that somehow survives catastrophic online gambling losses. I would never back Martha Frankel in a poker tournament, but I must say that in terms of men and publishing, she seems to be blessed.