Poker players’ punctuation protocols pose prepping problems

Wednesday, February 18th, 2004, 3:14 pm

With the Grublog Classic looming like a big…looming thing, I’ve started cramming for the big event. Got Phil Hellmuth’s book out of the library (mostly for material for my Phil post, which is almost done and now tops 2,000 words, Iggy) and stopped over my brother’s last night to pick up Super/System. Five days to study for the big exam–it’s like I’m back in college.

I was an English major, which of course you know because my sentences sing like a Beethoven symphony. But one thing I learned when I learned English is, well, the language. I know the words, the punctuation, the grammar–the works. The same cannot truthfully be said for Phil Hellmuth and Doyle Brunson, whose books are just chock full of syntactical quirks and oddities.

Hellmuth is often accused of childish behavior. I now accuse him of childish writing. It isn’t that Phil (or his ghostwriter, if he employed one) can’t turn out a passable sentence. That part’s fine. Phil’s problem is how he ends them. It seems like every other sentence Phil pens ends with an exclamation point. Read his most recent Card Player column (I’ll link to it when I get home, can’t do it from work) and it sounds like a 7-year-old recounting his first day at Disneyland. It seems like everything that happens to Phil is just incredible! So incredible he uses an exclaimation point to make sure you understand how incredible! Phil gets dealt 99 in a game and he tells you that he won the 1989 World Series with that hand! Why he has to put the exclaimation at the end I just don’t understand! Do you start to see how unnecessary this is, and how annoying! I’d hate to be in the same room with Phil Hellmuth and relentless corporate cheerleader Tom Peters, whose company logo is, you guessed it, an exclaimation point! Better hold your ears when these two are in the room together!!!

A famous writer, I think it was William Faulkner, received a manuscript from a would-be author and asked the Nobel Laureate for his advice. Faulker read the book and sent a reply, and one thing he said was, “Don’t use so many exclaimation points. A writer only gets to use three in his entire career”. His point, of course, is that if you use exclaimation points over and over how will the reader know that something really important has just happened? If you can’t use words to convey meaning to the reader, a crutch like punctuation isn’t going to save you. More periods, Phil.

Any discussion of Super/System must of course involve the genius of James Joyce. Did you ever read Finnegan’s Wake? Me neither. In fact, I doubt anyone on the planet has actually read the book, which is legendary for its impenetrable prose, bizarre punctuation, and indecipherable word games. Someday I’ll pick it up and plow through it, but today is not that day.

Instead I’m reading Super/System, another book that takes the conventions of American letters and stands them on their head. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, proper names should be capitalized, both the first and last. In Super/System the first name is italicised, the last name written in bold. So you get Puggy Pearson and Sailor Roberts. That is, unless both names are written in bold. Or, indeed, if they’re just written in normal typeface. You get all three styles in the first section alone.

I think perhaps Joyce is the wrong author to use as comparison. William Gibson, who wrote Neuromancer and is credited with coining the word “cyberspace” is perhaps the auteur juste. The bold type and italics could have been Brunson taking a first step toward the hyperlink. Think about an online version of Super/System–the publisher would simply need to put links in everywhere he finds bold type and italics and his work would be done. The major points are almost all highlight in bold print–you could just click on it and PokerTracker could pop up and give you a listing of 500 hands to illustrate the lesson. This could be big, the next killer app, a perfect combination of the internet, poker, and publishing.

Or perhaps I just haven’t had enough sleep lately. Gotta go study. Big test coming up Sunday.

Permanent link to this post.

Leave a Reply