Poker & Pop Culture: Catching Up with Cards at the Newsstand

Poker & Pop Culture: Catching Up with Cards at the Newsstand 101
“The Education of a Poker Player” author Herbert O. Yardley

Yardley then wrote a bestselling memoir called The American Black Chamber describing the experience, earning him renown as an author and for his contributions to national security, but also condemnation from the U.S. government for his having revealed secrets previously unknown to numerous other countries.

Having ruined his career working for U.S. intelligence, Yardley did work for Canada and China while doing some occasional consulting in Hollywood. Meanwhile from his youth he also played poker, and right near the end of his life wrote The Education of a Poker Player, a book combining poker strategy advice for a variety of draw and stud games with autobiographical anecdotes (all poker related).

The Post article was advertised on the issue’s front cover and provided a condensed adaptation of some of the early stories of Yardley’s poker playing at “Monty’s Place,” a kind of amalgam of several real-life places where he’d first played the game as a teenager. Interspersed in the article were poker quizzes about five-card draw and five-card stud that also shared some of Yardley’s advice, presenting hands and asking readers “How Would You Play Them?”

It was kind of unusual to have genuine, hardcore poker strategy appear amid the otherwise family-oriented Post whose articles and stories tended to portray an America mirrored by the Norman Rockwell paintings often featured on the magazine’s cover (including this issue). But it proved a good decision by the magazine, which according to Yardley biographer David Kahn sold a record-breaking 5.6 million copies of the issue thanks largely to a newly-developed hunger for such poker strategy advice.

California poker, circa 1967

Launched in 1954, Sports Illustrated often featured articles about poker amid its pages during its first few decades. One such article appears in the April 17, 1967 issue, a fascinating sketch of California poker rooms by Dick Miles.

Miles was a famous table tennis player, known worldwide as the top U.S. player around from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s. After his career he began writing about table tennis for SI. He also authored an important 1968 book The Game of Table Tennis that shared many of his winning techniques. Miles additional branched out to write features on other subjects for the magazine, and after visiting a half-dozen card rooms in Gardena shared a great study titled “Lowball in a Time Capsule.”

Miles sketches typical player-dealt, low-stakes poker for the reader where characters like “Sitting Bull” hold court in the “three-and-six draw games,” an elderly woman described as “tight as a coffin lid.” Even Nick Dandalos makes a cameo, the famous “Nick the Greek” better known for having once played in a certain legendary high-stakes game with Johnny Moss during the early days of Binion’s Horseshoe.

Miles provides lively descriptions the games and types of people they attracted, the use of props, and how cardrooms dealt with potential cheaters. He also gets across how “gambling seems only a partial motive” for the participants, with the camaraderie among what was then an older crowd (on average) also a big draw.

Miles additionally does a neat job conveying the strange frozen-in-time quality of the games that inspires his article’s title. “The notion struck me that the inhabitants of the room had been shuffling, cutting and squeezing their cards not for 60 hours, or even for 60 years, but forever,” Miles writes, “as though in some prehistoric age they had been quick-frozen and tucked into a time capsule until, thawed by the California sun, they resumed their play heedless of the interruption.”

It’s a fantastic piece, which along with David Hayano‘s 1982 book Poker Faces and the opening scene of the 1974 film California Split actually does function for us as a kind of “time capsule” preserving a moment in poker’s history. The article is archived online here in the SI Vault, if you’re curious.

Introducing a new poker variant, “Hold Me”

Finally I’ll quickly share one other poker item from the newsstands, this one having some historical value for those looking for information about the early days of Texas hold’em.

Richard Nixon appears on the cover of the August 16, 1968 issue of LIFE, less than three months away from winning that year’s presidential election.

Those of us who spend most of our time at the poker tables always find it curious whenever we look up from our cards long enough to notice some “mainstream” reporting about our favorite game.

Probably the most conspicuous recent examples were articles about if you’re curious.

Introducing a new poker variant, “Hold Me”

Finally I’ll quickly share one other poker item from the newsstands, this one having some historical value for those looking for information about the early days of Texas hold’em.

Richard Nixon appears on the cover of the August 16, 1968 issue of LIFE, less than three months away from winning that year’s presidential election. Nixon was a poker player, of course, although an article inside that issue about poker has nothing to do with “Tricky Dick.”

In 1968, LIFE offered readers a view of a wild new game called “Hold Me”

Rather, a four-page article titled “‘Hold Me’: a wild new poker game and how to tame it” by A.D. Livingston introduces LIFE readers to a newly popular poker variant, with Livingston explaining the rules and offering some beginner strategy advice.

As you might have guessed, the game Livingston calls “Hold Me” (short for “Hold Me Darling”) is in fact hold’em, and Livingston — author of several books on poker — is enthusiastic about its prospects.

“Exactly how widely Hold Me has spread is hard to determine,” writes Livingston. “The reports I’ve had indicate that it has covered the country, though many purely social groups may not have heard of it.”

“A few weeks ago I called a poker man in Colorado and asked whether Hold Me Darling was being dealt out there,” he continues. “‘Never heard of it,’ he said. ‘But a new game has really caught on. High Hold ‘Em. Each player gets two cards down. You bet on ’em. Then three cards are turned up in the middle…'”

Whatever the game was called then, it had caught on well enough to get featured in LIFE. You can read that one online, too, if you like, by clicking here.

From the forthcoming “Poker & Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America’s Favorite Card Game.” Martin Harris teaches a course in “Poker in American Film and Culture” in the American Studies program at UNC-Charlotte.

Have you ever wanted to write your own articles about poker? Maybe you’ve got some experiences or opinions about poker that you’d like to share. PokerNews is proud to launch The PN Blog where you can have a platform to make your voice heard. Learn more here.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)