Pursuits: Poker

A MAN can be in love with poker and still be unable to express his feelings about it. Such is the fate of one Ray Michael B, who describes himself as a semi-retired neurosurgeon and recreational player.

His book, PokerFarce and PokerTruth (the Actual Real World of Poker), is worth saluting for containing the worst piece of writing on poker I have ever encountered, on the quality of the former world champion Stu Ungar. Here it is:

"If Stuey's head is screwed on right, he is the pony to ride in big races, because when he's running decent and in full stride, he will run over all the other horses silly. And by that I mean, Charlie boy, there ain't gonna be no photo finish because this poker thoroughbred is a certified speech merchant: he'd be the only horse in the photo! You can start walking with that ticket to the pay-out window now, Charlie boy."

I had waded through some 160 pages of this sort of thing - in which Shakespeare is dubbed "Billy" - when I came across some interesting analysis. The author applies the principles of poker to the three decisive engagements in the Second World War: Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, and the Battle of Britain. Our German friends have recently criticised the British for dwelling too much on the last war, but this review is new.

The battle is seen as "heads up" between Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding and Hermann Goering. The Luftwaffe had almost all the chips (combat-ready aircraft 2,194, to the RAF's 531). But radar gave the British, in effect, "a flash peek" at one of the enemy's hole cards.

According to this analysis, Dowding used his Hurricane aircraft as a "pure poker percentage- play". They were assigned to shoot down slower German bombers. Dowding used his few "chips" sparingly but well, to gain time for producing new fighter aircraft.

The RAF finally went all in with "a counter-super-big bluff", putting 300 aircraft in the air at one time. Winning this head-on battle almost exhausted the Air Force's reserves. An invasion warning was given. But Hitler's move to switch the struggle for air supremacy to the wild play of a blitz on London proved to be a fatal change of game plan. The bravery and resourcefulness of The Few won "a monster pot". The end of this breathless account is marked by the author misquoting Churchill.

`PokerFarce and PokerTruth', Two Plus Two Publishing, 226 Garfield Drive, Henderson, Nevada 89014, price $19.95