Friday January 10, 2020 at 2:09 pm

D and B Poker published "Poker and Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game" by Martin Harris. During the poker boom, Harris authored a popular blog titled Hard-Boiled Poker. Harris quit his job as an English professor and went to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker for numerous outlets. Over the last 15 years, Harris compiled a collection of essays that became the genesis of Poker and Pop Culture. We're fortunate that Harris sat down with us for a fun interview.

Martin Harris is one of the top writers in the poker world. You might not recognize the name, but you've definitely read his work on blogs, news sites, magazines, and official tournament updates. Harris wrote a couple of novels and a new nonfiction book about the wild history of poker in America.

"Poker and Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game" debuted just in time for the 2019 World Series of Poker. If you have not read this amazing text on the history of poker in America, then what are you waiting for? It's the perfect book for poker enthusiasts, but it's also valuable teaching material that can be enjoyed by non-poker players. Martin Harris breaks down the history of poker in America and its importance in all aspects of our society, including its influence on politics and pop culture.

I sat down with Martin Harris to discuss his new book. He shares insight on the origins of the book and sheds light on his writing process. If you don't know, he's also an excellent musician and novelist. Harris is a true renaissance man, even though he's a humble guy that downplays his abilities and artistic endeavors.

Click here to grab your copy of Poker and Pop Culture. You can find his novels here.

Martin Harris and Poker and Pop Culture Origins, Part 1

martinharris.ppc.2

1. When did the concept of PPC come to fruition? Was this the book you thought you'd write when you accepted a job in the poker industry and moved to Las Vegas to cover your first WSOP?

I started Hard-Boiled Poker (my poker blog) in 2006. A year after that I began writing for various poker outlets, and 2008 was the first year I went out to report on the World Series of Poker. Somewhere during those first couple of years I did think a little about the possibility of assembling some of the posts I was writing on HBP into a short book, but I never thought too seriously about it. I liked some of that material, but especially during those early years I was reading and educating myself about the game and its colorful history, so in a way a lot of those posts represented my first responses to what I was learning. Those posts were very useful to me for a number of reasons (including the feedback and encouragement I received from readers), but for the most part not yet at a level that were really worthy of compiling into a book.

In 2010 I became a full-time freelancer and part-time college professor. For the four years prior it had been the opposite -- I had been teaching full-time while writing and reporting on poker on the side. In the spring of 2011 I started teaching a course I created in the American Studies department at UNC Charlotte called "Poker in American Film and Culture." Writing lectures for that course inspired the first meaningful book-related thoughts, given how the class forced me to organize the story chronologically and try to present it in an engaging way to a wide audience. Speaking of, that first semester the audience was almost all young men who were avid online poker players. As you know, Black Friday arrived near the end of that semester, which greatly affected our last couple of weeks of discussion and also over time probably changed the demographic of the class to include more women and even quite a few non-poker players.

About five years ago a book agent got in touch who had a publisher very interested in doing a history of poker, and we signed a contract. I wrote a full proposal with an annotated table of contents, sample chapters, and all the rest, and even rewrote it for different publishers as we did a little shopping of the project. We had some interest but no other deals, then the original publisher surprisingly went in a different direction. (An acquisitions editor had apparently miscalculated where the CEO stood on the idea.) By that point I knew I was going to write the book anyway, and began working on it in earnest. Then a couple of years ago I got in touch with D&B Publishing who was interested in doing the book, and we made our deal. After that I probably spent 12-14 months or so writing and editing every day before the deadlines finally arrived and I had to let it go, and the book finally appeared June 2019.

 

2. At some point in every book or screenplay I've written, I get stage fright and I'm overcome with fear and paralysis. Sometimes it lasts a day or two, other times it could last months. Did that happen with PPC? And how did you overcome it?

No. Since I had amassed material for Poker & Pop Culture over such a long time, and I had in fact already gone through a couple of outlines for how to organize it all, by the time I was writing in earnest I never had much worry about writer's block or not having enough to say. My main concern -- especially during the final few months leading up to my deadline -- was over having too much to say.

To be honest, this was an entirely unique writing experience for me. It wasn't like writing novels, as both the idea and how to execute it were essentially in place throughout most of the period of serious writing. And even though it did involve a lot of research, it wasn't exactly like academic writing (of which I've done a fair amount), as I didn't feel constrained at all by thoughts of writing for a specialized audience. Much of the time I thought of myself writing for a group that resembled my Poker and American Film and Culture class -- people interested in poker, though not necessarily immersed in it or even knowledgeable about the rules, and ready to appreciate how learning the history of poker can also reveal a lot about American history, generally speaking.

My hope is that anyone can pick up the book and be interested and entertained by it. I'm already looking back on the experience of writing it as kind of the culmination of a long and very involved fascination -- or obsession -- with poker and the game's many significances. And with writing about poker, which I have long thought is an especially useful and enjoyable supplement to playing it.

 

3. The first draft of "Lost Vegas" was almost 500K words before I had three editors butcher it down. Anything in particular that bubbled the final draft of PPC? How many darlings did you kill off?

I definitely had to make a few choices. My editor helped me with those for the most part, although I was able to keep just about everything I wanted to in the end. With several of the chapters, the topic could well have been expanded into its own stand-alone work (e.g., "Poker in the Old West," "Poker in the Movies," "Poker on Television."). I came to recognize that early on, which made it easier to be somewhat selective and recognize I didn't have to write about every relevant example or story in which poker appears, but rather had to try to present a good, reasonably complete overview with each topic.

 

4. Which President is the best poker player (in a cash game setting)? Which President best used his poker skills for governing and diplomacy?

Richard Nixon is up there, although his best days at the poker table were during his time in the Navy when he mostly played against fellow officers who were likely untutored and undisciplined as players. Dwight D. Eisenhower was probably a better poker player than Nixon, although interestingly there are no stories of them playing against one another (despite Nixon being Ike's VP for eight years). John F. Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis is often described as an especially savvy application of bluffing and poker strategy, although JFK himself wasn't really much of a poker guy (he preferred bridge).

 

5. Poker is one of the few true American pastimes like baseball and jazz. Troops during the Civil War and both World Wars played both poker and chess during down time. Why did our post-WW2 culture gravitate more toward poker than chess?

They also played a lot of other gambling games, including other card games and dice games. Actually, the popularity of chess in America likely rivaled that of poker during the first few decades after the Second World War. At one point in the book I bring up some surveys taken during the middle decades of the 20th century, noting how rummy, bridge, and canasta took turns as "America's favorite card game" before one mid-1970s survey finally found poker to have risen to the top. Even then, though, I'm not sure it was as popular as chess (which at that point was at the zenith of its popularity in the U.S.), although by the "boom" in the 2000s poker had certainly left chess behind.

Why is poker so popular in America? I'm hardly the first to observe how poker is a game that uniquely reflects or provides opportunities in which to demonstrate many so-called "American" values (independence, self-reliance, entrepreneurship, love of risk, the pursuit of happiness, and so on). It is a game that neatly mimics in an exaggerated, sped-up fashion the country's capitalist ideology (for better or worse), which has to be a major reason why so many Americans gravitate to it.

 

6. I never would have imagined that marijuana and sportsbetting would become legit before online poker. Yet, here we are in 2019 and I can walk into any recreational cannabis shop in Western America to purchase marijuana and I can place a sports bet in over 20% of the country. Do you have an guess-estimate on federal legalization for online poker?

The last three chapters of the book most directly consider poker's recent history ("Poker on the Computer," "Poker Under Siege," and "Poker in the Future"), and thus include the story the "rise and fall" of online poker in the U.S. that took place from 1998-2011. There I express pessimism about online poker's prospects here in America, noting how at present it is essentially a version of the game from which we are mostly excluded. I describe how for us online poker is akin to driving without seatbelts or smoking on planes -- something we used to do and took for granted, but which right now seems like part of our past.

That could change, of course, and the fast spread of sportsbetting might seem to provide hope that something similar could develop for online poker. As far as making a prediction, though, I'm doubtful there will ever be any sort of federal legislation allowing online poker -- I'd give us a two-outer's chance of something like that happening in the next 20 years.

Inside Baseball, Part 2

Shamus2.wsop
Martin Harris in the pressbox at the 2011 WSOP in Las Vegas. [Pic by Pauly McGuire/Tao of Poker]

The second half of the Martin Harris interview covers a little more insight into the writing process.

 

7. Describe your daily writing routine?

The only times I have had a set writing routine has been when working on longer projects such as novels or Poker & Pop Culture. Meanwhile I have always had other responsibilities as well that often include other writing and editing assignments, which means in order to make progress on and eventually complete those longer projects, I have to be stubborn about giving myself enough time to write. Usually that means devoting at least a couple of hours to the project first thing in the morning (or more, if I can), before cluttering my brain with other items. I close Twitter, listen to jazz or ambient music, and write.

 

8. When are your peak writing hours?

The morning hours are consistently my most productive, although I'm fine writing through the afternoon. It has been a long time since I've done any serious writing at all during the evening hours. When I'm juggling several assignments, I usually start the day with what I believe is the most challenging or mentally engaging of the bunch, then save the less exciting stuff for the afternoon when focus isn't as crucial.

 

9. You and your wife live on a farm and you also work as a freelance writer. How did you fit writing/editing PPC into your work/home/farm life?

We have several horses and cats, which means my days often start with feeding them, and frequently also involve other chores like cleaning stalls, mowing pastures, and performing all sorts of maintenance around the farm. We figured out early on that everything on the farm takes longer than you expect, so much as poker taught me the value of being patient so, too, has farm life. While those duties obviously cut into my writing time, I very much welcome being able to get away from the laptop and spend time outdoors. I love being around the horses, although unlike Swift's Gulliver I like being around people, too.

 

10. How much do you write in your head before you physically write? How much head writing is done while doing farm chores?

I'll ruminate over big ideas or arguments, and perhaps even come up with topic sentences or titles when away from the laptop. But I generally have to be at the computer and writing before I can say I'm making any genuine progress.

 

11. Did you have any specific playlists or albums you listened to while writing, researching, or editing PPC? I wrote the final chapter of Lost Vegas with "Tumbling Dice" by the Rolling Stones on repeat for like three or four days in a row.

The "Poker in Music" chapter in Poker & Pop Culture includes some great tracks -- here's a playlist -- although I wouldn't recommend it for writing. I'm not obsessive about it, but I'll often listen either to jazz (Miles et al.) or ambient (Eno et al.) when writing. Overlapping with the latter are some "electronic" artists I like such as Boards of Canada, Oneohtrix Point Never, Gas, Oval, Loscil, and others. Along the same lines I've lately been enjoying some "retro synthwave" stuff like College and Miami Nights 84 which seems to trigger a lot of pleasurable feelings without creating too much brain static. I also like to listen to certain movie soundtracks when I write, especially horror. I'm a "recreational" musician myself, although from all I've done I can only really recommend one 37-minute "dark ambient" track as a potential writing soundtrack.

 

12. What's your next project? New novel? Another new poker book?

I'm glad you asked. I am presently working on another book that has nothing to do with poker. You could say having reached the "poker & pop culture" fork in the road I've chosen to continue down the pop culture path rather than the poker one. Over the years I have written several academic articles about horror films. (No shinola... ask me anything about Halloween III.) Meanwhile I've also had a longtime fascination with Richard Nixon's life and career, so much so that for the last several years I've taught another American Studies class about him at UNC Charlotte. At some point several years back I became convinced one way of interpreting The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original, from 1974) is to view it as a satirical response to the Watergate scandal that played out at the same time the film was conceived, written, shot, edited, and released. Having convinced a publisher the idea is a good one, too, I'm now writing a book explaining it all that should appear either late 2020 or early 2021. And if you're wondering if Leatherface turns out to be Tricky Dick, well, you're just going to have to read and find out.

 

If you do not have a copy of Poker and Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game by Martin Harris, then what are you waiting for?

Latest news
Thursday August 5, 2021 at 12:42 am
Phil Hellmuth and Tom Dwan to meet in High Stakes Duel III

Tom Dwan and Phil Hellmuth will finally meet each other in a long-awaited heads-up battle. The two have a throwdown set for late August for High Stakes Duel III with $200,000 on the line. Tune in to PokerGo on August 25 and see if Hellmuth can maintain his undefeated record after beating Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu, and Nick Wright.

Monday August 2, 2021 at 3:21 pm
Drew 'dudeguydrew' O'Connell wins 2021 WSOP Online Event #32 $1,000 NL Championship

The 2021 WSOP Online at WSOP.com has come to an end with Drew 'dudeguydrew' O'Connell from new Jersey taking down Event #32 $1,000 NLH Championship. O'Connell banked $146,893 and outlasted a final table that included Jason Rivkin, Felix Vandeput, Alex Foxen, Kfir Nahum, Dan Gallegos, Michael Trivett, Kyle Phillips, and Millard Hale. Also, Daniel 'RiverRats' Lazrus shipped Event #28 $3,200 High Roller Championship for a score worth $205,347 and Chris 'Robotbob47' Moorman added another bracelet to his collection when he took down Event #29 $800 NL 8-Max Turbo Deepstack for a score worth $102K.

Wednesday July 21, 2021 at 8:18 pm
WSOP Online: Sang Lee, Martin Zamani, Allen Chang, Justin Lapka, James Gilbert win bling

Sang 'youngkoi' Lee won his first bracelet with a big score in WSOP Online Event #20 $3,200 NL High Roller and banked $241,768. Martin 'bathroomline' Zamani took down Event #19 $888 PLO Crazy Eights for a $92K score. Event #18 was also known as the $1,000 North American Open and James 'Danfriel' Gilbert denied Landon Tice a bracelet when Gilbert shipped the tournament for $137,570. Twitch streamer Justin 'LappyPoker' Lapka shipped Event #17 $400 NL for $75,371. Allen 'Acnyc718' Chang took down 2021 WSOP Event #16 $600 PLO8 6-Handed for a #61K score.

Tuesday July 20, 2021 at 8:41 pm
WSOP Online schedule at GGPoker released, 33 bracelet events starting Aug 1

International players finally have a chance to win a bracelet through the 2021 World Series of Poker Online. For a second summer in a row, GGPoker will host bracelet events for the WSOP. The global version of the WSOP Online starts August 1 and runs daily through September 12. The $5,000 Main Event has a $20 million guaranteed prize pool . Plus, there's the $25,000 Super High Roller Championship for the global high rollers.

Tuesday July 20, 2021 at 1:54 am
RIP Layne Flack, 6 WSOP bracelets for Back-to-Back Flack

Poker pro Layne Flack, a former poker dealer in Deadwood, South Dakota, reportedly passed away on Monday. Flack won six bracelets at the World Series of Poker and banked $5 million in tournaments during his storied career. In 1999, Flack earned the nickname "Back-to-Back Flack" after winning tournaments two days in a row at the Legends in Poker in LA. Flack was a former red pro at Full Tilt Poker and one of the top players in the world at the start of the glorious poker boom nearly 20 years ago.

Friday July 16, 2021 at 3:14 pm
2021 WSOP Online: Gionni Demers, Ryan Leng, Bryan Piccioli, Justin Saliba ship bracelets

The 2021 World Series of Poker Online continued this week at WSOP.com with a few more bracelet winners. Bryan 'Pellepelle' Piccioli won his second career bracelet with a victory in Event #12 $500 NL Turbo Deepstack. Ryan 'Adopt_aDogg0' Leng also added a second bracelet to his collection with a victory in Event #13 $1,000 NL Freezeout. Gionni 'COLDWARKID' Demers shipped Event #14 $500 NL and denied David Williams a chance from winning another bracelet. Meanwhile, Justin 'Jsaliba2' Saliba banked $253,800 for a victory in Event #15 $5,300 NL High Roller.

Thursday July 15, 2021 at 1:56 am
Daniel Negreanu wins inaugural PokerGO Cup

The 2021 PokerGO Cup is in the books with the first-ever high roller tournament concluding at the Aria Casino in Las Vegas and Daniel Negreanu was crowned the first champion. KidPoker won Event #7 $50K NL for a $700,000 score. Cary Katz won Event #8 $100,000 NL for a score worth a little over $1 million and Negreanu finished fourth overall, but snagged enough points in the final two events to lock up the overall title.

Wednesday July 14, 2021 at 6:30 pm
Telex
PokerStars 2021 WCOOP: Aug 22 thru Sept 15 with $100 Million guarantees

Save the dates. Get ready for 2021 World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP), which begins on August 22 on PokerStars and runs through September 15. The schedule has yet to be released, but there will be $100 million in guaranteed prize pools. Check back for more details about 2021 WCOOP.

Tuesday July 13, 2021 at 9:47 pm
Jason Koon, Ali Imsirovic, Jake Schindler, Dylan Linde, Alex Foxen win 2021 PokerGO Cup events

After the first week of action at the first-ever PokerGO Cup at the Aria Casino in Las Vegas, six events are in the books for the high roller series. Ali Imsirovic made headlines with two victories already in Event #2 $10,000 NL and Event #4 $15,000 NL. Other winners so far include Alex Foxen in Event #1 $10,000 NL, Dylan Linde in Event #2 $10,000 NL, Jake Schindler in Event #5 $25,000 NL, and Jason Koon in Event #6 $25,000 NL.

Monday July 12, 2021 at 5:02 pm
Maing Loeser wins first bracelet in 2021 WSOP Online Series

The 2021 WSOP Online Series is underway at WSOP.com and 11 players were awarded online bracelets already including Maing Loeser, who finally won his first-career bracelet. Loeser, playing under the moniker Ohio77, shipped Event #2 Monster Stack for $104,313, but he really wanted the bling. Other bracelet winners in the WSOP Online Series included Jose 'deposit' Noboa, Donnell 'Spreezy52' Dais, Jeffery 'Steelvikes7' Hoops, Jeremiah 'freestylerr' Williams, Michael 'stiltwalk' Mercaldo, Carlos Welch, Phil 'wingsuiter' Beck, Michael 'njnj17' Leib, and Vijay 'Eclypzed' Para

Friday July 9, 2021 at 11:05 pm
MicroMillions returns to PokerStars on July 15-25 with 122 events

It's back! The 2021 MicroMillions features 122 events spread out over 12 days on PokerStars beginning July 15 and running through July 25 with buy-ins as low as $1.10. This latest version of MicroMillions offers $4.7 million guaranteed prize pools. The $22 buy-in Main Event has a $1 million guarantee. PokerStars added three freerolls awarding $200K in MicroMillions tickets. There's also Spin & Gos are running as we speak for $0.50 for seats into the MicroMillions Main Event.

Thursday July 8, 2021 at 7:55 pm
Chad Eveslage wins historic 2021 WPT Venetian

In the latest stop on the World Poker Tour, Chad Eveslage banked $910,370 for outlast 1,119 runners to win the 2021 WPT Venetian. The final table included three women -- Kyna England, Daniela Rodriguez, Kitty Kuo - -along with Tim McDermott, and Mike Liang. Eveslage knocked out Nike Liang heads-up for the title and freeroll into the season-ending Tournament of Champions.

Tuesday July 6, 2021 at 3:12 pm
Planet Hollywood poker room on Las Vegas Strip to close July 11

This is the final week of poker at the Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas Strip because the property is shutting down the poker room on Sunday, July 11, so it's your last chance to get your poker fix at Planet Ho, which had become a low-stakes fixture for tourists and locals over the years. Caesars Entertainment said they were shuttering the 10-table poker room at Planet Ho after re-opening last October.

Thursday July 1, 2021 at 12:22 am
RIP Noel Furlong, 1999 WSOP Champion only Irish player to win

Noel Furlong, the only player from Ireland to ever win the World Series of Poker Main Event, passed away at the age of 83 due to natural causes. Furlong made millions in the flooring business but also was a renown horse trainer, although he made a name for himself at the poker tables with two Irish Poker Open wins and a pair of WSOP Main Event final tables including 1989 and a victory at the 1999 WSOP Main Event.

Thursday June 24, 2021 at 9:08 pm
Phil Hellmuth sweeps Daniel Negreanu in High Stakes Duel

Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu met for third and final match in the High Stakes Duel, which was played out at the PokerGo Studios at the Aria Casino in Las Vegas. Hellmuth won the first two matches then completed a three-game sweep with a victory in the third heads-up battle on Wednesday to win $350,000 in total. Negreanu went 0-3 against Hellmuth in HSD shortly after he lost $1.2 million against Doug Polk in their high-stakes challenge.

Wednesday June 23, 2021 at 6:22 pm
Brian Altman Binks WPT Seminole Hard Rock Tampa for $613K

Brian Altman took down his third-career World Poker Tour title with a tremendous victory at the 2021 WPT Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. Altman outlasted a field of 1,165 runners and a tough final table that included Zachary Smiley and Jonathan Jaffe to bank a first-place prize worth $613,225. Altman previous shipped WPT titles with two victories at the Lucky Hearts Poker Open at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood in 2015 and 2020.

Tuesday June 22, 2021 at 10:11 pm
Phil Ivey wins 2021 WPT Heads Up Championship

Poker fans around the world were treated with a fun finale in the $25,000 buy-in 2021 WPT Heads Up Championship with Phil Ivey squaring off against Patrik Antonius on Poker King. The two legends used to slug it out at the virtual tables during the apex of the online poker boom in the 2000s, where Antonius made a name of himself as one of the most feared players in Europe. Their best-of-five heads-up joust went quick. Ivey defeated Antonius with a 3-0 sweep to win the 2021 WPT Heads Up Championship, which paid out $400,000.

Tuesday June 22, 2021 at 5:53 am
WPT Heads Up Championship: Phil Ivey vs Patrik Antonius in the finals

The 2021 WPT Heads Up Championship presented by Poker King was a special invitation-only affair with 32 pros and celebs invited to take a shot at the inaugural title online at Poker King. The Final Four featured Chris Kruk, Phil Ivey, Sam Greenwood, and Patrick Antonius. Phil Ivey and Chris Kruk squared off in the semifinals and Ivey won 2-1 to lock up a spot in the Finals. Patrik Antonius knocked out Sam Greenwood 2-0 and advanced to the Finals on Tuesday where Ivey awaits.

Thursday June 17, 2021 at 7:54 pm
2021 WSOP Schedule finalized with 88 bracelet events

The 2021 World Series of Poker takes place in the fall this year at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas starting on September 30 and running through November 23. The official schedule is out and the 2021 WSOP features 88 gold bracelet events and an additional game added to the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship, which is now nine mixed games. The 2021 WSOP Main Event has four starting flights this year starting November 4 thru 7. The Main Event final table will start on November 16 and crown a champion on November 17.

Free tournaments and added prizes

The Club Poker organizes freerolls and special tournaments with added prizes.
To qualify for free, register on our poker partners websites:

Tournaments Club Poker
6-MAX
$2.20
Big Poker League
today at 7:04 pm
$125 added
6-MAX
$2.20
Big Poker League
Thursday August 12, 2021 at 7:04 pm
$125 added
6-MAX
$2.20
Big Poker League
Thursday August 19, 2021 at 7:04 pm
$125 added
6-MAX
$2.20
Big Poker League
Thursday August 26, 2021 at 7:04 pm
$125 added