This article originally started out as a discussion on the poker forum, Rec. Gambling Poker. Will Reich pieced his posts together
in order to convert them into a book review of "The Picasso Flop."
When I decided to make a habit of reviewing poker books, I set myself a rule or a guideline that a novel, in order to be reviewed, had
to have a great deal of poker in it in order to be reviewed. Jesse May’s excellent Shut up and Deal
would qualify, for instance, but several even better books by SF author John Varley would not because the poker in them is a fairly
minor feature. This book almost fails to qualify because there is little actual poker in this book. The small amount there is made it
almost impossible for me to continue reading. Only the memory of another novel (Galveston by Sean Stewart) that started with a
simply awful, contrived and aggressively stupid poker hand but turned into a great book, with great poker content also, kept me going.
This book, like the Stewart book, did get better, but it didn’t get much better. I would wait for it to come out in paperback to buy it,
if then. For my thinking on the matter, proceed past the line below but realize that it is a spoiler line and will reveal details of the
story that you may not want to know before reading it.
As we settle down to read
The Picasso Flop by Vince Van Patten and Robert J. Randisi, we are told that we are at the Bellagio, on the night before the Five
Diamond Classic is to begin. There is a big cash game in progress. It is somewhat short-handed. Some of the players are described and
the game begins.
On the first hand described, there is an early-position raise to one thousand. Someone calls. Then a "colorful" Thai player
re-raises to three thousand. The original raiser, who turns out to be our protagonist, re-raises all-in. To TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. It
isn't clear that the total isn't fifteen thousand but it is bizarre either way. Who would be playing in a big-time game where it is
logical to raise to a grand with only twelve or fifteen thousand in front of him. The blinds must be around $100/200 and that is only
either sixty or seventy-five big blinds. Not only that but this guy has already won some hands. The re-raiser, who has pocket Queens,
calls and the original raiser has Aces. Whoda thunkit? Later on, the Thai player, who seems like an amalgam of several players and is
well-sketched, says that the raiser played well. He raised with Aces and then re-raised all-in. Is that remarkable? Still, “played well,”
With the stacks involved, I am not faulting either player that much, although I think that the last call with Queens was foolish without
a very strong read, but WHAT are they playing with no chips in front of them for. I don’t play that high but people generally play with
over 150 big blinds in front of them in the games I DO play in and I know that is true in the bigger games too. Otherwise, it is all
pre-flop action, much like most tournament play. Has Van Patten never seen a cash poker game or is the intention to give the TV fans
that all-in moment?
There's some banter, etc and then a top player raises from early position to two thousand. There's a LP caller with 43s (we know
everyone’s hole cards on all these hands) and Our Hero calls on the button with 22. If there were some CHIPS on the damn table, I
wouldn't fault either call but the implied odds
in THIS game suck. The flop comes A25 and the original raiser move in. He has maybe fifteen grand in front of him (I don’t have the
exact figure and I can’t check because I threw the book under a bus) and this shows that our hero is not the only one buying in so
short. Otherwise, we could assume that the stacks in the game were more normal. Now, maybe Our Hero could put him on AK but the LP
caller CALLS and he is a world-class player. Our Hero does consider that he might be behind and probably IS (oh, really?)
Now I have a T-Shirt that says “Die with a Set 888” but there ARE exceptions. However, our hero goes through some rationalization that
he wants to re-introduce himself to the poker community with a bang (he's been in prison for murder) and I guess he figures playing a
hand like an idiot will get him some cred. He hits his one out and, to their credit, neither of his opponents seem all that upset.
However, the best is yet to come.
Mike Sexton has been watching the game and he comes up to Our Hero, whom he knew in the old days, and CONGRATULATES him on his wonderful
play. Our Hero has the modesty to say that he's lucky but then there is the remark "It isn't often you get a chance to suck out on these
guys." To be fair, Sexton is commenting on Our Hero's play for the whole evening, which wasn't as bad as on the one hand. To be even
fairer, Vince Van Patten is putting the words into poor Mike Sexton's mouth. However, as commentators on the WTP, they do seem to believe that
there is some sort of skill involved, or at least some PLAY involved, after all the chips are in. They talk about holding the underdog
hand off and of "trying" to suck out. They also use the rabbit cam and then say "well, we know now that X made a good fold."
There’s another “WPT moment” when another important character reflects on the fact that someone she just talked to got into the
tournament via satellite while she bought in with money from an inheritance. She feels superior because of this. Obviously, there are
people who feel that way but the author seems to treat it as normal. Now, buying in with paycheck money, and an inheritance is just
another kind of paycheck money, is not a reason to feel superior to someone who buys in with poker winnings, whether winnings from the
cash tables, other big tournaments or from satellites. In fact, the opposite is clearly true to most of us who play the game. However,
the WPT announcers’ attitude toward “internet qualifiers” seems to be the same as the silly young woman in the book.
The rest of The Picasso Flop is a multiple-murder mystery set in the Bellagio during a tournament. Like the whole genre of "mysteries in a
specialized setting," this one relies on depicting colorful characters and an intriguing background. They don't wholly fail. The
protagonist out-investigates the cops but that is part of the genre. If you like light mysteries with well-drawn oddball characters, you
might like it. It will be better, if you are poker-literate, to skip the poker hands at the beginning. I figured that the first two
poker hands might have biased me, so I gave the book to my friend Micki because she is a WPT fan and loves light mysteries. She read it
and then picked out what bus to throw it under. But she’s tough.
Purchase at Amazon