Friday, January 18, 2008

Poker & Ethics 


Is poker and ethics an oxymoron? I think not, for obvious reasons.

And so I have grudging permission from my pal, DB, a pretty-much-retired American expat, long-time writer, poker greenhorn, cocooning in Ireland in Baja Cork, overlooking the Irish Sea, to re-print the email he sent me on this very topic.

Enjoy and TGIF:


Interesting that we return once again to the issue of ethics and the ironies of the poker tradition.

As a former combat military officer, it is no surprise to me that the children of a country whose operational national philosophy is based, fundamentally, on greed, should emerge in early adulthood with no sense of honor, duty or service. It is difficult (but not impossible) to blame them when we have not imposed a system of ideals or culturally reinforced a generally recognized framework of right action. I don’t consider them fully fledged sociopaths. Just staggeringly morally malnourished.

You refer to the relative wonderfulness of poker professional Barry Greenstein… I have great respect for Mr Greenstein, particularly as a rookie book publisher (me being an editor), and particularly in contrast to Mason Malmuth, whose haughty, cheap unprofessionalism makes my teeth hurt. (I refer only to the editing, design and production values of Mr Malmuth’s products and what I perceive to be his general public tone.)

On the other hand, Greenstein takes a sublime combination of skills, talents, attitudes and life experiences and consciously employs them as just one predator among a school of sharks, trading scraps back and forth, until a suitable victim stumbles by, to be shared and devoured by all. This is his basic life strategy -- his vocation and his avocation, as Frost wrote in one of my favorite poems. Greenstein acknowledges freely, with a clear conscience, that his working philosophy is to avoid the strong and feed on the weak. That is the poker tradition, distilled. But it is not my ideal of the very model of an Ethics Hero.

I suspect Mr Greenstein might point out that killing people for a living was not a good bet for sainthood, either. He would have a point there. These matters might be relative. But probably not.

(I should also note that Mr Greenstein created his own, charitable, wealth-distribution plan. Whether this is atonement, or mitzvah, or something else, is none of my damn business.)


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