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What is a game?

Seems like a simple question, right? But when you really sit down and think about it – what’s the answer? Is there a universal definition? Or is it more a case of knowing it when you see it? And furthermore, there’s an even more fundamental query – why is a game?

It’s that last inquiry that seems to be at the center of Oliver Roeder’s new book “Seven Games: A Human History” (W.W. Norton & Company, $26.95). It’s an exploration of, well, seven games – checkers, backgammon, chess, Go, poker, Scrabble and bridge – and our connection to them.

With each entry, Roeder offers us a look at the game’s origins – its place of birth, its precursors, its evolution – as well as introducing us to a formidable practitioner. And perhaps most fascinating, he also takes us into the realm of artificial intelligence as we meet the people who have devoted their lives to teaching machines to play these games.

It’s a fascinating treatise on the importance of games and how they influence the people who play them, as well as a wonderful glimpse at some of the eccentric and idiosyncratic folks who have devoted their lives to achieving a kind of granular greatness. To Roeder and the people to whom he speaks, games are far more than mere entertainment – they are an opportunity to better understand the world, both around us and within us.

Published in Tekk
Tuesday, 23 June 2020 12:07

‘The Biggest Bluff’ is the nuts

Play the man, not the cards. It’s an adage that has been circulating in the poker world since there has been a poker world in which it could circulate. But how true is it?

That’s one of the fundamental questions explored in Maria Konnikova’s new book “The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win” (Penguin Press, $28). Konnikova is the perfect person to explore such a question, combining a longtime study of psychology and human behavior and a complete lack of knowledge regarding poker. Through answering that question, she sought to get a firmer grasp on the role of chance in the way our worlds operate.

She gained that understanding, to be sure, but that was far from all.

The pitch was simple – go from utter neophyte to the World Series of Poker in one year. But while she achieved her goal, Konnikova also wound up completely changing the trajectory of her life, both personally and professionally. Her voyage through the poker world opened her eyes to a number of truths about herself and her perceptions and proclivities.

It also turned her into a hell of a player. A good player … and a surprisingly successful one.

Published in Sports

There’s something polarizing about the work of Aaron Sorkin. His writing can come off as a bit overly effusive and self-congratulatory – in a word, show-offy. His trademark “walk and talk” – which rose to prominence in his time on “The West Wing” and became even more overwhelming in subsequent projects like “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “The Newsroom” – can be engaging as hell, but you can definitely have too much of a good thing.

But as prolific as he has been as a writer, both on television and in the movies, he had never before sat in the director’s chair before taking on “Molly’s Game.” The film – adapted from Molly Bloom’s book of the same name by Sorkin himself – tells the story of a woman’s rise to prominence and fall from grace as her facilitation of exclusive private high-stakes poker games leads first to wealth and then to her arrest and subsequent court battle with the U.S. government.

Published in Movies

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