Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Report: Five Days in Deauville

Arthur W. Goodhart Five Days in Deauville

The author participated in a major, big stakes poker tournament held in Deauville, France (at the casino, he points out, which was the model for Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale).  The book, a Kindle Single, is a long essay about playing in the tournament---hands, strategies, luck, muck--- as well as ruminations about other matters, both connected to the tournament, such as the architecture of the casino and the hotel and their coastline location, the beach, the restaurants, as well as topics related only tangentially.  He calls the piece a “personal diary that interweaves poker and politics, saints and sinners, connections and coincidences, writers and fighters…”

Judging by his writing, Mr. Goodhart is a thoughtful, widely read, person if not a particularly gregarious one.  There are terse mentions of cell phone calls to his family in London, and he does reveal that in his other life he is a literary agent, but that’s all the autobiography we’re going to get.  By way of example, he describes a moment during the tournament, during a break following a particularly intense series of hands and an especially significant loss by the player sitting next to him: 

“My neighbour seems unconcerned by this setback. He engages two newcomers in conversation, discovers the bearded young man stacking an impressive pile of chips is from Finland while the tanned, more portly middle-aged man is from Montpellier. I increase the volume on my iPod.” 

So much for small talk from Mr. Goodhart. But when it comes to poker, and the tournament, he has somehow kept meticulous track of the details of play, almost like an anthropologist in the era of thick description. The book is loaded with familiar poker lingo---river, button, blind, flop, all-in---and Mr. Goodhart draws concise and unembellished portraits of the tournament players and staff.  Remembering every play and ante, every reason for doing what he did and an analysis of what he didn’t do, and at the same time chronicling the play of the others makes for engaging verisimilitude.

Equally astonishing is the lack of hyperbole and the erudition in the non-poker digressions. Instead of hyped up tales of drugs and booze and sexual obsession, Mr. Goodhart thoughtfully opines on the Davos world leaders’ conference being held at the same time as the tournament, and has much to say about World War I, using Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front as one text, The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark as another. Other names that come up include Ford Madox Ford, Joan of Arc, Jack Kerouac, Saint Therese of Liseiux, Roger Federer.  He manages to make the connections, and sometimes uses a poker metaphor to decorate a thought, but he is quick to point out where the relations and the connections unravel.  The reporting on the tournament is almost a cover for his cultural commentary and digressions, but there is little hyperbole and in all areas he is respectful of his material.

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