Poker Life

As has been stated before in this space, I'm not a fan of "gambling lifestyle" magazines, few of which do much beyond relate insipid war stories and plug semi-relevant products. I also believe Las Vegas to be one of the sadder places on the planet, though I likely surrender my cool-guy credentials by admitting it... not that I ever had much cool-guy cred in the first place. For instance, I listen to lots of Billy Joel.

Anyhow, for these reasons and more, the summer issue of Poker Life wasn't likely to float my boat. But of the gambling-lifestyle mags that have flocked to newsstands like ants to a poorly secured picnic basket, Poker Life probably ranks among the best, and not merely by default.

For one thing, the title has been assembled with more than a thimbleful of professionalism. As opposed to Avery Cardoza's Player or Bluff, both of which appear to be written in a language other than English, Poker Life's editorial minions have clearly familiarized themselves with the quaint, timeless notions of spell- and grammar-check. The mag boasts three actual, bona fide, legit non-gambling-related advertisers (Izod, Tourneau, and the Donald J. Trump Signature Collection... which, judging by its massive presence here, must have some kind of stake in the publication). In its expansive story selection and its relatively artful design, Poker Life feels like a real magazine, as opposed to a quickie pamphlet printed up on higher-stock paper.

Which isn't to suggest that this year's American Magazine Super-Award winners ought to be cowering in their thigh-high alligator-skin booties. A publication dubbed Poker Life necessarily must fill its pages with any number of "see, there was this one time, when I was all-in and I caught a club on the flop, then the waitress brought me a glass of tomato juice..." stories, none of which stimulates the imagination more than a lecture on grain subsidies. Additionally, the Las Vegas fascination among twerps who took "Swingers" way, way too seriously endures in its pages, what with yet another "Best of Vegas" feature.

The mag devotes too much space to a Q&A with some sublime piece of ass--I'm sorry, but I don't know how else to describe her--who "already auditioned with Scorsese and De Niro." She didn't get the part and the movie in question was made 12 years ago, mind you, but the audition itself surely qualifies her as a face to watch. The "Ante Up" piece on chanteuse Cassandra Wilson tackily segues from poker to Hurricane Katrina in a single sentence, while the "Vices" item on topless pools (in Las Vegas, naturally) comes across as edgy as a spork.

I also worry about Poker Life's pluggy ways. No, I don't believe an ad/edit line truly exists in any title that accepts dollars from marketers. But gosh, don't be so brazen about trampling all over it. On the scale of shamelessness, the front-of-book "stories" about gambling Web sites and stores rank only slightly below the "Toys" plug for running shoes (judging by the photographic evidence at hand, poker fiends don't make exercise much of a priority in their lives). How's this for a wimpily worded blurb: "The $12.50 ride on Manhattan Express at New York New York proves more fun than even the wildest New York City cab ride." Wow, I didn't know that machine-operated roller coasters could be whacked out on crystal meth, too.

And yet the summer issue still provides more than its share of diverting fodder. Rather than wasting its time with poker tips -- the mag correctly assumes that people reading a magazine with "poker" in its title know their way around a full house -- Poker Life mines the world of entertainment for editorial fodder. Director Curtis Hanson chats about his upcoming gambling flick (to answer your question: yes, of course it includes a subplot about daddy issues) and cover boy Burt Reynolds remains as amiable as ever, babbling about a regular game that includes "Charlie" Durning, "Jimmy" Woods and Angie Dickinson. Poor, sweet "Dommy" DeLuise must've pissed somebody off, eh?

Poker Life also connects with its "Fairer Sex?" column by Kathy Liebert, which advises male players to think like a woman at the poker table (it does not extend that advice to other settings, like the department store or the shower). And as annoying as poker war stories can get -- seriously, could you tell me instead about your fantasy-baseball team, or show me eight carousels of slides from your Kenyan safari? -- there's something oddly endearing about the time-blurred recollections of past winners of the World Series of Poker.

To beat yet another pseudo-literary witticism into the ground, reading about poker is like dancing about architecture or perhaps farting about plumbing. Poker Life, then, grabs the gambling-mag diamond-flecked title belt for its forays into the world of entertainment and its comparative avoidance of the "the game's the thing" tripe that usually packs such titles. It may not be the most original magazine out there, but its professionalism and occasional bursts of creativity lift it above the poker-rag pack.

Next story loading loading..