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28/04/2006 No.45
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday April 28, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

You might have read last week's Guardian obituary of poker legend Puggy Pearson, who died in Las Vegas aged 77. A couple of weeks before Puggy's death, the poker world lost a different sort of hero: Adam Lee, who died in London aged 23.

Puggy Pearson was the epitome of the Old School. Born in Depression-era Kentucky, he left school at 14 to be a pool hustler, grifting and gambling his way across the dusty American south, making massive golf bets and smoking Cuban cigars, using false names and dodging the police. Adam Lee was New Breed, in the spirit of 21st-century poker: a fully educated and brilliant kid, who roamed the world from behind a computer screen, tearing up the internet games with enough mathematical skill and talent to make an immediate living as "a professional poker player" (words that would have meant nothing to the young Puggy).

Pearson was folksy and southern; he wore colourful stripy trousers and a broad-brimmed straw hat. Lee was sharp and urban; he wore glasses and a baseball cap. Puggy suffered a heart attack after nearly eight decades of "good livin' ". Adam suffered a brain tumour, after a cruelly short adventure in the world.

But these two were not so different, really. The essence of Puggy Pearson was the combination of a fearsomely aggressive poker style, with a personal manner described by the great gambling writer Jon Bradshaw as "ease and affability . . . an air of jauntiness and inexhaustible good spirits". Talking to fellow players about Adam, exactly the same dynamic is remembered. He played a fearless and super-aggressive tournament game; and yet he was always easygoing and friendly whether he was winning or losing.

There is a nasty tendency among some New Breed players to cheer rudely when they are knocking out an opponent, or to turn unpleasant when they are knocked out themselves. This habit - harmless enough when you are playing alone behind a computer screen - causes great offence when brought into the live game. But Adam never did that. He set an example of "ease and affability". His desire to win never prevented him from enjoying the game or from behaving with class; he was capable of seeing opponents simultaneously as obstacles to be defeated and people to be respected.

It has made me think about the title of this column, "How to Play Poker". I've talked about semi-bluffing flush draws, escaping weak aces, and other small strategic matters. But I forgot to mention the most important thing. How to play poker? Sportingly. Graciously. With dignity.

. WPT Online!