The Indistinct Dutch Boyd “Poker Tilt” Book
So what’s the inside scoop on Dutch Boyd’s new book, Poker Tilt? It’s an oddly indistinct book, not as earth-shattering or as interesting as casual readers might hope. Poker Tilt is the autobiography of Boyd’s, co-written with Laurence Samuels, that Boyd launched a funding campaign via Kickstarter over a year before completing and publishing the somewhat airy work last week.
The takeaways? Dutch, or Russell to his mom, talks about his past poker experiences without actually revealing too much about himself, other than his long and very public battle with bi-polar disorder. Dutch got that nickname from old-time Texas rounder/storyteller Johnny Hughes, who misheard “Russ” as “Dutch” during introductions at one of Dutch’s first live-poker outings.
It’s one of the few decent and distinctive anecdotes in a book which too often resorts to generalities and half-clever quips. Boyd often refers to his actions and his thoughts through the words of others, augmenting the narrative with dozens of quotes and asides dropped in, often in the form of “Life Lessons,” which are frequently just placeholders for Dutch saying, “I made a mistake.”
One of those could look like this:
Life Lesson #43:
Never Read an Autobiography by Someone Under Age 40
How that fits in to the greater review is itself an exercise in half-explained, in-crowd quippage, ad homage to the book. Books like this can miss the mark in several ways, the most important of which is that a biography should be a book about oneself written for others, rather than to please the author or fit his purposes. Poker Tilt is often a navel-gazer, in the dreary tradition of such tales.
So much of Poker Tilt‘s wordage is spent on indistinct recountings of parties and weed and rolling joints; that the narrative skews off-center. The whole book has a cloudy haze to it, but that’s just a symptom of a greater flaw. It’s the book’s nonstop self-indulgence that is its defining flavor, actually proving in its own way one of the points that Dutch implies repeatedly throughout: By and large, poker players are greedy and selfish, and care more about themselves than anything else.
The story begins with the tale of the 2003 World Series of Poker main event, where eventual winner Chris Moneymaker correctly and boldly snaps off a Dutch bluff in a huge pot, precipitating Boyd’s ouster after being the chip leader during the final two tables. From there it’s a rambling, more-or-less chronological trip through the backstories of Dutch’s adventures, including being hustled off to college at age 12 and his development of the PokerSpot online-poker site, which became one of the game’s early and infamous failures.
Yes, the PokerSpot tale occupies a good chunk of the book, including, in its aftermath, how he was hustled for several thousand dollars by a woman he identified as Bonnie Damiano (now Bonnie Damiano-Leinhos) at the cashier’s cage following his first big WSOP score. (Damiano’s cameo mention, nothing major in terms of the book, was nonetheless the most curious moment for this reader, since she went on to be intrinsically linked to Russ Hamilton and his Ultimate Blackjack Tour, through which millions in money stolen from UltimateBet players was ultimately funneled.)
And its in the pages of Poker Tilt that Boyd attempts to bury the stigma of PokerSpot once and for all, declaring,
“Every dollar I might have given away was a dollar taken away from our future. I emailed John back and
told him I had left Pokerspot behind me. I wasn’t holding out hope of ever making it right. Some things can’t ever be fixed.” And a bit later, “I’m still sorry for the past, and I’ll always wear the scars. But I stopped carrying the weight.”
To Dutch, all the world’s a game, the winners and losers, the hustlers and the hustle.
A bit before that, Boyd declares that he’d welcome back Full Tilt owners Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson to the poker world, should they choose to bear the wrath of their Black Friday victims. Wrote Boyd:
“Supposedly, Lederer and Ferguson are going to brave the poker community and make a return to the tables for the upcoming 2014 WSOP. And why wouldn’t they? I, for one, will welcome them back. Poker hasn’t been the same without Jesus and The Professor.
“As for the haters? Well, one of the great thing about poker is the haters don’t matter. The cards don’t care what you’ve done in the past, or what a forum troll might think about you on a personal level. All that matters at the table is how
you play, what risks you take, what the river card brings.”
As with his famed collision with Moneymaker in the 2003 WSOP, which he corrects with an “alternate ending” fantasy in which he sucks out and goes on to win the main event. Though to his credit, it likely wouldn’t have changed anything, meaning the boom-and-bust cycle so common to many touring tournament players.
Dutch’s very public battles with bi-polar disorder also figure large in the story, which is loosely organized and not at all well written. (If you’re looking for a book in which the authors know the difference between “its” and “it’s” or “bear” and “bare,” look elsewhere.) Dutch ends up in mental hospitals in several US states and in Antigua, but for years, doesn’t take the steps to prevent recurrences of the manic episodes, despite their effect on his life.
Dutch acknowledges that at least six years have passed since his last major manic episode — by a non-coincidence, about the same amount of time he’s been clean from his former life of nonstop recreational drug use. He’s cleaner now, older, likely wiser, though in many ways still the same young-old Dutch.
Dutch takes plenty of shots at those he believes have wronged him, from those he blames in the PokerSpot debacle to Phil Laak, an old friend who Dutch claims gave him the cold shoulder to protect his own image. If you like reading poker-world dirt, there’s a good deal of that, too, much of it centering on the “Crew,” the loosely formed band of young poker players centered on Boyd that was already broken up by the time ESPN brought them mainstream fame.
Is the book awesome, horrible, or just ho-hum? It’s unfortunately just the last of the three. It’s not as singularly dreadful as the Joe Hachem bio Pass the Sugar, and likewise wouldn’t deserve to be on the same shelf as Nolan Dalla’s and Peter Alson’s excellent One of a Kind: the Rise and Fall of Stu Ungar. Neither Boyd nor co-author Samuels possesses the eye for detail that could have transformed Boyd’s unusual life’s tale into a truly worthwhile read, and instead, the book just drifts off into its own blurry green haze.