Richard Sparks will tell you he has the perfect job – and he isn’t kidding. The author of the excellent “Diary of a Mad Poker Player” found a way to include poker-playing in his writing career. Last year, he chronicled his online journey to the WSOP. This year, he’ll be back again, and is finishing a new book on what makes the world of poker tick. Getting paid to play and write about high-stakes poker and travel? BRILLIANT!!
PL: You chronicled your massive online journey to the WSOP last year in the book, Diary of a Mad Poker Player – have you been playing as much on the Internet lately?
Richard: Last year, it was a real roller-coaster and I had a true goal in mind, which made it much easier to stay focused. I really haven’t had played as much lately…taking some time off now. As you know, my wife was a big part of that first book, and she’s been doing very well recently. In fact, she won the press event on the PartyPoker Million Cruise, beating out over 60 players including 4 pros, so I’m very proud of her. And she won $3000, which is nice.
PL: How do we line up that gig?
Richard: [Laughs] Well, PartyPoker has been very involved in the marketing of the book, which is good press for them. I played mostly on their site, and wrote about it in the book, so they read it, loved it, and then invited us along on the cruise. It worked out well for Party because Jenny, my wife, is a professional photographer, and Party didn’t really have one, so she was able to chronicle the whole event. You can see the photos on my site:
So we have a good relationship with Party – they’re good people.
PL: So was it the first book that got you in so well with the poker community?
Richard: I’ve been meeting people in the poker world from time to time – everyone is very accessible. They’re not as closed off as movie stars. I wrote the book entirely off my own back, and when I started contacting the reps for the various sites, they couldn’t have been any more helpful. They were like, “come down to Vegas, let’s meet, we’ll talk, etc.” So meeting people in poker and making contacts is very easy. The only person I didn’t get a response from was Ben Affleck [laughs]. He gave it to his agent, and then you don’t hear a thing.
Most poker players are very approachable, good people.
PL: Have you and your wife gotten any needling online now that everyone knows your player IDs?
Richard: [Laughs] Brilliant! Yes, I believe it was 3 nights ago, there was a huge roar of laughter from her upstairs office. She said someone asked her, “xxx, is that really you?? I read your husband’s book and I loved it!” It’s pretty funny, and I’m lucky to have a wife who understands and gets poker – she keeps me in line when I’m playing too much as well. She knows when enough is enough, or when it’s time to goto Vegas.
For example, at a charity event here in June, at one of the big movie studios – $1K charity buy-in. Jenny’s going to play in that since I can’t make it. So she’s very into the poker world and understands these events.
PL: So do you already have your WSOP Main Event seats locked up for this year?
Richard: I do, yes – since the book is doing well, the publisher wants me to be in the second one. But I’m wondering if it’s better to play a few of the smaller events instead of the one big one. They’re capping it at 6,600 players, which makes for very long odds. You have to bet the field in a tourney like this. So I haven’t decided which way to go.
I think this has to be the last year they go with the $10K buy-in because the numbers (of players) are so big. But you never know.
PL: What did you learn about yourself and your poker-playing ability when writing the first book (Diary of a Mad Poker Player)?
Richard: Well, that is a very interesting question. The main thing that came out for me is how poker reflects life, how it teaches you lessons that follow you into the real world and the financial world. You learn things like how to handle failure, victory, and how to be wise in defeat – things we should already know. Poker is like a professional critic that will give you an honest reminder of what you’re up against in real life.
I learned that I’m quite impatient in many situations, and overly aggressive in others. It’s interesting to see how different my wife looks at things. When we’re both playing, she’ll make moves and read situations in an entirely new way than I would. It just goes to show you how multi-dimensional the game of poker really is. Like in life, there is rarely one right way to do something.
PL: The classic answer – “It all depends.”
Richard: Exactly. When something’s perfect, it’s over, right? And this is all part of the theme for the next book I’m working on…
PL: What are you thoughts about the recent buzz around the need to create a true Poker Players’ Association?
Richard: Well, there are actually two of those right now that are trying to gain steam – one is the PPT, the other is the PPA. It’s very difficult. I’m just not sure that the rules of the rest of the world can really apply to poker. I do think it helps to have planned schedules months in advance, so some kind of organization is in everyone’s best interest. But poker is a strange world – people disappear and re-appear, so it can’t be a closed environment. There would have to be room for players to come in and out of the organization.
PL: So we’re obviously excited about covering the WSOP this year – tell us about the Media/Celebrity Charity Tournament.
Richard: Oh it’s great fun. Of course, this time last year, I was totally burned out on poker, and wasn’t real excited about this event, but it is real fun. On your left, you have some guy from Cardplayer, and your right, an Italian entertainer who has no idea what to do with his cards, and then Penn and Teller there trying to keep it all funny. And once you make it to the Final Table, you’re playing with some strong competition.
I think Michael Caplan won it last year – he’s a writer (Aces and Kings) who really wanted to win it.
PL: Tell us about working the World Series as a member of the press.
Richard: Well, you end up spending a lot of time in the press room. There are tons of people wearing .com logos, trying desperately to get exposure for their sites and signup new players. Then you’ll find the old pro members of the press, and those are the ones really worth talking to. The main thing is to approach people out of the ordinary, and don’t ask them the regular questions.
For instance, I was interviewing Michael Gracz at the recent PartyPoker Millions cruise – a great guy and great player, and the segment will be in my next book. But the first thing I said was, “I really like that one move you made back there.” He was kind of stunned…and I explained that he checked on the flop, then check-raised the turn many times, which I thought was a great move to get people out of the hand. He said, “Well, the turn is where you have to put people to the decision, as they are typically waiting for cards after the flop. So it’s the turn that is most critical.” And I thought that was a brilliant analysis. So my point is that it’s better to ask the out of the ordinary question – less “how to” play certain hands, since those players answer those all the time.
PL: So other than yours, what is your favorite poker book?
Richard: Hmmm…well, I have a big soft spot for Alvarez’s “Biggest Game in Town”, as he’s a great writer and personal friend from London. I’m also very impressed with the new one, Harrington on Holdem – that is an excellent guy, and it’s a jaw-dropping analysis of holdem. If you play NL Holdem, it’s absolutely essential.
PL: So are the L.A. card rooms as loose and crazy as we’ve heard?
Richard: Actually no – those crazy games are at the lower limit ones, which are jackpot games. That’s not really poker, in my opinion, with people chasing anything. Like I wrote in my first book, when I started playing online, I thought I was really bad, but it turned out I was just trying too hard. Then I went to the live rooms in LA, and was amazed at how bad THOSE people were. Then on the PartyPoker Cruise, there were all these people there saying they always win online…so am I the only loser in the online games?? But I had a very successful run against those players, and discovered I’m much better live than online and in cash games than tournaments.
PL: Which isn’t a bad thing really…
Richard: Yes, but I want to win the tournaments. There is so much prestige in those events and the competition is fierce, that it would be great to finally win one. The cash games are nice, but the pros only look to make one big bet an hour – not very exciting. Would you want to be a professional poker player?
PL: Not really…
Richard: Exactly. After awhile, it takes the fun out of the game. To go sit down with Barry Greenstein, Tom McEvoy, is a thrill for most people, but for them, it’s just a job. Which is exactly why I write these books! Most everyone is writing a strategy book nowadays, but not many are writing about the philosophy of poker, the history, the people involved.
It’s funny – if you really think about it, all poker players are there with their hands in each other’s pockets, trying to win the money. But many are very nice in real life, honorable people…all of which is part of my next book.
PL: How about non-poker projects you’re working on?
Richard: At the moment, I have three commissions from the LA Opera, including modernizing Hansel and Gretel.
Here’s the thing. If you’re lucky enough to have a job you love…I’ve known since I was 6 that I was going to be a writer. Never knew if I could make a living at it, but I love it, even though it can kick you’re a$% sometimes. Just like poker – I love it, but have had much heartbreak in poker as well. So can you imagine, having a job you love, and writing about a subject you love. I couldn’t be happier! It doesn’t sound like work, but it’s very tough – you try to communicate the great side of poker while also dealing with the dark side.
PL: How cool is it to have your name in movie credits with Martin Landau and others?
Richard: It is nice, but as a writer, you should be in the background. The fact that I wrote a script is irrelevant. It’s a backroom job…you get your satisfaction from watching people enjoy your plays, but not from having your name out there in the spotlight.
PL: Well it sounds like you’re in the perfect career position – good luck with everything and we’ll definitely see you at the World Series this year!
REVIEW OF RICHARDS BOOK FOLLOWS:
Our second PokerLizard Featured Book is one of the most entertaining reads to come along in awhile. Diary of a Mad Poker Player chronicles Richard Sparks’ journey through cyberspace as he tries to win a seat in the big one at the 2004 WSOP. So for anyone who has played online, had questions about internet poker’s integrity, or just likes a good read, we can highly recommend this book.
Sparks is a professional writer with TV shows, plays, and operas under his belt. That fact alone already catapults Diary way above most books on poker. Unlike the pros, who have a lot of good strategy and bad beats to recall, Sparks can spin a great story and turn an otherwise mundane online poker session into a rivetting read. He ranks right up there with Alvarez (Biggest Game in Town) and McManus (Positively Fifth Street). If you’ve read either of those masterpieces, then you know what you have to look forward to.
Mad Poker Player starts out with a line that all online players are all too familiar with: “It’s late. I should be in bed.” Thus begins Sparks’ perfectly accurate account of the late-night internet world. He takes us through his thought process as he rationalizes playing instead of working. Luckily for him (and us) he decides early on to knock out two birds with one stone and write about his journey to the World Series. From there, it takes off as he enters satellite after satellite, many times reprinting entire chat threads from actual online tourneys. This is where a seasoned internet player will really connect to the book. Sparks captures all the glory of huge wins and all the pain of bad beats – along with the colorful language that ensues.
One of the most interesting topics covered in Diary is cheating online and how the sites deal with it. Sparks takes us behind the scenes as he meets with reps from some of the major sites, and puts the hard questions to them. “How do you prevent cheating?” “How do you deal with cheaters?” “Do you compensate the victims?” It’s all here and in great detail. Richard’s access as a media rep in last year’s WSOP leads to some excellent insight into the growing internet craze. It’s much bigger than you think.
Diary culminates at the 2004 WSOP, with Richard playing (you’ll have to read it to find out just how far he gets) as well as interviewing a lot of players. It all makes for a page-turning and satisfying read, and we can’t wait for his next book, due out soon!
If you liked this interview please consider making a small donation, all proceeds will go toward my children’s college fund, Thanks.