Monday, February 12, 2007

Poking a Stick at a Sleeping BLUFF

Remember my posts about BLUFF Magazine last week? They caused a bit of a stir, and I was the recipient on Monday morning of a call from Eric Morris, BLUFF's publisher. Oh, well, it's nice to know that someone is reading....

More seriously, Morris had a politely communicated beef or two about what I wrote, as much about the fact that he wasn't contacted beforehand to give his side of the story as anything else. To be honest, I was a bit shocked that he'd actually noticed this blog in the first place, and also, in my defense, I have written e-mails to Morris and editor Michael Caselli in the past, and hadn't received much in return. I guess I've always considered myself a part of the peanut gallery.

But in any event, what's writ is writ and shall stay that way, though some things now need revisiting. First, I'd like to thank Eric for taking the time to go through the issues that I wrote about, and we did step through them point-by-point, in a chat that was just shy of 25 minutes. I find this most unusual and recognize Eric's graciousness in this matter. I'm not going to share all the specifics of that conversation, because it would be inappropriate for me to do so, but I will touch on the basics of my posts and what Morris's complaints were. Some weren't complaints at all, really, but the whole BLUFF topic demands one more visit, and so we shall:

1) The Card Player / BLUFF video --- Morris is not happy about the whole episode, as one would expect. I'm not sure if the name of the reporter in question has been publicly released, so I won't offer that here, but Morris insists that the BLUFF staffer was not copy-and-pasting. I did write that a copy-and-paste was involved, as I was told that by another writer in direct conversation, and I did examine the video repeatedly and could not disprove what I was told. Nonetheless, Morris insisted that the staffer did not copy-and-paste directly, but had been fact-checking his own work, had a Wordpad or similar document open, and did not directly cross the information over as implied.

I think the video is ambiguous as best, hair-splitting point that it might be. But two other points came up in the discussion. One, I proffered the fact that Card Player's Belsky was really a putz for doing the video in the way that he did, which seems to be a near-unanimous opinion among all pokery media, regardless of affiliation.

Two, Morris and I had a bit of a discussion about the way information is freely swapped and shared among friendly writers, particular if one is doing error checking and correcting to ensure accuracy or to fix something later found wrong. This is a good point, and it should also be noted that CP and BLUFF are not the only outlets doing live reporting; PokerWire is just one other major source. If one makes a mistake, is it okay to ckeck information on a competitor's site and correct it? That could be one possible explanation for what the video shows.

As I said, my own standards are pretty decent but hardly satiny-white; I've swapped info with other writers and I'll sure as hell do it again. And yes, once something passes into public knowledge, it tends to be fair game for re-reporting, but exactly where that line in the sand is drawn is still an argument without a decision, particularly in the electronic age. But here's where the sticking point comes up: the swapping of information is only acceptable when both parties are happy with the swap.

In very general terms, Card Player doesn't want to work with anyone, as most media types who had to bang against the legion of CP chip counters at the '06 WSOP can attest. So when a magazine --- read: Card Player --- intentionally erects that wall towards all other media, then it should probably be respected at least within the venue itself. If CP had a board up, displaying all the chip counts, that's one thing, but I'd still say the BLUFF staffer was tempting fate and a confrontation just by having the CP site up on his laptop.

Were all the poker media wise, they would continue to judiciously swap bits with one another while giving CP the complete cold shoulder. We'll see if something like that occurs.

2) The Negreanu / Jason Kirk pissing match --- This pretty much unfolded the way I expect. I can't talk about what was said, because I know now rather more than should be publicly released. Suffice it to say that both sides were trying to be funny, and both sides were a little thin-skinned. Been there, done that. So Jason got a month's vacation.

3) The erroneous "Reader's Choice" best poker forum award given to PocketFives, instead of to TwoPlusTwo --- Well, we had a bit of a talk about that. Morris insisted that the award was given to PocketFives in error, unlikely an occurrence as that might seem, a point I'll come back to in a bit. One very good point that Morris raised is that given his own previous history with Mason Malmuth (Morris is actually banned from posting there), Malmuth would be about the last person that Morris would try to pull a stunt on like that, especially in light of Malmuth's sweet-as-sunshine nature. The "sweet-as-sunshine" bit is me, tongue firmly in cheek. Morris notes that Malmuth would almost certainly publicize something like this, intentional or not --- which is, of course, exactly what happened.

To me, it read like a high-level catfight, with both sides using tactics that harkened back to the earlier, seedier days of the poker world. Still, given the fact that Eric Morris took a half hour out of his schedule to talk to me about raises the distinct likelihood that this was indeed an error, and I'd be not doing my job as a poker writer if I didn't report this part of it as well, now that it's available. This is the publisher of one of the three biggest poker print magazines, compared to my blog, which is read by literally tens of people daily. I do need to take that disparity into account.

One thing that I pointed out to Morris was that the extended, continuing nature of the error significantly lowered the chances that this was something that was done in innocence. What were the chances, I wondered, that a magazine could compile the results of an extended reader survey, do the pre-publication notification of the winners (meaning that the winners of the awards were almost certainly well-known in-house), then put together and print a magazine with another winner listed, and throughout this entire process, not one person on the editorial staff recognized that the winner of the original award did not match the award as it appeared in print? Even on a thinly-edited magazine, that information should have run through several people over and over and over again.

Nonetheless, Morris affirms that this was what happened. And why was it never caught? Morris responded that the magazine was "extremely careless," regarding its handling of the awards, and that's the only direct quote you'll find in this followup. Ultimately, each person will have to come to his own opinion on the matter. I'm too quick with my judgments at times, but I am willing to reconsider things, small saving grace that this is. Besides, BLUFF has been known for some shaggy editing in the past; my own inability to read through the mass of typos was one of the reasons I quit buying the mag, a year or so back. I expect less-than-perfect editing in a blog, an online site, or even a newspaper to an extent, just due to the short turnaround involved. For a print mag, it's a bit of a different story.

So I'll pull back on my previous assertion, issue the proper mea culpa, and chalk it up as an open question. If the entire episode improves the poker world's self-awareness in these matters, then I've still accomplished something positive. As mentioned, BLUFF is issuing a retraction/correction. You'll see it in print soon. Perhaps it's best for all if we just accept it at face value and move on. Rest assured that it won't happen again.

Score one for the peanut gallery.

4) The hilarious 'Pokerbot Pro' banner --- Morris confirmed that that episode unfolded just about exactly as I called it --- the banner went up late on a weekend, and was yanked as soon as Morris laid eyes on it on Monday. (BLUFF did receive more than a few complaint e-mails about it, by the way.) It was indeed a case of an over-zealous salesperson and a web-support staffer who did what was told, neither one really understanding the intracacies of why such a product is a very very bad thing. Being wicked, I inquired as to whether the salesperson who sold the banner also got a month's vacation, which got a chuckle from Morris and the acknowledgement that the salesperson indeed didn't get paid for that one.

And again, a public thank-you to BLUFF's publisher, Eric Morris, for taking time out of his busy Monday schedule to go over these things with your not-so-humble poker blogger.


Anonymous said...

Eric Morris can try to spin this thing anyway he wants but the fact of the matter is, Bluff has been guilty of "lifting" people's ideas for a very long time.

In glancing at the latest copy of Bluff in a casino, (I would never be seen actually BUYING a copy of this "derivative trash") I noticed a feature titled, "Tales From the Felt."

Hmmmm where have I seen that before...after searching through my archives I stumbled across an old issue of the much maligned TopPair Magazine circa 2005.

In the magazine, sure enough, a feature entitled "Tales From the Felt."

I am sure if one had the time or energy they could find at least a dozen more examples.

Eric Morris can get up on his high horse all he wants and call people to "defend the honor" of his sad little rag so "unjustly" accused.

The fact remains that they have been guilty of plagerism, poor ethics and bad journalism since day one.

Even though I do believe this whole story borders on the ridiculous, at least it brings to light the fact that Bluff Magazine and especailly Eric Morris represents what is most repugnant about the poker publication business, arrogance and incompetance at its highest level.

I hope the poker magazine buying public will be embarrased for both these publications and realize that there are others to pay attention to.

I just saw a copy of a nifty magazine called American Poker Player. I might just give that a try...

Haley said...

And that's a valid argument as well. I should clarify one thing: Eric seemed most irritated by the fact that he was not given the chance to defend himself beforehand, and I found that complaint to have at least some validity.

Do I agree with everything Eric said? No. However, allowing his viewpoints to be represented is only fair, given that I took a pretty good swat at Bluff in general.

Seriously, one can point out garbage from both publications, pretty much at will. Bluff's ongoing Antonio Esfandiari "Poker Like a Rock Star" pieces are just dreadful --- and for God's sake, can't someone copy-edit that crap??? --- and Card Player has the gall to serve us up Thomas "Thunder" Keller's "Interview with a Poker Player's Wife," which was not only an inane bit of hubby/wifey nothingness coo-cooing over a bed of poker generalities, but it was strecthed into two parts, when zero would have done just as well. We are talking NADIR, folks. That's like having driving through Hammond, Indiana, getting to the city limit and finding out you have to turn around and do it again.

But I digress.

One further clarification on the original post has come to light. Jason "Spaceman" Kirk posted a little bit more on the above in the comments on Shamus's Hard Boiled Poker blog. Not about Jason's own difficulties, but about the Card Player/Bluff video, which was about a different Bluff staffer. Jason says that the other staffer (I'm still not sure whether he's been named in public) wasn't even checking chip counts, but was instead verifying a river card that was missed during the WPT Borgata action.

I'm also not sure that that ultimately changes anything, though clearly Card Player has a holier-than-thou attitude about a lot of things, which I inferred but did not state quite as clearly as I should have. Between the paid advertorials, the frozen-in-time ads and the (mostly) mundane columns, Card Player has long since become the "insider's club" dinosaur of the biz. But then again, I'd say that Bluff is the schizz without the sizzle; there's more attitude than substance to the 'zine.

So what's left to choose from? APP? Not bad, if you can find it. All In? I haven't had much use for them since they decided to freeload off every independent blogger's efforts, on their own web page, made worse by the fact that they care enough to steal traffic but can't be bothered to fix links that are a year or two out of date. I find that cute. Or pathetic. Or at least an excuse not to buy their magazine as a result.

Poker Life? Well, it's a nice, slick mag, but it's not really about poker, it's about poker trappings, a lifestyle magazine dedicated to the Church of Trump with chips and cards and cigars and booze slopped all over the top. Poker Player Magazine is occasionally interesting, and now that Lou Krieger has been hired on as editor, I'll have more reason to check it out. And there are a couple of others, less one now that Jill Ann Spalding's Top Pair mag has departed the scene.

There's not a print magazine out there that I really, truly enjoy. Some are okay, some are just occupying space. In general, though, single-topic magazines of any sort, not just poker, tend to be forced to "sell out" pretty click, due to the need to secure advertising dollars.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one of these poker publications ought to have the good sense to hire you. Oops, I think I just made a funny implying that they had any sense at all. Keep up the great work! HG