But that’s not the reason we loved — absolutely and in all connotations of the word — Penn Jillette’s How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker.
The book is based on material putatively provided by an old acquaintance of Mr. Jillette, called by the nom de plume Dickie Richard. Mr. Jillette was permitted to create any pseudonym for his source and for some reason chose the name “Dickie Richard.”
Our therapist says were obsessed with these types of things but the name gave us pause.
After all, the last name Richard is rather rare in the United States. The surname is most often “Richards.” According to the U.S. Social Security Death Registry, there are a mere 13,353 folks in their database of over 77 million with the last name spelled in this manner compared with fewer than 40,000 for “Richards.”(Interestingly, there are only nine records for “Jillette”).
So perhaps Mr. Jillette selected “Richard” as the surname to subtly cause the reader to appreciate the unique status of his otherwise secret source. Professional gamblers are a small percentage of the population, but Mr. Richard does not consider himself a gambler.
He is a cheat.
Maybe Mr. Jillette wanted to demonstrate very minute population amongst us who cheat at cards and so he used such a rare pseudonym.
It was only when we used our Therapy Puppets that we hit upon a possible alternative to the “Richard = Rare” analysis. When playing the part of the overbearing hand-puppet “Mr. Smudge,” we tried to explain the basis for the name to his sweet assistant “Miss Lohan,” the otherwise innocent character started giggling and finally broke into a uproarious laughing fit every time Mr. Smudge talked about the name “Dickie Richard.”
Maybe the name “Dickie Richard” is archetypical for something dirty, nasty, forbidden, alluring, disgusting, powerful, but ultimately embarrassing and bad.
We’ve spent too much on Dickie Richard’s name. But as we mentioned, we tend to become obsessed with such things.
That’s a bad thing, right? So spank us.
Mr. Jillette is one of our favorite writers of all-time. We don’t mean Mr. Jillette is one of our favorite writers who write books.
We mean Mr. Jillette’s skills are on par with the great writers of all time.
Coming from us, that’s quite a compliment.
We majored in English at one of the Ivy League-equivalent home graduate schools and read Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, in the original Russian.
(We don’t know Russian, original or new and improved, so we didn’t understand one word of either author’s alleged “masterpieces.” But we know what we like and we like to impress people by grandiose claims for which there is no colorable factual support).
We are quick to admit the Ivy League-equivalent home graduate program was not at our home. We went to an extension/correspondence campus of another family.
We have digressed.
Mr. Jillette is a great writer. His style is punchy and fun to read. His structure reminds us of Hemingway but more funny. Unlike this review, he getsto the point, makes it, snaps it off in your consciousness, and moves on. You want to follow him, you can’t help it.
Mr. Jillette is our modern-day Margery, bringing us a story from realms we’ll never visit. Unlike Houdini’s lovely antagonist, however, Mr. Jillette succeeds in convincing us that his source really exists.
The two characters met early in Mr. Jillette’s life: the pre-Teller era:
I was eighteen years old. I was a good juggler, a good talker, and I did a little magic. I was hoping to be the great existential American writer, but I was afraid that I might have to get a job. All my options were open. I did a lot of card tricks. When I met Dickie I briefly considered becoming a card cheat. To a kid, it’s very sexy. Magic isn’t sexy; cheating is.
Mr. Jillette still marvels at their relationship. He was unable to figure Mr. Richard’s angle, his attraction to Mr. Jillette and willingness to share so much information in their short two-months together.
Mr. Jillette tells us his parents raised him so that he would never be a cheat. But meeting Mr. Richard’s stories made him never want to be a cheat.
When the two parted, Mr. Jillette was eighteen and thankful. He told Mr. Richard that he “owed him.” The vow was repeated when Mr. Jillette (by then with Penn & Teller) met Mr. Richard after a show. His marker was still collectable and Mr. Richard saved it for years.
The book is a collection on the debt owed. Along with magician/writer Mickey D. Lynn, Mr. Jillette took the raw (very raw) recollections, boasts, and advice from Mr. Richard and put them into a readable format.
The first draft must have been very rough in both language and concept. This is not a book for politically sensitive readers. It begins with the premise that the only reason you would want to learn is because you don’t want to work but you do want money.
There is no pride in cheating.
There is nothing noble or honorable in being a cheat.
So amidst very vague (and at times misleading) instruction on the mechanics of card sleights, there is advice on how to endure a physical beating from angry losers; how to steal money and virtue from poker-players’ wives.
You’ll learn the tells for a bad marriage. Bad marriages are a lot more common than you migh think. There’s at least one at every table. Maybe poker attracts f—ed-up people, or maybe poker f—ks them up. What do you care? Whatever the reason, it’s easy to get under the skirt of the average poker housewife.
Seducing your host’s wife gives you an incredible advantage. You’ll be able to mess with the player’s psyche and have blackmail fodder against your paramour. Our use of words like “seduction” and “paramour” actually give this particular section more dignity than it deserves or that Mr. Richard intended.
There is no reason for friends in the life of a cheater. In fact, the title of the book is a misnomer. The cheat has no friends at the card table or anywhere.
The philosophical basis is honest: there is not ethical justification for cheating.
Don’t waste time coming up with reasons to justify that what you’re doing is ethical. If you have a brain in your head, you can argue either way. Be okay with it, then put it behind you. Ethics only slows you down and f—ks you up. If you have qualms about taking an eighty-three-year-old’s last dime, then don’t take a grand off a crooked lawyer. Don’t pretend that ripping off the crooked lawyer is helping society; and remember, you’re more likely to get into trouble screwing the lawyer.
Bottom line: “This is not a book on how to be a hero now is it? Would a good person buy this book? Face it — you’re a scumbag.”
Mr. Richard teaches you strap on your skates and glide easily on what society believes is a slippery slope and therefore avoids.
Better yet, because society believes ethical lines can be drawn to separate “cheats” for the virtuous, you are not likely to be suspected or challenged. After all, no one would cheat at a home game, would they?
As we said at the outset, we love verbal abuse and any book for which we pay good money strong enough to correctly identify a scumbag, is perfect.
This book probably isn’t for everyone. Magicians will not have to worry that secrets of Second and Bottom Dealing or Hold-Outs are exposed by the tell-all.
While they’re discussed, Mr. Richard suggests interested readers check out S.W. Erdnase’s master tome. He then proceeds to obscure the methods of nail-nicking, marking, deck-switching, and false shuffles while he pretends to teach the “real stuff.”
He is a cheat, this Mr. Richard.
We are grateful Mr. Jillette honored his debt to Mr. Richard, worked extensively to edit and publish this book.
You can read it on many levels but read it. It is a fun read — we told you Mr. Jillette was one of our favorite writers, right? — but it is also an interesting personality test; a literary Rorschach test.
How does the advice and philosophy strike you? Are you offended but strangely attracted? Are you repulsed but proud to be separate and different the type of cheat described? Or does Mr. Richard’s philosophy resonate with your own?
You don’t have to tell us or anyone. It’s your secret and no one can truly read your mind. We can predict a great future for this book. If we’re wrong, you can call us every bad name in the book, this book, and you know we’ll love it.