Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Scrabble Challenge

Scrabble players, are you ready? Here’s a test. I was playing Scrabble with my wife a while ago and made a 6-letter word using my “Q” tile, yet I only received a total of 10 points. The “Q” itself is worth 10 points. The question to you is – how did I do this?

My wife and I have been playing recreational Scrabble for over 30 years. We follow the game rules, but in a very lenient manner. While we both know all the acceptable 2-letter words, and even the few word combinations that can be played using a “Q” but without the need for a “U”, in other situations we are not as skilled. The words “Can I just look this up?” are common to our games, resulting in a quick glance at the pages of the official Scrabble dictionary.

It wasn’t always so.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Murder at the Final Table

Professional poker player Tommy Jackson should be on top of the world. He just finished playing a grueling day of poker, outlasting more than 1,000 entrees to reach the final table at a WSOP tournament. First place is more than $800,000 and Jackson is the favorite to win the cash as well as the coveted World Series of Poker bracelet.

"Winning bracelets is a status thing for us pros," Jackson thinks. The only problem is that the WSOP Final Table is Jackson's final Final Table. The night before the conclusion of the event, Jackson is murdered.

In the novel Drawing Dead by Rick Fuller, Las Vegas homicide detective Ryan Tyler is called to the Rio convention center, where the World Series of Poker is being staged. For Tyler, major crimes in Las Vegas casinos "can be a true nightmare" and this murder is no exception. When he arrives at the scene, a colleague fills him in how the body was discovered.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Space I Write In

I am frequently asked what the most difficult part of being a writer is. Is it conceiving the initial outline for the plot of a novel? Or the development of the characters? Perhaps editing is the most challenging part of the process? Many fellow authors argue that marketing their books takes up the majority of their time and, admittedly, marketing a book is much more difficult than writing and editing.

For me, though, the most difficult part of being a writer is finding the time to write. I commute to my office job every day, getting stuck in traffic in at least one direction. While at work I try to concentrate on my job. By the time I return home in the evening hours I am physically exhausted and my mind is drained of all creativity. Weekends, unfortunately, offer less of an opportunity to write than I would like. I prefer to spend my free time with my wife and family. Also, I like to read, travel, watch entertaining television shows, and take long walks.

So, when is there time to write? I finally found a solution.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Poker – It’s also a Woman’s Game

Kellyann Heffernan is a professional poker player who specializes in high stakes no limit heads-up action. Although she defines herself as a citizen of the world, she is UK-based and comes from Glasgow in Scotland. Kellyann’s slogan is: “Poker is not just a man’s game.” I had an opportunity to speak with Kellyann and ask her opinion about the role of women in the game of poker.

1) There are those who consider poker to be a man’s game. How do you respond to that?
There are both men and women who still classify poker as a 'man’s game’. Some people are just set in their ways and can't grasp the fact that poker, like many other things in life, has evolved through time to a place where a woman no longer looks like an alien when entering a poker room. Those that think this way used the exact same arguments about women before World War I when men thought that women couldn’t handle hard, industrial work. Then the time came when the men were sent off to fight for their country and the women stepped up to the plate and took over those jobs, which apparently they couldn’t do. Do you know what? They did them well (some might say even better than the men before them), keeping the home fires burning for over four years. So how do I react? Quite frankly I laugh, as it’s such a ridiculous opinion.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Grumpy Old Men in Scandinavia

I am not sure what attracts me to novels featuring curmudgeonly old men and their adventures in Scandinavia. I remember laughing out loud when I read The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Two new books I have just read about adventures in the far north are far more serious.

In Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller we find 82-year-old Sheldon Horowitz, who has reluctantly moved to Oslo following the death of his wife. Living with his granddaughter and her Norwegian husband, Horowitz is often talking to the ghosts of his past, including his Korean War buddies and his son, who was killed in Vietnam. When Horowitz witnesses the murder of a woman in his apartment, he flees with her six-year-old son, escaping the murderers as well as the Norwegian police.

Far less violent is the novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which takes place across the border in Sweden. Once again there is a grumpy, older protagonist who just lost his wife. But instead of Ove being the foreigner, that role is played by his next door neighbors, who have a habit of backing trailers into mailboxes and falling from ladders.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Day I Traveled to China and Got Doyle Brunson's Autograph

Known in the industry as the Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson is an American player, a two-time winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event, a Poker Hall of Fame member, and the author of several books on poker. I never imagined in a million years that I would travel all the way to China to meet this poker legend, and to get his autograph.

I was in Macau along with 17 avid poker players from around the world, players who had qualified through a series of satellite tournaments to represent Titan Poker at the Asian Poker Tour (APT). It was August 2008, and the event being staged offered $1,500,000 in guaranteed prizes, making it at the time the most lucrative tournament to ever take place in Asia. The Titan Poker players came from Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Australia, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, and Japan. I was there to make sure they had a good time and to cheer them on as they took to the tables.

Friday, December 25, 2015

12 Things You Must Know about Driving in Bulgaria

Prologue: On my recent vacation in Bulgaria, I rented a car with manual transmission. Despite having driven a stick shift many times in the past, I couldn't get the car into reverse gear. A driver stopped his car nearby, but he didn't speak English. What was I to do?

Tourists interested in discovering the real Bulgaria should be prepared to leave the bustling cities and venture into the countryside. While train and bus service are readily available, most visitors will prefer the independence of renting a car. Agencies have offices at many locations, including at the international airports in Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, and Varna.

Bulgaria is an easily-navigated country and there is much to see. Even so, there are a number of things westerners should know about driving in Bulgaria.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

To Entebbe and Back

Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe by noted historian Saul David keeps readers glued to the page in a definitive account of the IDF operation.

Mention the name Entebbe and the first thing that comes to mind is the IDF's raid on Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Following the hijacking of an Air France plane with 248 passengers aboard, the IDF staged a daring counter-terrorist rescue mission, rescuing the hostages. Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was killed in the operation. The rescue took place on July 4, 1976.

Operation Thunderbolt, as it was called at the time, was an incredible military achievement which demonstrated both Israel's refusal to negotiate with terrorists and its far-reaching concern for its citizens. The operation was also named, retroactively, Operation Yonatan, in memory of its fallen commander.