Poker has been a part of American Culture for over 200 years. From the frontier days of poker in saloons and river boats, to its spread through the military, to its teachings of capitalism and politics, poker has served as a parallel journey to the growth of America.
Martin Harris AKA Short-Stacked Shamus is taking 27 students on that journey in his Poker in American Film and Culture class at UNC-Charlotte. Martin got his start in poker after seeing Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker in 2003. He started playing in low stakes poker online while writing about some of the biggest live and online games in poker.
Though he writes for some of the largest print and online poker outlets, such as: Poker News and more recently Woman Poker Player, Martin is most known for his long-standing blog “Hard-Boiled Poker.” The blog has chronicled the life of his pseudonym Short-Stacked Shamus through the ups and downs of small stakes poker since 2006. Through Short-Stacked Shamus, Martin has had great experiences and found a love of poker that goes beyond a love of the felt--it has developed into a love of the industry.
UNC-Charlotte has a history of offering students opportunities to study American culture through new and innovative American Studies courses. Martin, knowing of the curriculum and encouraged by his wife (who he refers to as “Vera Valmore,”) brought the idea of teaching American culture through the history of poker to the college in the fall. The idea came to fruition for the Spring semester of 2011. The excitement of the subject was evident early with the class reaching capacity within a short time.
Inspired by the book “Cowboys Full” and the teachings of James McManus, Martin will add other books, essays and movies to take his students on the journey of American culture as seen through the eyes of poker and its connection with history, film and literature.
The course starts out with the basics to get students used to the idea that a game such as poker, could have any inclination into the vast diversities that have become American culture, as well as some basic poker lessons. The class then moves toward the culture of poker with the birth of Las Vegas and the start of the World Series of Poker.
Units 4 and 5 of the course cover literature and Film. The literature portion serves as a history lesson and introduces writings from Mark Twain, James Thurber and the 1998 novel “Shut up and Deal” by Jesse May. The film portion of the syllabus incorporates films such as “The Cincinnati Kid,” “California Split” and of course, “Rounders”. The two lessons give a firsthand look at how the chosen films and literature are a reflection of poker and at the same of the mainstream population and culture. They are a true mirror image of what people wanted, believed and felt.
The final unit closes the semester with a miscellany of topics. Gender roles, technology, morality and legal implications all come into play on a large scale in shaping American culture just as they parellel in the poker community. By examining the microcosm that the poker industry has become, students can see the growth of America through a smaller “lens” as Martin calls it.
Poker has faced the same trials and tribulations that America has seen over hundreds of years and the students of UNC-Charlotte can get a taste of those ups and downs on their journey led by Martin Harris.
For a complete syllabus of “Poker in American Film and Culture” visit hardboiledpoker.blogspot.com and to read more from Martin Harris look for his popular column “He Said, She Said” with Jennifer Newell here on www.womanpokerplayer.com .