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Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio 
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Joined: Thu Aug 21, 2008 12:40 pm
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
In the context of gambling with cards, "cheat" and "mechanic" are not synonymous. A mechanic cheats by manipulating cards, possibly at the shuffle, cut or deal; or during play by ringing extra cards in and out, marking cards on the fly (by nail nicking, crimping, etc.), surreptitiously exchanging cards with a partner, etc. The activities of a "cheat" would include much more than sleight of hand with the cards -- glimpsing or using shiners during the deal or cut, copping chips, miscalling hands, pre-marked cards, using stacked decks, etc. The simplest and most effective way to cheat, however, is signalling with a partner. In a five-handed game, if either of two players have any knowledge of each others' cards, they have an insurmountable advantage compared to the other three. (This technique works with bridge, as well).

Mechanic is a subset of cheat.

Jim Gifford is right -- without more specific knowledge that Heinlein had some specialized skill with cards, "sharp" is probably a more accurate term than "mechanic" would be.


Thu Nov 04, 2010 8:50 pm
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
While "mechanic" and "cheat" are not synonymous, mechanic being a subset of cheat makes it equally insulting. Mechanics are a minor worry these days, collusion being the major form of effective cheating in casino poker, but they are still cheats. I am waiting for the author to clarify. I hope sharp is a better term for what he meant.


Fri Nov 05, 2010 7:52 am
Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
Guest wrote:
This may not be an _omission_ because it may belong in Volume II but there is no mention of RAH's interest in bridge. I know he played the game, although I don't think he played it often, and he had a bridge game going on in Farnham's Freehold Did he really pick the game up so late that it doesn't belong in Volume I?

Then there's the single word "mechanic" in the discussion of his ability to generate a little extra income in poker games. I saw nothing in the notes that convinced me that this is accurate yet I don't think you would say such a terrible, contemptible, thing about the subject of a biography without adequate reason. So I won't call it an error but I will say that I hope you are sure of your ground and, at the same time, I hope you are wrong.

It would really help if you could identify page numbers where the objections occur, as otherwise I have to read through the entire chapter to find the spot that needs work. In the case of the "mechanic" reference, there are three chapters.

Bridge was an international craze during the 1920's and into the 1930's, when contract bridge was invented and popularized by, e.g. and inter alia, Culbertson's Gold Book. The game plays a big role in the wonderful series of Lucia books by E.F. Benson.

There's no documentation as to when Heinlein picked up the game, though he does say he enjoyed it but couldn't devote the time it required -- a very common phenomenon.

The game enjoyed great popularity until some time in the 1960's -- I would guess because of the culture-style that developed around suburban existence after World War II. There was still a small bridge culture with three or four tables virtually any time of day or night when I was in college at Arizona State in 1969-71. But when I was at UC SantaCruz in 2003-2006 it was rare to see anyone playing anything more complicated than Rummy or Hearts, and never more than a single table at a time. There are not even neighborhood bridge groups in Los Angeles: I've only been able to find one in the whole LA Basin, and it's not very convenient.

At any rate, it's not something Heinlein sought out, as one has to do nowadays; it's something he picked up naturally along the way.

The usage of "card mechanic" was not intended in the way you define it; I'll have to research this matter. Remember, though, that Heinlein was trained in prestidigitation and card manipulation from his teenaged fascination with performing stage magic. I didn't intend any implication of cheating; perhaps "sharp" is the more accurate usage. Now I have to take another stab at finding the reference.


Sat Nov 06, 2010 7:14 am
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
Because of his interest in and practice of stage magic, Heinlein would certainly have been capable of being a mechanic. It would have been both extremely risky and, in my opinion, dishonorable. However, young men are often quite sure of both their ability to avoid detection and their moral code, even when it differs from the norm.

Given a modicum of skill and serious application, the amounts you mention his making would not be difficult to make from a typical serviceman's game without card manipulation or collusion.


Sat Nov 06, 2010 11:31 am
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
BillPatterson wrote:
Guest wrote:
Then there's the single word "mechanic" in the discussion of his ability to generate a little extra income in poker games. I saw nothing in the notes that convinced me that this is accurate yet I don't think you would say such a terrible, contemptible, thing about the subject of a biography without adequate reason.


I don't necessarily see the use of the word "mechanic" as "terrible, contemptible". While it usually is associated with cheating, I think those who use skills this way would consider themselves as a higher level of cheat than someone who cops chips or signals a partner. A mechanic is someone who has a set of skills that cannot be easily gained, and enjoys a certain reputation in popular culture (see "The Cincinnati Kid," "The Sting," "Flim-Flam Man"). And a number of card manipulators make a living using the skills of a mechanic to entertain and educate lay card players (Darwin Ortiz, Richard Turner, the late Martin Nash, who performed at the Magic Castle and elsewhere as "The Charming Cheat", Steve Forte, and others) -- they would all be pleased to be referred to as "Mechanics".


BillPatterson wrote:
There are not even neighborhood bridge groups in Los Angeles: I've only been able to find one in the whole LA Basin, and it's not very convenient.

The popularity of card games can be (is?) regional. I read somewhere that over half of all Rook decks sold in the world are within 75 miles of Nashville, and I couldn't go to family reunions growing up without three or four games going on. I've never seen decks for sale in other parts of the country.

BillPatterson wrote:
Remember, though, that Heinlein was trained in prestidigitation and card manipulation from his teenaged fascination with performing stage magic.
I've tried to make this point upstream and elsewhere -- an interest in stage magic doesn't imply skills with playing cards. They are two separate types of magic, and the skill sets don't correspond. While some stage magicians have also performed card magic, it's because they learned two separate types of magic. Some musicians can play two different musical instruments. Some doctors can play tennis well, but an MD won't get you to Wimbledon.

To be a good enough mechanic to win based on cheating that way, you've got to invest the time to build the skills -- hundreds to thousands of hours. There is nowhere in Heinlein's life prior to his entering the Navy (or after) where he would have had this time.

Before I got married, I usually sat down in the evenings in front of a TV with a deck of cards. After a couple of years of near-daily practice, I got good enough with a second deal and a bottom deal that I could use these techniques within a magic trick, in which I was directing the attention (commonly miscalled "misdirecting") of the spectators, and peforming the sleights at off-beats, when no one was looking. No way was I good enough to try to do so in fast company, or in a game where everyone is watching you when you deal.

I have a wife and a son now, and no longer have the skills. Many card hustlers are solitary men, and the time necessary to develop and keep the skills is why.


Sat Nov 06, 2010 2:40 pm
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
p. 34, 3rd para, 1st line: "Junior high school also brought Robert's first opportunity to follow in the Heinlein family tradition of military service." Is "Junior high school" correct here? The first military service by RAH discussed here is his ROTC service at Central High -- did it start in Junior High?

Were Junior High and Senior High as clearly deliniated in the mid-1920s as they are now? When I went to school (mid 1970s), Jr High was 7,8 & 9 grades. My brother is 2 years younger, and his 9th grade was considered Sr. high, and only 7 & 8 were Jr high. Now, here in Huntsville, 1-4 are Elementary School, 5-8 are Middle School, and 9 - 12 are High School -- there are no named "Junior High" and "Senior High" schools.


Sat Nov 06, 2010 5:35 pm
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
Junior High -- my father and uncle, both somewhat younger than Heinlein, went to school in Chicago. In their district, Junior High was "invented" in the few years between my father's schooling (1-8, 9-12) and my uncle''s (1-6, 7-9, 10-12).

Now in San Diego we have discovered "Middle Schools", and the grade levels are 1-5, 6-8, 9-12. This is Progress.

Moving 6th Grade up to Middling was done a few years ago to keep those big, bad-ass 6th graders away from the little kids.

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Sun Nov 07, 2010 12:16 pm
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
BillMullins wrote:
p. 34, 3rd para, 1st line: "Junior high school also brought Robert's first opportunity to follow in the Heinlein family tradition of military service." Is "Junior high school" correct here? The first military service by RAH discussed here is his ROTC service at Central High -- did it start in Junior High?

Were Junior High and Senior High as clearly deliniated in the mid-1920s as they are now? When I went to school (mid 1970s), Jr High was 7,8 & 9 grades. My brother is 2 years younger, and his 9th grade was considered Sr. high, and only 7 & 8 were Jr high. Now, here in Huntsville, 1-4 are Elementary School, 5-8 are Middle School, and 9 - 12 are High School -- there are no named "Junior High" and "Senior High" schools.

Junior high was an experiment in KC at the time; that's what it was called, but I didn't check to see that the usage conformed to later standardized usage. The usages seem to have standardized some time in the 1950's.


Mon Nov 08, 2010 7:23 am
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
"Card mechanic" is on p. 139, para 1 lines 5-6 and I will be replacing it with "card sharp." It took about an hour to pinpoint that.


Mon Nov 08, 2010 7:26 am
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Post Re: Errors and Omissions, Volume 1 of the Bio
I'm sorry about not giving a page number. I know there is no way to search as their would be on an eBook. My copy of the book rode the bus and train with me every day until I finished it but now it is on my shelves.


Mon Nov 08, 2010 8:15 am
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