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This is a review of Success with New HSK (Level 4), published in 2012 by the Beijing Language and Culture University Press.
The HSK is the standardized, Chinese-government sponsored test of listening, reading, and writing competency in Chinese. There is a lot of information available about it online, but basically there are six levels. If you can pass Level 4, you are supposed to be able to "discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese and are capable of communicating with Chinese speakers at a high standard." The book/CD set I am reviewing here is intended to help you prepare for the listening portion of the Level 4 test. It is important to keep in mind four things: (1) This book is useful ONLY if you also get the accompanying CD. It is worthless without that CD, so make sure you are getting both the book and the CD. (2) The only English in the book is on the cover, and it explains fairly accurately the content: "10 sets of simulated listening tests provide practice for the real ones. Detailed explanations of the answers and guidance for the test rapidly improve examinees listening skills." There is no other English in this book at all. That should not be a problem as long as you are familiar with the structure of the exam, though. (3) This book/CD set is only practice for the listening portion of the exam. It does not help you with the reading comprehension or writing portions of the exam. (4) There are already complete sample exams available online. Just go to the main HSK website and download them. Consequently, if you only plan on taking one or two practice exams, you do not need this book.
This is a review of Spring in a Small Town (1948), a film that has been hailed as the greatest Chinese film of all time. The first thing I noticed was the language. Even with my rudimentary command of Chinese, I could follow most of the dialogue even without the subtitles. This reflects the fact that the film focuses on quotidian details of everyday life: going for a walk, commenting on the weather, making a bed. But in these details is a moving story with deep significance for a Chinese audience. The film is slow-moving and subtle. One reviewer here on amazon.com compared the style to that of Bergmann, but a friend of mine compared it to Yasujiro OZU (Tokyo Story (The Criterion Collection) ), which I think is more appropriate.
There are only five characters in the story. Liyan is the "Young Master" of the household. He is sick with tuberculosis, and perpetually irritable. Yuwen is his wife, the narrator of the story. She is strong, beautiful, and passionate. However, she feels trapped in her existence. As she says at one point, "I do not have the courage to die, and Liyan does not have the courage to live." The other members of the household are the one remaining servant, Lao Huang, and Liyan's sister, who is usually referred to as Meimei. (This is really a title, "Younger Sister," and not a name.) A fifth character soon arrives, throwing the house out of its entropy: Zhichen. He is the best friend of Liyan from childhood, but he does not realize until he arrives that Liyan's wife is Yuwen, with whom he was in love before the war.
Anyone can enjoy the plot and performances. However, much of what makes this a truly great film will not be obvious to Western audiences, unless they are familiar with the historical context for the story. At the start of the 20th century, China made the painful transition from its last imperial dynasty to a modern Western-style government. However, soon after the government defeated the last of the warlords and established effective central control, Japan invaded, killing millions and occupying much of China. Spring in a Small Town is set right after the end of World War II. The family of Liyan was once wealthy and successful under the Qing dynasty, but the mansion he has inherited is now run down and partially destroyed from the years of warfare. Liyan always dresses in a traditional scholar's gown, and is often seen reading books dating from the Qing dynasty. Stagnant and ill, he symbolizes China's once-glorious past. His younger sister is young enough that she has a fresh perspective on life, and an air of vitality and innocence not shared by the other members of her household. She represents China's potential for the future. Zhichen, the old friend, has become a doctor. He always wears Western-style clothing, and represents those Chinese of the May 4th Movement who saw China's best hope in learning from the West. Yuwen embodies the dilemma that China faced in the early 20th century: be loyal to tradition (which, for all of its weaknesses, had its own kindness and dignity) or leave the past behind and go with the modern trends brought from the West. Finally, Lao Huang represents, I think, the masses of Chinese peasants and workers, passively waiting for someone to guide them.
The film is undoubtedly deeply symbolic, and Western viewers need some kind of entry point for understanding what it means. However, my account above is oversimplified, and makes the film seem one-dimensional when in fact it is complex and multi-layered. The characters are not cardboard cutouts (especially not Liyan, Yuwen, and Zhichen). Their emotions and the tensions they must live through are complex and feel very vivid. In the end, the film gives us not so much a pat political message as a testament to the complexity and nobility of human motivations.
The film did not stand out when it was originally released. Not surprising, given that the civil war between the Communists and Nationalists reignited after the Japanese were defeated. Once the Communists took control of the Mainland, a film like this could only seem decadent and bourgeois. The director, Fei Mu, died tragically young in 1951, and he was largely forgotten. It was only after the end of the Cultural Revolution and the beginning of China's new openness to the West that the Chinese film community rediscovered Spring in a Small Town and deemed it a masterpiece. There is also a remake of it, Springtime in a Small Town (2002), which I have not had the opportunity to watch.
One warning about the film: the quality of the print is poor. The soundtrack is also bad, sometimes cutting out at key points. (To the best of my knowledge, there is only one print of the film.) This is a film that cries out for restoration, and it is surprising that no one has raised the funds to do so yet. Nonetheless, it is well worth watching, even in this version.
This is a review of The Haunting (1963). This review is of the original black and white film directed by Robert Wise, and is focused on the film in general, rather than any particular DVD release. (As far as I know, there is no director's cut or special features release.)
This is one of the greatest supernatural horror films of all time. It is based on the novel, The Haunting of Hill House, by Shriley Jackson. The story is about a gothic mansion in New England with a dark past. After the last inhabitant commits suicide, anthropologist Dr. John Markway gets permission to bring a team into the house for a week to look for evidence of the supernatural. Most of those whom he invites refuse when they learn about the history of Hill House, so his small team consists only of a psychic, Theodora (Claire Bloom), a fragile spinster with well documented experience with poltergeists, Eleanore Vance (Julie Harris), and the skeptical heir to the house, playboy Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn, whom you will most likely recognize from West Side Story).
All the actors give terrific performances, but Julie Harris (East of Eden, Knott's Landing) as Eleanore makes the film. Eleanore is a virgin-spinster, who spent most of her life taking care of her invalid mother. She was slavishly attentive to her mother's needs, but her mother died the one night she did not answer her summons, leaving Eleanore wracked with guilt. Still, Eleanore has enough strength of will in her to want to start living her own life. Her attitude toward Hill House is ambivalent. She repeatedly describes it as "horrible," but also feels as if it the first real "home" she has ever had. She thinks of the strangers she has just met as her "friends" and that she "belongs there." In addition, she quickly becomes part of a subtle lust-triangle with Dr. Markway, who casually flirts with her, and Theo, who keeps referring to Eleanor as her "sister." (Apparently, Wise originally shot a scene in which we see Theo's girlfriend breaking up with her, but it was left out of the final cut, presumably because the studio thought early 1960s audiences would find this too scandalous. However, when Eleanor, in a moment of anger, lashes out at Theo as "unnatural," perceptive viewers will recognize that the cruelty of the comment is not focused solely on Theo's psychic abilities.) In actuality, Eleanore is not so much the vertex of a triangle as of a quadrilateral, because the house wants her as well, as it indicates with various signs. A large part of the tension in the story comes from Eleanore's need to decide whose desires she will give in to.
Robert Wise (who directed everything from musicals like The Sound of Music to science fiction classics such as The Day the Earth Stood Still) does his usual superb work. Notice the mirrors that are featured in so many scenes. On a simple level, these contribute to the eerie atmosphere of Hill House. The reflection of things in the mirrors reinforces Theo's remark, "Haven't you noticed that things in this house only seem to move when you're not looking at them?" At a more symbolic level, the mirrors reflect (forgive me) the parallels that dominate the story. The first and second wives of Hugh Crain (the eccentric millionaire who had the mansion built) both break their necks in freak accidents. Hugh's daughter, Abigail Crain, dies because her nurse does not respond to her call for help; Eleanore's mother dies because Eleanore does not respond to her call for help. Abigail Crain's nurse is drawn to the top of the spiral staircase in the library; Eleanore...well, you'll have to watch the film.
The unfortunate 1999 remake of this film by the same name (which could not be saved even by four talented actors) illustrates the dangers of trying to use flashy special effects to substitute for a good director with a subtle touch.
This is a review of An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy by Karyn L. Lai.
Since Chinese philosophy has at least a 2,500 year history, it is not surprising (nor is it a weakness) that Lai's book does not cover all of it in its 307 pages. It focuses on pre-Qin philosophy (551-221 BCE, the period covering Confucius through Han Feizi), but also discusses the Yijing (I Ching), a work that only became philosophically influential during the Han dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE), and concludes with some discussion of Chinese Buddhism. There are many things to commend about this book. Lai's writing style is direct and unpretentious, very suitable for the general reader and scholar alike. Furthermore, Lai includes a discussion of the School of Names and the Neo-Mohists, who are often ignored even though their paradoxical arguments are intriguing and well worth study.
But while there is impressively detailed coverage of some topics, others get more short shrift than they deserve. For example, Mencius had an immense influence on the later development of Chinese thought, particular in Neo-Confucianism. He has also been extensively discussed by contemporary philosophers. (There are two anthologies of secondary essays on him in English.) However, a mere five pages in the book are devoted exclusively to him (36-40), followed by a smattering of passing references.
In addition, some readers may be disappointed that the book is so reliant on other secondary sources. In the four and a half page discussion of Hua Yan Buddhism, Yu-lan Fung's A History of Chinese Philosophy is cited ten times. Other chapters frequently cite A.C. Graham's Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China, Benjamin Schwartz's The World of Thought in Ancient China, and Hu Shih's The development of the logical method in ancient China. This heavy reliance on other histories sometimes gives the book the feel of a survey of the secondary literature, rather than a work of independent scholarship. The author's choices about which secondary works to trust might also be questioned. Hu Shih's study of ancient Chinese "logical method" came out in 1928, while Fung's history was originally published in 1934. Both works are historically influential, but very out of date. This sometimes leads to unfortunate misinterpretations, as when Lai suggests that scholars "commonly" interpret Gongsun Long's white horse paradox "in terms of abstract universals" (119). This Platonistic interpretation was defended by Fung more than four score years ago, but no knowledgeable contemporary historian would agree. In fact, Graham presented a nominalist interpretation of the white horse paradox as far back as his classic 1964 paper, "A First Reading of the 'White Horse'" (reprinted in Studies in Chinese Philosophy and Philosophical Literature (Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture)). (The author mistakenly attributes the development of this nominalist interpretation to another philosopher.) Finally, there are a few factual errors in this book. It is simply not true that "Wang Bi's interpretation [of the Daodejing] was influential during the Warring States Period and thereafter" (72), because Wang Bi lived four hundred years after the Warring States period ended.
I do not want to overemphasize the limitations of this book, though. The informed reader who picks up Lai's book will find man provocative suggestions to think about.
In some ways, Aristotle and Confucius seem like promising subjects for comparative philosophy. Both emphasize the cultivation of virtue and flexible responsiveness to concrete situations over abstract moral rules. However, Aristotle and Confucius have importantly different conceptions of what it is to live well. For Aristotle, the life of the theoretical scholar (the scientist or philosopher) can be intrinsically worthwhile, and the family exists only as a tool for producing and maintaining virtuous individuals. In contrast, Confucius thinks that learning must always be in the service of society, and full virtue can be exercised just by being a good father, mother, son or daughter. Furthermore, some have argued that Confucius is actually more like "postmodern" critics of Aristotle than Aristotle himself.
In this book, May Sim begins by arguing against those who see Confucius as fundamentally unlike Aristotle. She says that Confucius's "commonsense" view of the self and reality is not identical with that of Aristotle, but is generally consistent with it. She then goes into a detailed comparison, noting (with a subtle eye) the similarities and differences between Aristotle and Confucius. She focuses in particular on four issues: virtue as a "mean" between extremes (e.g., courage is a mean between rashness and cowardice), the characteristics of the ethical "self," the connection between politics and virtue, and the relationship between friendship and virtue.
This book is written in an accessible manner, so non-scholars can understand it. However, it does go into detail on some technical issues, so it is not for casual readers unwilling to read slowly and thoughtfully. For those interested in comparative philosophy and willing to make the effort, I recommend this book strongly.
Incidentally, this book is one of three dealing with Confucianism and Aristotelianism that came out in 2007. The other two are The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue and Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy. In addition, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage was a groundbreaking earlier study on a related topic.
My original poker chip set was the cheap plastic version that comes with the standard chip rack you see in every toy store on earth. I then upgraded most of my chips to the Bicycle chip set. I really like these, but for some reason they don't make them in white, and we had gotten used to using white for our 1-denomination. So I looked online a little and settled on the chips on this page.
These chips have a nice heft to them and make that satisfying "click" when they hit other chips. Chip design is a matter of taste, but I find the two-tone white and gray design attractive but unobtrusive. (I only ordered a set of white chips this time around.) The Bicycle chips are clay, whereas these chips are "composite," and I like the surface texture of the Bicycle chips a bit more. I compared them "blind" and found that the Bicyle chips have a slight roughness that feels better than the slick surface of the composite chips. Still, you'd never mistake these for cheap plastic chips. The price is reasonable for this quality, I think, but where they really get you is the shipping and handling. So it's better to buy in bulk. (There's no point in ordering the 25-pack instead of the 50-pack, for example.) Delivery was very fast (second business day) and the order was complete and well-packaged.
Overall, I'd recommend these for someone looking for reasonably priced chips that are good (but not top-of-the-line) quality.
This is a review of the audiobook version of Ace on the River: An Advanced Poker Guide by Barry Greenstein.
Barry Greenstein is well-known in professional poker circles, having won two World Series of Poker bracelets (for first-place finishes) and two World Poker Tour championships. He is sometimes called "the Robin Hood of poker," because he typically donates his tournament winnings to charity. (Like many top pros, Greenstein makes most of his money in "cash games," not in tournaments.) Greenstein is also one of the most articulate and "philosophical" of poker professionals, having almost completed a doctorate in mathematics before turning to poker full-time. (Greenstein shows his erudition by opening each chapter with two well-chosen quotations from a variety of literary and popular sources.)
As he explains in the introduction to this book, it is not intended for beginners. (If you are looking for an introduction to the basics of no-limit poker, I would recommend either Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play or Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em.) Greenstein is writing for moderately advanced players. Ace on the River is part autobiography, part how-to guide for being a genuine poker professional, part high-level play advice, and part philosophical essay. Each aspect is interesting.
We hear about how Greenstein got in trouble with the law despite his best efforts, because of the gray zones involving poker playing for money. We learn how Greenstein was cheated at poker, and how he advises you to avoid getting cheated yourself. He tells you how, as a professional poker player, you should manage your money and investments. (In general, being a professional poker player is really like putting your money in high-volatility investments, which can pay off if you do it well.) We hear about the important differences between tournament play and cash games, and why many pros feel that the latter are a better measure of one's skill. And, of course, there is advice on playing poker. (Many examples are taken from no-limit hold'em, but Greenstein also takes some examples from 7-card Stud and other games.)
I am reviewing the audio version of this book, which makes two points relevant. First, there is a section where Greenstein presents hands he was in and then invites you to say how you would play the hand, before he tells you how he played it. In this chapter, it's helpful to have the pause button on your player handy, so you can think for a minute before hearing his answer. Most of the book is easily "readable," though, if you need to keep your hands free (like if you are driving or jogging). Second, I've seen the physical book in a bookstore, and it is a very handsome volume because of its layout and photography. You will miss out on this if you buy the audio version.
I really enjoyed this book and am glad I "read" it. So if you are a moderately advanced player with a serious interest in poker, this is a great book.
This is a review of The Ambivalence of Creation by Michael Puett.
I don't think I've ever said this in a review before, but already from the Introduction I knew that this book showed genuine brilliance. This volume is an excellent illustration of how being an original (even iconoclastic) thinker depends on a serious scholarly understanding of what has been said on your topic before.
It is common in comparative studies to assume "a contrast between a Chinese emphasis on the continuity of nature and culture and a Western emphasis on discontinuity" (3). In other words, according to the received view, "we" have always believed that human culture is something artificial that breaks with the natural world, while "they" have always believed that culture is simply a development of the natural world. Confucius's statement that "I transmit but do not create" (Analects 7.1) is taken to be paradigmatic of Chinese culture from its inception. What Puett shows, however, is that there actually was immense variety in ancient Chinese views regarding innovation. The position that became orthodoxy and entered Western consciousness as "the" Chinese view was just one among several that were hotly contested.
One of the most innovative aspects of Puett's approach is to examine mythological narratives regarding sages, ministers and rebels as evidence of debates over innovation. It is common to observe that we do not possess, for China, a coherent mythology of the kind that we have in ancient Greece and Rome. Instead, we find fragments of often conflicting stories. The assumption has been, though, that there was some underlying coherent narrative, and that with sufficient ingenuity we can reconstruct it. Puett calls this assumption into question, and argues that "instead of searching for some authentic, or earlier, mythology, the goal should be to understand why, in each case, a particular narrative, or a particular version of a more common narrative, is given" (98).
When we apply this approach, we find the following narrative possibilities. (i) "Negative creations were assigned to rebels or barbarians, while sages were then posed as simply appropriating and putting to proper use that which the evil figure had created" (138). We see this position in the "Lv Xing" chapter of the Documents. (ii) "Sages were organizers rather than creators" and "acts of creation by rebels were denied" (138). This is the kind of view exemplified by the Confucian Mencius. (iii) "The state was formed through creation, not organization, and ... such creations were undertaken by sages not rebels" (139). We see this model in philosophical texts like the Mozi.
Puett shows how these narratives continued to be selectively used in later debates. When the "First Emperor" of the Qin state conquered and unified all of China, he utilized the narrative of sages as radical creators as a justification for his sweeping innovations in government. After the fall of the Qin, the Han emperor "Wudi was able to use the first emperor in the same way that so many narratives of the creation of the state had used evil creators like Chi You, namely as a transgressor responsible for the negative aspects of the introduction of new instruments of governance. Wudi could then present himself as a consolidator like Huangdi, appropriating those new elements and organizing them into a proper role" (176).
The last part of Puett's book is a fascinating reflection on the complex figure of Sima Qian. On its surface, Sima Qian's classic Records of the Historian might seem like a rigidly orthodox and somewhat unimaginative recounting of Chinese history as it was commonly understood by people in his era. However, scholars have begun to recognize that Sima Qian subtly encodes his opinions and judgments in his telling of history. (Stephen Durrant's The Cloudy Mirror is a good introduction.) So Puett is not original in seeing subtle undercurrents in Sima Qian's historical writings. However, his particular take is new and ingenious.
Sima Qian says that Confucius "created" the Spring and Autumn Annals (a famous yet cryptic historical work). When Sima Qian is asked whether he is putting himself in a league with Confucius by writing the Records of the Historian, he denies it. He is, he claims, "transmitting but not creating." But notice that, in saying this, Sima Qian is quoting what Confucius says of himself, in order to claim that he (Sima Qian) does not see himself as like Confucius (!). (177-78) Puett also notes some intriguing comments in Sima Qian's biography of the sage Bo Yi. Sima Qian suggest that Confucius had distorted the story of Bo Yi for didactic purposes, and that there is a degree of arbitrariness in the decision to historically emphasize Bo Yi, when so many other worthies have been lost to history simply because no one talked about them. "Sima Qian is claiming to zuo [create], but he is also arguing that such acts involve arbitrariness and construction" (181).
According to Puett, Sima Qian gives us yet another narrative of creation. It is similar to the first narrative above (i), which was like the one the Han emperor Wudi used. However, "he denies that the transgression of the act of creation can be divorced from the later appropriation of what was created. In other words, he denies the mechanism that had been used to allow for acts of creation while also denying their negative implications" (210-11). Hence, "the narrative of the rise of empire becomes a meditation on the tragedy of creation. ...creation is both necessary and yet outside the moral and natural cycles that should normatively define the historical process" (211). (Once again, Puett is making a revisionist claim, because it is common to say that Chinese thought does not recognize the possibility of tragedy in life, the way that the West has since the Greek tragedians.)
I was already very impressed when I finished Puett's final chapter (on Sima Qian), but then I went on to read his appendix on the etymology of the character ZUO (to create). He notes that there is "a common tendency among philologists...to search for the most precise understanding of a term by attempting to find its earliest possible meaning, a search that frequently involves the further assumption that such an earlier meaning would tend to be more concrete than later senses" (220). I have to admit that I tended to assume something like this myself. However, as Puett points out, there is no good reason to believe that this methodology is warranted. Humans have been using language for as long as there have been humans, so there is no reason to assume that the earliest samples of human writing we have access to are more "concrete" and less "abstract" than ordinary language is in general. Furthermore (and this is something I was aware of, but it bears repeating since it is so often forgotten), "the claim that the earliest known form of a graph provides a clue to the root meaning of a word is indefensible. The decision to use a certain graph to represent a word may be based on no other criteria than ease of writing or phonetic links to other words for which a graph already exists" (221).
After reading this, I set the book aside and, sighing to Heaven, exclaimed, "Ah! How fine are such words!" (That's my feeble effort to mimic ancient Chinese prose. Sorry.) To put things in more modern terms, there are so many disappointing books and articles that get published, that I feel rejuvenated as a scholar when I read something so vibrant, provocative and well-argued as this.
This is a review of _Making Out in Chinese_ (revised edition) by Ray Daniels.
When you learn any foreign language in an academic setting, your teachers begin with the standard, "proper" vocabulary and grammatical constructions. This is as it should be. You cannot understand the exceptions until you understand the rules, and slang changes too quickly to be built into the textbooks. However, at some point you need to branch out and learn more specialized terms and expressions. The "Making Out Phrase Book Series" from Tuttle (a respected language learning publisher) is designed to address this need. (The fact that many copies of this book will just be bought as novelty items or gag gifts does not detract from its serious use.)
The selling point of this slim volume is its vocabulary, phrases and slang related to romance and sex, but it also includes sections on topics like "Basic Phrases" and "Getting Acquainted." This book is obviously intended for use by those with little or no background in the Chinese language. The Introduction explains how to pronounce the tones of the standard Mandarin dialect. The main text tells you how to pronounce phrases, using the Pinyin phonetic system (the one you would learn in school), but it accompanies this with a non-standard, "intuitive" romanization. (So "Thank you" is both "Xie xie" and "Shieh-shieh," with tone marks in each case.) Chinese characters for phrases are provided, which is useful if you can read them, but also helps if you just want to point to an expression like "Where is the restroom?" instead of trying to pronounce the question yourself. (Characters are given in simplified form, the standard in the People's Republic, and the phrases are taught with a Beijing accent. Since casual travelers are more likely to go there than anywhere else, that's probably a good choice.)
So how good of a job does Making Out in Chinese do? The book is often helpful and informative. For example, elementary textbooks don't teach you that, in East Asia, blood types are thought to be indicators of one's personality. This book tells you how to ask someone his or her blood type, how to say what your type is, and what personality traits are thought to go with that type. The book also explains the idiom for saying what your Chinese astrological sign is. And, of course, there are a number of expressions related to the human anatomy and explicit sexual acts.
Regarding accuracy, I am not a native speaker, so I cannot vouch for all of the slang expressions. But I do recognize many of them from my own visits to China. This is encouraging. On the other hand, just in the first 21 pages of the book, I noticed SEVEN mistaken tone marks. If getting a tone wrong every now and then is the only mistake you make, it will be no problem to being understood. But since beginners are likely to be making other mistakes in pronunciation, a mistaken tone might make the difference between what sounds like Chinese with a heavy foreign accent and complete gibberish. In addition, if the author got so many tones wrong, I worry that there may be other careless mistakes in the content. Finally, I found the explanation of the Chinese tones less helpful than it could be. You are unlikely to get a third tone right if you are told only that it "is pronounced with a lowering of the voice" (5).
Overall, I would say that this is a fairly helpful and interesting book as a supplement to standard language classes, textbooks and CDs. But I would not recommend it as your sole or primary tool for learning Chinese.
This is a review of World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets for XBOX 360.
There are a lot of cute features on this game. For example, you can play in a simulated tournament against avatars that look like actual professional poker players. The games are narrated by the ESPN poker commentators, so you get treated to some of Norman Chad's wit. (That may be a plus or a minus depending on whether he is to your taste.) If you bust out of the tournament, you get a "cell phone call" on the screen from a famous player (voiced by the actual player), who invites you to a simulated cash game. Of course, all this is most interesting if you actually are a big enough fan of professional poker to know who people like Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, etc. are. There is also a tutorial, "Phil's Poker School," that features videos of famous players giving you advice about each of the major poker games (i.e., the ones played in a H.O.R.S.E. tournament). Finally, if you enter your name as "beatthebrat" (in the customize character menu) you will get a humorous sound effect and will notice a change in the Phil Hellmuth avatar.
However, there are two major problems with this game. First, the graphics are far too small to be viewable on a mid-sized television screen. In order to play, I have to pull the chair right up to the TV, and even then it is hard to make out which players have raised or called. (I suspect that the game was designed originally for a PC, where you'd be viewing the screen from 12 inches away.) Second, the tutorial is useless whether you are a novice or an experienced player. Having someone rapidly count up for you the number of "outs" you have in a hand will be completely meaningless to a beginner, whereas a more experienced player won't need to be told that. During games, "hints" will sometimes scroll across the top of the screen, but these include gems like "Phil says that you should bet when you think you have the best hand," or "Going on tilt can damage your bankroll." Really?? Wow!
If you are a HUGE poker fan, it might be worth taking a look at someone else's copy of this game, but I honestly wouldn't recommend buying it for yourself. Spend the money on the buy in of a real tournament instead!