Friday, April 13, 2007

Poker & Johnny Hughes 

Insane week here. Can you say consumer database segmentation?

On the positive side: TGIF.

Thanks to the esteemed Johnny Hughes for emailing me this poker story. Damnit, the man needs a publisher!


Poker History: Remembering E.W. "Ole 186. Part 1

BY: Johnny Hughes

When Johnny Chan first went to Las Vegas, he discovered poker and jumped off big winner. Then he ran into E.W. "Ole 186" Chapman, a Texas road gambler that moved his chips as fast as any man you have ever seen. E.W. busted Johnny and he busted many a good poker player. E.W. made his living playing poker but he had more leaks than the levees in New Orleans. I met E.W. when I was twenty and he was forty in 1960. We often discussed poker strategy. E.W. never helped get a game started in the afternoon. He would plunge into the game after a few hours and become the most frequent raiser and re-raiser. He waited until the losers were trapped in the Gambler's Fallacy of believing they "were due" and were playing double up and catch up. At the start of the game, everyone plays real tight and E.W. didn't want any part of that. All the games in Texas were no limit, even the small games.

The dealer anted a dollar and the blind was two dollars in Texas Hold 'em. That's like twenty dollars in today's money. Often there was a straddle. The standard raise was twenty dollars, ten times the blind. I asked E.W. one time why he raised so often. He said he raised because the other players didn't want him to. "If they had wanted it raised, they would have raised it themselves," He said. E.W. was very hard to play against. He told me you have to play flush draws like they are already made. He just kept firing at it. He was ready to move in regardless of the board card. We were always engaged in that argument about whether it is better to play tight or loose but E.W. didn't really have but one gear. He had no choice. E.W. said, "I really have too much gamble in me to leather ass the proposition. I like to draw."

Back then, we played with paper currency. E.W. was a nut about money, especially twenty dollar bills. He'd play with his whole stack in neat twenties all facing up. He taught me to repair the corners and smooth out all the bills. He was constantly doing this to all the money in the game. All of us were pretty slick with paper money, counting our bets incredibly fast. The word would spread around West Texas when E.W. was striking, on a run. We played a lot of heads-up challenge matches. When E.W. was striking, he would go visit gamblers in their homes in the mornings and break them.

E.W. could play a rush better than anyone but he could also simulate a rush. He'd semi-bluff really high and hit some miracle hands. He was the hero of countless bad beat stories. It was common to try to win all the money on the table. E.W. tried to bust players like it was a tournament. He took pills, uppers and downers at the same time, and could get really wild. He was always well mannered and gentlemanly except the time he shot Morgan in the foot.

E.W.'s real road game was deuce-five, Kansas City lowball draw. E.W. didn't mind going broke on any given day because it was easy to get a stake horse and a fresh start. He'd put all the money he had on the table. The dealer anted ten dollars and everyone else anted five. We played seven-five higher than we played poker. When E.W. drew one card, he would act like he looked but he would move in without looking. He'd always show his bluffs. In no time he had the table steaming. E.W. and I would stake each other and loan to each other. Several people were willing to stake a broke just to fill up the game. It was a friendly thing to do.

One time when I was flat broke, I went by a big low ball game to eat the home-made stew which was the day's specialty. Big poker and dice games had a single menu item each day. They used food as a draw and called all the players for steak, catfish, chili, and barbecue. E.W. was big winner and had everyone gambling. A pal staked me and a few hours later I was $1800 winner. That's like $18000 in today's money. I wanted to take $35 off the table to pay my rent and get pick up my laundry. At first they wouldn't let me, but finally they let me run the three blocks to my pad and pay the overdue rent and get the laundry. I came back and went broke.

E.W. and I were in Ruidoso one time in a big low ball game and we suspected there would be some wolfing going on. One guy had some bandages on his hands and E.W. reached out and felt of the bandages. He was a little fellow, quite and well mannered but he was fearless. We both made good winnings.

I would stake E.W. but I usually wanted to cut out when I went home. A couple of times I stayed in with him and he went on this pilling run. E.W. took uppers and downers, chain smoked menthol cigarettes, and sometimes didn't sleep for days. E.W. was such a character that the other poker players told stories about him often. A favorite was the time the bought a large quantity of black mollies, a long black pill of speed, and engraved his initials on the sides of the pills in gold leaf. When E.W. was on a pilling run, he would go all around town playing heads-up or getting in games until he got broke or robbed.

Twice when I had him staked, he ran off on one of these runs. I would hear about him and occasionally catch him on the phone but I couldn't catch up with him to cut out. Finally, I caught him and he had the whole front room of his apartment covered in the junk he had won. He had one old bookmaker's clothes and lawn mower and implements, rake and hoe. He had won one of my college pal's overcoat and Tech ring. There was this enormous mirror. He would ask me if I wanted the item and then set a price on it, more than it was worth, and give me the cash. I was silent during this but I ended up with all the money.

Another time when I had him staked, he ran off and I finally found him in the middle of the night at his apartment playing heads up against the Mule. They were both pilling. They both had high piles of currency in front of them, mostly ones and twenties. I told E.W. I wanted to cut out but the Mule strongly objected. Then they began to straddle it. It was four, eight, sixteen, until they had put all of the Mule's money in the pot before the cards were dealt. I ran on out of there before the deal. I can smell a hot score brewing better than any man that ever walked in shoe leather. Later, I heard the Mule won the pot. Probably, he put the hat on E.W.

We played at a woman named Dolly's six days and nights a week. On Tuesdays, she closed and the game moved to Morgan's whore house. Bill Smith and E.W. raised each other back and forth. It came as natural as fighting chickens. I have noticed that some of the great aggressive players like Stu Ungar and Jack "Treetop" Straus are suckers for the sports bets. E.W. was like that. He was addicted to the action. One night Bill Smith put on this ridiculous women's hat of Dolly's. Then he went on a rush, raising every pot. One of the players was a little bit slow and he paid Bill ten bucks for the hat. He won a pot and E.W. paid him ten bucks for the hat.

At the outlaw whisper joints you didn't ask a man his last name, how he made his living, where he lived, or where he was going. E.W. got robbed a lot on his nocturnal gambling rounds. He would go over to the black area and be the only white guy in an after hours joint playing low ball. I've done that but I would not recommend it. If someone asked anyone where they lived, the answer was always, "Next door to E.W."

"Where's that?" they'd ask.

"Well, E.W. doesn't want anyone to know where he lives. " was the answer.

When I first started playing at Morgan's whore house, there had been a fight and his wife, Bell, shot another fellow once and Morgan twice by accident. Morgan was huge, about three hundred pounds. Sometimes the young working girls would be there when we played. They traveled to several cities on a circuit called "the wheel." One night Morgan was drinking and E.W. was pilling and they were beginning to argue. I hit the road out of there. Later, E.W. pulled his pistol and fired across the table at Morgan. His first shot blew the air conditioner out of the window. His second went into the wall. His third shot hit Morgan in the foot. Then E.W. ran and Morgan gave chase. E.W. left his car and ran down the street and Morgan fired a couple of shots his way. The next week we were all back to playing as if nothing happened.

One Christmas, several of the gamblers were going to El Paso for the horse races. Buddy the Beat and I took the bus there and stayed on the main drag in Juarez in a cheap hotel. E.W. advised me to bet the favorites to show and that worked until the last race. We met E.W. back in Juarez and he was incredibly wild. He had a big bankroll. He would buy things from the street vendors and then trade it and some money for other things, a sombrero, a huge plastic bull. When we'd go in a bar, he would buy drinks for the largest woman and give her the crap he had bought. Finally, a cop arrested E.W. and I. I wasn't sure what for. Maybe being drunk like everyone else. They hustled us into the back of a car and drove us a long way from the bridge. By this time, we really didn't have much money left on us. E. W. said to let him do all the talking. When he was pilling, he talked really slow and as if he were in an echo chamber.

We had this trial in this little court room with a Judge in a tie who looked to be all of fourteen. E.W. explained that we didn't have any relatives that would send us money. In the Juarez jail, prisoners had to arrange for their own food. Finally, the Judge ordered us to empty our pockets on this little table. He came over and took what he wanted: a few dollars, my silver dollar money clip, and my comb. Then the cops took my cigarettes and change and they let us go.

I road back from Juarez with E.W. My friend Buddy the Beat had hitch hiked all over the United States riding with whatever stranger pulled over in the dark of night but he wouldn't ride with E.W. It was a three hundred and thirty mile drive home and it took us twelve hours in E. W.'s old Chevy. He kept calling his dear friend Morgan and telling him to hold the game together because we were nearly there. He said to tell them he would play anyone there heads-up for his case dough.


And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't congratulate my buddy, Pauly, for landing the ESPN WSOP poker gig. Pauly's more than paid his dues and couldn't be more deserving.

Hoist of the Guinness to the Good Doctor.

All Content Copyright Iggy 2003-2007
Information on this site is intended for news and entertainment purposes only.

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