Friday, May 04, 2007

Texas Poker Wisdom 


My main man, Johnny Hughes, has sent me an excerpt from his possible upcoming novel.

For the love of everything Good in the World, can someone please hook this man up with a publisher or an agent. He's got loads of priceless stories that need to be shared, damnit.



Texas Poker Wisdom by Johnny Hughes, an excerpt

In the summer of 1960, Buddy Bolton and Matthew O'Malley both went on impressive winning streaks in the West Texas Hold 'em games.. Youthful optimism told them Buddy's 1953 Mercury would make it across the desert. They headed for Las Vegas. It was the age of the beatnik. They wanted to see the things they had read about religiously as they studied their Kerouac novels. That summer, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were battling for the Democratic party nomination for President. Lubbock and Las Vegas both had a population of about 125,000 people. Buddy and Matthew had both just turned twenty-one. Both were already well-rounded gamblers........

Guy McAfee built the Golden Nugget in 1946. Previously, he had owned a string of whore houses and gambling joints in Los Angeles where he served for years as the commander of the Los Angeles Police Department vice squad. When the political climate changed, he moved to Las Vegas. Benny Binion had a very similar experience. He had been the boss gambler around Dallas until his Sheriff lost. Guy and Benny were neighbors and pals.

A rare afternoon rain spotted both boys blue oxford shirts as they dashed across Fremont Street to the Golden Nugget. Matt told Bill Boyd they were both experienced poker dealers and were looking for work. "We are used to playing with paper currency not silver and chips but we'll get the hang of it." They sat down at an empty table and both boys demonstrated their expertise and fancy moves with a deck of playing cards. Boyd offered them jobs as shills, playing poker for the house. He said they could train as dealers and move up later. Shilling paid $1.50 per hour or twelve silver dollars for an eight hour shift. Poker dealers made $22.50 for eight hours. Mr. Boyd took the deck to explain their job duties.

"You'll be playing dollar-limit five card stud." Boyd said. He dealt two cards to Matt, Buddy, and himself. "If you have a pair, put your cards at an angle like this where the other shills will get out. If you have an ace in the hole, put your left thumb on the corner like this. If you have a king in the hole, move your thumb down about a half inch like this. Those are the only signals, for a pair or an ace or king. There might be five shills in a game. You play real tight and fold when a man is out in front of you such as showing an ace you can't beat. Watch the other shill's hole cards for signals. I don't want y'all going against each other unless it is to keep a game going. Sometimes there are all shills. You get a fifteen minute break every hour but no drinking on the job."

Buddy and Matt played poker from three P.M. to eleven P.M. every day but could neither win nor lose. It was very exciting for ten or twelve minutes. ` They started each afternoon with sixty dollars. Matt went broke two or three times a day. Buddy was the top shill as to winnings because he played like he had been told sometimes, made unpopular bluffs at the other shills, and made frequent false signals when no one had a pair. The pot cut was ferocious. There were nickels, dimes, quarters, and silver dollars. The dealer constantly made raking motions, cutting a few coins with his fingers and more with his palm. If it got down to one live one and a shill and the bet was a dollar and the call was a dollar, the rake was a dollar.

The Golden Nugget poker room had a steady flow of foot traffic and gawkers. Bill Boyd would pull a five-dollar bill out of his billfold and ask a tourist to try the five stud game, "Your first chips are free. I need to keep the game going. Just try it." Matt and Buddy always exchanged humorous glances when the sucker lost the five dollars and invariably reached for his own money. Once a faded former show girl whose better days were another desert story over drinks played for thirty-six straight hours, losing hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Buddy felt sorry for her and Matt almost did. He told Buddy, "If I ever felt sorry for anyone, it would be her. But this is a gambling house. You see a lot of long faces." ........

There was one real poker game at the Golden Nugget, a six-dollar limit Razz game. This was a six card stud low ball game. Bill Boyd would put Buddy in the game and sit behind him and give him pointers. Matt was jealous but kept quite. The first day, Buddy won the house $184. He expected some type of tip or bonus but didn't get it. Bill Boyd was known as one of the best stud players alive. He was later one of the first men inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. The next day, Boyd left Buddy in the Razz game nearly his whole shift. He spent more time sitting with and coaching Buddy than he did hustling up suckers for the more profitable snatch games. Buddy won $232 for the joint against regular players who came every day. The ante was a quarter. The house pot cut was only one ante.

Matt asked Mr. Boyd if he could play in the Razz game some time. Bill Boyd said, "You are too loose to play my money." Matt never forgot that. Their bankroll was going down slowly like the sun behind the mountains. Matt didn't want to but he held his nose and wrote Moody pleading that a loan be sent to the Post Office, General Delivery, Las Vegas, Nevada. Matt said, as he had often, that he wanted to return to Texas Tech in the Fall and change his no-count ways. On their third trip to the Post Office, Matt received a small letter with no return address. Inside was a two sentence letter in Moody's spidery fancy script. It said, "There is only one thing worse than being a gambler. It is thinking you are one when you are not." It was unsigned.

Buddy was becoming a disgruntled employee. He was the big winner in the Razz game every day. Their chance to become poker dealers didn't seem to be any closer. Matt cited the rules when they had both been shills at the dice games in Lubbock for the Reverend Pruitt. "The Reverend would give us ten bucks a day even on a bad day. When the joint made some good money, he'd give us fifteen. Mr. Boyd ought to slip you a little something extra for beating the Razz."

Sometimes, they'd bet a couple of bucks on a baseball game to pass the time. They decided to bet all their day's wages on the front line at the dice table for one roll when they got off work. They lost three days in a row. Their bankroll went down some everyday. Lubbock was looking nearer and dearer. In their lives, the rent being due often propelled decisions great and small. Their discussions returned to the cinch fortune they could make in Lubbock in the fall running a poker game and booking football. Really save a bankroll. All the things they had been saying to each other since the third grade seemed fresh and new. It wasn't as if they had a whole hell of a lot of choice. They couldn't admit that to each other or themselves.

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