Tuesday, September 11, 2007
That's a game the Bungals lose 99/100 times in years past.
Maybe the worm has turned?
Anyway, my hero, the esteemed Johnny Hughes has sent me this fine memoir piece. I'm truly looking forward to reading his novel.
Early Poker Memories
By Johnny Hughes
My only job from my mid-teens until I was twenty-six, was to play poker, gin, and bridge. There was a lot of gambling.
Here is a brief excerpt from my upcoming novel, Texas Poker Wisdom.
In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Maverick was a hit television series starring James Garner. He was a wise-cracking, comedic, and cowardly poker player who traveled all around the Old West. This TV series spawned a mini-boom in poker much like Rounders created a real boom in poker in the 1990s. Buddy and Matt realized it was like a weekly commercial for the poker games they ran. All the college crowd gave it a go at trying to be like Maverick, a devout anti-hero. Buddy and Matt often sang the theme song: Who is the tall dark stranger there? Maverick is his name. Riding the trail to who-knows-where. Luck is his companion. Gamblin' is his game.
I played poker with Buddy Holly both before and after he got famous. We played in the 25 cent limit dealer's choice games. Toward the end of the game, some sucker would deal jacks to open, trips to win in five card draw. We'd keep putting in money until there was one big pot with most of everyone's money. Then we'd agree to go for root beer and chili hot dogs and the winner would pay. I hated that.
After Buddy Holly got famous and rich, he came back to Lubbock. We rode in his Cadillac and I was really eager for a game but he would only play 50 cent limit. He carried a gun because of getting the nightclub money in cash. He had it on him when the plane crashed.
There was a lot of action, but also a lot of poor people. As a freshman at Texas Tech, I played cards every day and many nights. There was a 25 cent limit poker game in the Student Union where they kept the bets in marks on a pad. You had to pay up before you went to class or suffer severe blows about the head and body.
I remember the day, as a freshman, I got hooked on poker like a little movie in my head. Being broke, I headed for Tech to find someone to gamble with. I won a five spot from a guy playing gin who knew I could not pay until I won something. Someone told me about a poker game a block off campus that had been going all night. When I got there, people had nickels and dimes and bills in front of them. I wasted no time in getting my five bucks up there.
My first hand, playing seven-stud, high-low split, I had the nut high with three players in the pot and all the cards out. My full house could not be beaten when a guy bets $100. I said I was potted but no, these tough talking guys said call or you are out. Everyone was writing checks. There was a bank draft and I filled it out and made the cinch call. I didn't have a bank account. That game went on day and night for five days. On that first night, I played all night and won $300, like $3000, now in cash. Many times someone would bet you $10 when there was a $10 cash bill in the pot. I'd call with a $20 check expecting to lose to get my cash change.
I went to Brown's Varsity Shop and bought me a whole new outfit, including a green and black striped corduroy coat that I called my gambler's coat. This became my custom, buying lots of clothes when I had money. I'd go up and down frequently.
Once when we were running a game, we had a big slice of our bankroll on the table for me to play heads up with a guy named Maurice. We both caught wired Aces and moved in before the flop. Maurice would not split it. Jerry and I begged. He caught the flush and headed for Dallas. We hopped a plane he next morning to follow him, only he did not show up at the poker game. What we did find was a triple-draw low ball game. The gamblers were holding out. The suckers were drawing out. Our money was running out. I ran into this slick on the street that told me he had a college degree in colorology. He had a sport coat that was perfect for my ruddy face. He ended up selling me so many clothes, I had spent my half of the bankroll.
Bill Smith, the main event champ of 1985, opened a big game in an apartment house where we were running a little poker game. After a while, Jerry and I were playing with them. I was only twenty but I dressed like the older gamblers with fedoras, baggy pleated slacks, tasteful wool sports coats. When the money started rolling in, we'd get our nails manicured, get facials, get a shine, and have our hair styled. We'd see the other gamblers downtown, and this was a way of showing off. Bill used a cigarette holder, so I got a longer one. For twenty years old, I probably looked silly.
I'd run a pot-cut poker game and play in the larger games. The small game was no-limit, twenty dollar buy-in. I cut the pot 25 cents on the first five and another 25 cents when the pot got to ten dollars. Unfortunately, if I built a bankroll in the big games, I'd let the little game go until I got broke again and had to put down my spread. When the money was good, I'd blow it on travel, fancy living, and needless clothes. I can remember running good for a couple of years straight and then busto. "Broke man stinks," they say.
We could always get staked. I'd live in a fancy apartment, then a $25 a month room, then repeat the cycle. When I was broke, I was welcome in gambling houses all over to eat the great food for free. The dice games would have food delivered and call all the players for special menu items. Only one item per day: catfish, chicken, steak, stew.
I went by a big seven-five low-ball game broke and another college student on a roll staked me. We played with $5 the cheapest chip and a $5 ante. After many hours and wretched tiredness, I was off $2000 winner, like $20,000 today. However, my stake horse did not want me to pull up. My problem was $25 overdue rent, and $10 for laundry. They would not allow me to pull a lousy $35 from my stack and my stake horse was fresh out of cash money. Finally, somebody loaned me the money and I ran the two blocks to pay laundry and rent. Then I came back and the older guys broke me and my stake horse. Seven-five, Kansas City low-ball is the cheater's game.
Once in Ruidoso, playing low-ball, I knew these road gamblers were going to try to cheat in this huge game. There were several big bookies and loan sharks present, so I knew there would be no cheating until after they went home. One fellow had bandages on his fingers, which could conceal tiny mirrors. On one big pot, I blinded it for $40, the size of the pot, which gives me last action. The slick smooth called with 7,6,4,3,2. I drew four and hit a seven-five. I over bet the pot, $200, and he raised his last $900. I won almost $4000 and hopped back on the blacktop. I am sure they would have cheated sooner or later.
From the early sixties on, for over forty years, there was a big Hold 'em game at a place called the Shop, here in West Texas It was perfect for me because I could play when I wanted to. There were loan sharks present, which meant no one would bug me about loaning. That also meant a steady supply of money. There were a few arrests in the early days, but the Shop ran a very long time with no robberies and no arrests. Many of the big Vegas players would come play a while, but they did not like it. Bill Smith, Bobby Hoff, Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim. It was a tough game because of a couple of rocks that would only win one or two pots a day, but they seemed to always win.
Nearly everyone was a professional gambler. It was a great hangout. Boosters a.k.a. thieves would come selling hot goods: clothes, boots, electric razors, steaks, large canned goods, watches. My favorites were these two old men who had a large variety of fruit for 15 cents a pound. They had a large scale on the back of their pickup.
Poker sure has gotten respectable. I sure miss it the way it was.
Johnny Hughes is the author of the upcoming novel, Texas Poker Wisdom.
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