Saturday, December 29, 2007
"Knowing friendship time is limited makes it more precious."
As promised, I have the Johnny Hughes Trip Report from the Las Vegas get-together.
Again, I'd highly recommend his book. Do a poker lifer a good turn and go buy his damn book, and better yet, leave a review on Amazon for the man. He's had some haters and doesn't deserve it.
And so, here it is in all its glory. It's long and well-worth it. It was a huge thrill meeting the man and not to mention I'm flattered that he took the time to write this up and allow me to post it.
The Lonely Superiority of a Best-Of-It Man
by Johnny Hughes, author of the novel, Texas Poker Wisdom
So, I'm heading to Las Vegas for the World Poker Blogger's Winter Classic, a convention and poker tournament. Who are these bloggers? I am going to promote my novel, Texas Poker Wisdom, but also because I am considering a new novel that would include bloggers, posters, poker writers, Brandi, Newwhizzle, Neverwin, and more. If you do not know who these folks are, congratulations!
Some months back, Iggy, the Blogfather, posted an article I wrote on this site. He was kind enough to post several. We wrote a little and I was very curious. He hired a dwarf to show up as him at the first blogger gathering. When I was the manager of a band, my guys introduced a dwarf, Little Pete, as me to these record execs. Then I showed and they preferred the dwarf. Unfortunately, Little Pete passed. He lived a short life.
Iggy's site turns me on to several of the people I was to meet in Las Vegas. During the World Series, I started to read of the romantic, International adventures of Dr. Pauly and Change100. We began a conversation about the absolute joys of the writing life. Dr. Pauly has this literary zine, whatever, called Truckin' I submitted a couple of short stories, including a Christmas short story up there now about my beloved Shop, the greatest poker joint in all of West Texas. I have always played lucky in the Springtime and around Christmas. The Shop had a cement floor, domino tables, one poker table in the back, no dealer. You wanted a cup of coffee or a sandwich, you could get up and get it. The poker was high with some great players. We paid $4 per hour for a chair. No tips. No other costs. The high, high cost of poker, the Venetian, make it harder to put over a score. I miss the Shop, especially this time of year.
So, I'm in a grumpy mood. Scientific research tells us old dudes are grumpy and I am living proof. I plead with all my friends and relatives to go on Amazon.com and tag my novel, Texas Poker Wisdom, with the same tags it has to up my tag count. They all promise to do it, but few do. My friends are too busy being self-centered like the rest of us. Would you tag it, please?
Then I hit a bright spot.
Falstaff sends us a list of all the bloggers with web sites, where they are staying in Las Vegas. A large portion are staying at the Imperial Palace, like the Plaza on the strip. I had stayed there several times during the bad old days when there were three or four poker joints and they spread limit, a children's game.
So I call there,reserve a quiet room, and ask for the poker room to do a scam called, "The Poker Host."
I explain how I have persuaded this large group to stay in his hotel and play in his poker game and set sales records for the Geisha Bar. I tell them we will keep the 1,2 no-limit tables jumping. I tell him we have a photo op planned for the Antique Car Museum where we get the whole group together. We should have actually done that, prop bets on who would want to be photographed with Elvis' car, Liberace's car, or Hitler's car.
I ask for an "accommodation" in lowering my room rent. Old Vegas talk. I mention that my cousin was a boxman there a long time, that being why I decided so many bloggers should stay there. They go for it and comp me one weekend night and one buffet, about $175. So sweet. In the old days, there was a law against "tricking an innkeeper" for when we would do the scam, "Drop the Bag." I just always loved the ring of that, "Tricking an inn keeper."
Once I show in Albuquerque for the New Mexico State Poker Championships in 1996. First rattle out of the box, I count down 22 West Texas gamblers in the field, most good poker players. So I go to the poker boss at the Isleta Gaming Palace, with "The Poker Host" scam, telling him I brought these folks there, like anyone could get this specific group of outlaws to do anything. I asked for a coat. They take me to this shop and give me a coat and two hats. I ask for another coat for my god-daughter. He gave me one. Later, I made the final table which gets you a different coat.
I go on over to Sandia Casino and do "The Poker Host", telling them I already have some shiny coats. They give me a good winter coat I still wear, two hats, and two nice embroidered shirts;.
At the World Series of Poker at Binion's, I pretended to be the press a couple of time for food comps, access. This was before it was very crowded. I became a poker writer by pretending to be one. Maybe I'll talk to a travel agency about being a poker host. Be careful what you pretend to be, because you end up being it.
So at the airport and on the plane, there are a disproportionate number of cowboys going to Las Vegas for the National Rodeo Finals. Since this is the center of West Texas, it is not surprising, but who are these people?
We live an hour's drive from real cowboys who work at historic ranches for cheap wages doing very hard work. They still work cattle from horseback. The single ones live in bunk houses. The married ones live in little houses provided by the ranch. They don't head for town much, much less Las Vegas. The miserly ranch owners are some of the richest people in the world because of the oil. Are these cowboys in the airport ranchers, farmers, rich? Their enormous belt buckles tell me they had their glory days in a rodeo long ago in a small town.
The over and under for big hat cost and endangered species boot cost is around a dime. $1000 worth of big-time uncomfortable. On the plane, if you keep the John Wayne tribute hat on, you can't lean back. Many keep them on their laps. They are a pain and hard to care for. The boots ruin spines, prevent exercise, and make beer bellies rounder.
At the airport, I am prepared with my cash stashed in the button-down shirt pockets of my black shirt. My travel checks are buttoned in the pocket of my jacket. I slide through. The screener reads my hat which says, Texas Poker Wisdom, a novel by Johnny Hughes. He asks about it and says he is a poker player. The cowboys are eyeing me funny anyway with the ponytail and my Nikons which they craved and would crave more when they hit the Strip.
At the Imperial Palace, I get a seat in the 1,2 no-limit and I first see Al Can't Hang at the Geisha Bar, recognizing his from pictures. He introduces me to a couple of people but I can't hear well. They all say they have read me on Iggy and that Iggy is coming later in the afternoon. Then Dr. Pauly bolted out of his seat, which he does all the damn time. We just continue the conversation we were having. Later, he brought over Betty Underground because I had mentioned reading her Christmas erotica in Truckin' Then I meet Gary Cox and his wife, Carrie. Devout Okies and proud of it. I reveal that my own dear mother is an Okie and that the family in my novel come from a farm in Duke, Oklahoma. We exchange the usual insults, jokes required when Texans encounter Okies.
I jump in the cash game for a horrible and long session. Worst run of no cards all year. However, I had decided in advance to open up my game and really make some plays at the 1,2 no-limit. That's my road game. I have played cheap, almost meaningless blind, no-limit more than anything else. Now I have to drive 45 miles to play in the world's wildest 2,5, often 10 pot limit game where I don't have much choice about strategy. You play tight. In that pot limit game in the country, it is not uncommon for five or six people to be all-in before the flop and only one of them has a grown-up hand. At the Imperial Palace, I had on a hat that said Texas Poker Wisdom, a novel, by Johnny Hughes. After I lost one more big pot, the dealer said with all the sarcasm he could muster, "This guy wrote a poker book?" I thought it was really funny and vowed not to tip him if it ever came up. It didn't.
So I meet and play with a lot of bloggers. They all say, read you on Iggy, he's coming. Good. In the game at different times are Change100, Derek, Falstaff, Double Sweet Pablo, Karol, Maudie, Milwaukee. I target the non-blogger tourists and read the bloggers to be ABC folks, given to bad continuation bets if I ever had a hand which I did not. I jump off loser and push my luck every chance I get with semi-bluff straight draws. It never worked. I usually write down all my pairs in the hole, big pots. I never made any hands that did not get beat. I had AA once the whole trip, KK not, QQ not. No flushes. One full, beat.
Poker is good about humbling the over-confident, like me. I was pushing and trying to make things happen and coming in on marginal hands, wasting money. There were always two or three loose tourists players that I was targeting. This little sample of bloggers had me respecting their play.
So while the cards are making fun of me, the Blogfather, Iggy his own self, arrives. Word spreads throughout the casino like wild-fire. Several bloggers tell me, a cocktail waitress, the fake Elvis, Twice Sweet Pablo, and one-half of the fake Blues Brothers tell me, Iggy is in the building. I rush to the Geisha Bar. Dr. Pauly bolts out of jhis chair and introduces us. I thank them both profusely for the support of my novel, Texas Poker Wisdom. Iggy gives me a hammer to wear as a collar pin and says, "Now you are one of us." I have worn it a lot ever since. If one of the West Texas good ole boys asks about the hammer, I say, "Jesus was a carpenter." which makes a lot of sense. I see immediately that Iggy kind of favors John Wilkes Booth, the good-looking actor. Seriously, there is a difference in hair and all. Do a google image search of John Wilkes Booth and see if I am not right.
It is pretty crowded around Iggy, what with the genuflecting and all.
A major factor of the poker was that my earplugs didn't really work in the noise of the Imperial Palace. I say to the dealers, "I am hard of hearing so I wear ear plugs." Never heard one question the logic of that. One drunk tourist kept talking all the time and looking at me for an answer. He would never look at his hand until I personally told him too since the dealer's didn't care if we ever played another hand. Symptomatic anger like hating the tourist, whom I think was English, is not good for my poker. He'd count out his money 10 bucks a pop. He was giving lots of action and my trap was set but it was not to be.
I was making a little come back when I got way the best-of-it on two big hands in a row. I am a best-of-it man. I don't care who wins the pot. I care who had the best-of-it when the money went in. When I watch poker on TV, when they get all the money in there, I switch channels. It does not matter what came, really, in the long run.
I am against this tourist with 10, 6 and the flop is 10,10,3 in a small raised pot. He checks. I check. Fourth street was Jack for a board of J,10,10,3 He had a KQ and made a larger than usual bet. I moved in. He hit the straight. I loved the action. Here's the very next hand.
I am coasting around with any cards. Were they suited? They suited me. The same sucker counts out his bets 10 bucks a pop. He raises it. I call with A,10. The flop is 10,3,3 with two diamonds. He had the A,J of diamonds. I bet he calls. Now comes a 3 making the board 10,3,3,3. I have a full house. He checks and I move in. He calls and says,"I have a flush draw." He was dead to a Jack and hit one. At this point I am up to my ass in Sklansky bucks but don't feel bad at all about those pots. A man drawing at a flush beat my full house. I can't remember that every happening before. Iggy refuses to listen to this bad beat story unless I give him a five spot so I tell it to everyone else within earshot. At this point, I don't want any cheese, I just want my head out of the trap but it was not to be.
I finally pull up bad loser. Feeling superior has cost me about half that money. I was really ready to play great but the situation did not arise. Gambler's Fallacy time. Comfort yourself in the blessed mantra. "I was taking the best of it." One way I feel superior in just walking into or out of a gambling joint. I don't drink or bet a single quarter on anything but poker. No sports, dice, PaiGow, limit poker, blackjack, slots, video poker. Not a thin dime. I have that warm fuzzy feeling that the best of it gives you. However, people do all of those things above together, socially, and all. So it is lonely valuing your own money. Treating it with kindness and respect and knowing it is a reciprocal arrangement. I'd just as soon have my dick in a meat grinder as to belly up to a slot or video poker machine and throw off God's Good Green Money. You are saying."Yeah, machine, you are smarter than me and tremendous company so I'll try to beat you when no person ever has before."
These bloggers are starting to leave a collection impression that I am noting for future writing. They are very nice, courteous, humorous and come from all over. They play pretty solid poker. All these cowboys around for the rodeo have seen too many John Wayne movies. These bloggers have seen Animal House way too much. I don't really understand their jobs. Later, I quizzed Twice Sweet Pablo, and understood somewhat. This all reminds me of bridge tournaments from long ago, when friends would meet who didn't see each other often. Knowing friendship time is limited makes it more precious.
The next morning I get a seat next to Pauly in the 1,2 no-limit. He has position. Milwaukee was in the game. I am to sit next to him twice in the tournament plus this session. We had several good conversations with a group up in his suite, before he trashed it, with Change100, Maudie, Derek, Dos Sweet Pablo, Mean Gene, GMoney, Al Can't Hang. Iggy made an appearance right before he left town.
Playing next to Pauly, I wanted to show off when he wasn't bolting out of his chair. That startles folks. If you see me jump up and run, you will know there is trouble. He doesn't leave the table any other way. I don't know how you spell Manic up yonder in New York City. Anyway, I treasure poker sessions for the plays I get to make. While sitting next to Pauly, I start bluffing this blues guitar player. We had mutual acquaintances in Austin. Up comes a "Talking Pot." When you make a big bet at someone and they are deciding what to do, watch their hands.
There are classic moves. They start to count out the chips to call. They pick up their hole cards which means they are going to fold. If they are about to make a decision you do not want, start talking. It's fourth and forty. Punt. When you talk, it adds information and more importantly, restarts the thinking process.
If someone picks up their cards to fold and I have the nuts, I say, "Let me have this one and we will let you have the next one." That works often.
In a pot against the guitar player I bluffed and bet a little too much as I had been not being used to playing so cheap. He starts to count out his chips. I sing out in a high-pitched voice, "He'd gonna raise me. He's gonna raise me." It worked. He folded. Pauly bolted out of his chair which meant very little.
At one point we discuss Labor Unions with the group mostly con. I say all the first responders at Nine/Eleven, our heroes were in Unions: firefighters, police, ambulance drivers, nurses, steel workers. Then I said, "I will now sing Joe Hill. I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night as alive as you or me.....
Falstaff invites me to lunch with Suzy, her Dad, Peaker, Milwaukee. Suzy's a costume designer and Falstaff wears kilts around Las Vegas. Theatre people. I'm wondering about what costumes they wear around the house and if Betty Underground knows about this. I find out Peaker has twins and I know DeadMoney Scott has twins on the way. I meet him because he puts all the reviews from Texas Poker Wisdom on his web site. Instant Tragedy did too. Thanks, home folks.
I meet Scott and he is what we call in Texas, "a big ole healthy boy." Meaning he looks strong and tough which goes with his bounty hunter past. And no, he doesn't know Dog. He is the kind of guy I could go with to the outlaw poker games in the Hill Country and know I wouldn't be letting anyone pick on him. I watch him take not one but two bad beats when I walk up to him.
The Imperial Palace has a blackjack pit where the dealers are celebrity look-a-likes and get up to sing, loudly It's camp. Beyond camp. Therez Elvis, only he's about seven feet tall and thin. Still a wig, sideburns, sunglasses, and the shirt...Anyone can be Elvis in Vegas. There's a Dolly Parton, I think. The Blues Brothers. Only I am taken by the enthusiasm of these bottom of the show business barrel cartoons. I am also thinking about a novel scene where you try to beat the obviously distracted blackjack dealers. They are singing!
Friday night, the whole mob headed for the MGM Grand to play limit, chug-a-lug firewater, play those pit games. It is lonely being superior but it is cheap.
Saturday morning, I run into Iggy, in the taxi line for the tourney. We share a cab and he shows me the trophy I covet. The upside down hammer has a shiv or blade hidden in the handle. That is one of the reasons they would not let Iggy check it on the plane. I don't travel with a computer and never had a cell phone so I can't check John Wilks Booth on google images. I find a dime..ten cents...in the taxi which is bound to make me lucky. Superstition can make you unlucky.
When we arrive at the Venetion, it is to shouts of "There's Iggy." I told him it reminded me of my old days in rock 'n roll and asked if I could carry his guitar. I had thought of bringing copies of my novel for the final table but decided it would look like too much hype.
The first person I spy is fellow Texan Amy Calistri, by her signature hat. We talk a little. Dr. Pauly bolted out of his chair and took a picture of us.
I have won a few tournaments lately in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and Las Vegas. Usually in a tourney like this, I would play pretty fast and try to grab the chip lead or be out early to play in a cash game. However, in the blogger's tourney, I just wanted to survive. I planned to make no raises until the blinds went up. A guy who did have some books for sale gets busted before our chairs get warm and Pauly is moved in under my wing with position, again. He is a lot of fun to swap jokes with. He'd keep bolting out of his chair on important missions like buying some bottled water in an ornate, square bottle for $27 a pop. I stick my head under the hydrant and feel superior. I still have all the money y'all spend on all the crap we lonely, superior folks just won't do. One drug. One Woman. One Gamble. Not that I have one woman. And those awful cell phones, what's with that? Who could you possibly be text messaging? That's a bad addiction, stressful, and a social barrier.
While we are sitting there, another Texas with a signature hat arrives. I guess, from the hat, that he is Cactus Jack, one of my oldest and dearest, imaginary friends on the Internet. We have defended each other as we made our pilgrimage from hostile forum to hostile forum.
I never make many hands in the tourney. I did hold 10,10 twice to win the blinds. My major move was to steal the blinds from the cutoff with marginal hands. Having this work means that three hands behind have to be weak. I was lucky on that. This has been a humbling poker trip. I have not played very many hours but nothing has happened. The tournament is a lot of fun, even if I am a chronic short stack. Nobody likes a short stack, and everyone is eying your sad and pathetic stack and wishing you'd go busted.
At one point, I had A,Q with a few thousand and called a raise. It came K,J, x and we both checked. Then it came a 10 and I hit the nuts the only time the whole trip. The man bet and I smooth called. When you have the nuts on the flop or fourth, give them a chance to try to buy it if the board is not scary. Wait all the way to fifth with position. He bet into me again and I get the rest of my stack, He knew what I had.
At one point, I bust Peeker who must be playing really unlucky to have me bust him. He gives me a rock from Denver as a bounty. I couldn't really hear what he said. I got some laughs with the rock. Taking lick hits and all. The main thing about this tournament, it was one of the most fun tournaments I have ever played in. Everyone was super nice and the humor flowed.
Now they move InstantTragedy in on my left with Miami Don behind him. Pauly is still right in front of me. A guy moves in and Pauly wakes up with Aces, an easy near double up. I sing out, "Old Pauly calls with two aces and thinks he is a genius."
Iggy is moved to our table for awhile. He goes out on A,K suited, a better hand than I have seen all week. John Wilks Booth was also a drinking man.
InstantTragedy catches Kings, maybe twice. This is not fair. He has a big mean stack and makes piss-ant raises. He is my ex-student and a local celebrity DJ here in Lubbock. He is also a nice guy who posted the reviews from my novel on his web site.
I survive and that was always my goal. I never got in position to think of much other than hanging on. When it was down to three tables, and then two. Pauly came into the chair in front of me, for intervals between bolts. When there were about twenty-three players, they offered a deal to pay twenty places. It is a pure gift to me.
I can now tell that I have enough money for the blinds and a go around. I lock her down and enough players are knocked out that I get the charity money. I have that gift situation in my novel, and Dylan, as chip leader, refuses to go along with a save. I would have voted for it regardless of my chips but Rooster gave us a nice Christmas gift. Enough to crow about.
Finally, with the blinds headed my way, I move with A,9 off-suit and a sweetly smiling Bacon Bikini Mary calls with the A,Q hearts. Brian calls and she flops the cold-water nuts, the glorious red flush. I have promised to send her a copy of Texas Poker Wisdom. I find out Mary used to live here in Lubbock like Whoopi Goldberg, John Denver, Dr. Phil, Meatloaf, Buddy Holly, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Moss, Natalie Maines, and me.
When I got knocked out, Pauly bolted from his chair to console me.
After I am knocked out by Mary, right at Christmas, I ponder a silent night but head for the cash games and a seat next to Sweet and Low Pablo. Get this. The Venetian is the fanciest joint outside the Bellagio anywhere and they are eating noodles, ron-a-roni, from a can. They have a noodle bar. Noodles and water are sixty dollars probably. They have to feed you better than that in jail.
Rooster wins the tourney. "When the rooster crowed at the break of dawn, look out your window, the trophy is gone." I saw Rooster the next dawn still raging at the Geisha Bar.
When Sweet, Pablo, Pablo says that he and Derek are heading for the Imperial Palace, I tag along to swap some stories. I was up $1.
Get this for Saturday. Ten buck breakfast. Free room. Break even tourney. Win $1 in the cash game. Iggy pays the first taxi.
On Sunday, I went down to the Sports Book awhile. Asian Jew was up so near the screen, I mistook her for a cheerleader in the game. Everyone was having a blast...taking the worst of it. Being lonely and superior, I kept my boodle in the rubber band.
Later, we are up in Pauly's suite, before he trashed it, with a lot of people...Change100...They did meet on the Internet. Derek, Al Can't Hang, Mean Gene, GMoney, Maudie, Gracie. Pauly, and later Iggy.
As each couple or person would leave for the airport, there were sincere and awkward hugs of true friendship. It was real in an unreal town. Everyone pledged to be back in the Spring.
The last day leaving a tournament, bridge or poker, is kind of sad. I always go down to the poker room for coffee before the airport. There's Falstaff ripping them up in the 1,2 no limit and off good winner fast. He planned and executed a perfect meeting and tournament.
Thank you, Falstaff.
Johnny Hughes is the author of the novel, Texas Poker Wisdom.
All Content Copyright Iggy 2003-2007
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