Friday, January 25, 2008

Poker Bloggers and Absolute Poker 

I'm getting all worked up again over this Absolute poker bullshit. Where is the outcry from the poker bloggers?

Where's any coverage over this insanity in the press?

Blarg, I'm gonna get good and Guinness-fueled and rant about this ASAP.

But for now, my main man, Johnny Hughes, has a fine historical poker essay for you.



Pat Renfro: Texas Road Gambler, the Tightest of Them All!

by Johnny Hughes, author of Texas Poker Wisdom, a novel

A.V. "Pat" Renfro (1903?--1988) was a legendary Texas road gambler that made his living from poker for sixty years. Pat always attended the World Series of Poker, playing the high cash games until he was in his eighties. The pictures in Super System of the first two World Series show Pat standing near the back with the other outlaws, some with slightly changed names. Pat looked a lot like the comedian W.C. Fields. His attitude and pithy, on-target, anti-establishment, anti-law, anti-Square John, nine to fiver comments were like what Hispanics call Nichos. Proverbs and Sayings that we live by. The Rooster taught me about that.

Pat was a road gambler longer than anyone except his old partner, Johnny Moss. When Doyle Brunson lists the early poker greats on the Texas circuit, he mentions: professional gamblers: Johnny Moss, Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim, Bob Hooks, James Roy, Pat Renfro, Aubrey Day, and Crandell Addington.

Pat Renfro and Johnny Moss ran poker games together and moved around the oil boom towns together from 1928 to 1938. Graham, Olney, and Lubbock. Renfro lived in Lubbock full time after 1953 but traveled to where the biggest games were. The name road gambler is a bit of a misnomer, because a poker player would like to have great games where they didn't have to travel. Lubbock provided great action for many, many years. At varied times, Johnny Moss, James Roy a.k.a Tennessee Longoodie, Bill Smith, and few still around I won't mention lived in Lubbock. The poker would dry up and they'd move on, but not Pat. In his eighties, Pat played he high games in Vegas, flying from Lubbock with a load of cash in his pockets. I'd see him at the airport looking very, very old. Folks wouldn't dream that he was toting his beloved B.R.

Pat always looked old to me. He had gray hair and a flat-top and as I said, was a ringer for W.C. Fields, in mannerism and sayings. The most dramatic, incredible thing about Pat Renfro was that he was the single tightest poker player before the flop of any of the top players. I have played against him in some of the biggest games of the times for decades and his manner, starting hand discipline, money management, were not impacted by anything: the size of the game, drunks, danger, the way the other players played, the clock, wild-loose games, tight games, small games, big games. Pat and Johnny Moss started out before Texas Hold 'em playing stud, mostly five stud. Pat carried that strategy of giving up when you think they have higher cards over to Texas Hold 'em.

Pat would start with $500....o.k., o.k. for the fans, like $5000 now...when others would start with $100 or $200. Poker was a job. He was going to sit there four hours and try to double that money once, maybe twice. He'd show up with AA, KK, or A,K paired on the flop. By the time he came to life on a hand, he really had the best of it. Pat Renfro wanted to you to be drawing. He often said correctly, "I have my hand. He is trying to get his hand."

When I first started playing Hold 'em with Pat, I was twenty and he was in his mid fifties. The talk at the poker table was full of teaching about the outlaw life and the old days. However, poker coaching or talking about the odds on a hand were forbidden. You didn't want to wake up the suckers. There was only one poker book, Yardley's Education of a Poker Player which said just play tight. I was sitting at the table with some top talent, future World Champs, but none of them would teach me about the mysterious game Hold 'em.

Pat was the tightest player. Bill Smith was the best player and I copied his moves. One time when I was sitting next to Pat Renfro, he showed me A,J and folded to a small raise. This was a huge deal to a young man. First that he would coach me, even a little. Second that I should be folding all hands as BAD as A,J. Hell, I was moving a short stack in on A,J for an ace and a face and a race.

Once I caught him after the game and asked him to comment on my play. I had asked him to put in with me one time and he said, "I don't put in with nubbins." When I asked him what he thought of my play, all he said was, "You need to get a tighter holt." He is still right for me and most everyone reading this.

However, Pat had this body language signal to send me the message to "get a tighter holt" during the poker games. He would act out a stage-coach driver pulling on the reigns, with his elbows going back and forth several times. All he ever told me or taught me was the same thing: play tighter.

In his book, Johnny Moss tells of the time he and Pat Renfro were running a poker game in Olney, Texas during the oil boom. The Texas Rangers raided the game and asked, "Which one of you is Johnny Moss?"

Pat Renfro broke the code and pointed at Johnny Moss. He said there wasn't any use of them all going down on gambling charges.

Pat was at a big robbery near Beeville, outside Corpus Christi, Texas. The robbers gave the same speech they often do, "Hand over all your cash. We are going to search you and if you are holding out, we are going to pistol whip you."

Pat Renfro pointed at his shirt pocket which had a few hundred-dollar bills. "You missed a little dab." he said.

Once when I was driving Pat to a poker game, he insisted that we drive all around the Texas Tech campus to make sure we were not being followed. He was arrested many times. He told me that the laws put KG, for "known gambler" by your name.

There was a raid on a big poker game in Lubbock about 1959. The game was higher that a Hawk's Nest with cross-roaders coming in from all over. In those pictures of the early World Series, circa 1970-72, it shows many of the rounders we played with as they went from town to town. Dave Wilkens is Don a.k.a. Polo Joe Lloyd is Joe Floyd, (maybe) a.k.a. Oklahoma Joe. In the first year's picture of the World Series, there is exactly one Dude in a cowboy hat and you all know who that was.

When the law busted into this poker game, there were fifteen gamblers there. The police were always very friendly, no guns or cuffs, etc. While everyone was standing around the poker table, Pat Renfro politely excused himself, walking past the fourteen or so laws and hiding in the houseman's daughter's room. They took all the rest of us to jail, where we made sly jokes about Pat and when he would show.

We played with paper money, currency rather than chips, because of the law. Chips, cards, dice, especially dice layout were gambling evidence. When the laws run in, everyone folded their money and stuck it in their pocket which was fine with the police. They did not confiscate the money. We joked and laughed with the cops and they showed us some old pictures of the gamblers in prior arrests. Odessa Red, a poker player who played a lot like Pat, tight.tight.tight. had $44,000 on him. Back then, $1000 and $500 bills were in circulation and a large amount could be carried by the high rollers, however, I never saw anyone with that type of money. For a hundred dollar limit crap game, one man I knew would carry $20,000 even though he only needed $10,000.

One night Pat had me drive him to this motel to see the goods of these boosters...thieves. They had the whole room full of awful looking clothes. He bought a couple of dresses for his wife.

I played in a lot of bridge tournaments and traveled more for bridge than I did for poker. Cards were my only way to make a living. We all played gin and some auction bridge before the poker started. Pat was horrible at bridge but liked to play. Bill Smith came with a prop for Pat Renfro and Tennessee Longoodie to play Bill and I at auction bridge if we spotted them what I think was fifty points per rubber. We trounced them over and over. I had taught Bill a little bit about bidding and given him this thin volume on baby bridge.

We played all night long. Pat accused us of cheating saying we knew what each other's bids meant. I can't remember what the score we tipped over was, maybe a little over a dime. I do remember I was short on bankroll and only had 25% of the action. When we got off winner and it was apparent we could beat them, I asked for half in front of Goodie and Pat but Bill refused.

When Pat Renfro was in his eighties, he was still playing the biggest games around Texas and flying back and forth to Vegas. Sometimes, he and Tennessee Longoodie would play tag-team, one playing the stack awhile and the other taking over. He still played the same way. He still grinded out a score. Unlike nearly every poker player of the days, Pat managed a bankroll and stayed in money. He lived in a nice, upscale house and wore expensive clothes.

I ran into Pat once when he'd found a big game in McAllen, hundreds of miles away, in the valley. He was enthusiastic about how great and safe it was because of all the old people, winter snowbirds who come for the great climate. He said he had never been around old folks before. They were all right.

Once in Las Vegas, Pat asked me to walk with him down Fremont Street to find a jewelry store to have some type of watch repair. He was overly paranoid that he would not get his watch back. The old outlaws were very cynical and thought everyone was a crook. He questioned the jeweler and made it apparent he was worried about getting his watch back. Pat told the jeweler he was close friends with Benny and Jack Binion and all he had to do was "drop a dime in a phone." The jeweler never knew that W.C. Fields had just threatened his life.

When he was in his eighties, Pat and his wife of many decades were robbed at home by especially cruel robbers. There are definitely a much lower class of people robbing poker games and poker players than there were in my day. We'd tell 'em, "Don't hurt anybody, we won't call the law." These robbers handcuffed Pat and his wife to the bathroom pipes under the sink and it was two days before they were found. He told me he didn't know who did it, but I wondered.

Pat and the Mule became fast friends and the Mule drove Pat or watched out for him. That's a bit ironic because the Mule robbed Pat the very first time they met. Both were wild, drinking men in their younger days. Pat, for one, had calmed down by the time I met him.
The Mule became a grinder, playing just like Pat. They'd both head home before the last hour of the game when luck started being a bigger and bigger factor. The Mule had half Bill Smith's action when he won the World Series, $700,000 in 1985. Pat did not loan and did not stake. However, he would play stake money or sell a piece of his action on rare occasions.

On one of his birthdays when he was in his early eighties, the guys at the poker game thought they would surprise Pat. They got this beautiful, curvaceous, and totally naked woman to come up behind him. Then they told him that was his birthday present. Pat went into full W.C. Fields mold. He slapped the woman on the butt and said, "I'd rather have a cheesburger."

That line keeps getting repeated at one time or another by the older gamblers.

I went to Pat Renfro's funeral in December, 1988. After the funeral, I told the Mule a joke. I said, "I heard that God called Pat. You know what Pat showed him?"

"Two aces," said the Mule.

Johnny Hughes

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