April 26, 2007

Lucky Me

It sounded like the start of a letter to Penthouse Forum. My girlfriend Jenni’s 18-year-old twin sisters were coming to Vegas for the weekend. Eighteen isn’t old enough to drink or gamble, so I had to find something for them to do. Adam Ant was running through my head but instead I got them Ricky Martin tickets. For Jenni and her roommate I got VIP seats to the opening of the new Palms theater with Gwen Stefani. Me, I’d rather smoke a Cohiba out on the North Show Terrace at the Wynn or get in between the 400-thread-count Egyptian sheets with Jenni and watch Rounders for the 37th time. Or just watch Jenni. But the girls weren’t in town yet so I went over to Caesars Palace to play a little video poker.

I had been asking the bosses at Caesars to put in one or two of my favorite machines: $100 video poker where you only needed to bet $300 to get the maximum payout on the Royal Flush rather than the usual $500. I strolled into the high-limit room and saw them right in the front, where a trio of Red, White, and Blue slot machines used to be. I drew a marker and had them set the machine for credit play, so it wouldn’t stop every time I hit a payout of $1200 or more. Instead a watcher would watch me and write down all the information to report to the IRS.

The marker lasted about as long as a lap dance from a 20-year-old stripper, and a second marker vanished just as quick. I texted Jenni to meet the limo driver when she arrived at McCarran, then stuck the Nokia back in the cell-phone pocket of my Lucky Brands. Jeans have had that pocket as long as I can recall, back even before cell phones were invented let alone small enough to fit there. What the hell was it originally for? I took out another marker.

It was one of those gambling sessions you always remember, and not in a good way. I got stuck fast. Then I dug the hole deeper and deeper. I wanted to get unstuck before Jenni arrived. But by the time her plane landed all I had to show for my gambling was a stack of markers big enough to plug up the toilet if you tried to flush them. I licked my wounds and took Jenni over to the Wynn where we ate at the only gourmet restaurant that was still open, Corsa. She had an eggplant parmesan that would make Julia Child swear off red meat. During dinner and after, we remembered all the things we enjoyed about each other.

I came back in the morning and played the same machine some more. I couldn’t hit anything so I went over to the Palms to play in the Ultimate Blackjack Tour tournament. I advanced all the way to the semifinals, where I got seated at top pro Anthony Curtis’s left. I decided my strategy would be to get one chip ahead of him and then copy him. Of course, we both busted.

I went back and played some more and kept losing. I thought I had to bottom out eventually but I finally gave up stuck a whopping $150k. I took Jenni to Okada for some Divine Droplets. Good sake drowns all sorrows.

The next day my parachute finally opened. I played and played on the same money and then held the queen and ten of clubs and in popped a royal flush for $240,000. Unstuck! I had been hammering on these $100 machines all over town for a couple years now and this was my first royal flush. I snapped a pic with my Nokia and sent it to Jenni. Then I hit the ducks, twice, for $60k a pop. It was the kind of day that makes you feel like you can walk on water in your black Bruno Maglis. The girls all went off to their concerts and we went for a smoke afterwards overlooking the Lake of Dreams.

I came back Sunday morning and started feeding the ducks again. At first, I wanted to get unstuck and stubbornly played the same machine till it hit. Now I was on a roll and wanted to play it while it was hot. There was something vaguely wrong with that logic but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I was stuck about $60k on the morning when it dealt me the ten through ace of diamonds.

A dealt royal flush, my first ever, and it was another $240k. Now I was playing on the house’s money, big time, and I decided to just keep riding my streak. I had clubs and diamonds; now I was going for hearts and spades. Royal for the cycle, yeah.

I had to wrap up at eight because the girls had spent the afternoon shopping for me at Nordstrom and wanted me to do a fashion show for them before they went home that night. They were the kind of clothes that would make Paris Hilton drop her cell phone. The girls went home and I had dinner at the Country Club with my friend Barry and the 2004 Justin Isosceles.

Monday morning I got up but my machine was being played by one of the local high-limit players. Bastard. He told me he’d be wrapping up around 9:30 if I wanted to play it then. Oh yeah, I did. I got coffee and came back around 9:30 and started playing. Around ten, a supervisor approached and asked me if the technicians could check something. I wasn’t surprised. When machines pay out like that they always check to make sure the chips are sealed and so on. I cashed out and watched as they opened up the machine. To my great surprise, though, they found something they didn’t like and told me they were going to have to shut it down and change the chip. Apparently it had been set looser than they had intended. They were going to tighten it up, which would take them about an hour. Since I was scheduled to fly out to Reno in the afternoon that seemed like a good place to stop for the weekend with a very, very nice win. The kind that dreams are made of.

Lucky me.

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March 5, 2007

Fireside chat

I had snapped a photo of her on the job running cocktails at Sapphire, the lounge at Harrah’s Reno. Her uniform top looked like it came from Victoria’s Secret and the way she filled it out it wasn’t going to stay secret for long. So when Gabe said he had plans with Sarah tonight but did I want to come along I didn’t think too hard before inviting them both to join me at the White Orchid, the gourmet restaurant at the Peppermill.

“I like those uniform tops you wear at Sapphire,” I said to the 22-year-old over a trio of tuna tartare and a bottle of 2005 Rombauer Chardonnay.

“Those aren’t a uniform,” she said. “They like us to dress edgy.” I imagined her fishing through her lingerie drawer looking for something to wear to work. I took a gulp of the Chardonnay. Edgy worked for me. We decanted the 2002 Darioush Cabernet to drink with dinner. Sarah had peppercorn New York steak and Gabe and I had the elk, medium rare.

“Is elk some Reno thing?” asked Sarah. She had grown up in Las Vegas and moved to Reno to go to college. People ended up in Reno for some reason or another. Sarah was half-Jewish, half-Lutheran and straightened her hair every other day to keep it from becoming a cascading mass of dark curls. I would have liked to see the curls. There was a lull in the conversation so I asked her if she had ever worked as a stripper. She smiled and shook her head.

“I did do a pole dance once on amateur night,” she said. “But I was flipping my head around and crashed it into the pole.” I could see how that might bring an end to a stripping career. “I have some friends who are strippers,” she said. “You know the worst thing about the job isn’t the customers – it’s the other girls.” Apparently it was a very competitive business and some of them played dirty.

It was 9:15 Sunday night in Reno and we closed the place down. It’s not that there wasn’t a lot of action in the Biggest Little City in the World – it’s that gourmet restaurants weren’t where it was at. But Sarah knew about a little lounge tucked away in the back of the Peppermill called the Fireside Room. She led. We followed.

Like the rest of the Peppermill, the Fireside Room was decorated in lights and colors that were trendy in 1980, either a tribute to the death of disco or what actually killed it. We sat at the large circular booth surrounding the gas fireplace and ordered a 60-ounce scorpion with three straws. The waitress was Brazilian. There was some kind of nutty hotel exchange program going on and Reno was full of Brazilian waitresses for two weeks. She asked if we wanted the scorpion blended or on the rocks. I said rocks and she brought it blended with a quart of whipped cream on top. It tasted like a strawberry daiquiri. I wondered how the Reno girls were faring in Rio de Janeiro.

I had brought a couple of Dunhills so Gabe and I lit up and enjoyed them by the fire. We ordered another scorpion, on the rocks this time. By the time we finished the cigars, Sarah was too warm and wanted to move to a booth away from the fire. There was a thin man sitting alone there so we asked if we could share and he said fine. His name was Chris.

I asked Chris if he lived in Reno and he said no, Nevada City. I pretended I knew where that was. Sarah actually knew. I asked what he did.

“Actually, I’m having some health issues right now and I’m not working.” I looked him over and offered that he looked healthy. “They’re not visible,” he said. “I have about a year to live.” Chris had aneurisms in a couple places on major blood vessels. They could go at any time.

Sarah hailed the Brazilian and asked for a cocktail menu. Without needing to ask what any of us wanted, she ordered two huge drinks that looked like they came from an ice cream parlor for Gabe and Chris, a pomegranate margarita for herself and a pomtini for me. I guess when you run cocktails for a living you get to know what people drink.

Chris said, “I’m trying to decide right now if I want to have an operation. There’s only a 20% survival rate, but if it works—” He motioned like a plane taking off. “I’m good indefinitely.”

I asked if he had found the very best doctor in the world for his condition.

“There’s a guy in Texas,” he said. “He’s done 300 of these. My doctor’s only done two. I would be his third.” He looked down. “And his second survival.”

“Doctors are like auto mechanics,” I said. “For this, you don’t just want someone competent. You want the best in the world.”

Chris nodded. “Funny,” he said. “I used to be an auto mechanic. I worked on Ferraris my whole life.”

“Then you understand,” I said. He nodded.

Sarah asked if Chris would take a picture of the three of us. He did.

“Ferrari will take me back at any time,” he said. “If I get this health problem handled I’d like to go back to work. There’s an opening in Seattle.”

The Brazilian came to tell us she was leaving and had to close out the check. It was late anyway.

“I live in Seattle,” I told Chris, and gave him my name.

“When you get there,” I said, “look me up.”

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February 27, 2007

Interview with a vampire

He wasn’t sporting a three-day growth of beard because it was trendy, even for thirty-something guys in Reno. He just hadn’t shaved.

He was sitting at the video-poker machine at the end of the row at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, formerly the Reno Hilton, formerly the MGM Grand. He was waiting to be paid for a jackpot when I hit one myself. His face fell. He looked at the five figures flashing on my screen like the captain of the high-school chess team looks at the head cheerleader: it was something he wanted but something he would never get. “You come here a lot?” he asked. Sometimes, I said. I asked his name and, casting his eyes quickly around the room like a kid about to steal a Snickers bar from the candy rack at the drug store, he hesitated and told me.

I asked him if he lived in Reno. “Near here,” he said. “How about you?” I told him Seattle. “My girlfriend – wife, actually – is from Oregon,” he said. “You must get a lot of tax forms playing that big.” I told him yeah, I did. He said, “I do this for a living. I keep all my money in silver. I haven’t filed a tax return for 10 years. You don’t have to file a return. As long as you don’t, they can’t do anything to you.” I said I expected they could throw you in prison. He looked like I’d just dinged the door on his newly restored 1960 Chevy. “No, the income tax is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that.”

I nodded. “Good luck to you, sir,” I said. Then I asked him if he showed an ID when they gave him one of these tax forms. He said yes. “Does it have your address on it?” It’s a mailbox, he said. “Then the mailbox company has your real address,” I said. “Well, they did at one time,” he said. He had moved around a lot. “Aren’t you worried they’ll show up at your mailbox one day and cart you off to prison?”

“What are they gonna do?” he said. “Stake it out for two weeks?

“Maybe,” I said. “If they want you bad enough.” They came with the money and the tax form, which I signed hurriedly like you signed your monthly rent check. He asked if I was married. “Used to be,” I said.

“I have an 18-year-old wife,” he said. “Well, it’s not a legal marriage.”

“Eighteen,” I said. “How old are you?”


I told him I was going to have to put this in my seamy underblog but given the circumstances I wouldn’t use his real name. “I’ll call you Marty,” I said.

“Why Marty?” I shrugged. “Can you call me Scooter? I’ve always wanted to be called Scooter. Wait, on second thought you’d better not. Everybody knows I want to be called Scooter.”

“I’ll call you Marty.” I started playing again and he showed no signs of leaving. “So how’d you meet this 18-year-old, Marty? On the Internet?” He said yeah. “Chat room? ‘Middle-aged guys seek teenage girls who like daddy types’?” His eyes widened like I’d given him a good lead he hadn’t thought of.

“It was actually on a site called VampireFreaks.com,” Marty said. I whipped out my notepad and started scribbling. I wanted to remember this nightmare when I woke up.

“Is that a good place to meet 18-year-old girls?” I asked. He shrugged.

“She was 16 when we met. We chatted online for a couple weeks and then met in person. On her 18th birthday I drove to Oregon to pick her up and get married.”

Eugene, Oregon?” I asked.

Marty’s eyes narrowed. “How’d you know?”

I shrugged. “Eugene is where girls like that live,” I said. I looked at him. “Did you consider the possibility that when you got to Eugene you’d find an FBI agent waiting for you?”

“Yeah,” said Marty. I played a few hands of video poker but he was quiet like anything he said could be used against him.

“Why marry an 18-year-old?” I asked.

“We have a lot in common,” Marty said. “We like food, and wine. And sex.”

“Wine?” I said. “But she’s not old enough to drink.”

“Oh, anyone can drink wine,” Marty said. “It’s a religious exemption. The Supreme Court ruled.”

I blinked, but decided not to pursue it. “So what does she do all day when you’re out gambling?”

“Hangs out at home,” he said. “She’s not old enough to come into the casino.” He brightened. “Pretty soon I’m going to buy a sailboat and sail to Hawaii.”

“There’s no gambling in Hawaii,” I said. “What are you going to do for a living?” He shrugged.

“Say,” said Marty, “How’d you like to meet my wife? We could have dinner!” I was in too far to stop now so I said I’d love to. I told him to meet me at the steakhouse at seven. I cashed out and went up to the suite to start writing.

At seven I came down to the steakhouse. I half-assumed they wouldn’t show but Marty was right on time. The vampire girl I expected to be all decked out in Goth but she surprised me by showing up in Gap instead. She was cute with shoulder-length blonde hair and a pink sweater that covered the kind of territory Lewis and Clark would have abandoned their expedition to explore. I’ll call her Natasha. I sat opposite her with Marty in the middle. I ordered 2002 B.V. George Latour. Natasha didn’t get carded although, to be fair, she was almost 19 and looked it.

I told Natasha I expected her to be all Goth and she said she didn’t do that any more. She didn’t like being around all the negative attitudes. She just had the one piercing now, on her belly button. Did I want to see? Of course I did. She lifted her top to show a cute teenage navel with a stickpin through it. I don’t remember much about the stickpin.

“So, do you like vampires?” I asked.

“I am a vampire,” said Natasha.

“I thought you had to kill someone and suck their blood to be a vampire,” I said.

She scrunched her face. “No,” she said sweetly, “you just have to have a fantasy of sucking blood – or wanting your blood to be sucked.” She glanced knowingly at Marty.

“So you had ads posted on VampireFreaks that you wanted to suck each other’s blood?”

“Actually,” said Natasha, “he wanted to deflower a virgin and I wanted to be deflowered.” I ordered a bunch of appetizers to share and, true to Marty’s word, they both enjoyed the food and wine. “I still have my lesbian virginity,” she said. “I keep trying to meet someone online but the ones who want to meet me always turn out to be guys.” I nodded sympathetically.

Natasha suggested we go up to my suite after dinner so Marty could sober up. I figured the worst that could happen was they would kill me, suck my blood, and steal my PIN number, so I led them up. Marty asked for some water and I pointed to the $6 liter of Voss on the counter. He poured himself a glass. Natasha asked for one and he poured one for her too.

We sat on the sofa awhile. Marty was pretty quiet, probably thinking about his sailboat. Natasha took off her shoes and put her bare feet up on the coffee table. With the toenails painted red, I figured if she dangled those feet out a car window they were good for six or seven blocks of gridlock. I snapped a photo and her cheeks turned red to match her toenails but she didn’t move.

Natasha said it was close to her 19th birthday. Marty piped up. “Yeah, you’re gonna be too old for me.”

“You keep saying that,” said Natasha.

“It’s just a joke,” Marty said.

Natasha turned to me. “There ought to be some limit on how many times you can say something and have it still be a joke.” Marty was silent. I figured she still had a good six and a half years till she was half my age.

Marty excused himself to the T-room and I asked Natasha if she had career plans. “I want to be a wildlife photographer,” she said. “I’m worried about going to Hawaii. There’s not much of the kind of wildlife I want to photograph there.” I didn’t get the whole Hawaii thing. No gambling, no wildlife. It seemed like a pipe dream to me but maybe a pipe dream was better than the reality of this hell-hole called Reno. “He said he was going to get me a camera for my birthday,” she said, “but I think he changed his mind.”

Marty returned and drank the last of the Voss water. At about the same time we all decided it was time to call it a night.

Before they left, Natasha gave me her Myspace address. I gave it 10-1 it wasn’t fake. “You know,” whispered Natasha, pausing at the door, “I don’t let just anyone take pictures of my feet.”

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February 19, 2007

Harrah’s Reno Blues

She was a dancer, a redhead. She went by Veronica, but last month it was Victoria. Who knows what it will be next month.

Gabe is my man in Reno. He’s an executive host at Harrah’s, where if you look me up in the computer tiny showgirls wearing pink feathers pop out of the USB ports and do fan dances on the monitor. In Vegas I’m a big player but in Reno, I’m a true whale. When I walk into a casino they quake with fear and drool with greed. This time they got the best of me, to the tune of a year or two’s Ivy League tuition. But Gabe was my man. He made sure I loved coming back to this dilapidated town, the alcoholism capital of the universe, Reno Nevada, the biggest shitty little city in the world. We caught up in the steakhouse over two bottles of 1997 Stag’s Leap SLV Cabernet. The big news was about the redhead. She was getting married.

I remembered very well the night last month we all went to the Keystone Cue and Cushion to shoot some pool and hang out with Kenny, the dying bartender. Kenny was best friends with Brian, the male dancer, who was dating Veronica, whom we kept calling Victoria but never got corrected. Veronica was very friendly and pleasant as I beat her at pool and when I called it a night, leaving the rest of the crew at the bar, she walked me to the door and lingered. I looked her up and down and then looked back inside at Brian and Kyle’s curious eyes. She had the kind of body that made you want to buy a trapeze just to see if you still had any acrobatics left in you. But redheads are bad luck, I thought, and decided to give it a pass as I turned and walked out the door alone. Besides, as tired as I was and as much as I had to drink, it would have taken an hour or more for the Cialis to kick in.

When I had woken the next morning, Kyle heard me making coffee and tiptoed out of his bedroom wrapped in a white towel. “Shh,” he said with a bashful grin. “Victoria’s still here.” Redheads are bad luck, I thought to myself. Kyle told me when I had left it got tense and awkward at the bar. Veronica wanted to play charades to break the tension. Something had to break, because she ended up in my suite with the kid.

I roused myself from my reverie and blinked at Gabe. “She’s getting married?” I said. “To Brian?”

“No,” said Gabe, “to Kenny.” The redhead had dumped Brian and was marrying his dying best friend. That made less sense to me than most nonsense in this crazy town. Why would a dame dump a guy and then marry his dying best friend two weeks later? I texted Kyle with the news but my subconscious was working overtime. Penn Jillette, of Penn & Teller, had told me it only took seven seconds from the moment of the Challenger disaster to the time the first sick joke was posted on the Internet. I felt horrible but it jumped into my throat like a rabid bullfrog and banged on my vocal chords from the inside until I choked it out. “Gabe—” I slapped my hand over my mouth, trying not to say it, but Satan grabbed my arm with his clammy claw and pulled my hand away.

“I married a man in Reno, just…to…watch…him…die…”

Gabe recoiled in horror. I recoiled in horror. I blamed Jenni. She was a comedy writer and had warped my brain.

Gabe and I finished off the SLV and called it an early night.

I forgot all about the redhead the next night when Gabe and I went back to the FQ Men’s Club and partied with a hot 38-year-old Ukrainian named Elena who chain-sipped $10 Pinot Noirs while saying over and over again, “I am bad girl.” Gabe and I drank $7 waters and sat back and enjoyed the show while I smoked a Macanudo. “She’s getting married tomorrow,” Gabe said. “Veronica.” I took a deep puff on the Macanudo and let it out slowly.

The next evening I was ready to see the redhead. Gabe had told me the early, non-topless show “Let the Good Times Roll” was way better than the topless show (if only by virtue of not having a puppet) so we got a comp and went in. The house manager gave me a warm greeting but then sat us way in the back, at a booth where we had to look through people’s heads to see the stage. Gabe went to talk to him and we got moved to the front. I wasn’t sure if Veronica would be there but sure enough she came out smiling and dancing, a real pro. I texted back and forth with Kyle, who still wasn’t sure if I was making the whole thing up. You can’t make this stuff up.

The show was hot – hot enough to make a fat man drop a plate of nachos piled high with guacamole and jack. The girls, including the redhead, changed clothes on stage until you thought the lace on their white underwear would wear off. They started in pajamas, then stripped down to basics, then modeled a wardrobe that would have been on the cover of the catalog if Victoria’s Secret made cheerleading outfits.

Halfway through the show the manager came down and leaned into me. The points on his lapels were sharp enough to spear a boiled shrimp and dip it in cocktail sauce. “Have you been taking pictures?” he yelled through “I can cook too” from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town. “One of the dancers saw you taking pictures with your cell phone,” he yelled. I had finished texting with the kid and had put my cell phone back in my pocket so I just showed him my empty palms, thinking that would end the kafuffle. It didn’t. The guy persisted, now yelling at another big player we were sharing the table with. That guy was on the verge of tears. He wasn’t a small guy.

The manager turned to Gabe and yelled, “Make sure all photos are deleted.” We were all very confused. My cell-phone camera barely had the horsepower to snap Jimmy Durante’s nose from six inches and I was pretty sure the other guy didn’t even have a camera. They sure were afraid of someone taking grainy pictures of the kind of show you usually see for free on a cruise ship. It didn’t add up, but then not much did in this batty burg.

After the show the redhead didn’t make an appearance in the lobby with the other performers. I guess she was in a hurry to get to her wedding night. Gabe and I had dinner at the Italian restaurant. We tried the 1999 B.V. George Latour. I thought about taking a picture of the label but who knows, they might have called the cops. I thought I could hear the whistle blowing…

As nutty as all this seemed to me, Kyle, stuck back in Georgia going to classes, must have been even more confused. He had called Victoria/Veronica a few times after that magic night a month ago but lately the redhead hadn’t been answering his calls. I was back in my room writing when Kyle messaged me that she was on the phone with him. The hotel wanted her to fill out a security statement about the photo incident and she wanted to know if I had sent him any photos. He told her no and waited for her to bring up her marriage but she didn’t. Finally he asked about it but he didn’t get much of an answer. I guess that was to be expected.

I figure it all came down to the boyfriend, Brian. He was close to the redhead. Maybe even in love with her, who knows. And when you lose the one you love, you look for someone to blame. You can’t blame your best friend, dying of cancer. Maybe you blame the guy with glasses in the front row, the guy enjoying your performance and texting his buddy in Georgia to share the fun.

Or maybe you just hang your head and cry.

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February 9, 2007

The Ballad of Billy G.

I’d met Billy G., a rumpled, weathered, fiftyish gambler, up at Lake Tahoe last year. He was playing video poker next to me and bragging about the three porn actresses he had been lounging by the pool with all last week in Vegas. “What business are you in?” I had asked Billy.

“Porn,” he said. He had one of those gravelly, whispery voices that made it seem like everything he was saying was at the very least confidential and quite possibly a state secret.

Billy owned a bunch of web sites where people paid to watch videos of porn actresses. He explained the business to me: “There are about 15,000 porn actresses,” Billy said. “There are another 15,000 wannabes. But there are only 15 bona fide porn stars.” One of these, who went by the name Memphis Monroe, was Billy’s crown jewel. She was one of the top girls at Hustler and Billy had some kind of ancillary rights deal with her that seemed to keep him in gambling money.

Billy wore a Caesars Palace baseball cap, jeans, and a denim jacket with a small sewn-on patch of an eagle that wasn’t quite the Post Office bird or the one on the dollar bill. “What’s that eagle?” I asked. “It’s designer,” he said. “It’s from Guess.”

Billy had flown in from New Orleans, where a friend of his had just been murdered, possibly by the psycho woman he had been shacking up with. Billy went down to the precinct to give them the lead but the detective, Billy said, wanted $5000 to move the case up towards the top of the list. “We got a lot of homicides here,” he said, “and only a few detectives.”

I told Billy I had just been playing at the Rio with no luck and I was taking the evening off from gambling. “I don’t play at the Rio any more,” Billy said. “I got robbed there.” He had a half-empty Corona sitting in front of him but he hadn’t taken a sip the whole time and he didn’t now.

“In your room?” I asked.

Yeah, said Billy. “I had tickets to the big fight. I was driving my daughter back to college in Kansas. Damn car broke down and by the time I got her back and got to the airport I missed my flight. Took the next flight, got into Vegas, cabbed over to Thomas and Mack and got to my seat just in time to see them lift the winner up on their shoulders. I didn’t see one punch.” He looked at me for sympathy, which I gave him.

“So I took a cab to the Rio, where I was staying, checked in, and had one drink at the bar.” He repeated, “One drink! Then I went to the men’s room. I left my drink on the bar.” He shook his head. “Well, you know how these pimps and hos work. They wait back there by the bar where you can’t see them. Then when you go to the bathroom they slip something in your drink. They wait 10 minutes, then they come up to you.” He lightly grabbed my left arm. “ ‘Come with me,’ they say. Richard, I don’t remember one thing. Not one single thing.”

“I slept for a full day. When I woke up, they had taken $4000 in cash and about $8000 in jewelry. But Richard, this drug—” Billy closed his eyes and opened them again. “When I woke up I saw a piece of paper on the floor with four numbers written on it. This drug—” He smiled and shook his head like you do when you wake up and find the team you had that hunch on won in a blowout but you never put down your bet.

“Of course, it was my PIN number. This drug makes you tell them anything and you don’t remember one thing. Not one thing.”

I tried to think of something to say but not one thing came.

Billy leaned back and smiled. “Anyway,” he said. “That’s why I don’t play at the Rio. Hey, give me your cell number so we can hang out when we’re in town.”

I thought quick. “So did they charge anything before you canceled your cards?”

He smiled and nodded slowly. “Gas,” said Billy. “The fuckers charged eight tanks of gas, one right after the other, at the same gas station. Here, give me your phone, I’ll call mine and then we’ll both have each other’s numbers.” I didn’t see any way out of it.

“So,” I said, “Tell me again about those porn stars you lie out with by the pool.” He consummated the mating of our cell phones.

“Not porn stars,” he corrected. “Porn actresses. There are only about 15 porn stars.” He smiled and winked. “And one of them is my girl.”

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January 29, 2007

“A geek girl who came to Chiang Mai…”

She wasn’t an uberbabe. Oh, she was hot all right. But she was a bad girl. She liked to break the rules.

My brother Mike wasn’t feeling well so he went home to get some rest while I hit the cigar store and walked around the Night Bazaar smoking a Romeo y Julieta. I was on a small street with beer bars when a very cute American girl came up to me and asked if I knew where she could get a cigar. She had long strawberry blonde hair and wore a white peasant skirt and a black tank top with a few beads of sweat on her bare shoulders. “I’ll take you,” I said.

She told me her name was Kitty and she was from California. She had come to Thailand, she said, to try to cure her addictions to smoking, drinking, and sex.

"How old are you?" I asked. "Twenty-three," she said. “Well,” I said, “you’ve definitely come to the right place.” The cigar store didn’t have her brand so she asked if I knew anyplace else. I said my hotel had a cigar bar. She didn’t say anything so I said, “Follow me.”

At the hotel the lobby was full of uniformed guards and a long red carpet was laid out to the porte-cochere. I told Kitty the guards were probably there in preparation for the princess checking in. She was very excited about the princess and wanted to see her so even though the cigar bar didn’t have her brand, she ordered a pack of cigarettes and a glass of Champagne and tipped the bartender 100 baht to tell her when the princess arrived. I wanted a clear head to remember this story. I just drank water.

Kitty, she told me, was working as a computer technician in Silicon Valley until they caught her and a coworker naked in the network operation center. After that, she said, she decided she liked having sex with strangers so much she might as well get paid for it so she hung out a shingle on the Internet and had been whoring for about a year. And here I thought if you wanted to find skanky geek girls you had to go to Reno. “I was porting a Unix app to a milspec-secure system,” Kitty said. I told her I used to be a computer programmer. “What language did you program in?” I told her C. “Good,” she said. “If you had said Java I would have no respect for you. Although I barely qualified for Mensa myself.”

At this point I was frantically making mental notes. I didn’t want to forget anything. I was making up limericks in my head and grinning uncontrollably, which she probably misconstrued:

A geek girl who came to Chiang Mai
Must be nuts to compete with the Thai.
“Well, I like to get laid,”
She said, “and to get paid--
“And you never do know till you try.”

Just then the bartender bowed in: “Scuse me! Princess coming!” Kitty leapt up and I followed her to the railing where we saw several people enter the hotel and turn toward the elevators. She wanted a better look so we ran down the stairs but by the time we got there they were rolling up the red carpet. There were several other farangs loitering about the lobby princess-watching so Kitty chatted them up and verified she was part of that initial group. She asked one of the hotel staff, who said the princess had arrived but had gone to the fitness center. “She’s in her 50s, right?” Kitty said. “I bet she’s had a lot of work done.” Then she realized you can get locked in a dungeon for speaking ill of the royal family, and quickly added, “I mean she works out a lot, right? In the fitness center.” I sidled away from her until I was sure the soldiers showed no interest.

We went back to the bar and she chain-smoked L&Ms while downing three glasses of Champagne I figured I was going to get stuck for, but it was worth the story. “Are you hungry?” she asked, and ordered several tapas. Then she noticed I wasn’t drinking alcohol and said I was being ungentlemanly so I ordered a glass of Bordeaux. Finally the bar closed. I signed the bill and watched as they put the bottles away, one by one. She showed no signs of leaving. “Well,” I said, “it looks like they’re closing the bar down.” She didn’t move.

“I was drinking and smoking with a guy three days ago,” she said. “But I was still being celibate.”

“How’s that working for you?” I said.

“I haven’t decided,” she said. “But it was what I wanted three days ago. I’m not sure what I want today.”

“Why did you come to Thailand?” I asked.

“I was too into the orgy scene in LA and it was getting hairy,” she said. “And California is tough when you don’t drive. I can’t get a driver’s license. I have blackouts.” I stared. “But I’d love to take flying lessons.” She looked at me with big brown eyes. “Maybe you could help me out with flying lessons.”

“How can you fly if you have blackouts?” I asked.

“Oh, I’d always have an instructor with me,” she said. One of the bartenders had left. The other, a Thai girl about Kitty’s age, stood waiting. “I lost my virginity when I was 13,” Kitty said. “A friend of my brother’s gave me a back rub while we were watching TV. He asked me if I wanted to try having sex. I said OK.”

“How old was he?” I asked.

“Twenty. I liked it so much he couldn’t believe it was my first time.”

“Did the guy go to prison?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she said. “I didn’t turn him in. I could have, but I didn’t want to.” She finished her Champagne and then held the empty glass out in the direction of my remaining Bordeaux. I poured half of what I had left into her glass. I signed the bill for 4400 baht ($125). We drained the last of the wine. “I really get off on guys who have moral issues with me,” she said. “It was a lot easier to find them when I was underage.” She looked down at her empty glass. “Is there somewhere else we can keep drinking?”

Oh, dear reader. I want you to know that it is only for your sake – the sake of the story -- that I swallowed hard and suggested we go back to my room to partake of my complimentary minibar, sadly underutilized except for a few glasses of Ballantine 12 year Scotch by my brother. Without a word, she rose and followed me.

Kitty headed right for the outdoor daybed and lit up an L&M. “Do you have a laptop?” she asked? “I’ll show you some pictures.” Now this was 21st-Century geek girl ho marketing. She showed me some legit modeling she had done and then a tasteful nude spread. The idea of this pretty Jewish California girl plying her trade in Chiang Mai was jaw-droppingly fascinating to me. She came from a place where men gladly pay $500 for an hour of her time to a land where guys pay $30 to mate with a girl who wouldn’t give them a dirty look in the USA.

“My feet are cold,” she said. “Do you have an extra pair of socks?” I went inside, taking my laptop with me so the Mensa nymphomaniac couldn’t surreptitiously install a Trojan on it while I wasn’t looking, and returned with a pair of black Jhane Barnes dress socks. I expected never to see them again. Maybe she collected men’s socks like some guys collect women’s panties. Maybe she nailed them up on her wall.

Kitty put on the socks. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s very gentlemanly of you.” She sipped Semillon Blanc. I lit her second-to-last L&M for her and gazed out over the pool, the reflecting lights, and the Ping river. I refilled her glass. She opened her purse and took out a roll-on of citronella mosquito repellent, applying it to herself and then offering it to me. “No thanks,” I said, “I’m taken care of.” She nodded and was quiet awhile. I lit her last L&M for her.

“I really like anal sex,” she said. “Do you?”

Somehow I managed to get her down to the porte-cochere. I planned to call a taxi for her but she said she wanted a tuk-tuk instead, essentially a motorized tricycle with a back seat and canopy. The doorman was aghast but she insisted. “That way I can smoke in the back,” she said. She climbed into the tuk-tuk, still wearing my Jhane Barnes black socks, and looked back hopefully at me as the driver pulled out. I waved at her to stop but the driver pulled away. She kept looking and I waved again. She told the driver to come back. I sprinted down the driveway.

“How much is the fare?” I asked. 300 baht. I pulled it out and gave it to her. It was worth $8.

“That’s very gentlemanly of you,” said Kitty as the tuk-tuk pulled away, “very gentlemanly.” Her wide eyes looked back at me till she was out of sight.

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December 23, 2006

Moneygram scam

It is said that every one of us possesses a single talent, however insignificant, in which we surpass all others. Someone is the best chess player, the best no-limit Hold ‘Em player, the best parallel parker in the world. David Rosdeitcher is the best in the world at one thing. He called me today asking my advice.

“Richard, I need you to tell me whether you think this is a scam.”

“OK,” I said. “First, yes it’s a scam. Second, what is it?”

David told me he received a letter from the Global Processing Group informing him that he had won $50,000. There was something wrong with the letter, David said, something few people besides David would notice, but enclosed was a check for $2962.30. The instructions were to cash the check, then take the cash to Wal-Mart and buy a Moneygram to send to Canada to cover the processing fees. He successfully cashed the check but when he went to Wal-Mart the clerk told him it sounded like a scam, so he called me.

“Did you cash the check at the bank it was drawn on?” I asked. No, he said, he took it to his bank. “Then you didn’t cash the check,” I said. You deposited the check and withdrew your own money. Sure as snow in Colorado that check would soon bounce, leaving him stuck. Oh, he said. I Googled the salient points and came up with a long thread about this scam but if David had sent the Moneygram it would have been too late. Good thing the Wal-Mart clerk was on the ball. And good thing David noticed that the postal code given for the address in Calgary, Canada, was actually a code for Montreal. You see, David is a juggler, but that's not his world-class talent. David Rosdeitcher is better known as the Zip Code Man. He has memorized every zip code in the world and holds the Guinness record for most random zip codes correctly identified.

David thanked me, then asked my advice on another matter. He was thinking of taking up a new career.

“Tell me the truth,” said the Zip Code Man. “Do you think I should get into poker?”

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November 17, 2004

Lion in the woods: The Inaugural Professional Poker Tour event at Foxwoods


The Professional Poker Tour, a series of five $500,000 freerolls for top poker pros, was launching its first event just prior to the Foxwoods WPT tournament so I booked a nonstop on Alaska Airlines to Boston, rented a Hertz car with Neverlost, and set the controls for the heart of the Sun—Mohegan Sun. I had booked a room at Mohegan Sun, a somewhat nicer hotel and casino than Foxwoods, deciding the ten-minute commute through scenic New England countryside was worth it. I got a Sky Suite overlooking the Thames River, imported at great expense from England. All the rooms at both hotels had complimentary high-speed Internet access so I plugged in my Airport Express and got wireless throughout the suite. I drove over to Foxwoods to check out the action over there and then headed back to Mohegan to get a good night's sleep before the tournament.

We started with 134 players out of the 200 or so who qualified, many of the pros still in Monte Carlo for the event there. I drew table four, seat four, and as expected it was a rogue's gallery of scary opponents. Tony Cousineau has seat one; James Hoeppner seat two; Mirage WPT champ Eli Elezra seat three; the highly respected Lee Watkinson seat six; long-time pro Mickey Appleton seat seven; WPT commentator and long-time pro Mike Sexton seat eight; and WPT finalist Mohammed Ibraham seat nine. The seat to my left started empty, giving me a slight advantage as the vacant chip stack got blinded off.

Foxwoods had ordered special playing cards for the tournament series but unfortunately someone lost sight of one of the important qualities of playing cards: you shouldn't be able to tell which card it is by looking at the back. These decks had large areas of solid red and black on the backs and the black especially got scuffed and marked almost instantaneously. When "Minneapolis" Jim Meehan moved into the seat to my left about an hour into the event, he ordered a shot and a beer and said, "On the first hand I saw the Ace of Hearts and the King of Diamonds. They're both marked on the back and I've memorized them. On the next hand I got the Ace of Diamonds and that one's marked too. Pretty soon I'll have the whole deck memorized. Now I don't care if you want to keep playing with them but I just thought you should know." We asked for a new deck. Meanwhile I got nothing and was down to 9625 at the first break and 7225 at the second break.

Mohammed got knocked out and was replaced briefly by Chip Jett, who also busted and was replaced by Chau Giang. Tony C busted as well but the chips weren't going to me as I continued getting a rare decent starting hand and no action on it when I did. Finally with the blinds 150/300 and a 50 ante, Minneapolis Jim, well into his fourth shot-and-beer at this table, opened under the gun for a tiny raise to 625. Eli called on the small blind and I called on the big with Ten-Seven of Clubs. The flop came Eight-Six-Four with two Clubs, giving me a monster draw. I decided to check-raise Minneapolis all in but he pre-empted me by moving in himself. Eli thought a long time then folded. I called immediately and was happy when Jim turned over Pocket Kings because I didn't want to see Ace-King of Clubs. I hit my Nine on the river and Jim went into a drunken tirade about how I could be happy he had Kings. A couple others at the table tried to tell him I was actually a favorite with my 15 outs but I knew he knew that and it was all an act. Jim was an attorney, had a mind for math, and figured to gain an advantage by pretending to be a drunken idiot. Not that he wasn't drunk, but he wasn't an idiot. I was back up to 9550, almost my starting stack. Erik "Rounders" Seidel took Tony C's seat one and I bullied him a little, going to the next break with 10,450. I was playing against the top players in the world and I was up 450!

Immediately after the break they broke our table and I moved to table eight, seat nine. Karina Jett, Chip's wife, had seat one; Hoyt Corkins seat two; Minh Nguyen seat four; the very feared John "JJ" Juanda seat five; Kenna James seat six; Lee Watkinson seat seven; and Farzad Bonyadi seat eight on my right. Farzad had raised the 300/600 blinds to 1800 in early position and I saw pocket Aces. I decided to take a chance and slow-play them, hoping one of the aggressive players such as Juanda would reraise, so I just called. Minh called on the button and the flop came Eight-Five-Trey rainbow, a pretty safe flop for me unless Minh had made a set. Farzad bet out 4500. I decided to put my remaining few chips in so I made it 7325. Minh reluctantly folded and Farzad very reluctantly called the few more chips with pocket Nines. Minh said he also had Nines so Farzad was dead to a runner-runner Straight, which didn't come—in fact I made a runner-runner wheel I didn't need—and my patience paid off as I was up to 18,000.

Two hands later they moved me to balance tables and sent me over to the featured table; however, the camera crew had gone home so no TV time for me tonight. I was in seat eight. Robert Turner was in seat nine; Chris Bigler seat one; Josh Arieh seat three; Joe Cassidy seat four; Brian Haveson seat five; 2002 WSOP Champ Robert Varkonyi seat six; and Hoyt Corkins seat seven. On the first hand I limped early with pocket Fours and Robert on my left moved all in. I decided he had a big pair and mucked. He showed Aces. I had 15,625 at the break.

With the camera crew gone they moved us en bloc to a more comfortable table. Kathy "Pokerkat:" Liebert took the empty seat two; Barry Shulman took seat four after Joe Cassidy busted; and when Robert Turner went broke on my left he was replaced by Marsha Waggoner. I went card dead again and got cut off on my steal attempts, getting down to 6600 when I reraised the bullying Josh Arieh all in with Ace-Eight of Diamonds, figuring to gamble with slightly the best of it as I knew he would call. He did and showed Jack-Four of Diamonds, making me almost a two-to-one favorite. The flush came and I was up to 18,000. Kathy Liebert busted and my nemesis Can Kim Hua came into Brian's seat five when he went broke. At the end of the day there were only 39 left out of the starting 134. I had 13,400, a profit to be sure but somewhat short-stacked against the average of 34,360. I would be coming out firing tomorrow.

Teddy Bear, Lion, and Dorothy

We had redrawn for seats last night. I drew table five, seat four. Jennifer Harman had seat one; Eli Elezra seat two; former WSOP champ Brad Dougherty seat three; Dewey Tomko seat five; Card Player publisher Barry Shulman seat six; John Phan seat eight; and Randy Holland seat nine. The very first hand, John Phan, with a big stack, raised my big blind and the short-stacked Brad Dougherty moved all in for more than I had. I looked down and saw Ace-Queen offsuit. With all the money in the pot I decided to call and try to triple or quadruple up; as long as nobody had Aces or Ace-King I was in OK shape. John mucked and Brad turned over the same hand as me. We chopped the pot and I was up to 18,000. John Phan lost a couple big pots and was out. Then I raised with Ace-Jack under the gun. Dewey moved all in for not much more and I called after it folded around to me. He had pocket Eights but my Ace flopped and Dewey was out. Robert Varkonyi came into the empty seat seven and Barry "Spock" Greenstein took seat eight. Barry moved in on my big blind and, having played with him in this situation before, when I saw Ace-Seven of Clubs I figured I was about even money and with the blinds and antes in the pot I called. He turned over King-Queen offsuit and somehow my brain froze because I thought I needed a pair to win the hand. I kept shouting, "Ace," and when none came, I patted the table but Barry was getting up and I realized I had won the hand. I apologized and saw Jennifer giving me a Mona Lisa smile. I said, "I don't know how I can be so smart and then be a complete space cadet in a situation like that." She said, "You're a poker player." The space cadet-poker player was now up to 41,000.

Eli was having trouble pronouncing Brad Dougherty's name and kept calling him "Dorothy." Finally I asked if he was needling him or really couldn't pronounce his name. Eli said he really thought that was how it was pronounced. I turned to Brad and said, "If you're not lucky, that nickname will stick."

I took a small pot from Varkonyi and with 48,000 chips I was now above average for the first time since the tournament started. Then Jennifer, short stacked, moved in on my big blind from the cutoff. I had Queen-Jack offsuit and decided three-to-two pot odds were good enough to call with the range of hands she might have. She had Ace-King, which wasn't too bad for me, making me a two-to-one dog, and the flop came Ace-Queen-Jack, putting me ahead. But she turned a Ten for the Straight and an unneeded Ace came on the river and I had doubled up a dangerous player. I had 33,800 at the break.

Phi Nguyen came in to seat five and they decided to move us en bloc to the featured table. That meant hanging out with Kay Han, the Shana Hiatt of the PPT. Kay was extremely friendly and personable and a good choice for someone whose job it was to interview players who've just lost their shot at half a million bucks. They miked us up, told us how to use the hole-card cameras and we were underway. Barry Shulman, who was down to the felt, was second to act when he moved in for less than three times the big blind. Since it wasn't much more to call, I did, with Seven-Five offsuit. Barry had King-Eight but I made a pair and he was out of the contest. Ted "Teddy Bear" Forrest took his seat and Dan Heimiller took seat eight. They moved Brad "Dorothy" to balance the tables and I was down to 23,600 at the break.

I had only 20,800 when with 18 players left we redrew for seats. I got the non-featured table, seat five, with Teddy Bear in seat one, Thor Hansen in seat two, Casey Kastle in seat three, John "JJ" Juanda in seat four, Dan Heimiller in seat six, Brad Dougherty in seat seven, "Action" Dan Harrington in seat eight, and Jennifer Harman in seat nine. I was down to 18,200 when we colored up the black chips. They moved Dan Heimiller to the featured table for balancing. I won some blinds and antes and by the dinner break I was up to 28,000.

I had dinner in the very mediocre buffet with Hoyt, Shawn "West Texas Man" Rice, Aaron "Iowa" Loew, and a couple others. It killed me to pay $13.99 for it. Your best bet for having dinner at Foxwoods was to drive to Mohegan Sun.

When we got back I was looking for opportunities to come over the top of Ted Forrest, playing his big stack aggressively as he should. I called one raise on the big blind and moved in when I got a piece of the flop. He folded and that brought me up to 46,000. You didn't have to win too many pots at this level to get chips. Then, with 38,000, Casey Kastle made it 8000 to go. I called with King-Queen offsuit on the button, hoping to see a flop with position on him, but Action Dan moved all in on the big blind. Casey took a few minutes and then folded. I started talking to Dan, trying to get a read on him, but then I said, "There's no way I'm ever going to get a tell from you, is there?" I figured it was equally likely he was making a move or he had a big hand. I was in big trouble against Aces or Kings and not too happy with Ace-King or Queens. Finally I decided that since I was getting no callers when I was moving in that I would wait for a better spot and I folded.

I was down to 22,000 when Teddy Bear raised my small blind and I saw Ace-Jack. I figured I had him beat and pushed in, but Dorothy moved in right behind me. Ted took a little time and then folded and Brad turned over pocket Tens. With my overcards I had a 43% chance of winning the pot, which now had 62,000 in it, but alas, my cards didn't come and I had to surrender to Dorothy. I was out of the contest in 12th place, my best finish ever in a televised event but only the top six got paid.

Immediately after I busted out, Ron Rose noticed that with the cheap paper cards Foxwoods was using players could see the reflections of the card faces in the illuminated Plexiglas around the rim of the featured table. The crew spent two hours sanding it down before they continued but I just went back to the Mohegan and crashed. The main event was in two days.

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October 19, 2003

Aruuuuba: The 2003 Ultimate Poker Classic

Poker flight

The only sensible itinerary from Seattle to Aruba was an early-morning flight on Continental connecting in Houston so we asked the UltimateBet travel agency to book us that flight, which they happily did. Since we were returning from a hastily planned trip to Vegas the night before, we decided to book a room at SeaTac Airport. We spent an unremarkable four hours at the Red Lion Seattle Airport before catching the shuttle they shared with MasterPark to the terminal, really in walking distance just across the street.

The prize package I had won didn’t include First Class travel but fortunately our elite status in Continental’s program got us vaunted on both segments. We checked in at the blue carpet, breezed through security, lounged in the Presidents Club for 15 minutes and then headed to the gate. Continental had implemented a new “elite access” program that included a special boarding line so no matter at what point in the boarding process we arrived at the gate we could cut in front of the have-nots. We settled into seats 6A and B in the 757-200 and declined the offered headphones in favor of our matched set of Boses. We pushed back eight minutes early for the uneventful flight. Breakfast was a fruit plate with a choice of eggs and Canadian bacon or Special K. They were out of the cereal by the time they reached us but we both preferred the protein breakfast anyway, although Shortstack didn’t have to say “Canadian” bacon because she’s from Canada. The movie was It Runs in the Family with Kirk Douglas and son Michael, an entertaining if a bit jumbled close-to-home story for the elder Douglas about a stroke victim’s relationship with his family. We declined the hot cookie and landed early in Houston.

We had about an hour until our next flight so we visited the much larger North Presidents Club at IAH. There was no high-speed Internet but I checked email and surfed around a bit at low speed while Shortstack brought me a complimentary Diet Coke. When it came time, we strolled back to gate C-18 where we found many familiar faces and a couple of people wearing UltimateBet logo apparel. I smelled money and looked over to see a pile of ones at the elbow of Howard “Bub” (The Professor) Lederer sitting with wife Suzie, busily playing gin with some men I assumed were part of the Vegas contingent and connecting to the same flight we were to Aruba. “Looks like you’re cleaning up, Howard,” I said to the man who had busted my pocket Jacks with his Big Slick last time we had played together. “I’m cleaning up on ones,” he retorted. “I’m glad you’re getting something,” I said to the two-time World Poker Tour winner. “You’ve had a hell of a time.”

Shortstack and I boarded first and settled into 3E and F. I had Howard’s sister’s book, Poker Face, out to finish on the flight but I left it on the armrest as I watched the contestants parade past me. Annie Duke had brought her entire family, a younger member of which eagerly informed me that mommy’s sister wrote the book I was reading. Then Layne Flack came by. I recognized him but he didn’t recognize me until I told him I was Quiet Lion, who had eliminated him in the PartyPoker Sunday tourney a week earlier. “I hate you Quiet Lion” he had chatted on line. I had told him I’d see him in Aruba but made good on it a bit earlier. Two empty seats in First Class remained and Shortstack laid me 8-to-5 that they were for Howard and Suzie. Sure enough, forced to give up the gin game when final boarding was called they filled up 2A and C and soon we were off.

The 737-700 waited in Houston ramp traffic awhile but when we took off the captain still estimated a half-hour-early arrival. I studied Poker Face for any last-minute clues to beating Howard. The same movie we had just seen was on board instead of the one they were supposed to show so they showed it again. Shortstack watched it, having slept through part of the first showing, but ended up sleeping through the same part again. I read. Lunch was a choice of steak sandwich or chicken salad. I had the former and Shortstack the latter. Both were light on meat but tasty and came with a thin chowder served piping hot with oyster crackers. Dessert was a wafer of Ghirardelli chocolate plus a hot chocolate-chip cookie later in the flight. We landed a half-hour early in Aruba.

The UltimateBet prize package included a week at the Holiday Inn but they offered a Hyatt upgrade for extra money. I paid the extra but it turned they were talking about the Hyatt Regency Aruba and not Shana Hiatt. Our Diamond status with Hyatt got us upgraded to the Regency Club level, otherwise known as the top floor, where we had a standard room with a partial ocean view. We hastily unpacked and went down to the beach to attend the welcome party. There were some scary deep-fried snacks there but we decided to get some real dinner and strolled along the beach to Azzurro, the Italian restaurant where the final table of the big tournament is held. We eyed the verandah and tried to imagine how it would look set up for the big showdown Saturday. After dinner Howard and I watched the Red Sox even up the American League Championship Series 2-2.

Cinderella Story

There was a Limit Hold ‘Em warm-up tournament Tuesday afternoon so I entered it and didn’t get put at Phil Hellmuth, Jr.’s table for the first time. I did, however get to sit with Card Player columnist Jeff Shulman and last year’s UltimateBet Poker Classic champion Juha Helppi. Juha had taped a hilarious commercial for UltimateBet that ran on World Poker Tour in which they keep referring to him as the “Cinderella story” as he nods and looks tough. At the end he turns and says, in his thick Finnish accent, “Who is this Cinderella anyway?”

There was no Cinderella story for me, though, and I was eliminated in time to watch most of Game 5 of the ALCS. Shulman took most of my chips, beating my Ace-King with an Ace-Ten that paired on the flop, and my final gasp was an Ace-Six suited that didn’t catch and lost to pocket Kings. The Yankees beat the Red Sox to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

We had dinner with Howard and Andy at the very nice Italian restaurant across the street, Hostaria da Vittorio.

Double me, Jesus

Wednesday morning I was scheduled to play in the final table of an Omaha 8 or Better free roll. I had a short stack but caught some hands early to build it up to par before losing it back to a sleepy player whose on-line name was Teddybear. I came in fifth for a whopping $140 prize, deposited to my on-line account.

In the afternoon was another warm-up tourney, this one No-Limit Hold ‘Em. I started at a pretty tough table with two players with World Series of Poker championship bracelets and superstar Men “The Master” Nguyen to my left. I outlasted Men and held my own when Chris “Jesus” Ferguson sat down three seats to my left. I had met Chris before and he was just as kind and friendly during a game as he had been then despite his intimidating black clothes and hat and long hair and beard. I could see why they started up this whole religion around him. He had been on TV slicing bananas with playing cards so I made him promise not to throw any at me but he wouldn’t promise not to beat me. I lost two big hands with Ace-King and my stack dwindled to practically nothing as the blinds grew. With 525 in chips left and seeing the 100-200 blinds coming my way I saw a pair of Eights and pushed all in under the gun. “Double me Jesus!” I yelled. “Why me?” said Chris. Unfortunately the woman two seats to my left had pocket Queens and I was out of the contest. The Red Sox came from behind to send the series into a final deciding game.

We had a delicious dinner with Andy, Annie Duke, and several of the guys with the best looking wives and girlfriends at El Gaucho, a downtown steak-and-seafood restaurant. As a rule I don’t eat dessert but the tiramisu cake was superbly done with frozen filling so Shortstack and I split just one piece although Shortstack claimed having two bites did not constitute “splitting.” We took a cab back to the Holiday Inn and discovered I had drawn the 8 a.m. session for the big tourney tomorrow so we headed back to the Hyatt after a brief hi to Erik Seidel. I had my work cut out for me: world champion Tom McEvoy was to be at my table. I looked for Phil Hellmuth, Jr.’s name but it was nowhere to be found. I guessed he’d wander in just before the start of the afternoon session and sign up. That was good, I thought, because it would give me a big advantage against him on Friday when he would be working on very little sleep.

Over the top

We got a wake-up call for 7 a.m. and as a backup I set Lionfish to play Al Hirt’s “Java” at the same time, actually 4 a.m. by Lionfish’s clock, which I keep on Pacific Time. I walked over to the Holiday Inn and signed in. The tourney started on time and to my delight I didn’t recognize anyone at the table although there were three empty seats when we started. After only a few minutes, however, two of them filled in: with Phil Ivey, who made it to three World Poker Tour final tables in the inaugural season, and none other than Howard “Bub” (The Professor) Lederer. The third seat remained empty and Jack McClelland finally took away the blinded-off stack and a player sat down there. I saw Phil Hellmuth, Jr., at another table. “At least that streak has been broken,” I thought. With those two at the table I decided to practice my folding skills for a few hours.

It was a while before we lost anyone but eventually the player to my right busted. With 225 players in the morning flight, I can’t explain how I knew but I said it for all to hear: “It’s going to be Phil Hellmuth, Jr.” Sure enough, Jack broke his table and sent him on over to add to my misery. With him raising every other pot and Phil Ivey calling every other raise I was afraid to play anything but Pocket Rockets and when I did, no one called me. The blinds went up and my stack went down. Meanwhile Barry Shulman, Jeff’s dad and publisher of Card Player, sat down at the table as did Gus, the Costa Rican champion from yesterday. Finally, with three minutes to go and the blinds at 300/600, I was on the button and it folded around to Phil Hellmuth, Jr., on my right, who made a standard raise of 1800. I looked at my cards and saw Ace-Ten. I had 6400 chips left and it was costing almost 2000 to play each round so I figured I might not have a better chance. I thought there was a good chance he had Ace-rag, two paints, or a small pair and an even better chance he would not call so I shoved all in. The blinds folded and Phil deliberated for a bit before calling. We flipped over our cards and I saw Nine-Nine, one of the better hands he might have had but only a 13-to-10 favorite over my two overcards so I still had a decent chance. When the flop came up empty I was ready to call it a day but a Ten came on the turn and I doubled up against Phil.

“Unbelievable!” said Phil. “Why do they think they can do this to me? Come over the top with Ace-Ten? Why? Why?”

“Phil,” I said, “you magnificent bastard! I read your book!

The clock ticked off and I finished with 15,575 chips, over a 50% increase from my start. Phil Hellmuth, Jr., finished with around 14,000 and Howard, playing tight through his drought of cards, had only 8,000 or so. Phil Ivey had accumulated a nice stack with his high-pressure tactics paying off. They bagged and tagged all the chips in preparation for the resumption of play tomorrow morning at ten, at which time, thankfully, we would all redraw for new tables.

We had a passable midafternoon meal at Tony Roma’s across the street from the Holiday Inn with the Canadians. I used the Hyatt business center’s DSL line to download 647 spam messages at 40 cents/minute and then headed down to the outdoor bar, which was reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s in Cocktail, with Howard and Phil Ivey and his wife to watch the Red Sox blow yet another season.

Big Slick

There were about 225 people left out of 435 and I was right about in the middle. I found myself third-shortest stack at a table with three of the top ten chip leaders and nobody I recognized. I was very happy about this. The blinds were 500/1000 with a 100 ante and I had 17,200. The button had barely gone around the table once when the kid on my right pushed his meager 1500 all in. I peeked at my cards and saw Ace-King offsuit so I raised it another 6000 hoping everyone else would fold. But it was not to be: the player to my left reraised it to 15,000 — almost all my chips. No guts, no glory, I thought, and I pushed all in. He called and flipped over pocket Cowboys. The original raiser showed Ace-Jack of hearts. That meant only two Aces left in the deck and they didn’t appear so I was out of the contest, finishing about 180th, much better than in Atlantic City but out of the money even though they paid out an astounding 100 places.

Shortstack and I went for a walk up and down the beach, watched the chameleons scurry, and had a little lunch before I played in the consolation tournament at 3 p.m. I played like a moron though and busted out early. Jeff Shulman told me he never plays in consolation tournaments for that very reason. He also told me I should have laid down Big Slick to the reraise. I wish I had, but who knew he had Kings? Well, there it is. Jeff’s dad Barry Shulman, who I had eliminated in Atlantic City, was still in it with a big pile of chips but Howard, Annie, and finally Andy were out. Andy made a $600 profit on his $4100 buy-in.

We changed our return flight to tomorrow and had a nice dinner with Andy, Howard, and Suzie at Gasparito’s, a nice Aruban-cuisine restaurant. A guitarist approached our table and explained politely that he was an independent businessman before he proceeded to play “Girl form Ipanema.” I readied a generous tip but he played a second song, and when that was over segued into “Stairway to Heaven.” Despite my pointing to the sign on the wall he played the whole thing sans vocals except for a plaintive “make me wonder” now and again. We broke into polite applause and delivered a pair of generous tips.

After dinner we returned to the tourney room to watch the field whittle down to the final six who would be on TV. T.J. Cloutier, the Canadian football player turned poker pro, had a huge chip lead but lost it with three quick bad beats and was gone. When it got down to 10, David “Devilfish” Ulliott, who had appeared last season on WPT, was in as was our two friends Barry Shulman and Erick “E-Dog” Lindgren, who had been with me at Phil Hellmuth, Jr.’s table in Atlantic City and had made the final table in Paris this season, which hadn’t yet aired. Both had a nice pile of chips and with seven players left it was finally Devilfish who pushed his short stack all-in with Jack-Seven and got called by Jack-Deuce. Devilfish was a huge favorite to double up or at least push but a Deuce hit on the flop and it was all over. Barry and E-Dog had made the final table.


Shortstack and I headed over to Azzurro to watch the start of the final table before we had to leave for our flight and ran into Vince Van Patten on the walkway beneath. I resisted the temptation to say, “Vince! What happened? I had Big Slick and I lost! I thought you said it was a monster hand!” Instead, we walked up the wooden stairs and watched the crew set up. One of the contestants had been wearing his lucky Red Sox cap but the no-logos policy of the WPT meant he had to take it off. He demurred and eventually ended up wearing the cap with a patch of duct tape over the B.

Soon Shana Hiatt arrived, bright and bubbly, and said to no one in particular, “This is my favorite location.” I smiled like an idiot. She walked over to an area that had been cordoned off for interviews and put on her microphone. She seemed to be having difficulty attaching the clip to her bikini top so I started over to help but Shortstack threw a body block on me and by the time I came to my senses she was done. We watched them film a little “B reel,” asking to audience members to feign reactions so they could splice them into the show. We wished Barry and E-Dog good luck and watched what we could for a few minutes until it was time to head back to the hotel and pack. We took one step down the stairs but I said to Shortstack, “Is it OK if I just say goodbye to Shana?” She sighed. “Go ahead.” I trotted over to the barricade and saw her sitting and watching the monitor. “Shana!” I said, waving. She looked up and smiled as she pretended to recognize me. “Oh hi!” she said. “I’m out early again,” I said, “but—I’ll see you in Connecticut!” “OK!” she said and smiled and waved goodbye. I wasn’t sure but I thought there might have been a little something going on there. Shortstack grabbed my ear and led me off to the hotel in pain.

A 20-minute cab ride got us to the airport and 45 minutes later, having passed through five different checkpoints, we were at the gate. We were once again vaunted on both segments so the flight would be a comfortable if lengthy one. Our connection in Houston had two different flight numbers and two different crews but it was the same airplane, a 737-700. They showed It Runs in the Family for the third time so we watched our own DVDs on our laptops. I watched Rounders for the first time since I started playing poker and it made a lot more sense. I made a mental note to have some of Teddy KGB’s dialogue handy for future WPT events. We skipped Legally Blonde II since we planned to see it on the second segment but they showed Agent Cody Banks instead. Shortstack and I napped on and off and we landed in Seattle a half-hour early after the long flight. We got Lioncar out of hock and drove home in the cool Seattle night.

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