Poker is Life

Self Awareness and Self Improvement through the game of Texas Hold'em

  1. 2011-10-29 07:12:54

    Tales from the Felt #9: Chip Stories

    It?s been well over a year since my last entry of ???Tales from the Felt.? It?s not that I haven?t been playing poker ? just that nothing very outrageous has happened in the past year. I used to play with the Behan?s group in Burlingame. That group of guys was very rough around the edges. The bar itself was rough around the edges. By the end of 2010, for some reason the group started to fizzle out. By around the holidays it got to be difficult to even get three people together for a tiny Texas hold???em tournament.

    So earlier this year I started my own new league at a great old tavern called Ausiello?s in Belmont. It?s a very different environment. A bigger, classier, much nicer bar ? but it doesn?t have nearly the edginess of Behan?s. I think part of the reason is that they only serve beer and wine ? no hard alcohol. That definitely keeps the tempers down and the arguments to a minimum. But alas, a lot less to write about.

    Which is why this installation of ?Tales from the Felt? will not be my stories, but the stories of a certain floor manager of a certain local card house. ... Okay, his name is Chip. At least that's what they?ve been calling him ever since I started playing poker at Artichoke Joe?s in San Bruno. I don?t go there that often. I can?t afford it. Seems most of the time I end up losing $100 in my usual game of 3/6 limit.

    But back to Chip. He?s a white-haired, tall, slightly overweight guy who definitely gives off the air of being in charge. And he should because he is. He?ll do everything from place new players at tables to settle disputes during games. He?s kind of reserved, but you always get the sense that he knows what?s going on. I had never considered it until recently, but I should have known that he is apparently a very skilled poker player.

    It was just last Sunday that I?d heard of this. Andr??a was out running 17 miles in training for an upcoming marathon, and I had a few hours to kill, so I stopped by the old casino. It was mellow as hell there on that late Sunday morning. In fact there was only one 3/6 table running at the time, so I put my name on the list. While I was waiting I moseyed up to the counter where Chip happened to be sitting at the moment. I said, ???Slow morning, eh?? ?Sure is. More than usual,? was his response.

    I paced around a bit more, observing the quiet action at the tables and noticing the regulars that I?d seen there on and off for about the past 5 years. And I recalled that there was one guy who used to be in there just about every time I was, and I hadn?t seen him in a few years. I went up to Chip again and said, ?Hey, you remember that guy Vince?? He looked a little puzzled. ?A tall, dark-skinned guy?? I said dark-skinned because I didn?t know what race the guy was. Could?ve been black, could?ve been Cambodian. Maybe some odd combo. ???Oh yeah,? said Chip. ?Do you know what ever happened to that guy?? I asked. But Chip didn?t know. He admitted that some people just vanished. They?d either moved, or died, or just stopped playing. ?Some people shouldn?t be playing at all,? said Chip. ???Some people have a problem, so I hope they suddenly wise up and stop playing. That?s why we have all these phone numbers around so people can call if they need help. I know most people wouldn?t ever call even if they knew they had a problem ? but even if just once in a while...???

    I told Chip that I didn?t think there was a very large percentage of people with problems. I told him that I had a LOT of friends who like to gamble, and I didn?t think even one of them had a problem. ?Well, I?VE seen a lot,? said Chip. ???Being around here you tend to see a lot of people with problems. Guys who are down and out, but they just keep pulling that money out and losing it.?

    This was the longest conversation I?d ever had with Chip. He?s usually all business, quickly walking here or there, or watching the tables like a hawk. It was a little uncomfortable quite frankly ??? but that was just my self-consciousness kicking in. As I started to wander away, Chip started yapping again...

    I learned that Chip used to be a pro poker player beginning back in the ?70s. He must have been a youngster then, because he doesn?t look more than 10 years older than me. He used to play with the likes of Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim. He mentioned that he was once poised to win a whole lot of money from those guys. He?d somehow convinced them to play a round of golf against him for a hefty sum. But that at the last minute he got ratted out. At the time Chip was what?s called a ?scratch golfer.? (I?ve only recently become familiar with this term after watching an entire season of Ray Romano?s ?Men of a Certain Age? on Xfinity.) I?ve heard and read lots of stories about the old pros and the various things they like to bet on, not the least of which is the game of golf. Chip might have ended up one of those great stories had someone not blown the whistle. ???I was from Montana. I only used to go down to Vegas a few times a year, so they didn?t know how good I was.???

    Somehow we got onto the topic of cheating. Chip informed me that he played high-stakes limit. I believe it was $40/$80, something like that. Which isn?t that high by today?s standards. Not even then, Chip told me. He informed me that he would have played higher ? but the higher the stakes, the more likely there was cheating going on. So he played the highest stakes he could where there wasn?t cheating.

    ?I always knew when they were cheating. One time I was playing a game and I hit four-of-a-kind. But I?d seen one of the guys cheating. I knew he had a straight flush. So I mucked the four-of-a-kind. Well the guy nearly fell out of his chair. I hadn?t shown him the hand ? I just mucked it. And he was shocked, because he knew what I had folded. But he couldn?t say anything because that would?ve given away that he was cheating.? Chip went on to say that it was the only thing he could?ve done. There was $1600 dollars in the pot at that point, but he gave it up! ?Hey, better to lose the 1600 than to lose everything.?

    ?That doesn?t go on that much these days, does it,? I suggested. ???Oh, no... no... Not anymore. That was back in the ???70s and ???80s. Some of the old downtown casinos were okay, like the Golden Nugget and Binion?s; but the Stardust was the worst. That?s the place that the movie ???Casino? was based on. I knew all those guys. The guy that Joe Pesci?s character was based on ? he was much worse than he was portrayed in the movie.? As riveted as I was by these great inside stories, I still had the urge to get away. Just my nature I guess. But I told myself that I needed to change my attitude ? alter the game plan. This was quite an opportunity ? a rare moment. This old pro was opening up to me, telling me first-hand stories about the world I?ve been obsessed with for the past half a decade. So I just relaxed and leaned into that cool, rib-high, black granite counter top, looked Chip in the eye and let him tell his stories.

    ?One time a friend and I said, ???Let?s go down to the Stardust, just sit at the bar and see what?s going on.?? With a few hand motions Chip mapped out the basic layout of the bar in relation to the poker tables. ???My friend and I just sat there drinking beers and watching the cheating. We couldn?t BELIEVE what we were seeing! Guys passing cards to one another...???

    Chip was really on a roll. He told me how he?d recently cashed in the casino employees event in the World Series of Poker. Silly me, I?d always thought that event only allowed the employees of that particular casino to enter. No. The event is open to ANY casino employee, including the floor manager of a small card room in northern California. I think Chip said he ended up winning like $50,000. Or was it 50th place. ... Irrelevant. The guy did well.

    He?d said earlier how playing poker for a living really became just like a job, having to keep track of all your winnings and stats and tracking other players. And I?m thinking, ?But what you do now is just a job. Why not play poker?? So I asked him, ?Do you ever think of going back to it?? ?No, I can?t. I?ve got a wife now, and a three-year-old.? ?A THREE-year-old?? I said, immediately a little worried he?d think I was implying he was way too old to have a three-year-old. Which, well... yeah, he kind of is. But Chip didn?t flinch. He said, ?I?m taking her to Disneyland in a month. I?m thinking of staying at The Commerce Hotel.? ?Yes!? I said. I knew he was going there. The Commerce is a great place. Biggest poker room in the world. All the pros play there. Chip smirked a little. ?I?m gonna ask my wife if we can stay there. Can you imagine? I?m taking my kid to Disneyland, but I wanna play poker. ... Anyway, she?ll probably say yes because she?ll know I?m gonna win.? Must be nice to have such confidence. I guess I?ve always thought of that level of skill as a kind of superpower: You can always pull it out of your back pocket when you feel like makin??? some quick cash. Oh yeah! ...

    We spoke about the pro players and what they were up against these days. We spoke of the successful tournament players and the kind of skills it must take to consistently end up in the money. I mentioned Johnny Chan, the only player ever to win two back-to-back World Series of Poker main events. Chip laughed a little, looked away for a second and said, ?I hate that guy. Yeah, he?s good. I?ve seen him make lay downs that are beyond comprehension. But he?s an asshole. I was dealing to him once at a place in Taho in about ?86. He lost to a bad beat, and he threw the cards at my face. One of the cards hit me right in the eye. I was so pissed, I stood up and knocked him out of his chair. I punched the guy right to the ground. I was pretty built then, so it took four guys to hold me back. They kicked him out of the casino.? Amazed, I said, ?They kicked HIM out of the casino?? Can you imagine that? An employee punches out one of the guests and they throw the guest out of the casino. Only in a poker room, and only in the ?80s. I?m sure things would be a lot different today.

    ?I ran into him a few years ago. We only said four words between us. There were a few other guys at this gathering. I shook hands with the others, and Johnny said, ???Fuck you.? And I said, ?Fuck you too.? ... Oh, that?s five words.? That may be the only math error I???ll ever catch Chip making.

    By the way, I didn?t end up playing at Artie?s that morning. A spot at the table had opened up, but I noticed a guy there who I?d played with before. He?d been criticizing everyone at the table the night I played with him ? players and dealers alike. He was a fat asshole, and at one point I?d opened up on him for griping about another player?s move. I said, ???You?re criticizing him because he doesn?t play the way YOU would play? Why don?t you keep your comments to yourself!? He?d just ignored me and watched the television up by the ceiling. He was honestly the only guy I?d ever told off at a poker table. Nope, Chip?s stories were enough for me on this nice Sunday morning. I didn???t need to play with that jackass again. I might have flung a card into his eye.

    ??2011 Philip Travisano

    Posted by Phil at 2011-10-29 07:12:54

Comments on “Tales from the Felt #9: Chip Stories ”

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