I love intriguing letters like this one that came from Reno, NV.: 'Dear Geno, my husband and I really enjoy your stories. We plaly games on line and often dine at some of the casinos in Reno where we live. You have written about being a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and gambler, especially poker player. We would like to know how you became a writer and which is more important to you -- writing or gambling Jan. B., Reno, NV.' Jan and her husband happen to live in one of my favorite cities in the world. The scenery in northern Nevada is spectacular, the people are colorful, and if you get tired of people watching, you can always search for the wild horses that dot the Nevada landscape. How did I become a writer?
Detroit, MIchigan is more than just the car making capital of the world -- it has the largest bad beat poker jackpot of all time. One million dollars. That's right. At the time of this writing, the bad beat jackpot at Motor City Casino, a 100,000-square foot casino in downtown Detroit, had reached the $1 million level. To collect it, four of a kind must be beaten by four of a kind or a straight flush, with both cards playing in Texas Hold'em.
One of the biggest mistakes beginning poker players make is playing in games that are too rich for their bankroll. I know this is a fact because, to my regret, I have done it myself. The truth is that most poker players are proud of the way they play. They also sometimes overestimate their talent level, thinking they are better than they really are. In my younger days I learned to play chess. It was fun and much more challenging than checkers. I taught my children to play chess and we spent many happy hours going after the king.
It is never too early to make your New Year's resolution. Although the first day of 2018 is still three weeks away, I decided to put on my thinking cap and make resolutions to improve my life and increase my winnings at the gambling tables. I might add in these complex and ever changing times, that may be a formidable task, but I feel I am up to it. I am sure many of my readers have made New Year's resolutions in the past that they failed to keep. Shame on you! The power of choice is one of God's gifts given to all of us and anyone who falters in that department will not be invited to my house for coffee, tea, tequila or a glass of organic wine.
Infamous bank robber Willie Sutton was quoted as saying he robbed banks because 'that's where the money is.' The same statement can be made about why professional poker players spend their days in casino poker rooms. Those poker pros are slippery characters. They wear dark glasses to hide their eyes. They chew toothpicks to give themselves a Mafia gangster look. They would check-raise their grandmother or aunt. And they have little mercy on putting a player all-in regardless of the player's financial circumstances. Johnny Moss became famous for one of his quotes.
Every poker player goes through it at one time or another during his career: the cards turn against you and there seems to be no escape. It doesn't often happen, thank goodness, but when it does, it can be ugly. I have had the cards turn against me on several occasions in the past. I even experienced it last week in a game that turned miserable. Here is how it starts. You go into a hand with perfect starting cards. In a Texas Hold'em game, you are dealt pocket aces or kings. They are red. The flop comes with high cards, all black -- and no aces. Someone comes out betting and somebody raises. If you have an instinct for survival, you get out of the hand fast.
One thing a poker player looks forward to when he enters a new casino is the bad beat. How much is it? What hands do you need to qualify for it? When can I get my seat at a table?
Over my many years of playing poker, I have hit several bad beat jackpots. I won $19,000 when my four jacks were beat by four queens at the Orleans Casino and Resort in Las Vegas. I picked up another $11,000 in another bad beat jackpot and won $6,000 in a third one. I don't know who originally came up with the concept for a bad beat jackpot, but it's a gem.
Poker players love to talk. Oh, they don't show it. When they are sitting at the table and absorbed in the process of winning money, their stone faces seem to indicate talking is for the birds. But get them in a good conversation and the proper frame of mind, and they will talk your ear off. Like last night. I started off the conversation at our usual $8-16 Omaha High-Low game at Talking Stick Casino in Scottsdale, AZ. I posted a question to the table: 'Who do you think is the greatest poker player ever, living or dead?' Nobody answered at first. Then a silver-haired player who appeared to be in his 70s said, 'Stu Ungar. No question about it. There was nobody like him.'
'It takes courage to be a good poker player,' Doyle Brunson once told me in an interview. I must have not been listening to him very carefully because Brunson's words failed to really register with me until recently. Now I know exactly what he meant. Doyle developed poker courage early in his card-playing career. Over the years I have seen it exhibited by other players and I have used it myself. It is an awesome talent and a real gift to the player who understands how it works. Let's begin this learning session in this way. You have just raised the pot with a typical raising hand -- A-K or A-Q, suited or otherwise.
There was an old abandoned strip mine near my home in Western Pennsylvania where my friends and I used to hang out. Nobody went there except my buddies and me. It was outlaw country. There we could smoke cigarettes and drink beer. We also had a dirt road where we could go drag racing. Since no cops were in the area, we could rev up our engines and make the cars go as fast as possible. Remember James Dean in 'Rebel Without A Cause'? That was us. One thing I liked to do, and I practiced it a lot, was to be driving fast and suddenly wheel the car around in a reverse direction. It was dangerous. If you did it too fast, you ran the danger of tipping the vehicle over.
I was stationed on Site 04, a Nike Hercules Missile Site, on Mt. Gleason in Southern California as a radar technician when a sudden blizzard socked us in and cut us from communication with the rest of the world. Site 04 was one of 16 missile sites surrounding the greater Los Angeles area. It was the highest Nike Hercules missile sites in the Continental United States. The only one operating at a higher altitude was in Thule, Greenland. The mountain lies halfway between Pasadena and Palmdale. Its highest peak is more than a mile high at 6,250 feet. The snow came down so hard that 20-foot drifts accumulated and the main access road was totally blocked.
I began writing for the detective magazines in the late 1970s while working as a reporter for the Phoenix Gazette. It was fun, the pay was good, and there were plenty of true crime cases to draw from in Arizona. Official Detective published my first crime article. It was about a slugging bandit named Baqui Montez, a native of Cuba who was living with an exotic dancer named Carol King who performed at Edie Biali's Carnival Room on Indian School Road in Phoenix. Police nicknamed Baqui The Slugger because he would beat up his victims after robbing them. Carol gave me an interview and her photos along with the story earned me a nice paycheck.
'Dear Geno,' a member writes. 'I need somebody's help. My son is an incredibly bright student who is in his junior year at a liberal arts college in California. He is passing all his classes with top grades. However, for the past year he has been playing poker on-line and has been doing well at it. My problem? He wants to drop out of college to play poker full time. My husband is a successful businessman in San Diego and we planned to take David in to run the family business. Now we don't know what to do. Will you please give us some advice. Mindy T., San Diego, CA.' Mindy, I feel for you and your husband.
Any time a group of people sits down at a poker table, a state of war exists. It doesn't matter if the individuals are friends or strangers. It doesn't matter what they do for a living or if they are retired, whether they are school teachers, secretaries, government workers, attorneys, doctors or even ordained ministers. When they are holding cards and glaring across a green felt table at each other, they are out for blood. During my many years of trying to learn how to play poker, I have witnessed numerous acts of violence or near-violence in a poker room setting. One time I saw a losing player who had been drinking get up and punched a dealer right out of his chair. Then he fled from the casino with security officers in pursuit.
People who face the greatest danger of losing their bankroll in a casino are the ones who have just won a lot of money gambling. In my many years of being around casinos, I have seen it happen time and time again; a person gets lucky at the slots, blackjack, poker or some other game. Instead of spending the money wisely, they take the foolish path of trying to parlay their small fortune into an even greater one -- and they lose what they won along with a lot more. These temporary winners are full of big ideas. The reason, 'I did it once and I can do it again -- only bigger this time.
Is poker addictive? Doyle Brunson seems to think it is. Several years ago he was having some physical problems that were so severe he had to give up poker for a while and attend to his ills. To his surprise, he began suffering from withdrawal symptoms. He was shocked by how powerful they were. The more I think about it, the more I realize that poker, like all forms of gambling, can become addictive. I know that each time I return to Las Vegas and visit my favorite casinos, I see the same faces at the same games day after day. It's almost as though they live at the casino and some even refer to it as their second home.
When I moved to St. Kitts in the Eastern Caribbean in 2003, road rage did not exist on the island. I had been hired as editor of The Observer, a weekly politically independent newspaper that served the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Kenneth Williams, a native of Trinidad, was the publisher. His brother, George, picked me up at the airport to drive me to my new home. George was a charismatic person who briefed me on the island federation along the way. 'You will find paradise here,' he said. He had tuned the car radio to a local station that was playing reggae music.
Who could forget the Mel Brooks comedy, 'The Producers,' starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder? Mostel portrayed Max Bialystock, a conniving producer of plays, and Wilder was his timid accountant. The plot has Bialystock overselling himself to investors. Facing possible prison time for fraud, he comes up with a desperate plan; he will produce the worst play in history, one that will surely flop, and this will get his investors off his back. He accepts an option on a musical written by a bizarre playwright and the production, 'Springtime For Hitler,' becomes a major hit.
Brownsville is a small community next to the Monongahela River about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Settled as a trading post in 1785, the town is known for its old buildings, some of them dating back 100 years or more. The population consists of Russians, Germans, Italians, Hungarians and other ethnic mixes that originated in Europe. They came to America with a suitcase and a dream after hearing the streets of this country were paved with gold. It's a scenic community with bridges, old frame houses that need a paint job, and white picket fences that remind visitors of a Norman Rockwell painting.
What a difference a day makes. That was the title of a popular song by vocalist Dinah Washington during my generation and it is also very true of life. Especially if you happen to be a gambler. It's a fact that regardless of your skills, every gambler will have those losing days. It doesn't matter whether the game is blackjack, dice, slots, poker, baccarat, roulette, sports betting, or horse racing, it is inevitable that some days will turn out bad for you. But life does have its rainbows.
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