Cheating At The Hustler

Cheating At The Hustler

When I was running the banking group at the Hustler, I knew I was probably being cheated because it wasn’t cheat proof.  Your own employees, the casino employees, and the players may be looking for an opportunity to cheat or steal.  If you’re losing on the square, winning and losing is part of the business.  The problem is that cheating and/or stealing is not easy to overcome since it reduces your odds of winning to zero.  When you quit a poker game, the action is over.  In the banking business, it’s stressful going to sleep not sure of how much you may be down when you wake up and then you don’t even know if it was legitimate.  When our best, popular, and extremely attractive high limit pai gow dealer was caught trying to steal a $5k chip, I wondered how many she had gotten away with.

When I took over as the general manager, I now had access to our surveillance manager named Steve Greene that was exceptionally good.  In the 1st incident, he called me up to watch a heads-up blackjack game.  The player won $150k in one shoe,  cashed out and left.  He now showed me an earlier video, where he points out that as the floorman is returning with the shoe as he is setting up the game, in the dark hallway he exchanges shoes with another man walking by him.  Of course we fired the floorman but labor laws prohibit us from putting the reason in his files.  My job is to protect the interests of the casino so I can’t inform the banking group what occurred to protect us from any liability.

Another time Steve called me to the surveillance room and he showed me a pai gow game at a stand-up table.  After the cards are dealt out into 7 equal stacks of 7 cards, there are 3 left for the muck.  A cup with 3 dice is shaken and the total determines which seat gets the 1st stack and the subsequent stacks are passed out in a clockwork direction.  The button signifies the dealer and it is passed clockwise after a seat has held it for 2 hands.  In this game, the button is buying the corporation.  In other words, the button is paying the corporation to cover its bet.  The button receives the stack (hand) with the joker 7 hands in a row.  The joker gives the hand a tremendous advantage.  Steve said the odds of the button getting the joker 7 hands in a row was longer than hitting the California lottery.  He explained that the total of the dice which could not be read by the camera didn’t matter because the casino dealer, the corporation banker, and the players were all colluding.  They knew which stack had the joker and placed that hand in the button position.  Another group to be banned.

One time the jackpot was $15,000.  It was hit, and procedure was for surveillance to review the tapes until the jackpot was paid out.  I got called up to the surveillance room.  Steve showed me on tape how the dealer goes to his locker and pulls out a set-up (two decks).  He takes it to the poker room and hands it to a new young female chip runner and points to the table for her to take the set-up.  When he pushes that table, the girl brings him the new set-up.  He spreads the 1st deck and puts the other one in the slot on the tray.  After he deals a few hands, the hand comes up with his accomplices in the right position to win the jackpot.  He looks at a card like something is wrong with it and breaks it.  He then exchanges decks.  He takes the new deck and he spreads it but doesn’t scramble it.  In fact as he is picking up the deck, he fumbles it and has to straighten it back to its original order.  He then acts like he’s shuffling the cards but they never even interlace.  He then squares the deck and cuts it.  Now he turns and when he turns back, he puts the top of the deck back on the top of the other half.  He’s taken the deck, hasn’t scrambled, haven’t shuffled it and hasn’t cut it.  Now the jackpot is hit and his to accomplices are screaming for joy.  I told him to have the head of security take the tapes to the D.A. and have them press charges.  I followed up on it a couple of weeks later, and I was told the D.A. declined to press charges.  “Why?” I was asking shaking my head in puzzlement.  She said that he hadn’t actually stolen anything and it would be difficult to show intent.  In Nevada, he would be charged, convicted and blackballed.  We couldn’t even put it in his file.  A few months later he was dealing at the Bellagio and I told the cardroom manager Doug Dalton who immediately fired him.

Skeletons with flesh.

A Skeleton With Flesh

A Skeleton With Flesh

“Never be Shocked by What a Skeleton with Flesh Does!”…Puggy Pearson

The Bicycle Casino Cheating Scandal

Another title could be How Stupid Can I Be?”

In light of the current cheating scandals, I thought this would be timely.

In the spring of 1988,  the action had been fast and furious at the Bicycle Casino since the previous summer.  While playing a round of golf with swing shift manager Craig Kaufman, I was asked by him if I noticed any cheating by Rick Riolo?  He told me that Freddie Deeb had claimed that the floorman Danny had send him over.  Sending someone over is when a person sees another person’s hole cards and signals it to their opponent.  I was there during that incident because Freddie had called me over and told me what he thought right after it happened as Rick was stacking a big pot from Freddie.  Nothing further came from that incident but I knew Rick was a cheat.  At the WSOP, he had come over to the game at the Horseshoe how he had just won $150k in one shoe at the Golden Nugget.  He implied to me that it wasn’t luck or counting.  He called himself “Fair Rick” which was ironic.  He and his partner Larry Smith also booked sports fairly big and Doyle said they always paid. They both played tight but Rick was aggressive and Larry was a tight, weak.

I came in one afternoon to the Bike and my horse, “Laughing” Alan Schultz was playing Larry a $20k freezeout heads-up limit hold-em.  I was surprised Larry would be playing Alan heads-up as that was not his game.  I was even more surprised when Alan lost.  I should have followed up with a review with Alan but I was usually too busy playing.

A short time later, Larry came and proposed a heads-up game with me.  I was surprised but accepted.  I should have gotten the message when Rick came in while we were playing and when he saw it was Larry, he blurted out, “What are you doing?” to Larry but immediately turned away.  I thought he was admonishing Larry for playing me, when I should have figured out that he had realized what Larry was doing, causing him to immediately shut up.  I lost about $25k to him, but I went to another game until I had gotten winner.  The next time he offered to play was on a Saturday night.  The deck ran all over me and I was up $14k.  I thought if I can’t win today, I can never win.  True thoughts but not for the reason, I was thinking.  I slowly but surely lost back and I was losing $25k about 3 am.  The place was empty so I thought there wasn’t another game for me to get even.  Then Frank Mariani walked in.  He was on European time and had just woken up.  We let him in the game and by 5 am the game was full.  Only Frank could fill up a game in the wee hours on a Sunday morning.  Larry started to lose back about $10k and he made up an excuse that he had to go.  Of course, I again got winner before I quit.  I’m not sure when this happened but I had asked for a set-up.  After we just started using it, another set-up was brought in and I asked why?  I was just told the floorman told him and I thought it was just a communications mix-up.

The 3rd time we’re playing, it’s in the afternoon and Eric Drache walked in and sat at the table.  I was losing $20k at the time.  Eric left after about 15 minutes and as I went to the restroom, I received a call from Chip Reese telling me, I had to quit the game.  By the time, I returned to the table, Larry had taken off.  I got into another game and was winner before I quit.

Eric told me that he had seen white on white on the cards and Larry was so obvious that he had leaned over the table while I had turned to eat my soup to look at the marks.  He also didn’t know who was involved including management so only confided in Chip initially.  The casino manager was John Sutton and he told me he was mad that Eric hadn’t reported it right away to him.

I met with George Hardie a couple of days later and he offered me a check for $20k which I accepted and signed a non-disclosure.  After I heard 4 high-limit players had $50k in markers torn up each, I felt naïve.  I was cheated out of $70k in 3 sessions by Larry and $20k through my horse for a total of $90,000.  I overcame it after Larry left and the game was on the square.  I had forgotten about the heads-up with Alan but he should have realized it and come to at least talk to me about it.

Freddie Deeb was correct about Rick Riolo and Floorman Danny being involved in cheating but not the method.  Danny was bringing in cards that were marked with white on white wrapped in cellophane just like a brand new deck.  The marks can be seen by the trained eye only at an angle.  Referred to as paper, when you’re playing against marked cards, you never get action when you have a hand, get raised when bluffing, and never see their hand.  The feeling is getting totally outplayed.

The Sunset Hotel Game

This is a long story but this is a summary.  There were 2 games about a month apart.  The host at that time had an impeccable reputation.  I was told I was a replacement for Jack Keller and like him, I had to give up a 25% freeroll in order to play in the game.  I tried to negotiate but it was non-negotiable.  I won $32k and was paid $24k.

I didn’t think about the game much until I received another call when I returned from my 2nd Annual Yosh Nakano Invitational Golf Tournament hosted by Caesar’s Tahoe.  Again, I had to make the same deal but I decided I didn’t have much to lose as I had promised myself a $20k budget.  By midnight, I was the last man standing on my initial $10k cash buy-in.  When I lost that, I tried to leave but was lured into playing $20k 3 way freezeouts.  I won one in between and thought I was being cheated but I knew without proof, I would have to pay my debt.  By 9 am, I owed $250k.  To make a long story short, I proved that there was an infrared camera in the ceiling and a person in the next room that was reading the marks and sending the info to the 2 players involved.  Everyone in the 2nd game was returned their losses totaling $130k & I got my $10k cash back.  They claimed there was no cheating in the 1st game pointing to the fact that I had won $32k.  The fact is that I never played a hand with the 2 cheaters and doubled up twice in the last round when one of the players shoved all-in twice and I picked up AA & QQ which both held up.

Graveyard at the Commerce

I must have learned my lesson from a decade earlier because a tight weak player came to me at the Commerce and challenged me to a heads-up $400-$800 game.  If the game was on the square, I didn’t think he had a chance but I turned him down as I felt something was up.  I heard later that he had been caught as well as the chip runner bringing in the marked cards.  Unfortunately, I also heard Ray and Johnny World had played him heads-up and had lost about $70k each.

It might sound unbelievable but several years later, he had promised the general manager of the Bike that he wouldn’t cheat if he could be reinstated.  As the high limit host, I kept a wary eye on him but he turned out to be one of my livest player.  In a $100-$200 mix game, he lost $20k and over the course of months, about $100k.


In the 6 games, I knew I was cheated, I ended up winning overall but I’m not naïve to think that there are other times when I didn’t know I was being cheated.

You Can’t Run Twice As Fast As I Can Hop

You Can’t Run Twice As Fast As I Can Hop

Prop Bets (Proposition Bets)

Damon Runyon whose stories were the basis for “Guys and Dolls” was supposed to have said this to his son: “Son I can’t leave much to you in the way of wealth but I can leave impart with you this piece of wisdom.  One day you may run into a man with a flower in his lapel.  He may say to you, I’ll bet this flower can squirt grapefruit juice in your eye.  I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but son I can assure you that if you bet that man, you will end up with grapefruit juice in your eye!”

This young man I met at the hotel bar in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby could have used that advice.  As I was having a drink waiting for a couple of friends, a young man also waiting struck up a conversation with me, probably because I’m Asian and the state had 1% of that ethnicity at that time.  He asked where was I from?  I told him I was from L.A. and was going to play in the Phil Hellmuth Poker Tournament that evening.  “Oh do you play poker there?” he asked.  I answered, “Yes, I play poker in L.A. and in Vegas.”  He said, “Oh, I’ve been to Vegas, but that city is dangerous!”  I asked why?  “Well, you can lose money on the sidewalk.”  “How?” I inquired.  He said, “Well, there was this guy on the sidewalk and he was taking bets on guessing which cup had the ball.”  “That’s the 3 card monte,” I exclaimed.  “It’s the oldest hustle in the book.”  “Yeah, but they were other people in the crowd that would win!” he defended himself.

In the movie “Lucky You”, Eric Bana plays Huck Cheever who must accomplish feats to enter the World Series of Poker.  Those prop bets were based on the bets Huck Seed would propose and bets would be made by the skeptics.  He bet that he could do a headstand for 58 minutes.  He won it by doing it for an hour.  Huck also bet that he could play 3 rounds of golf in one day, walking with only a 5 iron and break 100 each time in the middle of the Las Vegas scorching hot summer.  Of course he won that.

Huck was a superb athlete at 6’6”.  He’s an excellent long distance runner, played basketball for Cal Tech, and can shoot golf in the 70’s.  I had made a $25k bet with him that he couldn’t beat me in a judo match with only 3 months to train on the premise that he couldn’t develop the skills needed to beat me.  This was based on the fact that Ken Gibo bragged that he had made black belt the fastest after only 1 year.  Fukushima Sensei always thought that had been a mistake as he lacked the maturity from such a rapid advancement.  It usually took at least 2 years of intensive training.  Shortly after we made that bet, Huck had walked up to the poker table and said, “I’ll bet there’s no woman in the world that can beat me in both a mile race and golf from the blue tees.”  I thought about it and was inclined to agree with him.  The woman would have to be a world-class runner and be able to shoot golf in the low 70’s from the back tees.  There might be someone in the world but finding her would be a massive task in the 90’s before google.  Unfortunately, a friend of mine called me over and said, “bet him.  I know someone.  I’ll take half.”  I chased after Huck and bet him $25k.  I said unfortunately because although Jim Salerno did know a girl who was an excellent golfer, she was not capable of beating Huck in a mile race.  Fortunately, Huck didn’t think he would beat me in judo since he hadn’t even started training so we decided to wash both bets.

Another statement Huck made was “No one can run twice as fast as I can hop.”  I mentioned that one while on a golf trip up to Lake Tahoe and someone took me up on the bet.  Although Huck is a much better athlete than me, it was only for $200 so I thought I would try it.  We saw a field and pulled the van over.  Unexpectedly, Tab had joined the race and started hopping and I turned my head to look at him.  The distraction caused me to lose my balance and I lost the race.  I honestly explained what had happened, but now my opponent wanted to do it again but for $2000 this time.  When I won, he thought I had hustled him by throwing the 1st race despite being straightforward about losing my balance.

Over 10 years later,  I lost to Sonny on the roof of a parking garage in DTLA.  I was then offered a 10 yard spot.  I had to only hop 40 yards while they ran 100 yards.  We marked it off in the alley and I won this time against 2 kids in their early 30’s but it was close with one of them who was a top sprinter.

Now it’s about another 10 years later and I somehow make this bet again.  Although I’m 67 now and my opponent is only 36, he is at least 20 lbs. overweight  and lives a very unhealthy lifestyle.  When I was 39, I had made a $25k bet on a mile race with Mark Weitzman when he weighed 220 lbs.  I gave him 3 months to get ready and he had amazingly slimmed down to 170 lbs.  I’m not particularly good at running long distances and I knew Mark was, but I thought I could beat someone that was so fat.  I was shocked he had lost 50 lbs. in only 3 months.  I was, however, able to get down to a 7 minute mile.  Accidentally, as I was leaving training one day, Mark arrived on the track with his trainer.  I stopped to spy on him and he ran a mile in about 7 ½ minutes.  I was encouraged because I could handle that but I didn’t realize that it was just a warm-up.  He ran again in 6 ½ minutes.  I now realized I was in trouble.  During the race, we were on a 6 minute mile pace running neck to neck for 3 laps.  My best time in my prime in high school was 5:58 21 years ago.  While training for this race, I had hit the wall for the 1st time in my life.  I now realized what Huck meant when he would say he hit the wall.  It’s a frightening experience.  I realized it was time to negotiate and I offered to take $2000 from Mark.  He said no.  I now offered to take $1,000 and again Mark said no but he counter offered to call it off.  Mark was the better natural runner, had easily run 30 seconds faster at 6:30 than me, and I still had the risk of hitting the wall.  If I was willing to settle for $1k, I decided the loss of $25k wasn’t worth the risk because there was nothing in my favor.  This time, I didn’t want to make the same mistake, so I set this hopping race for 3 weeks which would limit the weight he could lose or have time to train and he agreed.

Walking to the bank the next day, I tried hopping but was only able to go about 20 yards and totally winded.    What had I done now?  I had $13,800 bet and I couldn’t even hop.  First, I would have to improve my conditioning and when I returned, I went on the treadmill.  I do a 4 mph fast walk and then run 6 mph alternating until I finish a mile.  I did this almost daily but increased both speeds.  I also did weight exercises for my hamstrings and quads.  My hopping improved but it was still over 20 seconds.  I went to the track and my routine was to jog a half lap and then hop 50 yards.  I would do this 3 times and I was able to get my time down to 17 seconds.  I reached out to Mel who I had barely beaten by hopping only 40 yards.  He said he ran the 100 in 12 seconds.  If I had hopped 50 yards, he said it would have been 14 seconds.  I didn’t know if this was going to be good enough even if I could hop that fast, so I started doing exercises to strengthen my calves   The Saturday before the race, I went to train but on my 2nd hop, my right leg gave out after only 10 yards.  Rather than risk injury, I stopped immediately.  Now I was in a serious pickle.  Not only did I not know if I could hop fast enough, but I also didn’t even know if I would be able to hop at all.  Well, I’ve lost before.  I went home and I applied Icy Hot a couple times on Sunday and rested the entire day.  I could only hope it would recover by Monday.  I felt fine on Monday but I knew I would probably have to shave 2-3 seconds off my best time and hoped my adrenaline would kick in.  I also knew I would have to focus only on the track.  When Jason came up to video me, I told him he had to stay off the track.  I did all I could do and now could only hope that it was going to be enough.

The History of Hold-em in California

The History of Hold-em in California

The Beginning – 1987

In 1986 there was only 3 places in America where it was legal to play hold-em.  They were Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe, all in Nevada.  It would be 6 years before Atlantic City would legalize poker.

It was January 1987, and my  phone rang.  It was Alan Elrod, a friend of mine who was a movie distributor.  “I heard that California is going to allow hold-em.  Let’s go check it out.  I’ll drive,” he offered.  Alan was one of those drivers that darted in and out of traffic to make headway.  He would curse at the other drivers and stress you out as well.  As I was contemplating this dubious offer, he urged, “Come on, the cardrooms there are huge.”  I agreed to go, and he said, “good, I’ll come pick you up.”

When I first stepped into the Bicycle Casino,  I was blown away.  The place seemed to have more poker games than all of Las Vegas.  With over 100 poker tables, the place was packed.  What was even more fascinating was their top section.  There was 4 $75-150 lowball games and a $100-200 game that had 40 names on the list.  In Vegas, we had to combine games to have a $50-100 or a $100-200 half stud and half hold-em game.  The only time there was a $100-200 hold-em was during the WSOP in the spring and the Hall of Fame in the fall when the Akron crew would come to town led by Akron John.  After the Super Bowl, there was the Amarillo Super Bowl of Poker so there was action then as well.

The general story was that the Huntington Park Casino had spread Texas hold-em.  The Gaming Commission had raided the place and shut down the “illegal” game.  The casino had taken it to court.

Gambling in California was regulated by and still is Penal Code 330.  It has been updated but back in the day it allowed only games of skill but banned house banking games and a list of 14 games.  On that list was stud horse poker and 21.  Blackjack is allowed, just not to 21.  The ban of stud horse poker kept California poker limited to draw games for over 40 years.

Stud Horse Poker

Huntington Park Casino brought several experts as witnesses.  The most notable was Mike Caro, the “Mad Genius.”  Every one of them said they not only had never heard of stud horse poker but had no idea what it was.

The consensus was the judge was going to rule in favor of the casino.  As I left the Bike after losing $10k in a 3-day session, I knew I would be coming back.

Hold-em is Legal

It was announced that the judge had ruled that hold-em and other poker games was not stud horse poker and would be allowed.  The Gaming Commission still had to set up the regulations.  By the time, the Bike was ready to spread hold-em, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was right around the corner on May 1.  It was still the calm before the storm, so I decided to head to California.

I had known Steve Margolies from previous tournaments in Nevada and we started an interest list.  Finally, we started a 5 handed 50-100 hold-em game with Mike Caro and Mark Weitzman, a lowball superstar.  David Hayano, a professor at CSUN who used to come to Lake Tahoe in the summers to play hold-em was the 5th player.  The table was next to the steps leading down to the floor so many players stopped by to observe but then would continue to their lowball game.  We played for several hours but I can’t remember if we ever picked up another player.

When I returned after the WSOP, I knew the only way to have the lowball players join in would be to play half and half.  It has worked in Las Vegas when we combined stud and hold-em.  The key to starting a poker game is to have everyone think they had an advantage.  The lowball would have to be higher as there was only 2 betting rounds so, we started with $100-200 hold-em and $200-400 lowball.  Lowball had 3 blinds so I thought we should have 3 blinds in the hold-em.  It didn’t take long for the action to heat up.  Frank Henderson had placed 2nd in the WSOP Main Event, and he played a key part in getting the action going.  He had a theory that it was ok to trail (call a raise) with a draw to a 9 if you could lay it down after the draw even if you made it.  I didn’t point out that he would have a worst draw every time.  He was from Houston, Texas where no limit hold-em was king.  Limit hold-em which is a completely different game was not his forte either.  I missed the early days of online poker, but I doubt if there was or ever will be another time in history when there would be so many novice high limit players with big bankrolls.  The $100-200 lowball games would have 40 names on the list so over 40 would be a reasonable estimate.  My lowball was not as good as the California pros but I had a huge advantage on the Vegas players because their only experience was with 2-7 lowball.  They thought a 9 was a great hand and would never break a 10.  Often you could have a draw to a good six or a wheel with the joker and get 5-way action for multiple bets.  I observed top players like Puggy Pearson 4-bet with a pat 9 instead of folding repeatedly.  Because lowball is an 8-handed game, the high limit hold-em games were kept at 8 handed also.

Many of the Vegas players thought the time collection was too high since California was twice as high and that kept many of them from coming over.  The action was tremendous but there was one notable game I almost missed.  I had gone out to dinner and had decided to stop by to check out the action.  We didn’t have the benefit of cell phones or apps to stay updated.  As I walked in, a group of players were starting a game.  I got the 8th and last seat.  Most of them were lowball players but they had decided to play straight $300-600 hold-em.  Frank Henderson was live, and Eric Drache was not a hold-em player either.  I was salivating.

One hand that came up early occurred when I was on the button.  The entire table had limped in, so I called $200 more with the 8-3 of diamonds since I already had a $100 blind.  Frank on my left raised out of the middle blind.  The entire table called.  The flop came KQ2, all diamonds.  Frank made a continuation bet and there were 3 callers.  I wanted to raise out a medium flush draw and knew that Frank would reraise with a set, so I raised.  He just called; one player folded but the other 2 called again.  The turn came a blank and it was checked to me, so I bet, and they all called.  The river paired Queens.  Frank bet out and got 2 calls.  I thought Frank had only trips with the A of diamonds and if either of the other 2 had filled up they would have raised, so I raised.  He moaned and gave a crying call.  The kings called and the other trip queens, tanked but finally folded after he showed his hand.  I said flush and turned it over.  Frank showed the AQ of hearts.  The other player didn’t have a diamond nor did the other trips.  On 4th street, everyone had been drawing dead in a $14k pot!

The game had started at 10 pm and by midnight I was up $50k.  The sick thing is that about 2 am it was short-handed, and we changed the game to $400-800 stud and hold-em.  I went up and down and when I finally quit at noon, I was back up to $45k. I could have blown a huge win.  Youth is wasted on the young.

I had also bought a brand new house in early 1987 in Las Vegas.  Putting in the pool cost $22,000.  I got a quote for landscaping which was also $22,000.  Since the WSOP, I had been successful in L.A. so I thought I would go over for the weekend to win enough to pay for the landscaping.  I put in 3 sessions and when I was ready to return home, I tallied up my winnings.  It was exciting but I thought I must have made a mistake, so I did it a couple of more times.  Yep, in $200-400 limit, I had won $90,000 in a weekend!  Now I could not only put in the landscaping but wooden shutters instead of cheap blinds.  I also bought an elegant dining room set from Ethan Allen’s.

In 1982, I spent the summer in Vegas but swore never to do it again.  The previous 4 summers I had spent in Lake Tahoe, but that was before L.A. opened up.  This summer, I lived in the Embassy Suites in Downey for 3 months.

A Dangerous Pastime

A Dangerous Pastime

On television all over the world, poker is no longer a subculture but mainstream.  Back in its infancy in the 70’s and still to this day, poker players came from all walks of life in every shape, size, ethnicity, and gender.  It is a competition, but it is a competition to win your opponent’s money which brings a timeless adage into play: “Money is the root of all evil.”

Razz-ma-tazz Terry                                                                                   

His afro was bushier, his moustache more fuller drooping down like a fu manchu, and his complexion was coarse.  He didn’t wear glasses, but his eyes were steely.  Wearing a lumberman’s shirt, he was boisterous.  Despite his friendliness, he had a hard look.  You could tell by his demeanor that patience was not his virtue and playing tight was not in his playbook.  This image of Weird Al reminds me of Terry from my days in the $2 lowball game at the Recreation Card Room in Vancouver, WA when I was 20 years old.  He was also the 1st murderer I had ever met.

The cardrooms in Washington State were limited to 5 tables, 5 card games, and a $2 limit.  It was considered to be a marketing tool and had to close at 2 am when liquor could no longer be sold.  That opened the market for after hours games.  In Oregon, poker games were a misdemeanor whereas in Washington, it was a felony.  It made sense to go across the Columbia River.  One of the games I went to was in North Portland. It was a dilapidated house, but we had a table, chips, cards, and players and the game was on.  I don’t recall Old Man Charlie, but I heard he used to carry about 3 thousand cash on him regularly.  His body had been moved but the police tracked the scene of the murder to the basement where we played.  He had been sleeping when he was stabbed 17 times and robbed.  Terry’s girlfriend turned state’s evidence and he was sentenced to life.

The Oregon City Motel

 The $2 limit games became too small and there was action in a motel in Oregon City.  The only reason it was so far away, I surmised is that the Portland police were not keen on poker games in their city.  It was 30 miles from Vancouver.  It could have been the Bates Motel, but the parking lot was a large dirt and gravel area.  It was late in the morning and we were down to 3 of us.  Skyrocket, due to his propensity to run up his chips and then explode was winning most of the chips.  Big Ron was 6’8, 300 lbs., a bad player and a poor loser.  He had recently been released from prison for murder.  Yes, he had a bad temper.

The pot had been raised pre-flop by Skyrocket and there was an ace on the flop but not much else.  I wasn’t in the hand, but I felt this might be the last hand.  After they both checked to the river, Skyrocket bet Ron’s $100 remaining chips.  Ron went into the tank for 5 minutes.  It was obvious he didn’t have much.  When he finally grudgingly called, Skyrocket said, “I only have an ace, no kicker.”  To me that sounded like a slow roll, so I said, “Of course, that’s good.”  As I’m watching Skyrocket pull in the pot, I hear an edgy voice ask, “Do you want to bet your f**king life, it’s good?”  I turn my head to my right, and Ron has a brass knuckle with razors on the end of each knuckle a few inches from my face.  As tired as I had been, my amygdala sprung into action.  I know there is a loaded shotgun 20 feet away propped up in the corner of the room.  The problem is I had never held it, nor did I know where the safety was located.  That 1 or 2 seconds it took, may very well seal my fate as he was physically too heavy for me to handle. All this took but 1 second, and I said in a calm, cool tone, “No I don’t.”  Ron put down his arm and said, “Ok, then” but he looked disappointed.  I did borrow a .22 from a friend when I returned to the game that night, but I didn’t think that was going to be enough.

Another night I was playing with Dan.  He was cross-eyed and could have played a pirate.  He was about 6 feet and slightly overweight with a thinning hairline in his mid-thirties.  He was a bad player but didn’t complain as he kept rebuying.  After he finally went broke, he left only to come back a couple of hours later.  He asked if anyone wanted to buy a box of sterling silver.  It was dark out by the trunk of his car, but I could see a very large number of flatware, so I asked him how much?  He said $500.  I didn’t know the value of the sterling silver although I would in a couple of years but that’s another story.  I decided it didn’t matter because Dan couldn’t win, and I had been the one beating him.  After he went broke, he left again and this time he came back with a trunk full of hollow ware.  Although the hollow ware took up the space of the entire trunk, I realized it was less silver and offered him $400 which he accepted.  It didn’t take long for me to felt him again.  I thought I had a great night.  I put the silver up in the back of my closet and was exhilarated by the cash I had won.  The silver would become a silver lining, but the Dan saga would become a horrific tale.

Several months had gone by when I heard Dan stabbed a player in downtown Vancouver.  If he would stab someone right on the street, I wondered what he could have done in a remote, dark parking lot?  I considered myself lucky and to not put myself in jeopardy.  Then the terrible news broke one night.  A friend name Diane was telling me that a mutual friend was fighting for her life with ¾ of her lungs blown away.  Darlene and another girl were dealing blackjack to Dan in a remote house in the woods.  He said he was going to his car to get more money.  Coming back with a shotgun, he had both girls lie face down and shot them both at point blank range.  The other girl never moved but Darlene was able to crawl to her car and drive a mile to the nearest neighbor for help.  That was over 40 years ago, but Darlene has been happily married and made a success of her life.


 I can’t remember his exact name, but it was a name that was Ivy League.  He was a 6’4” college basketball player of mixed parentage, handsome and an engaging smile.  He was so cautious that he would chide me when I took off as soon as the light turned green.  You’ve got to allow for the drivers that are trying to beat the red light, he said.  We partnered up in a couple of after hour games, but poker was not his forte.  I could see he wouldn’t even be able to repay the $1500 he owed me, and we went our separate ways.

Several months went by  and then I heard about his painful end.  He had gotten mixed up with a father and son who were passing stolen money orders.  They found out he was turning state’s evidence and brutally tortured him.  When the authorities fished Carlton out of the lake, his knees were disjointed and one of his eyeballs was popped out of the socket.  The father and son were sentenced to life when one of the girlfriends turned state’s evidence.

Deaf Arnie

I heard he was killed by a machine gun when his game got hijacked but I was never able to verify this story.

Herbert J Coddington III

 I developed a loose theory that perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to name someone the III as they may have problems developing their own identity. These next 2 people are examples.

Herb was an antisocial poker player.  He had no social skills at the table and would overreact aggressively to anyone that was smoking near him.  He soundproofed his cabin in Lake Tahoe, where he took a teenage model to sexually assault and murdered her chaperone. They tracked him by his license plate.

Ernest Scherer III

I labeled him a sociopath early on.  I had lost $20k in 20 minutes after just starting a game and then I had to go into a meeting.  I wrote a marker to cover the $20k I owed Ernie.  When I came back out, the game had broken and Ernie yells at me for his money and complained because I was keeping him from watching the opening kickoff.  To say the least, I lost it with him.

I had just lost 20k and he was upset he missed a kickoff.

He and his father had a strange relationship.  They both played a couple of times together in my game.  The father played very tight, too tight.  Ernie was exactly the opposite.  They both played their normal game regardless of the opponent.  The father didn’t show any emotion on his son’s reckless play.  Ernie was extremely polite to his father which seemed contrite and out of character.  He obviously did not want to upset him but was being overly cautious.  One time Ernie was losing about $25k in a very good game at my place, the Bike.  His father was playing at the Commerce Casino and preparing to go to the airport to fly home to Northern California.  Ernie insisted on cashing out to drive him to the airport.  If it had been me, I would have paid for his taxi or hired a driver.

The brutality of the manner in which he butchered his parents would churn anyone’s stomach.  After 3 months had gone by and he hadn’t been arrested, he thought he may have gotten away with it.  There was never any sign of remorse or mourning.  I’m sure his only regret was he was so close to getting his hands on $1.5 million.



When My Team Puts A Tee in The Ground We Finish

It was August 1989 and 32 poker players had gathered in Lake Tahoe for the 2nd Annual Yosh Nakano Invitational Golf Tournament. The venue was the picturesque Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course bordering the beautiful lake. Some of the top poker players in the world were there but poker was the devil I knew. I was a babe in the woods in this field of some of the top golf hustlers in the world. When I announced in my invitation “Gentlemen, the game is Golf”, little did I understand what that entailed.

The par 3 17th green at Edgewood Tahoe

I never won playing my own ball. I was never given nearly enough strokes and I always played against someone’s “career” best. Somewhere along the way, I began to realize what Curt Knight meant when he said he was too honest to play golf. Duh! I should have given up golf, but quitting was not in my nature. I had heard about scrambles, but I had no idea what that meant. Since Google was not around yet, I began asking around about scrambles. After I gathered sufficient information, I thought perhaps this was a way I might have a chance to win or at least get a fair match. Forthwith came the 1st Annual Yosh Nakano Invitational Golf Tournament in 1988 hosted by Caesars Tahoe.

This year the weather was ominous on the morning of the practice round. The skies were dark and overcast and rain looked imminent. Worse than that, it was very cold- freezing cold. I was worried the weather would ruin the tournament. Breakfast was very animated as players tried to negotiate matches. Finally, Doyle said his team would be Chip Reese, Rich Dunberg, and John Esposito as his A player. My team was David Baxter, Gary Lundgren, and Champ (David Roepke). We would play a 4-man scramble match play with one automatic press on each side. This means that if one team was up 2 holes, another bet would automatically start. The betting format was called a Nassau. There was one bet for the front 9, one bet for the back 9, one overall bet, and 2 presses on each side. If no one doubled the bet, one team could win as many as 5 bets. I had just met Champ, but I was told he was a scratch. David and Gary were high 70’s shooters. I was a nonfactor in golf, but I was the “action” that would bet enough to “lure” Doyle and Chip to play the match. This was essentially a 3 on 4 match, but if my team was willing to gamble so was I. I asked, “What do we do if it rains?” Doyle in his typical Texas bravado fashion drawled, “When my team sticks a tee in the ground, we finish!”

Looking around the pro shop for raingear, I came across woolen golf caps that had flaps for the ears that could be tied down. I don’t remember what else I wore that day but we looked like a motley crew going ice fishing wearing those caps, not golfing.

It started drizzling after only a few holes. A couple of times, it hailed. The rain was bad enough but when it is also frigid, the misery is accentuated. It was going to be a long day. On the flip side I had another new experience which was hog’s heaven-playing with a scratch golfer as a partner. I would hit a tee shot and go pick my ball up. After the iron shot, I would again pick up my ball and go to the green with my putter. I didn’t realize golf was so easy! Now once on the green, it became tricky. It’s impossible to putt on a wet green. You must putt the ball up above the water toward the hole. We must have been able to do that better than Doyle’s team because after nine holes we were up either 4-2 or 3-1. That means we had won 2 bets and had a decent lead for the 18. By then the rain had been falling steadily and we headed into the clubhouse to warm up and get out of the rain albeit momentarily.

Back inside, Doyle’s team looked decrepit. They were sprawled in their chairs, with somber faces as we came in beaming and ordered hot chocolate. After we finished our hot drinks, I asked Doyle if they were ready. Esposito who has a loud firm voice said, “Listen, I have a wife and kids to think about. I’m not going back out there. I am not going to die over some stupid golf match.” I’m sure we were all relieved not to have to go back out into that wretched weather but I couldn’t help one parting jab. “Doyle, I thought you said when your team puts a tee in the ground you finish?” Little did I realize that Doyle was already plotting his rematch.

At the end of Day 1, we are sweating Doyle’s team of Randy Kunert, Bernie, & Tab who has a 20-footer for birdie on the 18th. Doyle has bet Esposito & I his team against every other team for $5k each. If they make it, he breaks even. If they miss he will lose $25k. It came down to their last putter, Tab who drained it. L-R John Esposito, Yosh Nakano, Mike Picow, Tommy Fischer, Puggy Pearson, Joe Bernier, Rich Dunberg (ear flaps cap), Wally Nakano, unk, Joe Nakano, Fred, unk.

In Memoriam Gary Mark Lundren Nov. 15, 1957- Mar. 7, 2018

I know I was a heavy load, but you carried me as your partner from Industry Hills to Ojai to as far as Australia.  We played in the rain and hail and finished 36 holes sometimes in pitch dark.  60 is too young but the science of glutathione (GSH) was not available to us in our youth.  We paid the price for our lifestyles that led to glutathione deficiency.  That led to oxidative stress which caused my diabetes.  For you it manifested itself in cancer.  Our product came out in 2010.  I will always wonder if it could have helped.  RIP.

The $7500 Joke

We were playing $400-$800 limit HORSE with Jerry Buss at the Bike where I was the High Limit Host. A couple of the guys told a joke.

I said I got one. A guy goes to his doctor and says I feel terrible, Doc, can you check me out? The Doctor said let’s take some tests and see what is the problem.

The guy comes back but gets worried when he sees the Doctor has a very sad face. “Doc, what’s wrong?” The Doctor says I’m sorry but I have very bad news. Well spit it out, Doc. The Doctor says you have AIDs, syphilis, and cancer and you have only 6 months to live. The guy drops to his knees and starts crying and pleads to the Doctor, “please, please, Doc, there must be something you can do for me?” The Doctor thinks and says there is one thing I can advise. The guy excitedly says, “What is it?” “Well, you could marry a fat broad that will constantly nag you and move to Des Moines, Iowa.” The guy is puzzled by the advice and asks, “how will that save my life?” The Doctor says, “it won’t save your life, but it will make the next 6 months seem like eternity.”

“I’ll bet that,” I hear. I looked up and it’s Johnny “World” Hennigan. “What?”, I asked. “Bet what? That was a joke.” “I’ll bet that I can spend one month in Des Moines,” World responds.

Interesting I thought. World was an action junkie who was betting $5k a game on the NBA. In the game we were playing regularly each hand cost $4k. John had “forced” me to bet $5k that he could quit smoking for 2 weeks. I don’t like to bet on activities where someone will have to do something unhealthy for me to win so I declined. He reminded me that he had given me a tip where I was a favorite and won $45k getting 3-1 odds. After he threatened not to give me another bet, I reluctantly accepted. 20 minutes later he asked for a settlement. “No, John, after we went through all that, let’s just keep the bet.” 10 minutes after that, he tossed me a $1k chip and said the bet is settled and went out to smoke. Willpower did not seem to be his strength.

The key to winning this bet would have to be size. The amount could not be too large but it would have to be big enough for him to accept. $10k was still a buy-in for a tournament so the size of the bet would have to be between $5k and $10k. I offered $7500 and he accepted. This was in the spring and he had until the end of the year to complete the bet- spend 30 consecutive days in Des Moines. Of course, I didn’t realize it but he had already outsmarted me.

As soon as I saw the phone call the next morning was from Huck Seed, a feeling of dread came over me. I realized that I had overlooked a very important stipulation. Huck erased all doubt when he chirped, “Yosh, that was such a great bet I bet 15,000 on it.” I had failed to stipulate that John could not bet anyone else. I wished you just asked me for a piece I told Huck because now he has $22,500 at stake. We decided we were still favorites and Huck gave me the authority to settle the bet.

A few months go by and I get a call from John. “Well, I just checked in to the Holiday Inn and checked out the local pool hall. Looks like a pleasant place and I’m looking forward to drying out here for 30 days.” “Well, have a good time,” I replied.

Every couple of days he calls me with an update. After a week, I can sense the edginess and he brings up that he would be open to a settlement. “No John, if you win it you win it. Good luck to you,” I said. Now the calls seem to be more frequent and the edginess is clear as he keeps imploring me to offer a settlement. I keep saying no offer.

After 3 weeks in Des Moines, he calls me and he is very agitated. He says he has spent 3 weeks and even though it was killing him, he was determined to win the bet and finish out the last week so I should settle. He did spend 3 weeks and with only one more week left, it did appear he was going to win so I asked, “what are you offering?” “I’ll take half and you can be sure I will make it another week!” That was a savings of $3750 for me and $7500 for Huck. I know people that would have enjoyed the sadistic pleasure derived from making John suffer for another week but I decided a dollar saved was a dollar earned. I figured I was making $3750 so I said, “okay John the bet is settled”. He got the hell out of Dodge and did not stop at Go!

This is a room at the Des Moines Holiday Inn. John may have bluffed me. After 3 weeks he may not have been able to stand another week.

This story was not intended to offend any of the fine citizens of Des Moines, Iowa or any women with a weight problem. In fact, Chuck and Gena Norris endorse Meta-Switch for sustainable weight loss:

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