If you’ve read many of my posts on this blog, you’ve probably realized that I like to sprinkle my informative posts with real life anecdotes from my own experience as a gambler. I thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorite 10 memories as a gambler for this post.
There’s probably a lesson of some kind related to each of these, but probably not all of them. At any rate, I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed living them.
That would be hard to do, though, because I sure had a good time.
1- Winning $1000 in One Night at an Underground Card Room in Plano, Texas
I lived in Dallas for years. I worked at Hotels.com, and at various times, I had apartments in Dallas and Addison. At the time, there was a thriving underground poker scene in the Dallas Fort Worth area.
I don’t even remember the name of the card room where I won the $1000, but I do remember the game. It was a $1/$5 pot limit Texas holdem game. The card room was new-ish, and they always had the radio there tuned to JACK-FM, which was also new at the time.
They served meals there every night, always something they could put in a Crock-Pot. Sometimes it was barbecue sandwiches. Sometimes it was meatball subs. They also had a fridge full of beer and soda pop. If you wanted hard liquor, you had to bring your own.
I was still new and I played extremely tight in those days. I had a really good poker player sitting to my left one night—a big, masculine guy named Don. His nickname was “Big Don.” (I love poker stories, because the characters always have nicknames.)
You’d have never guessed what business he was in from looking at him. He owned a dozen nail salons throughout Dallas.
He was perceptive, and he claimed that he’d watched me fold 60 hands in a row. When I finally came in with a raise, he called me. He said, “As many hands as you’ve folded in a row, I just HAVE to see what kind of cards you think are actually worth playing.”
I lost that hand, but I played for 10 hours straight that night, and I walked out of there with over $1000 in winnings. I won almost all of that money on just 3 hands toward the end of the night, too.
After winning those 3 hands, the other players stopped calling my raises. The card room manager laughed and asked me how long I was going to steamroll the table after that.
I slept well the next day, and my wife got a big kick out of the pile of hundred dollar bills on the night stand.
I also remember being nervous when I walked back to my truck that morning. I was afraid someone might knock me in the head and take my money.
2- Winning $4000 Playing Slots at an Online Casino
I’ve written about this in more detail in another post, so I’ll just cover it in broad strokes here.
In 2004, I was training a gambling writer to write casino reviews for a website I was launching. I was showing him how it worked to sign up at an online casino. The casino we signed up for is out of business now, but I remember it was an RTG casino.
We played a silly slot machine game called Mid-Life Crisis, and I won $7000 on my 4th spin. (I was betting $11.25 per spin.)
I still had to make enough wagers to fill my wagering requirement, so I lost $3000 of that.
But I still had a $4000 profit to show for it.
I used that money to buy a jukebox for my living room.
3- Trying to Convince the Poker Room Manager at the Planet Hollywood Casino to Buy Us Hot Dogs
I’ve had a lot of fun playing poker in Las Vegas with my buddy Wes through the years. Most of that fun is related to doing stuff that makes Wes laugh. Sometimes he sits at a different table just so he can concentrate on his game rather than on my antics.
Once, we were playing at the Stardust, and he was at another table. I don’t remember what I said, but I can still remember his guffaw from the other side of the room.
But a better memory for me is the morning we were playing at the Planet Hollywood Casino. We were playing low stakes, too. I think it might have been a $1/$2 no limit game, so the casino wasn’t making money from us.
In fact, we were playing early in the morning, and most of us were folding most of the time, so there wasn’t a lot of action.
I must have asked the card room manager to buy everyone at the table hot dogs from Pinks a dozen times. Every time, Wes would start giggling like a little girl. I was teasing and had a sense of humor about it, so the card room manager never got mad.
He never bought us hot dogs from Pinks, either.
I think he told us if we would upgrade to a higher stakes game he might buy us all hot dogs.
None of us were up for that, either.
4- Staying at the Sands in Las Vegas the Last Weekend They Were Open
I visited Las Vegas for the 1st time in 1996 with a girlfriend. We both worked at Hotels.com, which at the time was still called Hotel Reservations Network. I knew nothing about Vegas at the time other than it was in the desert and there was gambling there.
In those days, getting comp rooms when you were in the travel industry was easy to do, so we got booked in a Jacuzzi suite with a queen-sized bet.
But what I remember most about the weekend was 2 things:
The first is that the hotel was tired looking. Things just looked old and threadbare, from the carpets to the walls. It was cool and nice, but fading.
The second is that there were lots of older patrons there that weekend who’d been visiting The Sands on a regular basis for years, maybe even decades. They were wandering around in the hallways crying, especially on the last day they were open.
There was a bar right off the lobby where a cheesy lounge act was singing. He was cheesy, but he was great. Think Bill Murray as the lounge singer on Saturday Night Live back in the day.
It was a fun weekend and an exciting way to visit Las Vegas for the first time. I didn’t really understand about the Rat Pack and the Sands until much later, but now, Sinatra at the Sands is one of my favorite albums.
5- Seeing Legends in Concert in Las Vegas for the First Time
On another trip, a buddy of mine bought tickets to see Legends in Concert. If you don’t know about this show, it’s a whole slew of celebrity impersonators in one big concert. The celebrities being impersonated vary from show to show, but Elvis is always included.
Some of the impersonators look more like the originals than others, and some of the impersonators sound more like the originals than others. They were all entertaining.
The Dolly Parton impersonator took notice of me, and that might have been my favorite part. My friend and I were sitting toward the front, and she walked out into the audience, grabbed the back of my head, and buried my face in her bosom for a moment.
I remember the Michael Jackson impersonator was excellent, and I also really enjoyed the Donna Summer impersonator. The Kenny Rogers impersonator left much to be desired.
I’m not even sure what year that was, but I think it was when the show was still being hosted at the Imperial Palace or the Stardust. (I could be wrong about either of those.)
Legends in Concert is still a show you can go see in Las Vegas, but it’s at the Flamingo Hilton now. I haven’t seen the show in years, but I’m sure it hasn’t changed much. They’ve probably added some newer celebrities to their lineup of folks to impersonate, but that’s just how things go.
I’m going to Vegas in November. I’m not sure if we’ll go to this show or not, as we already have several shows on our list.
6- Eating at the Top of the World Restaurant at the Stratosphere
On one of our visits, we went to the Top of the World restaurant at the Stratosphere. I was with my wife, and my buddy Wes was there, too, with his wife. Wes still says that it was the best steak he’s ever eaten.
The Top of the World is a rotating restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere, It’s way up in the air, too. I’m scared of heights, and I experienced some vertigo on the elevator going up there. I experience more vertigo there in the restaurant.
If you know anything about Vegas, you probably know that helicopter tours are popular there. The Top of the World is SO high in the air that you can look out your window and see the helicopters BELOW you as they fly above the Strip.
It’s the most incredible view I’ve ever seen of anything in my life.
I’m returning to Vegas in November, and one of the items that’s definitely on our agenda is a dinner at the Top of the World again. Wes isn’t coming this time, but my buddy Patrick is celebrating his 50th birthday. I can’t think of a better restaurant in Vegas to celebrate a 50th birthday than Top of the World.
I hope the food is as good as Wes remembers. I don’t really remember the food because I was drunk last time we were there.
7- Playing Poker at the Bellagio and Seeing the Famous Poker Players in the High Limit Room
I stayed in a suite at the Venetian once with one of my poker-playing buddies (Tom) from Dallas. We played poker in several different casinos, but my favorite was the poker room at the Bellagio. I wasn’t used to the stakes even at the lower stakes table, but Tom gave me a quick pep talk about that. As he explained, betting units are betting units. Forget about what they’re worth in dollars until after the game.
But the cool part was looking over at the high limit room and seeing the famous poker players there. David Sklansky was there playing, and, in fact, he’s the only individual I remember specifically. (I think Annie Duke was there that night, too, but I wouldn’t swear to it.)
Tom was convinced that I might be the 1st poker player in history who could actually put Sklansky on tilt, and he offered me $100 to try. I don’t think I could have gotten near the high limit room to try, though. Even if I had, there are plenty of more obnoxious jerks than I am in the world of poker. If they couldn’t get him to tilt, neither could I.
Also, the Bellagio plays the same song repeatedly on the sound system throughout the casino–“Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli. Spend much time at the Bellagio, and you’ll never hear that song again without thinking of that hotel and casino.
I broke even at the tables there that night. I had a lot to drink, too, so breaking even was pretty good.
8- Hosting a Weekly Poker Game at My Apartment in Addison, TX
In the mid-1990s, I read my 1st real book about poker. It was called Poker Nation, and it was written by Andy Bellin. I don’t think it became a classic, but it made a big impression on me. It was the start of my love affair with the game, for sure.
After I read it, I got my roommate (Ryan) to agree to hosting a weekly poker game. We had several guys come by every Thursday night to play poker. One guy always brought homemade ham and cheese sandwiches for everyone. Ryan and I always supplied the beer.
One of the guys we played with was a big, handsome bodybuilder type. He was one of the savviest gamblers I’d ever met, even though he didn’t look all that bright. He had dated a former Playboy playmate, too, and had photographs of them together to prove it. We were all really impressed by that.
The game went on for at least a year before we all drifted away from each other. I’m still friends with Ryan, but I haven’t seen any of the other guys in over 20 years.
I think I lost money every time we played, too. I’m not a great poker player now, but I was a lot worse in those days.
I wouldn’t trade those memories for all the money I lost, though.
9- Playing in a Weekly Shuffleboard Tournament for 10 Years before Winning First Place for the First Time
I used to be a barfly, and I went to the same bar almost every day—The Kings X Club in Dallas. It’s on Forest Lane, and the bar has been there for at least 30 years—maybe more. I loved it. The place was full of regulars, mostly older people, who were there to drink.
They were also there to play shuffleboard, at least on Thursday nights. They haven’t hosted a shuffleboard tournament in years, though.
Here’s how the shuffleboard tournament worked:
You would buy in for $10, which went toward the prize pool. Sometimes the owner of the bar would add $50 or $100 to the prize pool, too, which made the game a positive expectation bet.
You’d then draw for a partner. Since you were drawing a partner at random, you might wind up with the best shuffleboard player in the bar as your partner and have a chance of winning, even if you didn’t play that well.
I was NOT a good shuffleboard player, although I’m told that I was, for the most part, a polite and even-tempered drunk. In fact, I was so bad that I played in that tournament every week for 10 years before ever winning one.
That’s 520 shuffleboard tournaments before a win.
I came in 2nd place several times, and that was cool, too—the prize for 2nd place was a free entry into the following week’s tournament.
I still love to play shuffleboard when I can, and I don’t understand why it’s not a more popular game. There’s a great bar in Fort Worth that has a LOT of shuffleboard tables—Volcanos Sports Bar and Grill. It’s worth visiting if you like shuffleboard.
10- Trolling a Player Who Was Giving Me a Hard Time at Full Tilt Poker
I love players who get mad when you serve them a bad beat. One player, I don’t remember his handle, just went totally berserk on me at Full Tilt Poker one day about how awful a player I was.
In those days, you could add players to your friends list by their handle. I wasted no time in adding him to my list of friends.
Every time I went online to play, I found him at a table and started chatting with him. He’d forgotten all about me and the bad beat, but I hadn’t forgotten him.
I wasn’t mean to him. In fact, I was overtly friendly. I usually talked to him as if he were my best friend in the chat box. I even bragged to the other players about how we’d gotten to know each other playing there at Full Tilt Poker, and we were becoming close friends.
This went on for a week or 2. He finally had enough and blew up in the chat box:
Look, dude! I don’t know you, and I don’t know why you’re always sitting at the same tables I am and talking to me like I’m your friend. You’re some kind of psycho! Leave me alone!
In true troll-ish fashion, I never let up on the friendliness or the charm.
I’m not sure how I didn’t get in trouble with the card room management for harassing him, but maybe he just didn’t care enough to report it.
But I sure thought it was funny.
I’ve had so many great, fun, enjoyable experiences related to gambling, poker, and casinos. I wouldn’t trade most of these memories for anything—even money. My favorite memories, though, all involve the people I’ve gambled with.
Friends like Ryan, Tom, and Wes will be forever etched into my memories. Big Don who owned the nail salons still brings a smile to my face every time I think of him.
My favorite nickname for a poker player, by the way, was “Doctor Tilt.” He would show up every night wearing scrubs, and he was always mad. He had a beautiful, young Asian girlfriend who was a much better poker player than he was.
It turns out he was a chiropractor, and he went to work every morning after playing poker all night. He’d go home and nap for a while after work, then show up at the poker room about 11pm.
I don’t really have any great stories about him other than I liked his nickname.
I could probably easily come up with another 10 favorite gambling stories from my own life if I had the time. I’m sure you’ve got gambling stories of your own, though.