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Posted by on Jul 11, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Doyle Brunson’s All-Time Favorite Movie Westerns — Part 2

 

 

I recently went to dinner with poker legend Doyle Brunson.

Prior to this interview, which took place at Roma Deli in Las Vegas in May 2018, I asked Doyle to come up with a list of his “20 favorite westerns.”

Doyle couldn’t restrain himself.  He not only came up with 20 great westerns.  He tripled the request and listed more than 60 favorites.  Doyle probably could have listed at least 100 movies and talked about every single one of them.  Most incredible, without any notes or references, even at age 84, Doyle was able to remember and recite intricate details about each movie and shared with us why each film on his list meant something special to him.

Here is PART 2 of the series, which ranks Doyle’s favorite movie westerns — numbers #11 through #30.

 

Miss the previous episode?  Here’s a link to PART 1 — numbers #31 through #60.

These video clips last about 25 minutes each.

You can also see the complete list of Doyle’s favorite westerns ranked here at the 5th Street Sports website once Part 3 has been posted.  The final segment will be posted shortly, which contains Doyle’s “Top Ten” list.

This video series is brought to you by 5thStreetSports.com.

__________

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Posted by on Jul 2, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Talking Points, Video 1 | 3 comments

My Interview with the Duke of Fremont Street

 

 

The Duke of Fremont Street is a cathedral to class.

If you’ve been around Las Vegas for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve seen the dapper gentleman dressed to the limit.  If not, then perhaps the 1938 Cadillac caught your attention.  From his earliest origins spent gambling along the Mississippi River all the way to the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, the Duke has been there and always seems to be closing a deal.

In this 25-minute interview, I sat down with the Duke where we talked about his life, what he thinks of Las Vegas and casinos today, and where he thinks we’re all headed.  No surprise, the Duke delivers.  He holds nothing back.  He sounds just as cool as he looks.

CLICK AND WATCH HERE:

This was one of the first (of several) interviews we’ve recorded as part of a new series called “The Basement Tapes,” brought to you by 5th Street Sports.  We shot the video in a basement, where the studio is located — hence, the show’s name.

I had a great time interviewing the Duke, which is obvious in this video.  Thanks to my guest for coming on to the show and setting a shining example of elegance, perhaps matched though never surpassed.

Hope you enjoy.

 

Note: See more interviews and sports gambling-related news at 5thStreetSports.com

 

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Posted by on Jun 7, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Talking Westerns with Doyle Brunson

 

 

I recently went to dinner with poker legend Doyle Brunson.

Prior to this interview, which took place at Roma Deli in Las Vegas in May 2018, I asked Doyle to come up with a list of his “20 favorite westerns.”

Doyle couldn’t contain himself.  He not only came up with 20 great westerns.  He tripled the request and listed more than 60 favorites.  Doyle probably could have listed at least 100 movies and talked about every single one of them.  Most incredible, without any notes or references, even at age 84, Doyle was able to remember and recite intricate details about each movie and shared with us why each film on his list meant something special to him.

Here is PART 1 of the series, which ranks Doyle’ favorite movie westerns — numbers #31 through #60.  The video clip runs about 20 minutes.  CLICK LINK HERE

You can also see the list of Doyle’s favorite westerns ranked at the 5th Street Sports website.

__________

 

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Posted by on Mar 18, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Travel | 0 comments

What’s the Best Night of the Year to Play Poker?

 

 

St. Patricks Day and March Madness weekend combine to create the perfect storm for skilled low- to mid-stakes poker players.  It’s become the best calendar date of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.

 

I was astounded by all the craziness last night.  Call it March Poker Madness.

Las Vegas poker rooms were packed.  Every seat was taken.  Waiting lists were long.  More drinking and talking went on than usual.  Almost no headphones were seen.  Players looked to be having fun.  The pots seemed bigger.  Many games were great.

I got my ass kicked.

No, not really.  Let’s just say it was a good night.

This was my overall impression after playing at four different cardrooms over an 11-hour stretch on a long Saturday night-early Sunday morning, which just so happened to overlap into a perfect storm of citywide poker action.  My conclusion is this:

St. Patrick’s Day and the opening weekend of March Madness appear to create the best calendar date of the year to play poker, at least here in Las Vegas.

Surprisingly, I never realized this phenomenon before.  Las Vegas has been my home for 16 years.  One would think I’d have discovered this already.  But I don’t recall going out to play poker during this specific weekend.  In the past, for more than a decade I traveled frequently with the World Series of Poker Circuit, which meant I was off working, someplace else.  If I was in Las Vegas during mid-March, it’s most likely that I avoided what amounts to “amateur night” for partiers and drinkers.  Don’t misunderstand.  I love drinking.  But I don’t like drinking with drunken amateurs.  Besides, the service sucks everywhere.  It’s way too crowded.

Now, I realize the objective isn’t drinking with drunken amateurs.  It’s to play poker with them.

Aside from the financial upside, the games last night reminded me of the way poker used to be.  Players cracking jokes and laughing.  Everyone talking about the ball game on TV.  Gamblers discussing the next day’s pointspreads, while ordering another Miller Lite.  You know, having fun.

If this all sounds manipulative, even exploitive, well — it is.  In a game with tougher players and diminishing edges, every conceivable advantage must be hunted.  That’s assuming you play for money.  The formula for increasing one’s chance of winning is simple:  You have to go where games are good and play at the ideal time.  Oh, and you must play well.

Saturday nights are almost always the best nights of the year to play poker.  This is true just about anywhere, especially in Las Vegas.  Friday nights can be pretty good, too.  However, on Friday nights many less-skilled players realize there’s still a long weekend ahead of them.  They tend to remain in control of themselves and make table decisions that aren’t catastrophic.  Not yet, anyway.

By Saturday night, the emotional bolts of self-constraint have rusted away and are about to snap.  At least a few dozen beers into the weekend with a pocket full of losing sports tickets, the poker table becomes the last chance to get even.  Sometimes maxed out on ATM visits and down to their last hundred, players will simply give up out of frustration.  I saw this happen last night when an out-of-town visitor on a bad run got fed up with playing normally.  He decided to blind shove his last $120.  He lost.

Free money.

Those kinds of bizarre situations happen a lot on Saturday nights, especially in the “touristy” poker rooms on The Strip filled with frat boys.  But that’s merely the foundation for more craziness.

Combine Saturday night with the opening weekend of March Madness, which is four exhaustive days and nights of betting and watching television and cheering, then subtract the hours of much-needed rest, and low-to mid-stakes poker games all over town become even wilder.  Then, to top things off, add in the party factor — St. Patrick’s Day.  This is one of the most popular days of the year for casual alcohol consumption, perhaps second only to New Year’s Eve.  All the scrumptious ingredients are in place:

Las Vegas + Saturday Night + March Madness + St. Patrick’s Day = Great poker games.

Admittedly, this was just one night.  Perhaps, my experience was atypical.  Maybe I’m exaggerating.  Let’s open this up to other opinions.

Eager to know if my personal experience and hypothesis about St. Patrick’s Day/March Madness is shared by other poker players, I posted a poll on Twitter.  Although the results are unscientific, these percentages show that a majority of poker players believe this is/was the best night (and weekend) of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.

Here are the results, so far (Note:  It’s now 12 hours into the 24-hour poll — so the results are incomplete).  The results do appear to be conclusive:

I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow night — or the next, or the next.  But I sure do know what I’ll be doing next March 16, 2019.  I’ll definitely be playing poker.

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Posted by on Mar 6, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 14 comments

Remembering Paul Magriel

 

 

Paul Magriel died yesterday.

Most poker players likely remember Paul from his disheveled appearance and quirky behavior.  At times, it seemed like he was from a different planet.  His nickname was “X-22.”  He often quacked like a duck at the poker table, usually after winning a pot.  When you heard “quack quack,” you knew Paul was in the room. Fittingly, his favorite Hold’em hand was pocket dueces, otherwise known as a pair of ducks.

What most people probably don’t know is the fascinating story of Paul’s life decades before he became a regular poker player.

From early childhood, Paul was a prodigal gamesman.  He started out playing backgammon and chess.  He won the New York State Junior Chess Championship just a few years after another prodigal talent, Bobby Fischer burst onto the scene.  By the late 1960s, New York’s Greenwich Village became his personal playground.  He frequented the Olive Tree Cafe on MacDougal Street, known to be the hangout of hustlers.  Later, he spent most of his free time at Singapore Sam’s, and after that, the far more fashionable uptown Mayfair Club.

Within a decade, Paul was widely acknowledged as one of the greatest backgammon players in the world.  He often played games for $1,000 a point — astronomical stakes at the time.  He won the 1978 World Championship of Backgammon held in Nassau, The Bahamas.  Months earlier, Paul was victorious in one of the greatest backgammon matches in history, a grueling 17-hour marathon in Athens, Greece against then European champion, Joe Dwek.  Paul was so proficient at the game that he became known as the “Human Computer.”  In 1977, he wrote a co-wrote a book with his first wife Renee Roberts simply titled Backgammon, which became the game’s bible.  It sold 10,000 copies in the first two months of release.  Later, Paul wrote the weekly backgammon column for The New York Times. 

But that was just part of who Paul was, who most did not know.

 

This photograph (above) shows Paul playing backgammon against Kiumars Motakhasses at the Mount Parnis Casino in Athens.  

*****

 

Paul was more than a master of games.  He attended the prep school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.  He earned a B.A. in mathematics from New York University, graduating at age 20.  Next, he did his graduate studies at Princeton.

He was a math wizard, who loved numbers and relished the opportunity to solve complex puzzles.  At night, he played games.  During the day, he was a math instructor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he worked for seven years before deciding to finally put away the chalk and take up backgammon (and later poker playing) for a living, because the money was just too good a thing to pass up and there were plenty of suckers who wanted a game.

Back then, backgammon was a high-stakes web of rich people and cultural elites who gathered nightly at posh social clubs.  Paul’s immersion onto that privileged scene, first in New York City then later around the world at the most exclusive resorts, was every bit as momentous as the indelible impact on games and gambling left by Ken Uston and Stu Ungar, every bit his contemporaries.

Paul’s exemplary talent was perhaps best displayed by playing backgammon while blindfolded.  He couldn’t see the board.  However, Paul could remember the placement of every piece and memorized the new layout after every dice roll.  He barked out his moves with the authority of a military general.  Paul regularly beat opponents who glared studiously at the board, ultimately forced to reach into their pocket at game’s end to settle a lost wager.

Quoted in a 1978 magazine feature, Paul explained his fascination with games as follows (see footnote below):

I think I’m addicted to backgammon.  I’m addicted to games in general. Games are controlled violence.  You can take out your frustrations and hostilities over a backgammon set, where the rules are clearly defined — in contrast to life, where the rules are not so well defined. In games, you know what’s right and wrong, legal versus illegal; whereas in life, you don’t.

Psychologically, backgammon is very different from chess.  It’s an exercise in frustration — you can make the right moves and lose, or you can make the wrong moves and win.  And chess didn’t have the gambling that I like.”

 

This photograph (above) shows Paul Magriel playing “blindfolded” against the legendary writer and adventurer George Plimpton at New York’s famous “21” Club.

*****

 

It’s been said that backgammon offers the ultimate challenge of creating order out of chaos.

Making the leap from the king of backgammon during the 1970s to one of the many millions who became caught up in the poker craze three decades later posed a new challenge and even offered the rare chance of reinvention.  Paul found a new game filled with chaos, but like even the game’s greatest players wasn’t able to create any sense of order.

You wouldn’t have known about Paul’s mastery of other games by looking at him in his later years, which were mostly spent grinding low-stakes poker games in Las Vegas, with the occasional tournament cash here and there.  He rarely talked about his life before poker.  The last time I saw Paul was a month ago.  He was playing in a $70 buy-in nightly tournament at the Orleans.

Cynics might have gazed upon Paul, seen his wrinkled pants barely hanging around his waist, observed his distracting facial tics, and be very hard-pressed to imagine this same man was once a gaming giant who regularly dressed in tuxedos, dined at the world’s finest restaurants, and always flew first-class.

Indeed, Paul seemed to become what many old poker players become in the late autumn of their years, broken down men who long ago forfeited their riches and glory to old age and the creeping hands of all human clocks, their lost triumphs now long past in the rearview mirror of life, invisible to the casual eye.

But we shall remember Paul because it is the right thing to do.

To remember him.  To honor him.  To celebrate his life.

To have known Paul Magriel and remember who he was is to gain a better appreciation for those greats who proceeded us all and blazed their own path, often alone, and left their own mark.

Paul certainly blazed a path.  And he certainly left a mark.

Quack.  Quack.

 

________

Photo Credit:  The three photographs posted in this article were taken from an August 1978 feature story in Gambling Times magazine. 

Some of the biographical content is also taken from the narrative, written by Susan M. Silver.

Here’s a link to another article, published in The New Yorker in 1977.  “PLAYING  x-22

Correction: A previous version of this article identified Phillips Exeter Academy as being located in NewYork.  It’s actually in New Hampshire

 

 

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