Twenty years ago, the first online poker cash game was dealt.
January 1st, 1998 marked the roll-out of the first real money poker site, at PlanetPoker.com.
For those who are still connected to the game two decades later, most of us remember those good old days and bad-ass nights of fast money, wicked beats, and broken mice.
Online poker has toasted booms and weathered busts. It has spearheaded soaring highs and withstood devastating scandals. It has busted an untold number of player bankrolls. It has broken up marriages. It has created millionaires, and even spawned a few billionaires. It has hatched a quirky subculture of heroes, villains, and scoundrels. It has attracted celebrities, forged criminals, and made fugitives out of heroes. It has been played in more than 150 countries around the world, some places legal, more often not. It has thrived. It has defrauded. It has survived.
If “poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great,” as American playwright Neil Simon once penned, then online poker is the witches brew of economic and social Darwinism. Indeed, online poker isn’t just the manifestation of the laws of natural selection. It has been the 52-card test tube which confirms survival of the fittest. And yet sometimes, even the very fittest ended up being cheated and were ultimately destroyed. Online poker has often been as cruel as invigorating.
The upcoming multi-part narrative to be posted this week encompasses a reminiscence of my online poker experiences from 1998 to present. The next several chapters, yet unnumbered because I”m writing them now, will relay (at least some) of the details of my marginal role in the game and global phenomenon — as a low-stakes player, a grinder, a political advocate for its legalization, and insider-executive.
Enough with my introduction. It’s time to log in, shuffle up the memories, and deal out the stories.
Photo Credit: The photo above was taken about 20 years ago in a cash game at about the time online poker began. It’s the only photo I have of Marieta sweating me at the table. So, it’s kinda’ special to me.
Discrimination, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation or any other human characteristic is a bad thing. We must stand up for the rights of everyone.
Trouble is, we don’t stand up for everyone.
Take older people for instance. What about the rights of seniors? When do we draw a line and say to someone — you’re too old?
65? 70? 75? 80? When?
Clearly, all ages should not be considered as equals. Some people are too young to do certain things. Everyone understands why age-minimums are necessary. No one wants to see a 7-year-old behind the wheel of a car. Kids shouldn’t be able to buy a bottle of vodka. Children should be forbidden from working in coal mines. So, age restrictions can be good thing. Laws are designed to protect young people from hurting themselves, and harming society. There’s near-universal agreement on this, at least in this country.
However, lot’s of fully-capable older people are forced to end careers and retire early. Maximum age restrictions apply to many occupations, presumably to protect public safety. Some examples of this include forced retirement for airline pilots, air traffic controllers, and law enforcement personnel. Again, there seems to be near universal agreement on age maximums in the greater interest of society.
As the 2020 presidential election draws near, ageism could become a major issue. Two possible Democratic challengers, perhaps the early front runners, will both be in their late 70’s should they decide to run. Former Vice President Joe Biden will be nearly 78 if he’s elected, making him 82 at the end of a prospective first term. Senator Bernie Sanders, still quite popular with many progressives, would assume office at age 79. That would make him 83 at the end of a first term, should he win and survive four years in office.
This begs the question: Is someone in his or her 70’s (or 80’s) too old to be president?
We might be jaded on this question based on history. We’re spooked by memories of what happened within the last century when at least four older men were elected to the presidency.
Ronald Reagan suffered from the early stages of dementia during the final few years in office. Dating back earlier, Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack and was incapacitated for several months. Woodrow Wilson was totally debilitated by a massive stroke and couldn’t perform his normal duties for more than a year. Franklin Roosevelt died early in his fourth term. History shows that old presidents don’t fare well. No president in history has ever held office in his 80’s.
We’ve seen how the stress of the nation’s highest office ages perfectly healthy men far beyond the normal cycle of calendar years. Consider two famous photographs of President Abraham Lincoln — the first one taken just a few years before he took office (in 1858), and the second photo showing his face just seven years later a short time before his death (in 1865):
These two photos of Lincoln, taken less than a decade apart are striking, perhaps even scary. The second photo shows a worn out man appearing perhaps 20 years older. One might even surmise the second portrait is the father of the first.
However, we don’t live in the 1860’s anymore. We’ve made considerable progress in health and medicine since then. People of means with access to good health care live longer and healthier lives than people in earlier times. In 1900, the average American male who survived childbirth had a life expectancy of 46. By 1915, it was 56. By 1941, it was 66. In 1975, it was 76. Today, it’s about 78.
So, there’s both good news and bad news for Biden and Sanders. The good news is….both may be perfectly fit for office, mentally and physically. The bad news is….by the time either president-elect gets sworn in, statistically speaking, he should already be dead.
Hypocrisy abounds, not just in how our popular culture often portrays senior citizens as feeble and incapable, but also how the most important functions of government usually rely on people with lots of experience. This is a glaring contradiction. Polls suggest a sizable percentage of voters wouldn’t support an older candidate, blatantly citing concerns about age. However, members of the Supreme Court have the option of fulfilling appointments for life, should they chose to do so. Since the founding of the republic, some of our greatest jurists were seniors who rendered extraordinary judicial decisions which greatly enhanced the quality of life for millions in this country, and their descendants.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, who fought in the Civil War as a young man, was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court by Teddy Roosevelt. He later served as Chief Justice until 1930. Holmes rendered some of his most respected judicial pronouncements while in his 70’s and 80’s. No one questioned Holmes’ abilities, even up until his retirement from the bench at the ripe old age of 90. Why would Holmes’ years of wisdom be cherished as an asset while labeling some prospective presidential candidates today as too old? To this day, many consider Holmes as one of the greatest minds ever to serve in government. So, why not grant Biden or Sanders the same opportunity and consideration? So long as they appear healthy and are given a clean bill of health, shouldn’t they be given the benefit of doubt?
Fact is, today ageism has become the last acceptable form of open discrimination in America. Whether we admit it or not, most of us make unfair assumptions and sweeping generalizations about older people solely based upon their age. While most of us wouldn’t care if the doctor performing an operation was white or black, male or female, straight or gay — if questioned most of us would likely prefer the surgeon who’s 45 versus the one who’s 75.
Given the critical role personality plays in social media and how politics is viewed as mass entertainment, campaigning (and governing) have became a continuous loop of theatrics. Donald Trump created a new era of 24/7 political reality television. Now, there may be no turning back to boring, studious, wonkish leadership. From this point forward, the lines between governing and entertaining might be indistinguishable. Given what’s happened, popular entertainers may be the best examples of what to expect if an octogenarian were to assume the presidency. Many of our most popular entertainers continue to act, sing, dance, and tell jokes well into their 80’s and even 90’s. Some haven’t lost a step and don’t miss a beat. Apparently, we don’t discriminate based on age when it comes to the things that amuse us. But governing may be a different matter.
To be clear, I too have concerns about electing an old person to such an important position of leadership. Biden and Sanders might be too old to run, and certainly would carry the baggage of mass concern should either end up winning. I too find myself silently thinking, “Gee, I wish they were 20 years younger. I’m not sure I can vote for a 78-year-old.” Admittedly, that’s discrimination.
While age may be “just a state of mind” as the familiar saying goes, in reality everyone’s number comes with preconceptions, whether deserved or not. Ageism is indeed the last widespread form of discrimination.
Much of my life has been dedicated to selfish pursuits.
Gambling. Making money. Pursuing opportunity. Drinking fine wine. Enjoying leisure.
I don’t like to admit this, but it’s true.
Age and wisdom aren’t necessarily linked. There are no guarantees that as one gets further from the beginning and closer to the end some great enlightenment awaits us with open arms. But I do believe compassion is an evolutionary by-product of getting older.
I was lucky to marry someone better than myself 26 years ago. She made me do things I initially didn’t want to do and didn’t like to do. Over time, I came to not only appreciate these forced distractions. I began to value them as an absolute necessity.
Charity isn’t something I’ve written much about. I don’t believe giving of either one’s time or money should be publicized by those who do good deeds. Calling attention to oneself for volunteering or making a donation strikes me as a tainted benevolence. Yes, it’s a good thing. But the motives are suspect. I realize not everyone will agree with me and that spotlighting acts of kindness can promote even more giving. I totally get that.
With that disclaimer, I’ll share two deeds with you now — one big and one small.
The bigger act of charity was entirely Marieta’s idea. It was an accident, really. I can’t elaborate too much on the particulars because there are some risks. If too many details were divulged on social media, I could kill the golden goose of charity. So, I will be intentionally vague for reasons hopefully understood.
Last week, Marieta and I delivered our 150th shipment of produce (fruits and vegetables) to those less fortunate here in Las Vegas. Sometime in 2012, Marieta established a connection with a supplier who was about to throw out boxes filled with “old” food — like carrots, corn, potatoes, celery, etc. — which were about to expire. By law, they had to trash the stuff before its expiration dates. Rather than toss away perfectly healthy food, Marieta went out of her way to establish a network of contacts which got the fruits and vegetables to a countless number of needy families, including a local shelter. About once a week, we deliver 6-10 boxes to various people who do good work for hungry people. Sometimes, the people come to our house and pick the boxes up after Marieta has gathered them. This isn’t a sacrifice for me. Marieta does all the work.
Before anyone accuses me of false modesty, let me make it clear my generosity has its limitations. A few years ago, I wrote about my dear friends Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher and the sacrifices they make during the holidays. Every Christmas morning, going back many consecutive years, Linda and Jan drive downtown and set up a table where they give away boxes of clothing to homeless people. They arrive at 6 am. This past Christmas, it was 34 degrees outside at that hour. My reaction is — I love Linda and Jan and love what they do. But I’d rather be at home in a warm bed. Call me a dog.
I tell this story about giving away the boxes of food because it happened entirely by accident. We didn’t wake up one day and decide to start helping people. It kinda’ just happened.
Here’s a picture of the back of the car I took some time ago which shows the typical “shipment.”
The smaller act of charity was also an accident. Here’s what happened.
I woke up yesterday morning and was greeted by one of those annoying pop ups on Facebook which asked me if I wanted to set up something called a “birthday fundraiser.”
I almost deleted this on the spot but then got to thinking. Birthdays don’t thrill me (not with #56 approaching). I don’t send birthday greetings to anyone. It’s just another day to me. I don’t care.
However, every February 6th — I receive hundreds of birthday wishes, all by friends and family and associates who mean well. I do appreciate these kind thoughts. I really do. I just don’t fancy the ritual and routine of it all. If I could delete this invasion of privacy, I probably would.
So, I decided to use the Facebook prompt and set up a “fundraiser.” I presumed that in lieu of the usual birthday balloons which kinda’ scream — “hey, look at me!” — instead all that attention would go to the charity I picked.
I’m a cynic. I’ve bashed countless “charities.” I am suspicious by nature. But another accident happened to me about 15 years ago while I was working a major poker event in Tunica, near Memphis. I got to visit the local St. Jude Children’s Hospital. That was a life changing experience that brings a tear to my eye as I write this sentence constructed upon that faint memory of a cold January 2001 day. I learned that everything at St. Jude is free. The children are given every available treatment. The families are even housed free of charge. Meals are provided. This was the charity founded by the great entertainer Danny Thomas, now chaired by his daughter, Marlo Thomas (best known as “That Girl!”). I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe in saints. But I believe St. Jude does god-like miracles for people who could sure use a miracle.
That’s why I picked St. Jude. [Note: Contrary to its name and the late Danny Thomas’ strong Catholic faith, St. Jude is not affiliated with any religious organization.]
So, I hit the “approve” button and expected the post to appear on February 6th.
Well, of course it hit the page instantly.
Annoyed by this, I tried to go back and delete it. How ridiculous this all seemed. Me posting a request for money nearly two weeks before my birthday. I was mad, actually.
Then, before I could delete the page, I noticed someone had already hit the link and sent in $20. John W. L. Berry might not know it, but his quick reflexes was another “accident” of good fortune. Oh well, cat’s out of the bag. They are already donating. What have I done?
I set the fundraising bar modestly low. Not wanting to making some major campaign out of this, I figured a couple of hundred dollars would be a nice nest egg of a donation — each and every penny going straight to St. Jude. Well, it’s been 24 hours now, and so far 14 nice people have made a donation. Here’s the very thoughtful people who sent a donation in to St. Jude:
Earl Burton, Ken Kubey, Marissa Chien, Larry Greenfield, Tom Booker, Michael Hunter, Matthew Moring, John W.L. Berry, John Butremovic, Bruce Frank, Dave Tuley, Jennifer Winter, Brad Willis, and Ross Poppel
The $200 fundraising goal was obliterated within the first hour. Now, another 11 days remain to raise a few extra dollars. Every little bit counts. See the link to the “accidental” Facebook page below.
This all got me to thinking about what the sum of $200 raised means to just one family at St. Jude. It likely means housing and feeding them for a day, with a little left over to spare. Just a day. It’s small. But’s it big.
Sure, we need more big acts of charity. But we also need small acts of charity, which are easier and can be done with little or no sacrifice. A parting thought — if there are enough small acts, it can even become a big act.
Here’s a link to the the accidental Facebook page I created should you wish to give a small donation to this wonderful charity that helps so many children and their families. CLICK HERE
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
— Pablo Picasso
I visited my local library yesterday.
Libraries aren’t as popular as they used to be. That’s because the Internet has domineered the ways we get information. Smartphones provide instant access to more knowledge than any collection of books. Now, some people are saying there’s no need for libraries anymore.
Libraries are so much more than just a place to read. This past week, my local library, the West Sahara branch in Las Vegas, offered classes for guitar instruction, yoga, meditation, language lessons, dance, acting, writing, moviemaking, winter gardening, and even how to buy your first house. That’s just for starters. My local library also hosted multiple music recitals, emotional support groups, travel narratives, book and movie discussion clubs, exercise for seniors, and several other interesting activities that enrich people’s lives. The possibilities of discovery remain endless. If something’s not on your interest list, anyone in the community is welcome to come in and start their club or host an event.
I’m a big believer in libraries. They’re a lifeline. They reflect the best of us. They educate us. They inspire us. In a smothering checkerboard of banks, fast-food joints, and shopping malls, which is pretty much what all cities have become, libraries remain an oasis where curiosities can be explored. I think we need more safe places where people can meet and talk and learn and get to know each other. We need more bonds between us and fewer isolation chambers.
That’s what libraries are for. That’s what libraries do. Libraries bring people together.
Something I saw yesterday reinforced this strong belief in libraries. It gave me pause to recognize the vital role libraries play in the lives of so many people. I’d like to share this story with you.
Inside most branch libraries here in Las Vegas are small art galleries. They’re nothing fancy. The displays change about once a month. In the past, I’ve seen galleries with paintings, sculptures, photography, and other works of art. Most of the displays were created by local artists. Just about all of them are amateurs.
I nearly passed the display by without even noticing it. But something caught my attention and enticed my curiosity to step inside and explore. Paintings were displayed upon the walls. There were close to 100 paintings in all. No one was there. The room was empty, except for the paintings, and me.
One by one, I gazed at the artworks. Some made more of an impression than others. But all were interesting and worth thinking about for at least a few moments. Each painting represented someone’s time and effort. Each painting also revealed something within the artist’s emotions that was important enough it needed to be shared. Artists must not only feel what they create. They must create what they feel.
After looking at a dozen or so paintings, something struck me. I hadn’t given much thought to the artists nor read about them in the small placards affixed to each painting because they were all local people. They weren’t famous. But then and there I learned they shared something more in common than just being residents of Las Vegas and being amateur artists.
Here’s where you get to take a short test. Let’s see if you can figure out what exactly each of these artists and artworks has in common. I’ve posted five images (one at the top of this article, and four more below). Take a guess and see if you recognize common bond of these talented artists who created these pictures:
I doubt many of you will get the correct answer. So, let me fill you in:
Each of these paintings was created by someone with a mental disability and/or a learning disorder.
Now, please go back and look at them again.
For those burdened with mental challenges, daily activities must be difficult, if not impossible. I can’t even imagine. Yet, while some disabilities are plainly obvious, when given an opportunity to express oneself artistically, I doubt anyone can tell any difference between someone who’s “normal” versus artists who are intellectually challenged. We all have emotions. We all have feelings. We all have needs to share. Fortunately, there’s a place where these small gifts can be seen and enjoyed.
Each of the paintings on display at my local library was created by someone with a special need. Many were painted by teens, some even by children. Looking at them, we are reminded art has no minimums nor maximums, no boundaries, and no limitations — other than what the mind can conceive.
I’m lucky to have had this accidental experience. Thanks to a local library, I was able to let my curiosity lead me to a new discovery.
We need libraries. We need art. We need each other.
To learn more about what’s happening at local Las Vegas libraries, please visit: LVCCLD
To learn more about the wonderful work done by Opportunity Village and the many volunteers, please visit: OPPORTUNITY VILLAGE
‘Tis the Season to be Folly: Christmas Cards for Grinches
Earlier this week, we received our first Christmas card of the holiday season.
We get lots of cards every year because we’re lucky to know so many friends and insurance agents. Nothing tingles me with Christmas cheer more than opening a card heralding “Peace on Earth” while soliciting an appointment to update my life insurance policy.
On the bright side, in another card that arrived this week — I got a 20-percent off coupon to change the oil on the Volvo, which was supposed to be done 8,000 miles ago.
Since this is the season for giving, allow me to me strike a preemptive bell and express my most sincere gratitude to all who will send a Christmas card this year, or as the politically correct would say — a “Holiday Card.”
It might surprise many to know that I celebrate the Christmas season with joy. Mid-December means the playoffs are about to begin. I love opening up presents, everything except for the stale cheeseball from the Omaha Steaks catalog someone in my family sends every year that hits the trash can the instant I open the box. Gee, I sure wish Aunt Rosemary would send that fucking cheeseball just one week earlier. That way I could re-gift it to someone I can’t stand.
See, I do understand the true meaning of Christmas.
What follows is my “Ten Commandments” for those who partake in the annual tradition of sending me a Christmas card. Following these rules will greatly enhance my enjoyment of the holiday season. So, please read, take notes, and follow carefully:
 Mail your Christmas cards ON TIME — Try and get your cards to me by mid-December, if possible. If it’s not in my mailbox by around December 15th, chances are the card will end up buried in a pile of unopened junk mail, lost in a blizzard of overdue notices from bill collectors threatening legal action. I want to enjoy your card (especially if there’s a gift). So, snap into shape and get it to me on time!
 Flag your Christmas card if it contains CASH — If you’ve placed currency inside, please write a huge dollar sign ($) on the outside of the envelope so I can flag it, open it up, and use the money immediately. Note that these coveted cards receive a top priority. So, if you really want to make a positive impression and show your love, cash in strongly encouraged. I also accept checks.
 Send me a gift certificate I CAN USE — If you buy me a gift certificate, make damn certain it’s for somewhere I shop. Bookstores are good. Liquor stores are even better. A debit Visa card with a generous credit line works best. I also accept department store gift certificates (anything Macy’s-grade, or above). But remember — nothing says “Happy Holidays” with more sincerity and more love than cash.
 Religious cards ARE permissible — I promise to display your godly card prominently above my fireplace, provided your tithing of spirit is accompanied by an offering. Read your scripture. ‘Tis better to give than to receive. Please give. Generously. Jesus will reward you.
 ELVES are creepy — Anything with an elf on it gets trashed, that is — after I pilfer the inside of the envelope for money, first. I don’t do elves or munchkins or other cutesy freaky bullshit like that. Elves have no business on my mantel next to the Baby Jesus or Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer cards. That’s sacrilegious.
 Be SURE to include your return address — That way, if I’m really impressed with your offering, I can rush out to a Dollar Store and quickly buy you something that looks like a lot of forethought went into the purchase. But don’t expect me to mail it from the Post Office. I don’t like to stand in long lines. I’ll hold your gift until the next time I see you in Las Vegas. That’s okay, right? On second thought, skip your return address. That gives me a convenient excuse.
 Foreigners hold a SPECIAL place in my heart — If you’re from a foreign country, I really appreciate your Christmas card, which probably cost another 35-cents to mail across the ocean. Wow, what a sacrifice. However, please note that there’s some reciprocal chance the card I sent you crisscrossed in the mail and accidentally got “lost.” Getting jacked for extra postage is one thing. But I’m sure as shit on snow not standing in a long line at the Post Office to mail a letter to Romania. Remember, you’re in my thoughts. That’s what really counts.
 I don’t want to read your LIFE STORY — Some of you will send me one of those nice notes, a snoozefest recap of what you’ve been doing over the past year. How nice. But stick to the highlights, okay? I can’t wade the second paragraph without balling my eyes out when I read your dog died last March. Spare me, please. If you climbed Mount Everest, walked on the Moon, won an Oscar, or hit the Powerball Jackpot — pray do tell me about it. This is especially true if you’re a distant relative, in which case I really have been really meaning to call you all these decades years. If you’re suddenly rich, nevermind the holiday season — I really would like to talk to you as soon as possible. In fact, it’s urgent.
 Make sure I can READ your handwriting — Don’t bother writing anything personal other than signing your name. That’s because most of the time I can’t read your handwriting anyways. As far as I’m concerned, the hacks who write the nice sayings printed inside Hallmark Cards are the professionals. So, leave it up to them. I’m sure the contract temp with no health benefits shackled to the drudgery of working inside a cubicle in a suburban Kansas City industrial park knows precisely what’s on your mind when he creates that catchy epistle about “world peace.” Call me a cynic, but I can’t even get peace in my own family.
 If you receive a card from me, expect it will arrive well AFTER Christmas Day — I’m a very thoughtful person. I figure that if I send out my cards out in time, they will be forgotten amidst all the other cards you receive. I want to truly stand out. I want to make an impression. So, mine will arrive late, as a surprise. Like an encore at a show. Besides, all the boxes of Christmas cards are 50 percent off after December 25th.
Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Power to the People, Give Peace and Chance, and Happy New Year!