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Posted by on Jan 7, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments

My Thoughts on Bernie Sanders (and his Presidential Campaign)

 

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Yesterday, I spent much of my day with the “Bernie Sanders for President” campaign here in Nevada.  ]

My home state will hold its caucus on February 20th.  That means “what happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas,” at least when it comes to having an impact on the party primaries and who ultimately gets nominated by both the Democrats and Republicans.  As the first state in the West to hold a caucus, we really will have a voice here in Nevada about choosing the next president.

For those expecting a gushing article in support of Sen. Sanders, sorry — you won’t read that here.  Instead, I’ll attempt to write about the sitting Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate as impartially as I can.  Full Disclosure:  I favor most of Sen. Sanders’ policies.  I will almost certainly support him in the state caucus.  Nonetheless, I’d like to give an unfiltered perspective of what attending a Bernie Sanders’ campaign rally is like.

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Posted by on Dec 29, 2015 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas | 2 comments

Holidays at the Feduniaks

 

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For years, I’d heard about the stunning home of two wonderful people named Bob and Maureen Feduniak.

Well yesterday, I finally got a chance to see the famous grand estate for myself, located in the exclusive Southern Highlands area of Las Vegas.  And so, I’d like to share a few impressions of their home and tell you more about what makes the Feduniaks such amazing people in the hearts and minds of all those blessed to know them.

Many readers here probably recognize the Feduniaks from the poker scene.  Bob and Maureen have played poker regularly in Las Vegas for nearly two decades.  For a period, they also spent considerable time traveling around the country attending major poker events.  They also played in World Series of Poker every year, which is how I met them.  If there’s such a thing as poker’s incomparable socialites, the Feduniaks would undoubtedly be knighted atop that lofty pyramid.

6a00d8341c2dc853ef00e54f731d158834-800wiBut for all their success, what makes them most appealing isn’t their home, which is gorgeous….nor their wealth, which is considerable.  What’s most appealing are the Feduniaks — as people.  Although I knew them both casually sometime before, my first direct encounter with the couple came in 2006 when Maureen played in the Seniors Championship and went deep, which is held every year at the WSOP.  Incredibly, Maureen finished second that year.  Nothing against the eventual winner, but I remember pretty much the whole poker community was cheering for Maureen to win the gold bracelet in that tournament.  She’d played in so many events in the past, so we thought she deserved it.  Still, second place was pretty impressive.

Yesterday, I was invited to the Feduniak’s home, finally accepting what must have been the 12th or 13th invitation.  I tend to decline most party invites nowadays, and always had to work when the Feduniaks threw their annual WSOP bash every summer.  But this time, I was determined to make their special holiday occasion, and I’m certainly glad I did.

IMAG1647The Feduniak’s live in a single-story, Tuscan-style estate perched atop a hill hugging a mountain at the far southern edge of town, which is custom designed and built in a manner that compliments the many varied interests and affections of the busy Feduniaks.  I’ve always been a fanatic for architect Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired functionality, and their home very much embodies that concept of class and beauty combined with a nobler sense of real purpose.  Their home is certainly beautiful, but rather than overtly ornamental or ostentatious, the better word to describe the ambiance is — inclusive.  One simply has a sense of belonging here, even for first-time visitors.  Cozy isn’t normally the way to describe an 8,000-square foot residence that takes up the side of a mountain.  But, this is one cozy palace.

IMAG1644Bob is one of the most interesting people I’ve met.  He seems genuinely interested in just about every subject, no matter what comes up in conversation, and strikes me as someone who often knows far more about something than he lets on, perhaps simply choosing to be polite and gracious to his guests.  Born in San Francisco, Bob earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford — in physics.  Next, he attended Cal-Berkeley as a graduate student during the late 1960’s, which were certainly interesting times to be at the epicenter of the protest movement.  Bob later went into finance, and the rest as they say, is history.  Here’s Bob out in his backyard with one of his two prized sculptures.

Bob and I spent much of the afternoon together, which made me feel guilty because he had so many other guests and family to attend to — about 30 by my count.  In fact, I got to meet many of the Feduniaks and their friends.  Everyone seemed like someone I could spend an hour with and enjoy and learn from.  One of the hottest topics of the day was the movie I reviewed recently, “The Big Short.”  Bob remarked that he’d read the book and was a fan of Michael Lewis’ books.  However, he had not seen the film yet.

I should also mention another thing about the Feduniaks.  Although many might not be aware, they have given much back to the poker community.  Several years ago, they bought and took over PokerPages.com, which was once the most popular poker website in the world (it was later sold to PokerStars.com and has since gone away).  At the time, I was eager to do a monthly “60 Minutes”-style expose on a variety of controversial topics.  So, I approached the Feduniaks to see if they would be interested in getting into the investigative journalism business, and somewhat to my surprise they both liked the idea.  I always appreciated that vote of trust and confidence.  We did end up creating a show called “Poker Insider,” which I will write about more another time.  Anyway, you look back at times in your life when people took a chance on you and believed in what you were doing — and the support I received from them back then is something I haven’t forgotten.

IMAG1646 (2)In a day with many highlights, if I had to pick a moment that was special beyond the rest it was the much-anticipated visit to the Feduniak’s wine cellar.  I’ve seen some nice collections in my time, but this rivaled anything from the most exclusive restaurants in Las Vegas.  Turns out, Bob had the foresight to buy wines by the case back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, before wine collecting got to be a big thing and prices skyrocketed.  Bob mentioned that he wasn’t into wines for investment purposes, so much.  He just fancied being a custodian of fine craftmanship and knew the day would eventually come that he and Maureen would begin drinking the most treasured members of their collection.  Typical of the way the Feduniaks look at life, Bob mentioned that he and Maureen now try to open a special bottle regularly and then enjoy them together.  He’s even got quite a few bottles dating back to 1947, the year he was born.  We also share at least one common trait — we both adore French wines.  Only difference is, Bob can afford the really expensive stuff, while my tastes are — to put it mildly — more modest.  Encouraged by Maureen who appears on Facebook regularly, I asked if she would share with us some of the best wines she and Bob enjoy together so we could learn from their experience.  I mean, how often do you get to enjoy a bottle from 1947, coincidentally one of the very best vintages for French wines?  She promised she would consider the idea.  Let this be the gentle suggestive nudge to get Maureen to next pursue a part-time career as our trusted wine critic.

We spent nearly an hour in the wine cellar, it seemed.  The time flew by.  I wasn’t complaining.  When I die, I want my ashes spread within these walls.

The Feduniaks also introduced me to wines from New Zealand. something kinda’ new to me.  I’d had several Sauvignon Blancs in the past from NZ, encouraged by poker writer and retired British politician Des Wilson.  In fact, I’ve become quite partial to them.  However, I knew nothing of the Pinot Noirs from that part of the world.  Bob graciously gave me a bottle of his finest to take home, which I plan to open on New Year’s Day with Marieta.  Seems like the perfect wine to toast in the coming new year.  Cheers!

The Feduniaks are truly special people.  After much anticipation, I was privileged to finally visit their home and meet several of their friends and family.  Thanks to you both, for a memorable holiday gathering.  And, for the wine.

 

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(L to R) Linda Johnson, me, Jan Fisher, Jake, Bob and Maureen Feduniak

 

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Movie Reviews, Politics | 2 comments

“The Big Short” is Brilliant (Movie Review)

 

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Maybe it was watching “The Big Short” here in Las Vegas, where the housing crash hit so hard and caused so much pain, which not only made the movie pertinent, but intensely personal.

An evening showing of the film last night in Downtown Summerlin drew nervous laughter, moments of spontaneous clapping, audible gasps, and above all else — visible anger from the packed audience riveted by a cinematic re-creation of the most grotesque national scandal of our lifetimes, the events leading up to the global financial crisis of 2008.

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Posted by on Dec 16, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics | 3 comments

Who Are the New Secret Owners Behind the Curtain at the Las Vegas Review-Journal?

 

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Who controls the past controls the future.  Who controls the present controls the past.

— George Orwell (“1984”)

 

An astonishing thing happened in Las Vegas, Nevada this past week.  The largest newspaper in the state, the Las Vegas Review-Journal was sold off — to someone.

Trouble is — no one knows who.

Not even the writers and editors on the news staff know who they’re working for, right now.  A number of reporters have even taken to Twitter the past few days, speculating publicly on the media mystery of the great unknown.

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Posted by on Dec 14, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Restaurant Reviews | 5 comments

The Last Supper: “Buzio’s,” WSOP’s Favorite Restaurant Closes After 25 Years at Rio

 

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The last two customers on the final night, with Darcy and Sally at Buzio’s (Rio)

 

Our fondest memories are of people and places.

For many, Buzio’s at the Rio in Las Vegas was one of the fondest of places because it was full of so many good people.  It was more than just a casual restaurant.  Buzio’s was a cradle of friendship and bastion of happiness.  It was a boardroom of wheeling and dealing.  It was a place to gossip, to drown our sorrows, and to celebrate.  If the World Series of Poker, held at the Rio each summer since 2005 had an office, a break room, a social club, a watering hole, and a place of reprieve and relaxation — it was most certainly the public alcove in the form of a once-popular seafood restaurant along the so-called “bad beat hallway” leading back to the main casino.

Buzio’s served its final meal on Saturday night — December 12, 2015.  After 25 years, the restaurant closed its doors for the last time, in order to make way for a new eatery which will eventually open on the spot where where poker players clamored each night for dinner reservations, where strategy was furiously rehashed and debated, where millions in poker deals were made over shrimp cocktails, where disappointments were doused and gradually forgotten, where tournament survival was toasted, and where innumerable lasting friendships were founded.  Hostilities on hold, competitors who tried to outfox each other during the WSOP competing for their livelihoods often dined out together at Buzio’s.  Poker doesn’t have many places around like this anymore.  Sadly now, it has one less such place.

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