The third-annual “Poker for Hope” tournament takes place this Saturday night at Bally’s Las Vegas. Action gets underway at 6 pm.
Founded in honor of Tia Palermo, who battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma for 11 years and and passed away in 2012 at age 48, all funds raised will go to the Tia’s Hope charity, which helps patients and their families stricken with this disease in education, emotional support, and direct financial assistance. Read more about Tia and the foundation created in her name here: TIA’S HOPE
I’ve decided to pass on attending this year’s American Poker Awards, to be held in Los Angeles this weekend.
There are a number of reasons for this, which I won’t get into at the moment. I do want to express my support for the idea of handing out awards to those who have improved the game and for recognizing players and insiders who have made significant contributions over a certain period of time.
Are awards like this frivolous? Perhaps they are. But since just about every other business, sport, and art form honors its super achievers and icons, then so too should we. Even science, mathematics, economics, and literature indulge in their very own annual awards ceremonies. Poker, which is played by about 100 million people worldwide, rightly deserves a special night of spectacle, and the APA’s creators and organizers — Alex Dreyfus in particular — deserves our appreciation for making this happen.
The best Rene Angelil story I’ve heard was once told by his wife, the electrifying singer and stage performer Celine Dion.
While being interviewed on American television by Barbara Walters, Dion was asked point blank about her husband’s reported high-stakes gambling, which constituted a significant portion of his recreational time. Angelil lived in Las Vegas during the final ten years of his life. No doubt during much that period, Angelil enjoyed hanging out at casinos, and spent many hours in poker rooms, especially. Angelil entered tournament events at the World Series of Poker every year and was often seen sitting down in No-Limit Hold’em cash games nightly at Caesars Palace while his wife was taking center stage to standing ovations at the sold-out Colosseum Arena.
“Is your husband a compulsive gambler?” was the gist of the question.
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.
But 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.
The 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.
Bob 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.
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.
(L to R) Linda Johnson, me, Jan Fisher, Jake, Bob and Maureen Feduniak