The Worst Poker Player in the World
I never saw it coming.
But least there was justification for my naivete.
I’m wiped out. Mentally exhausted. It’s the last of twelve working days covering the World Series of Poker Circuit at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The final stretch has turned into an 18-hour death match. A workday that began at 11 am is now crawling past 4 am. During a short break in the “action,” I step outside for some much-needed peace and quiet.
But things rarely go as we plan.
Camped out in front of the darkened grandstand, I’m alone. And that’s just the way I want it. Peace. Quiet. Darkness.
Trouble is, there’s a shadowy figure looming on the horizon. Worse, he’s headed straight towards me.
Moments later, the shadowy distraction has metastasized into an annoyance looking straight at me puffing away on a cigarette.
“Hey buddy, how’s it going?”
Me: “Hey.” (What I’m really thinking: “Oh, fuck”)
“I just played with the worst poker player in the world. He’s in there playing right now!”
The man points back in the direction of the poker room, located clear on the other side of the grandstand. The man is sporting cutoffs, a soiled western shirt, a ball cap, speaks with a Southern accent, and from what I can tell appears in need of some serious dental work.
Me: “Oh.” (What I’m really thinking: “How can I make this joker go away?”)
Then, the inevitable happens. The bad beat story begins.
Now, you have to understand. I don’t listen to bad beat stories. Ever. I no longer care. I never did care. This all brings to mind the wonderful retort to bad beat stories which goes as follows: The folly of telling bad beat stories is — half the listeners don’t care and the other half are wishing you lost even more.
Maybe I’m just jaded having done this for so long. I’ve witnessed tens of millions — make that hundreds of millions — of dollars changing hands over the years at the WSOP based on the turn of a single card. There’s no longer any story that’s compelling enough to listen to. Sorry, getting your set cracked in a $1-2 game and losing a $200 stack isn’t worth my attention. Anyone that launches into a bad bat story gets an abrupt walk-away from me. I don’t care if your feelings are hurt. Go cry to someone else. Fuck off.
Trouble is, it’s 4 am right now. And there’s not exactly anyplace to get up and walk away, unless I want to go back inside where it’s bright and nosy. Hence this spot I’m in has turned into Purgatory. I’m damned if I stay. I’m damned if I leave.
So, I hide my head and close my eyes. For some reason, ignoring the joker doesn’t dissuade him. This miserable man seems to think I’m now empathizing with his misfortune by showing frustration. I don’t know. Perhaps I nodded at the wrong time. The beast seems to think he’s found a sympathetic ear.
So, after the abuser finishes up his bad beat tale, he launches back into his diatribe about “the world’s worst poker player.”
That’s an amazing statement. Imagine.. Among all the 150,000,000 or so poker players worldwide, the very worst one is right here in Palm Beach, Florida!
So, jackass rambles on a bit. I no longer possess a civil bone in my body. He doesn’t even warrant an “oh,” from me — and certainly won’t get a “sorry to hear that.”
Trouble is, railbirds are persistent critters. I’ll give them that. If they focused half of the energies on their poker game as their craft of hallway talk, they’d be at least break even.
So, the man finally gets to the point.
“I know that guy is going to spew his money away to somebody. It’s four-handed right now. They’re closing up in an hour.” Note: The poker room has a 5 am curfew.
At this point, I have to look up. Here it comes. The pitch….
“I’ve only got $30 left. I know this is a little strange, but I know that guy’s going to give away his money.”
Before he can deliver his fastball over the plate, I’m already swinging with my best line: “Man, I’m busted.”
“Well, shit. I guess I’ll have to go look somewhere else. Nice talking to ya.”
And with that, the man flicks his cigarette butt over the rail onto the track and walks away.
It was over.
Two magical words: “I’m busted.”
And with that, my break time was over. The time had come to go back inside and and watch two players I did not know competing for $206,000 in prize money.
An hour later, the player who ultimately won the championship managed to catch ace on the turn, to bust the second-place finisher, who was holding a pair of fives. One card had cost the runner up about $80,000.
Photo Credit: Moments after this exchange, Eric Harkins from ImageMasters walked by and shot the photograph of me “resting my eyes” near the end of a long day.