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The World Series of Poker

Our Man Comes Within a Hair Of a Seat in Poker's Grandest Event
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, Mar/Apr 98

(continued from page 2)

I'm playing like someone who belongs in the main event at the World Series of Poker.

Indeed, I single-handedly dispatch six players from the tournament, stacking their chips on my expanding pile, which is growing like an out-of-control tumor. As each busted player exits, another one comes to fill the empty seat. Soon thereafter I bust them, too. "Guy's a terminator," someone sighs.

Just then, a new player is parked at my table. Literally. A young man with a ponytail and alligator boots wheels a hospital gurney to my table. On it is a man of indeterminate age in worse shape than I've ever seen any living person. Whether because of a debilitating, degenerative disease or a profound birth defect, this poker player has essentially been reduced to a head on a stretcher. His torso, or what is left of it, is about the size of a large cat. He does not appear to have legs. The one arm I can make out is as thin as a pool cue and as short as your forearm. His mouth is frozen open in a perpetual gasp.

I know I am supposed to be evolved and educated and politically correct enough that I should not feel revulsion and pity and horror at the sight of this man, this head on a stretcher. I know I am supposed to be able to look beyond his disfigurement and see the humanity within. I know I am supposed to treat him as I would any other poker player. But I can't. I can't even look at him.

Suddenly I want to be anywhere but here at Binion's Horseshoe, playing in the World Series of Poker. I want to dance and run and make love. I want to do all the mundane and wondrous things the man on the gurney will never do. Trapped on a stretcher, imprisoned in a body that will not cooperate, this man cannot dance and run and make love. He can only lie on his bed and watch.

And play poker. His ponytailed assistant holds his cards for him and, when instructed, bets for him. The disfigured man takes in everything, assessing his opponents with a firm, observant gaze that they dare not fix on him.I need to last only an hour or two more and I'll be in the million-dollar main event. But I know that will not happen. I know I will eventually confront the man on the gurney across from me, and I know he will bust me. I know I will not win the world championship. (No, a strange and gifted man, a card-playing genius named Stu Ungar, will capture the title for a third time.) I know I will leave the Binion's Horseshoe poker room shaken and slightly nauseous. Yet I know I will not curse the whims of fate, the unseen forces that gave the winning cards to someone else.

I know I will lose this game of poker. And I will feel like the luckiest man in the world.

Contributing editor Michael Konik writes Cigar Aficionado's gambling column.


As with any form of gambling, luck plays an important role in poker. But unlike many other games, poker rewards skillful players who understand the probabilities and psychology of the game. In No Limit Texas Hold'em, the game used to decide the world champion, both elements--odds and reading your opponents--separate the dreamers from the experts. Aspiring players can build an entire library of instructional literature on the game, but according to Phil Hellmuth Jr., a former world champion and one of only three players whose all-time earnings exceeds $2 million at the World Series of Poker, the following guidelines will immediately improve your No Limit Texas Hold'em poker results.

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