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Shark Attack

To Play Poker with Vegas' Big Boys, Bring a Lot of Skill--and Plenty of Cash
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96

(continued from page 2)

After two eight-hour sessions, The Aussie is up more than $900,000. Big Ricky is not amused.

"I had a made flush on the flop," Ricky complains, recalling one particularly painful hand. "The guy calls me with a pair. Just a pair! There's a flush out there staring him in the face and he calls all his money with a pair. Next card gives him two pair. Next card gives him a full house. Two perfect running cards to beat me. You see what we're dealing with here?"

With each small victory The Aussie neither gloats nor apologizes. He just keeps playing, hand after hand, rubbing a polished set of rosary beads in his left palm. When he becomes tired, or perhaps when he feels his fortunes may be turning, he stacks his $5,000 chips in a plastic rack and bids his famous hosts goodnight. They tell him they look forward to playing with him tomorrow morning. "Yes, me, too," The Aussie says, and disappears with their money.

In the Hollywood version of this story, The Aussie would continue to win, breaking The Wonk and The Pretty Boy and The Gamesman and all the rest of the sharks, until only he and the putative best, The Bruiser, were left. They would then play heads-up, famous pro versus wily amateur, until The Bruiser, down nearly $4 million, concedes the game to our unknown hero, telling The Aussie he is surely the finest poker player to have ever visited Las Vegas. At which point The Aussie would reveal that he is not actually an Aussie at all, but a mid-limit grinder from The Mirage's
$50-to-$100 game, an astute observer who has studied The Big Game from close up for three years, memorizing each player's weakness, planning a grand assault. Or some such nonsense.

Alas, this is not Movieland. It is Las Vegas, where the cruel mathematics of The Edge eventually crushes even the luckiest gambler, no matter how many restaurants he owns back in Melbourne. At his zenith, The Aussie is $1.2 million to the good. By the time he gets back on his jet to the land of kangaroos, he's donated several million dollars to the local economy.

And, honestly, he doesn't really mind. He's had fun. He's had the best poker players in the world perplexed, anxious, down. He's been treated like a royal ambassador. He's felt the sting of failure and the elation of triumph. More than anything else, he's been one of the boys, a temporary member in one of the most elite clubs in Las Vegas. He's played in the biggest game in town.

Contributing Editor Michael Konik is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.


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