Running Up to Vegas

I’ll be heading up to Las Vegas for a few days next week, to do book-launch events associated with Decide to Play Great Poker (now number one in poker books on Amazon and I’ll be damned). A Barnes & Noble in-store, some local TV, then a biggish event at the Rio where, I can confidently predict, the line of people wanting Annie Duke’s signature will be — oh, let’s call it somewhat — longer than mine. This doesn’t bother me. Really. As I’ve pointed out in the past, she has 31,000 Twitter followers, whereas I have 200. Who wouldn’t be happy drafting along in that slip-stream?

Let’s not forget that Annie and I go way back. She hired me in 1996 to write for the short-lived and long-lamented magazine Poker World, and gave me the opportunity to write my first published poker fiction. Later, she hired me on at UltimateBet as content provider and blogger without portfolio. Was it only five years ago that I spent the whole six weeks of the World Series of Poker blogging for UB and doing final-table commentary for Bluff Radio? Seems like a lifetime. So much has changed since then. Yet here I still am, still writing about poker, still making some kind of splash. I’ll be interested to see me in Vegas. I haven’t been there for quite some time.

Now, in the name of nostalgia, here are a few photos from my many blogging road trips to Vegas and a reprint of the first story I ever wrote for Poker World. More later, -jv

This was an ice sculpture at a press party. No ice sculptures anymore. No press parties. No UB.

The big hue and cry was over players wearing logos that promoted online gambling. Since there was a distinction between the money side (.com) and the free-play side (.net) it was determined that players could wear their brands, but only with the .net suffix pasted over the .com. You can see how I treated this outcome.

Offered without comment.

I collected all the chocolates they left in my hotel room and glued them into a super-tower. Why? Oh, hell, do I ever know why?

cibola.com

by John Vorhaus

If money is joy,

is not more money more joy?

Back in the slick middle of the ‘90s, everyone with a flash  computer and a fast modem and an itch to get rich on the internet kicked around sexy techno phrases — “content provider” “ethernet link” — like so many badminton birds. Plastic, magic words, they resonated of treasure in the same way that Cibola, legendary Seven Cities of Gold, once ached in the hearts of  Spanish explorers. Investment bankers hemorrhaged at the checkbook in their urgency to fund any start-up shop that mentioned web presence in its marketing plan. The wild west and the Roaring Twenties and a great good gold rush all rolled into one.

Any good gold rush, it’s the shopkeepers not the prospectors who grab the cash. So it was for John Balthazar Calvin, who got in early with a phat database, cashed out to a greedy media megalith, made a shipload of dough. He was flush; he should have been happy.

But Calvin was a buzz-chaser, never happy with anything except the next thing, the new challenge, the great beguiling unknown. Ignis fatuus, they call it, will o’ the wisp. It sucked him in like Cibola sucked in Spaniards for four generations in the 16th century, until the New World was all subdued and its native Americans reduced to myth and physical shadows.

John Calvin fell into poker, pure pursuit of the buzz. Soon became a ghost, haunting the card clubs of Southern California, seeking the weak game, the soft target he could shred with his superfine mind.

Calvin played great poker, innately great. He could read opponents, parse pot odds, catalog tells, all with an unstudied ease that seemed to flow from his pores. And so won big, though the more he won the less the money moved him. He wanted a game with something full and real and scary at stake.

One night he’s ripping up a stud game in the top section of the Palms Palace when a gnomelike little man whispers in his ear, “Heard you like action.” Slips a folded piece of paper into John’s pocket. Nothing but a date and a time and a place; a map just the same, delusive ticket to the Seven Cities of Gold.

As conquistadors would, armed with their muskets and their Jesuit justification, John Calvin followed the map to a home high in the Hollymont Hills. Found there a game that was no limit in the truest sense: What you see is what you bet, and nothing less than everything is always on the line.

This all explained by his host, monocled Aldo Janiger. “We don’t bother much with money in this game,” said Janiger. “Meaningless exchange of trinkets from where we sit. We play for true value.”

“Fine,” said John Calvin, the buzz boiling his blood. “Name your stakes.”

Stakes named: car, home, business; all assets, convertible like a sofa or not. Furniture, phones, cans in the pantry. Underwear. Socks. Everything you got. Lose here and it’s square one, pal; your life begins again, with damn-all to bootstrap your ass.

All Calvin said: “Deal me in.”

Astonishing pots. Pink slips, trust deeds, mortgages, zero coupon bonds, business franchises; nothing less than everything. Fortunes gained and lost with the recklessness of dimes and nickels pitched across schoolyard cement. At one point, Calvin found himself the owner of a Telluride slopeside condo, but as he didn’t ski, he put it in the next pot; easy come, irrelevant go.

Life is defining moments. John Calvin’s came just at midnight when his seven stud dream/nightmare/dream hand began with ace-ten underneath and an ace with its face to the sky. He pushed the keys to his Land Rover into the pot.

Janiger said, “See your wheels, raise you my MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.”

“Call.” Cold. A cold call.

Janiger showed a queen, and Calvin put him on a pair, so Janiger’s next card, a four, scared him not at all.

“The contents of my safe deposit box,” bet Calvin.

“Call with mine,” said Janiger, and Calvin knew he was getting odds, because his own box held just some indifferently performing certificates of stock, plus a gun he’d ratholed there in a paranoiac pique one day.

Fifth street, a third ace. Janiger caught a suited jack. Went all in: Slid his home, cars, kids’ trust funds, a reverent Picasso and desultory diamond tie pins into the pot. Calvin called: all his own material goods, up to and including a set of  sexy Texas oil wells.

Forget the dull particulars of Janiger’s flush catch. Focus instead on the expression on Calvin’s face as confidence bled into shock and thence to grim awareness. He’d lost it all, capital A All.

Lost to win, somehow, or anyhow that’s how Calvin saw it. A man who’d made money, then more money, till he bent beneath the weight of wealth. Till he went  into the Hollymont Hills one night, siphoned it all off into a card game. A card game. And set himself free.

John Balthazar Calvin went home, changed into comfortable shoes, shrugged into a warmish coat. “You don’t own things,” he said to his house as he bade it farewell. “Things own you.” A man not owned is a free man. John Balthazar Calvin, free man, strolled out into the pre-dawn dark, elated to find the great unknown tomorrow just around the corner.

Reality is subjective: What you see depends on where you stand. From where he stood he could see a place the rest of us with our heavily husband-and-wived lives never get to see. Life, take two, and no telling what might happen next.

What might happen next? Got an idea for fast cash on the i-net? I know a man between jobs just now who’s interested in anything so long as it’s the new thing. He can turn your notion into gold. John Balthazar Calvin. He’s just around the corner, just out ahead of his hand.

If money is joy, then more money is more joy. But money’s only joyful if there’s nothing joyful in your life. Check it out.

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