Poker Man was what they had called him when he was younger. He’d won all the big tournaments, and played against the best–Johnny Ross, Texas Slim, and the math wizard from Las Vegas, Tommy Polansky. You name the player, Poker Man had matched chips and wits with all of them. At least that’s what he’d tell anyone who’d listen to his stories. Now at eighty-six years of age, his memory was fading and his stories had become even more boisterous. Poker Man, if he had ever really been known by that name, had become known as Old Poker Guy.
“Play it close to the vest,” he would always tell the younger Togel Singapore players. “Don’t chase cards and don’t chase the ladies.” His cockeyed grin and wink would let them know that he didn’t believe the part about chasing the ladies. The players would listen to his stories and make fun of the old man. No one knew if he was telling the truth when he talked of beating world champion, Johnny Ross in a heads-up game of Texas hold’em in the backroom of a Dallas nightclub or if it was just more of the old man’s ramblings. “He didn’t have a chance.” Old Poker Guy would always smile when he told this particular story. “Pocket fives– five of hearts and five of clubs, and the five of spades on the river. He should have known he couldn’t beat me.” Each time he told the story there would be additional details, as though he was remembering new incidents that had occurred. Most thought it was the old guy’s imagination getting away on him. Or perhaps he was putting all his poker experiences into one story.
“My money’s on you, old man,” one of the locals had shouted just before final action began at the Texas State Hold’em Championship. The tournament director immediately admonished the young bystander to be quiet; there would be no interruptions for the rest of the tournament.
It was heads-up now. Old Poker Guy had made the final table of six at the end of the second day when his seven-deuce offsuit in the big blind had flopped a full house which he slow-played against ace-ace and king-king, eliminating the final two players in contention for a seat in the finals. Now he had whittled his way through the field, eliminating or watching four of the six worthy opponents fall by the wayside. It was Old Poker Guy against Hank Docherty, who had just recently placed second in the prestigious World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. They would play for the championship of Texas. No limit hold’em.
The tournament had begun three days before. Limited to three hundred entries, the best players in the southwest along with a large number of local wannabee champions had scrambled into the Four Star Indian Casino near the Mexican border. Most were surprised when Old Poker Guy had stepped up to the tournament table and laid out five crumpled one hundred dollar bills and two twenties. No one had ever seen him actually play before and no one had expected him to get past the first day of the competition. They’d chuckled at the old man as he signed in as Stanley Robinson, then erased his name and with a wry smile changed it to Old Poker Guy.
“I don’t get lucky, I just get good,” was another of the expressions that locals were apt to hear coming from Old Poker Guy. He always had on baggy pants and a tattered flannel shirt, regardless of the weather. Most days he’d wear a plastic bow-tie. “Damned kids nowadays don’t understand the game,” he would often mumble to himself as he watched the ring action in the 10-20 hold’em games at Four Star. They liked to hide his tattered New York Yankee baseball cap that Old Poker Guy claimed was a gift from “The Babe.
” Now with his head swirling, Old Poker Guy worried about being able to keep his concentration in the competition with his formidable foe. He’d cursed himself for having gotten lost on the way to the tournament earlier in the day, causing him to miss the first four hands. “I can drive here blind-folded,” he mumbled to himself as he took his seat at the final table. The three days of constant poker weighed heavily on Old Poker Guy’s endurance.
“He’s a book of tells,” one of the bystanders whispered. Every time Old Poker Guy would catch a card his eyebrows raised and he lifted himself upright in his chair. It was just a matter of time before Docherty eliminated the old man, whose mind had now departed from the game.
“Keep your damned mind on the game, old man!” the voice came from the rail directly behind Docherty. It was Johnny Ross. He was sure of it. Old Poker Guy raised his head and looked toward the rail. A smiling Johnny Ross winked at Old Poker Guy and gave him the thumbs up. It had been over forty years since he’d seen Johnny. Never mind. The advice was right. He’d have to get his mind back into the game if he was to compete with Hank Docherty. To his amazement, no one else had paid any attention to Johnny. Why hadn’t the tournament director admonished him as he had the spectator who spoke out earlier?
The chips favored Docherty 3 to 1 as the old man pulled himself up in his chair and gathered his remaining energy. Back and forth the action went. Old Poker Guy had a sudden run of good cards and had taken a small lead on Docherty when his mind started to slip away again.
“Pocket fives,” he mumbled to himself without looking at his cards. “Five of hearts and five of clubs.” The hand that had put Johnny Ross out of his misery. A smile came to his face only to be disrupted when the dealer tapped the table signifying it was Old Poker Guy’s turn to act.
The flop was already on the table. Old Poker Guy squinted at the eight-10 of diamonds, and the four of hearts. Docherty had eyed his opponent carefully before checking the flop. Old Poker Guy gently tapped the table giving the dealer the authority to continue the hand. “Six of diamonds,” the tournament director announced as the fourth card fell on the table. “The turn card is the six of diamonds,” he repeated.
Hank Docherty wasn’t watching the card hit the table. His eyes were on Old Poker Guy while he pretended to look at his own cards, which he already knew were the ace-king of diamonds. The six on the turn and the two diamonds on the flop had given him the nut flush. He felt a tingling sensation in his face, which was as close to a tell as you were likely to get from Hank Docherty. He’d begun picking up tells on the old man again just a few hands before but had not had a hand with which to put a move on him.
“Check,” Docherty said. The old man sat emotionless. Docherty was sure the cards on the board weren’t close to anything Old Poker Guy was holding. If he bet now, Old Poker Guy would surely fold and his flush would have been wasted. He’d take the risk of looking at the final card, hoping that it would help his opponent enough that he would call a bet.
“Fifth and final card.” The director nodded to the dealer, who burned a card and turned over the queen of diamonds. Again, Docherty’s eyes were glued on the old man. There were four diamonds on the board. Maybe the old guy had made a second best flush, he thought. He had nothing to lose by trying.
“All in,” Docherty said as he pushed his entire stack toward the middle of the table. There was little reaction from the crowd. They knew that Docherty had made his hand and surely the old man would fold. And they were right. Without looking at his cards, Old Poker Guy was about to push them into the muck when his thoughts were disrupted by a voice from the rail.
“Look at your cards, you old fool!” It was Johnny Ross again. Old Poker Guy raised up in his seat and squinted at the admonishing former world champion. “Look at your cards!”
Old Poker Guy knew he had a pair of fives, but he listened to the voice and slowly pressing down on the back side of his two pocket cards with his forefinger he gently lifted them with his thumb. Old Poker Guy stared at the cards for a full minute. “It’s your turn, sir,” the dealer reminded him, thinking that the old man had once again lost track of the game.
Old Poker Guy nodded toward the dealer. His mind was perfectly clear for just a moment as he announced, “I’ll call your bet, Mr. Docherty.” Without hesitation, he pushed his entire stack of chips toward the pot and turned over his cards, the jack and nine of diamonds. “I think my cards match up with the queen of diamonds on the river if you combine them with the eight-10 of diamonds on the flop,” he said. Old Poker Guy had a straight flush, the only hand that could beat his opponent. The championship of Texas was his.
The normally quiet crowd which would usually show indifference to a good play, broke into a hearty round of applause and chatter as Hank Docherty sat stunned, wondering how he’d missed the tell that almost surely would have let him know that the old man was on a straight flush draw.
Old Poker Guy smiled and tipped his Yankee baseball cap to the crowd. Suddenly he remembered that Johnny Ross had passed away over twenty years ago. It didn’t matter now. It didn’t matter if he’d ever met or played with the former world champion. Today, Old Poker Guy was the poker champion of Texas. He would tell this story often in years to come.