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Chapter 29

Showdown at Gambler's Gulch

Folks, if you don't care for gambling then skip this one. It is about a poker hand I drew in Las Vegas, December 1976.

The first thing a dealer in Vegas will tell you when you ask for advice is, "Don't gamble" and very few of them do. This is the story of a Sunday afternoon in the Hacienda Hotel and Casino located at the end of The Strip. This place was the closest to my condo, the staff very friendly and I had started playing seven card stud poker there on weekends. Sometimes, during the week I might drop in for a few hands and if it was slow, they might ask me to shill. Not anything wrong with being a shill. The law recognizes them and should anyone ask, a shill must identify himself. It is up to the player to decide if he wants to play in a game with a shill at the table. My instructions were to win when possible but don't hurt a customer. We were not allowed to sandbag (cheat) or do anything that would get the house in trouble with the gaming commission. We were also supposed to hold on to as much of the twenty dollars the house gave us to gamble with.

This game had started, for me at least, on Saturday about midnight. I had been downtown with a friend and not having any luck at Bunion's, I decided to see if there might be a good game at my favorite water hole. Sure enough, the place was packed with junkets from LA and San Francisco. I really feel sorry for these folks in a way. Some of them receive free air fare, room and a meal or two for a weekend in the casino. In return they are expected to give the house some action. They are easy to spot. They have to wear a little round stick-on about the size of a dollar. The house make sure they are moving around playing some game even if it is Keno. They also watch the number of free drinks they consume.

By Sunday afternoon, the only ones at the table were me, a guy from the junket, Freddy, the waiter from the Mint downtown who was a regular in this game and Lady. Also a regular. She was retired, more than seventy-five years old and one of the best poker players I have ever bumped heads with. The junkets had been kind to us and we three regulars had a nice piece of change in front of us. The game was seven card stud, nickel ante, fifty cents on the high card or fold, three dollar limit. So, you could look at four cards for fifty-five cents provided someone didn't raise. We played to win and pretty well knew when to get out when one of us had a good hand. I had fooled Freddy a couple of times and he was gunning for me. The Lady had beaten both of us on good hands but she was so sweet we didn't hold a grudge.

This is not exactly how the hand was dealt. Hey, cut me some slack, this was 1976...27 years ago. It is close enough for Government work. I was seated to the left of the dealer. The four of us ante and he deals two face down and starts around the table with the first card dealt face up. I catch a King of spades, Junket a Jack of Hearts, Freddy a ten of Hearts and Lady a nine of diamonds. I am high and bet fifty cents. I Iiked the three spades. Everyone called and my next card is two of diamonds. Junket gets a Jack of hearts, Freddy a ten of hearts and Lady a nine of diamonds. I check and the junket bets a dollar. He has paired the Jack I thought. Turned out I was right but it was only a dollar and I still liked my spades. My next card is a 5 of clubs, Junket a five of diamonds, Freddy a three of clubs and Lady a two of clubs. I am still high and bet a dollar. Junket calls and raises a dollar. This make it two for Freddy to stay and another dollar to me. The Lady tosses her cards on the table. My next card is four of spades. This makes four of the little darlings. Junket gets a four of diamonds and Freddy catches a seven of hearts. I am not even watching him, I am trying to figure out the Junket. He had been trying to buy pots all day. Down and dirty and I catch my fifth spade. Makes me a flush to the King, Junket gets his card and I see a little bead of sweat under his nose mingled with the mustache. I had been watching and every time he had tried to buy a pot this happened. Gotcha I thought to myself. I am high and bet three dollars. Junket, true to form calls and raises three. Now comes the kicker. Freddy calls our six and raises three more. He has been known to buy one now and then so I call and raise him three right back. The junket is all in. Just me and Freddy. He wants to know if I want to waive the limit which the house would look the other way if just two players were in and agreed. I said okay and he bet fifteen dollars. I called. He turned his card over to show me the fifth heart flush to the ace which beats my King. Then the little runt stands up and starts singing, "You gotta have heart!"

I went to Maui before I could get even with him. In 1980 I was back on the mainland working for General Dynamics. They sent us to Edwards AFB for a month and with a company car and time off, four of us decided to go to Vegas for the weekend. We rolled in Saturday about noon and I headed straight for the Hacienda. Sure enough, right where I had left her four years ago, sat the Lady, regal as ever. The table was full but she had some bad news. I would never get a chance at Freddy from the Mint. He had suffered a heart attack and didn't draw the right cards. I made the mistake of shooting craps and left the casino a token of my appreciation.....about a hundred bucks.

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