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Playing a poker expert on TV doesn't make you one in real life


LAS VEGAS -- By day, I talk poker; by night, I play poker. This came as quite a surprise to Toni -- a.k.a. She Is The One (And Then Some) -- who assumed I just impersonated a poker player on TV to allow us to eat at Outback Steakhouse once a month.

At the moment, I am at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, where later this week between 5,000 and 10,000 sundry souls will take a shot at the World Series of Poker Main Event title and maybe $10 million.

But the World Series of Poker is much more than the Main Event. During June, there are 50-plus tournaments in which tens of thousands of players compete for a coveted World Series bracelet.

This is where my uncertain poker skills come into play.

The WSOP Main Event involves one form of poker: no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. Alas, I have no discernible ability at hold 'em -- if I were playing against nine Franciscan monks, I would be the underdog -- a somewhat unfortunate reality considering I am paid to analyze hold 'em on TV.

(By the way, this makes me the Matt Millen of poker.)

However, I enjoy playing virtually every other form of poker, particularly stud and Omaha, and the other day I wanted to enter the World Championship Stud/8 event.

The problem was this: The entry fee was the same as the Main Event, $10,000 -- that's a lot of Bloomin' Onions -- and, well, it's hard to fork over that much cash with little chance of getting it back. You see, in poker tournaments, all the prize money is generated by players' entry fees, and only one in 10 entrants finish "in the money. " In other words, nine of every 10 entrants walk away with squadoosh.

(So I don't want to hear about crane operators or astronauts or heart surgeons or teachers -- this is tough work, or to borrow an old poker expression, a hard way to make an easy living.)

I decided to do what many poker pros do -- get backing. I sought out friends and colleagues willing to put up $500 each. Through their loyalty and stupidity -- I mean, these are folks who would buy oceanfront property in southern Afghanistan from Donald Trump -- I raised half of the entry fee and put up the other $5,000 myself.

(Let the stepchildren eat Spam for a month.)

So I slipped off my ESPN credential from around my neck and slipped on my fish-for-sale sign.

Game on!

This was my Main Event. I wore one of my nicer T-shirts, from Old Navy, with one of my signature 15-year-old sports coats.

It was a field of 164 -- one of the smallest of the World Series -- but everywhere I looked were legendary names: Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen, Howard Lederer, Erik Seidel. Somehow, they stabled all the donkeys at my table -- I guess they didn't want the stench of our play to contaminate the rest of the room -- so we were a bunch of know-nothings hoping to make something.

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Only the final 16 players standing would earn money, with first place paying $431,656.

Two of my tablemates had an unusual request: They wanted the dealers to call out every up card, because a glare was making it difficult to see the cards at each end of the table. The request was granted. I then asked the dealer to call out everyone's hole cards, too, because on TV I always get to see them. The request was denied.

After eight hours of play, I had survived Day 1.

Going into Day 2, I was 70th in chips out of 110 remaining players. Only 54 players stood between me and the money. Only 109 players stood between me and being world champion.

Yes, world champion.

(This is America, my friends, where, if you stand in line long enough, eventually you get to the front of the buffet OR you get to be called "world champion.")

On Day 2, I wore a different Old Navy T-shirt and a different 15-year-old jacket. I felt "world champion" was my destiny.

I finished 71st.

What, suddenly I look like Phil Ivey? I just play a poker expert on TV.

Q. How realistic is Phil Jackson's plan to coach the Los Angeles Lakers only during home games? (Ron Platt; West Milwaukee, Wis.)

A. I am reminded of the fact that my first ex-wife once suggested I take a job that would take me out of town most of the time.

Q. How can someone get three years' jail time for stealing Lance Armstrong's bike? (Michael Lee; Pittsburgh)

A. I think it had titanium training wheels.

Q. Instead of giving Donte Stallworth an ankle bracelet and home confinement, wouldn't it be easier to put a cornerback and safety outside his door? He'd never get by them. (David Littell; Avon, Ohio)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Do you ever worry that the cash you keep on hand to pay winners will be too much of a temptation for Shirley? (Chuck Sheridan; Edinburg, Va.)

A. From Shirley's desk, she gazes at my finely chiseled body four days a week, so she's quite an old hand at resisting temptation.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!