Five-Card Studs

May 19, 2002

Amarillo Slim once beat Bobby Riggs in Ping-Pong using a skillet.
He whipped Evel Knievel in golf using a hammer. He beat Minnesota
Fats in pool using a broom.

So when the 73-year-old Slim tells you he can win the World
Series of Poker championship event one last time, you might want
to start making out the $1.5 million first-place check. "If I
tell you a goose can pull a plow," he says, "hitch him up." Care
to bet against him?

This is the gambler who won $1,000 stepping over a live
alligator's back; won a golf match with a bow and arrow instead
of clubs and a ball; won a $30,000 bet by producing a fella who
could eat 30 quail in 30 days. (The "fella" happened to be
identical twins.)

True, Slim hasn't won the World Series since 1972, but that makes
no never mind. He says he can win because everybody else entered
is so dumb. "Some of these boys couldn't track an elephant in
four feet of snow," he says.

Them's fightin' words, especially when you realize there's never
been a better lineup of pot rakers than there is for this year's
World Series main event, which begins Monday at the place where
it started, Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas.

For instance, the most feared player in the world isn't the 6'3"
Slim but a player who happens to go about 5'4", 100 pounds--and is
expecting a baby in December. Her name is Jennifer Harman, and
lately nobody has won more money at the biggest limit-poker game
in the world, Bellagio's, than she has.

That's got to be a burr under Slim's saddle, because he once said
that if a certain woman won the World Series, "you can cut my
throat with a dull knife." Harman may have one ready. The other
night at Bellagio, she was on her way to cash out when some
dandruff said, "Hey, Sweetie, where'd you get all those chips?"
Harman batted her eyes and dripped, "Oh, my boyfriend gave them
to me!"

"No reason a woman can't win it this year," she says. "It doesn't
take a lot of muscles to lift the cards."

One of the hottest tournament poker players in the world happens
to be black. Three weeks into this five-week chipathon Phil Ivey,
25, from Atlantic City, had already won three two-day
tournaments, not to mention made it to two other final tables.
He'd be the first black to win the five-day championship event.
He's climbed bigger hills, though. He used to sell policeman's
ball tickets over the phone.

If that's not enough, Doyle Brunson, the world's greatest living
poker player, is back after a four-year feud with the Horseshoe.
He and Jack Binion put the World Series on the map 32 years ago
(when Jack's father, Benny, invented it), although some people
think Brunson invented poker.

Hell, Brunson, 68, is poker. He's seen four guys drop dead in
front of him at poker tables. He once played five days and five
nights straight in a game in Texas. He's cleaned people out, then
taken their cars, watches, rings, shoes--even pants (Brunson
returned them the next day). During breaks in the filming of
Casino, Joe Pesci spent hours at the Mirage just watching him
work. Somebody's writing a movie script about his life. But it
isn't over yet. "Would I like to win the World Series again for
the old guys?" says Brunson. "Nah. I'd like to win it for ol'
Doyle."

My Lord, there will be so many more great players among the
600-plus tanless rounders: the unquenchable Johnny Chan, the
unshakable Brit Dave (Devilfish) Ulliott and the unbearable Phil
Hellmuth Jr.

"I want to be the greatest poker player who ever lived," says
Hellmuth, who, in a 30-minute interview referred to himself as
the "Jack Nicklaus of poker," the "Tiger Woods of poker" and the
"Mozart of poker." Says Slim, "He's one of the most egotistical,
self-important, least popular sumbitches I ever met, but he's all
right."

Sadly, all that talent means Slim probably has about as much
chance as a soggy matchstick. The other night, in a one-day Omaha
Hi-Lo Split tournament, a goateed little pup named Dan Negreanu
busted him three straight hands, knocking him out for good on the
third. Did it mean anything special to you, Dan, breaking
Picasso's brushes in half like that? "Nah," he said. "Just
another knockout."

"Ahh," huffs Slim, "I'll knock 'em all off like a dead limb.
These folks is soft butter to me. Remember, seldom do the lambs
slaughter the butcher."

Dang. Don't you hope he's not bluffing?

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

"I'll knock 'em all off like a dead limb," says Amarillo Slim.
"These folks is soft butter to me."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)