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Leaving Las Vegas

The Great Escape

by Todd Brunson |  Published: Oct 01, 2010


Flathead Lake, MontanaAs I’m cruising across Flathead Lake in Montana at 50 mph in my brand-new 21.5-foot Cobalt, I’m flashing back to a scene in Apocalypse Now. Remember when they were briefing Charlie Sheen’s dad? (I know that his name’s Martin Sheen, and that his character’s name was Captain Willard, but it sounds funnier this way.) Anyway, Army Intelligence had intercepted a message from one of Don Corleone’s men. (I know, Marlon Brando’s character’s name was Col. Kurtz in this film, but again …)

The message was to his wife, and it said something along the lines of, “Sell the house, sell the car, sell everything; it’s all BS …” That’s kind of how I feel about poker right now. I’ve escaped Las Vegas to the nicest spot on Earth, so why would I ever go back?

I would write to my wife and tell her to sell everything and escape with me up here, but she’s already sitting in the front of the boat, screaming for me to slow down — or maybe to speed up, I dunno, with all of this wind and lake spray flying everywhere. But then again, it doesn’t matter what she’s screaming, as long as I can’t hear her. (No wonder deaf people have the lowest suicide rates of anyone.)

Our escape was an interesting one. I loaded up my party bus to the brim in preparation for the trip. It was quite a load, especially inasmuch as I already have all of the day-to-day things I need in my Montana house — clothes, toiletries, computers, and so on. Along with the belongings, I loaded up five dogs, three parrots, and five Russians. And I don’t mean Russian hounds or minks, or anything like that. I mean Russian humans.

There was my wife, her sister, her mom, her friend, and her friend’s son. It was kind of like that movie Red Dawn, except that I wasn’t that guy from Dirty Dancing trying to stop the Russians from moving north. I was aiding and abetting them like that guy from The Shawshank Redemption in Driving Miss Daisy.

So, now we’re all in my five-bedroom home, nice and cozy, like Sonny Corleone and Adam Sandler’s mama were in that movie Misery. The only problem is, tomorrow two more friends will arrive. And the day after that, five Savages will arrive: Matt, Portuguese Maryann, the Savage nanny, and the two baby Savages.

We’re gonna be more crowded than that poker commentator Vince Van Patten’s dad was in that show Eight is Enough. But, the more the merrier, I always say. I have a fishing guide taking us all out for the day on his 30-foot boat when they all get here. I hope that it’ll be an exciting trip when we get out there, like Popeye Doyle had in the Poseidon Adventure.

After that, we’re going to celebrate my birthday. I’m not exactly sure what we’re gonna do, but I’m sure that it will involve a nice dinner and Belvedere. It will probably even involve poker. I know that you’re saying, “Poker? I thought you were trying to get away from poker.” But this won’t be $300-$600; it’ll be more like $2-$4.

It’s a very social game up here, no pressure; not like the games in which Private Ryan played in that movie Rounders. There are lots of jokes, stories, shots, and laughs at the bad beats that flow as freely as the vodka does. We have more fun playing poker than Jefferson Darcy had beating up geeks in Revenge of the Nerds, I-IV.

So, like that guy from Moonstruck, I’m leaving Las Vegas. Actually, I’ve already left. It’s been only a few days, but I’ve already got a tan and lost a few pounds, and my blood pressure has probably dropped in half. If I hadn’t left, I probably would have died young like Forrest Gump did in that movie Philadelphia — or like the “Flying Nun” did in that movie Forrest Gump. Spade Suit

Todd Brunson has been a professional poker player for more than 20 years. While primarily a cash-game player, he still has managed to win 18 major tournaments, for more than $3.5 million. He has won one bracelet and cashed 25 times at the World Series of Poker. You can play with Todd online at or live at his tournament, The Todd Brunson Montana Poker Challenge, in Bigfork, Montana. Check his website,, for details.