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A Night At The Bellagio

by Ed Miller |  Published: Nov 21, 2018

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I was asked to write the foreward for the new book, Optimizing Ace King by James Sweeney and Adam Jones. I wanted to share here what I wrote, both because the book is excellent, and because it’s a fun story from a long time ago.

Sometime in 2003, I was at the Bellagio in Las Vegas playing limit hold’em when I heard the brush announce a new game – $10-$20 no-limit hold’em.

At that time, limit hold’em was still the dominant game. Chris Moneymaker had won the World Series of Poker a few months prior, and the poker boom was just beginning to get off the ground. No-limit cash games were still a curiosity, and $10-$20 felt like a pretty big game – at least it did to me at the time.

I wasn’t the only one, either. The floor liked to put the $10-$20 no-limit game at the table closest to the front of the room, right on the rail, where it could attract the most attention.

It seems silly today, but back then the big all-in pots were fascinating to us limit players. Here we were getting our money in $60 at a time, and one table over it was $1,000 bets.

At this particular game on this day, one player caught the attention. He wasn’t someone I’d ever seen play at the Bellagio before, and I likely would have remembered him. He was fairly tall, probably about 6’2’’. But he was absolutely enormous. Five hundred pounds. Maybe six. Just a huge man probably in his late 20s with dark brown hair and a scraggly brown beard. He was wearing what had to be a 4XL gray hoodie and camo cargo shorts.

He squatted in seat three at the end of the table closest to the door, straddling his turned-around chair. His friend, a relatively normal-sized and otherwise unremarkable man, sat in a chair behind him.

I was playing my game so I didn’t catch all the machinations, but the large man bought in for about $2,000 or so and started playing every hand. A pure gambler—probably from out of town, probably not used to playing much poker at these stakes.

As I said, a $10-$20 no-limit cash game was still a curiosity at the time, so it drew a bit of a crowd, and I popped over to watch now and then. Each time I came over, the fat man’s stack was a bit bigger. Messy stacks of orange $20 chips started turning into blacks and purples and stacks of bills.

Sometimes playing every hand pays off.

He was up to around $8,000 or so when I wandered over to watch again and by pure luck happened to catch all the action in this hand.

It folded to the fat man who was about four off the button. He opened to $200. The button and big blind called.

The flop came KHeart Suit 8Club Suit 7Heart Suit. The blind checked, the fat man bet $500, the button called, and the big blind folded.

The turn was the ASpade Suit. The fat man bet $1,000. The button, a slender gray-haired, bespectacled, businessman-looking type playing at least $20,000 mostly in thick stacks of hundred dollar bills, moved one stack of orange chips forward and announced that he was all-in.

The fat man popped to his feet faster than I would have given him credit for and leaned with one knee on the seat of his chair. His friend got up too to get a better look at the action.

After a pregnant pause, the fat man picked up his cards and flashed them to his friend. The friend nodded, and the fat man whipped his hand face-up on the table bellowing, “I call.”

AClub Suit KClub Suit it was for seat three.

The fat man let out a bit of a whoop, while his opponent sat stone-faced at the other end of the table.

The dealer knocked the felt to indicate action was complete and that he was dealing the river. He burned and then carefully placed the river card on the board.

4Heart Suit

The businessman calmly tabled 10Heart Suit 9Heart Suit. The dealer pushed the three hearts forward and said, “Flush.”

The dealer mucked the A-K and then leaned over and started to count down the stack of the businessman. It was an unnecessary formality to count the stack, as it was plainly obvious from the businessman’s wads of bills that he had things covered.

But that dealer’s movement in the wrong direction gave seat three his opportunity. The large man grabbed two fistfuls of chips, the high denomination chips in one hand and a messy stack of orange in the other, and shoved them toward his friend. For a moment the friend looked bewildered, but in a second he grabbed the bottom of his T-shirt with both hands and lifted it to form a pouch that would hold poker chips. The fat man dumped both fists of chips into his friend’s shirt, and the friend took off running out the door.

The fat man stuck around a few more seconds to shove all the bills into his cargo pants and another two fistfuls of orange chips into the open pouch pocket of his hoodie. He too headed for the door of the poker room.

It wasn’t so much a run than a hurried waddle, but the movement jostled his hoodie enough that $20 chips dripped out periodically and rolled in chaotic spirals on the floor.

The friend had acted fast enough to get out the door and disappear, but by the time the fat man made it to the door, the floorperson working the podium had reacted and set himself up to impede escape.

But there was no stopping this man.

The businessman raised a hand in protest, but quickly withdrew it recognizing that the facts of the situation didn’t lend themselves to a traditional appeal.

The blubbery bandit was now well out the door, and he turned to the right, heading briskly past several hundred tourists lined up to buy tickets to the Cirque de Soleil show.

Half the poker room got up to watch this spectacle, of course, and we all saw him disappear behind several banks of slot machines and likely down the hall that lay beyond them.

That’s about it to the story. In two minutes we were back in our seats and playing again. The $10-$20 game took a few more minutes to sort things out, and then they too were underway again.

I don’t know for sure how it resolved. In the aftermath, the rumor about the room was that the friend made it out free and clear, but casino security tracked the fat man down and stopped him before he got out of the building.

The rumor also was that due to a legal peculiarity regarding the unenforceability of gambling debts, that security were not permitted to compel him to return the money. And so he settled things by handing over the $20 chips and accepting a permanent ban from the property, while keeping the cash.

I don’t know that there’s a moral to the story, but I guess it taught me one thing. A-K can be a damn good hand. But every once in a while the best way to play it is to hit the door and keep on running. ♠

Ed MillerEd’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.