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A Wild Introduction To Vegas

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: Jul 14, 2021

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Most of the stories I’ve written in this column came from a period of my life before I could legally drink, before I could rent a car, and, under today’s laws even smoke a cigarette! By the time my 21st birthday rolled around, poker had already been a huge part of my life for eight or nine years, which is hard to believe thinking about it now.

As any young poker player is eager to do when they turn 21, I headed to the shiny lights of Vegas. In the words of Joey Knish when he sees Mike McDermott sit down in the big game against Teddy KGB… “You’re rolling up a stake and going to Vegas.”

Let’s be honest, it’s what we all dream about in poker when we move beyond the learning stages and the home games with friends. We think about Vegas. The Mirage (in olden times). Bellagio and (what used to be called) Bobby’s Room. More recently Aria or Wynn. Perhaps in the future, we’ll be daydreaming about taking a seat in the private section of the newly opened Resort’s World.

We want to breathe in the smoke-filled air as we pass the blackjack tables, have our eyes barraged by sensory overload as we scan the sports book, and finally reach the tables and plop down our buy-in so we can prove ourselves on the felt against other serious players. One day you’ll play in the World Series of Poker, but just making it to Vegas is already a giant accomplishment.

It was my dream realized, and I’m sure it’s many of yours too.

My journey started by meeting my dad. I think he had wanted to show me the town just as long as I had dreamed of seeing it. It was definitely a father-son bonding experience as we stayed in the Bellagio and played poker into the wee hours of the morning after squeezing in a show. (If you’ve never had the opportunity to see the Blue Man Group in Vegas I highly recommend it. It was originally at the Venetian but has since moved over to Luxor, but the quality is still unparalleled.)

People often ask me if my last name really is Gamble, or if I changed it for poker. The reality is I was born with it. It carries back throughout my lineage, and it feels like this life was chosen for me. It was the same for Las Vegas. When I entered Vegas for the first time, it’s like I felt home for the first time.

That first trip I met a bunch of strangers, had a lot of Patrón, and turned the strangers into friends. The poker was fairly uneventful for me… nothing that stands out. The most interesting thing that occurred was watching a player get absolutely wasted at the tables and seeing the scenario play out in real time.

Her name was Renee. She was young and cute. She was also taking shots with half the table and with half of the other tables in the room. At first all the regulars were encouraging it, no doubt licking their chops, waiting for the feeling of invincibility to give way to the inevitable downfall of decision making.

She was happy, joyous, fast moving – and then it all hit her like a brick wall. She slowed down, started slurring her words, stopped looking at her cards, and just blindly shoved money in hoping for the best.

All the regulars were overjoyed, moving in on the wounded prey for the kill. Except, there was one small problem. She just couldn’t lose!

The game was $1-$2 no-limit and she was up around $300 when she started drinking. By the time she was black out drunk and shoveling money in the pot, she was up over $1,500 and building quickly.

The vultures who were circling started getting annoyed and angry. By the time she was up over $2,000 they were calling for the floor to take her off the table because she was too drunk, slowing up the action, and falling asleep at the table. They weren’t wrong, but the real reason they wanted her removed was because she was thrashing them and they couldn’t compete any longer.

Eventually, the floor made the decision to pull her off the table. Having befriended her, I got in touch with her friends so she could find her room, putting an end to my wild introduction to Las Vegas poker.

Some people play poker for the money, some for the camaraderie, some for the competition. We all have a different reason for playing, and it’s the same in life. We aren’t all here for the same reason. Some of us will find our purpose inherently through our namesake, some of us through our passion projects, and sadly some of us never will.

I was lucky to find myself within this world through my passion in poker, and found my home in Vegas. Sadly, I had to leave Vegas recently and relocate, but with every passing day I plan my return to what feels like home. I hope wherever you are, you find your passion and your reason. Find it and pursue it wholeheartedly. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play the game of hold’em from his father. He is a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 PLO8/b Event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO8/b event. A fixture of the mid-stakes mixed game community since moving to Las Vegas in 2019, he can often be found playing $80-$160 games at the Wynn. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content weekly on twitch under the same moniker.