The Adventures of Old Zeke, Part I

Out in the west Texas town of Amarillo, I've fallen quite comfortably, if temporarily, into the life of a full-time gambler. After walking the dogs in the morning, I head over to an underground joint known as the Cigar Club, which has little to do with cigars and everything to do with poker. Starting around noon, the club offers a fine (I'm told) home-cooked lunch, usually with items I'd never known in California and generally wouldn't eat now--briscuit, chicken-fried steak, fried catfish, etc. But the hospitality is fine and the atmosphere cordial.

After the boys are fed, the "day game" begins. This is a game of pot-limit Omaha, populated largely by retired ranchers, bookies, and life-long gamblers. This particular game, having survived several changes in location, has run almost daily for more than forty years, and until recently was the province of "Amarillo Slim" Preston, perhaps the most notorious road gambler of the twentieth century and an early winner of the World Series of Poker. I say "until recently" because Slim had a more-than-usually-embarrassing scrape with the law and now seldom shows his face in Amarillo. Now the game is left to his old buddies, who constitute as fine a collection of story-tellers and pure gamblers as you could ever hope to find.

Sprinkled in among this group are various youngsters, businessmen of all--and I do mean all--variety, and wayfarers who have heard of the game and want to take a stab at it. For the most part, the regulars tell stories and swear at each other jovially, and walk away with all the money at the end of the day. While the initial buy-ins are only $100, stack sizes and pot sizes escalate quickly as losers buy ever-larger amounts and the gambling spirit descends. By the approach of dinner, it's not uncommon for $15,000-$20,000 to have changed hands. One friendly old-timer named Earl, a retired bookie, likes to tell this story: "This game made me a millionaire. The problem is, I started with $5 million." The other regulars believe it's true. (cont'd)

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