man playing poker

The Summer of 2007 was nearly here, and I was almost finished with my junior year of high school. Nearly a year had passed since I had first been brought into the underground poker world. I had spent the months playing at Fox’s on the weekends, reading any worthwhile poker literature I could find, playing online poker almost daily, and routinely talking strategy with Andy.

I was becoming a much better player, and my familiarity with the nuances of live poker was growing. At this point, I had become a regular at Spades, and I often played cash on Saturday nights. I would always buy a seat into the Sunday tournament, though, because that was when the club was at its busiest, and subsequently had the largest staffing requirement. I figured that if I hung around often enough, an opportunity would eventually present itself.

School would soon be over, and I wanted to deal over the summer. If I was going to get a job dealing at Spades, it was most certainly going to be when they ran their tournaments. The problem, however, was that there weren’t any open spots — they were all taken, even on Sundays, which required at least 7 dealers to run smoothly.

I would always arrive early for the Sunday afternoon tournament, and the dealers would be in the middle of setting everything up for play. I had noticed that a few of the dealers would occasionally say how they would “rather play than deal today”, and I had the realization that this might be the perfect opportunity for me to create an opening that I could fill.

I had a plan, I was going to proposition one of the dealers — I would pay for their entry fee into the tournament, and in return they would give me their dealing spot. I figured that Vinny would be much more likely to replace one of his dealers if they were the one who was asking. I needed to wait for the right time, though, because I hadn’t yet told Vinny that I knew how to deal.

Eventually, on no particular Sunday, the right moment presented itself, and I propositioned a dealer who kept talking about how badly he wanted to play in the tournament. He agrees to the terms of the deal, and a short while later, Vinny asks me to have a seat in the box for a quick audition.

He instructs me to deal out the hole cards required for a 9-handed PLO hand, then put out a complete flop, turn and river.

I ask him why he’s having me deal out PLO, when the only game that he runs is NL Hold’em. He responds by saying that if I can efficiently deal PLO, then I can, without question, deal no-limit.

I deal out the PLO hand, and then he directs me to table two random hands and read them. I was incredibly nervous about being put on the spot like this — I had never done an audition before. I take far too long trying to read even one hand, but he’s seen me play so many times, and knows that I’m just nervous.

Before I can even say anything, he tells me that he’ll let me deal, but only in the tournaments. However, he’ll give me a shot today, and if it goes smoothly, talk to me about locking up a spot on a weekly basis.

That’s essentially how I got my foot in the door at Spades. I was a nice kid, well-spoken, and reliable. I dressed professionally when I came to deal, and I did anything that I could to help out — took out the trash, ran chips, cleaned up, restocked the fridge, whatever I could do to seem useful.

As I became a better dealer, I would later on get a shot to deal cash there, but it wouldn’t happen for quite some time.

I was now spending a lot of time at Spades, but not even remotely close to as much as Andy. He wound up accepting Gary’s offer to be a prop player for the club. Under their arrangement, he usually worked the opening shift in the morning. He had to arrive at the club by 10 AM, and could leave at 6 PM, but stay on the clock until 8 PM, if he wanted.

He worked out a pretty reasonable deal to play $1/$2 NL — $19 per hour and reimbursement for train tickets and taxi fare. However, if a table filled up, and there was a player was waiting, he would have to either give up his seat to continue accumulating his hourly, or give up his hourly to continue playing.

Andy did very well for himself at Spades, and I was happy for him. He rarely, if ever, seemed to be in a foul mood, which is commendable, because most people who spend that kind of time in a poker room seem to be miserable. Perhaps that’s why he was so successful.

Matt was still working at the club and had settled his outstanding debt to Andy, months earlier. As a dealer, if you were somehow able to get a spot dealing cash at Spades, you had proverbially “hit gin”. There was no way Matt was going to risk losing his spot over $2,000 when he earned twice as much as that in one week. Players were respectful — although, just like any poker room, sometimes certain characters would pass through and stir the pot — they generously tipped the dealers and made sure they were well taken care of, and the club ran like clockwork, seven days a week, opening every morning at 10 am.

I would regularly play at Spades when I wasn’t working there, and I began developing a friendship with Chris — the dealer who I had met the first time that I played and cashed in the Sunday afternoon tournament. When I first met him, I thought that he was around the same age as Andy, who was 35, but I was wrong. Chris was actually 24, though he looked much older. With me being 17, Chris was like the older brother that I never had.

We got along very well and had the same interests that most young men have in common — girls, partying, and money. We also shared a similar sense of pride when it came to poker. He was an outstanding dealer, and felt the same way I did — if you were not good at dealing the game, it should be unacceptable to expect players to tip you.
I wasn’t that good at dealing yet, but eventually when the time came for my journey to end at Spades, I would learn quite a bit from the time I had spent there, and my skills would grow to a satisfactory level.

At the time, I knew that if I wanted to take home as much money as Chris did from dealing cash, I had to get more experience in the box — he respected me for that. If a dealer wasn’t good, it was okay as long as they could get through a down without making mistakes too frequently, and genuinely cared about the game, and getting better at the job — something you could determine based on their attitude, during their time in the box.

For the past 3 years, Chris had stayed in Vegas every summer to deal the World Series of Poker, something I would go on to do myself many years later. He told me that he had met a lot of great people, and learned how to be a better dealer during the time he spent at the WSOP.

There were a lot of bad dealers who worked at the series, and they were excellent examples of exactly what not to do. They almost always made far less money than the veterans. However, the good dealers did very well for themselves, by either dealing live action and standing out amongst the others, or by signing up and getting approval to deal featured events and final tables.

Because Chris was a remarkable dealer, the money was very good, and it kept him coming back to the WSOP every summer, although this year, he would not be returning — the take-home wasn’t even close to what he was now making at Spades dealing cash 5-6 nights per week.

Eventually, I started hanging out with Chris outside of the club, and we became very good friends. He was a true degenerate, and one of the most aggressive and fearless poker players that I’ve ever met. Andy did not particularly like Chris — he didn’t approve at all of Chris’ degenerate nature, and tried to warn me, more than a few times, to distance myself from him. Andy certainly did respect Chris as a dealer though — he preferred when Chris dealt because he liked his style, and tipped him more because of how good he was.

Over the next few years, the two of us would go on to have some wild experiences together, the first of which would involve us taking a road trip, each with a few of our buddies, up to Turning Stone to play poker and have what can only be described as “more” than a good time.

About five months had passed since I had last seen my Dad. He was serving a 1-year sentence in Nassau County Correctional Center for a DWI conviction — he had managed to score two of them within a three month span, though this time was not like the other. He had jumped the curb to a local 7-Eleven and came crashing through the front window.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt, but the judge was infuriated by my Dad’s swift return to court and threw the book at him.

He wouldn’t be getting released for another seven months, but it would turn out that the next time I saw him would be close to eight years later, inside his final resting place. I never even got the chance to have another conversation with him.

Up until recently at this point in my life, I had never been privy to the knowledge of my Father’s never-ending struggle with drug addiction. For the past 16 years or so, he had done an excellent job of hiding it from me. However, in the year or so before he was sentenced to jail, he had begun to spiral out-of-control towards rock bottom, revealing himself in the process.

He ran my parent’s business and finances into the ground, and had spent every last penny on mountains of cocaine and various types of pain pills, but mainly oxycodone of the 30mg variety — my Mother was now broke, and any luxuries that she had suddenly vanished.

I began to notice that my Father was always at home, both when I would leave for school, and when I would return. It seemed like he would never leave the house to go to work anymore. He would either be comatose in bed, or he would stay up, for what seemed like days on end, all through the night doing miscellaneous, strange things.

One particular night, I walked into the kitchen and found him having a complete, in-depth, but nonsensical conversation with the refrigerator, while completely unaware of both his surroundings and even my presence in the room. He didn’t know where he was. I became very concerned and frightened, but also confused.

When I would question him about his strange behavior, I couldn’t get any straight answers. Nothing he said made any sense, and it didn’t add up. He would tell me that he had just had too mucn to drink, or that he was messing with me and joking around. He would even lie about how often he slept, or whether or not he ever went to bed the previous night — he would always tell me that he had just waken up early that very day.

Inevitably, one night he became incredibly erratic and violent — he was in a state of paranoia, he was sleep-deprived and experiencing drug-induced psychosis.

He attacks my Mother, which sends me into a full-blown rage. I pull him off of her and shove him face-first into a wall. He retaliates, and we beat the bloody hell out of each other for about two minutes, when I eventually get the best of him — he couldn’t match me in strength. I was athletic and regularly practiced weight lifting, whereas he was relatively inactive, intoxicated, and sleep-deprived. Even so, I was completely gassed when I finally ended it. I had never in my life felt exhaustion like that.

The next day he knocks on my bedroom door and comes into my room to apologize. He admits everything to me, and promises that he’s going to get help and get better.

But, he never got better. In fact, he continued to get worse and progressively ignore his responsibilities as a father and husband more and more as time passed. Then, one night, after cashing my first live tournament at Spades, I come home to find that he’s suddenly gone, and will be stuck in jail for a year.

I didn’t ever want to see him again — my family was better off without him. My siblings felt the same way. We all gave him so many chances, but he threw away every one of them. It was my Mother who actually needed the most convincing, she didn’t want to abandon him, even though she had been secretly dealing with his issues for close to two decades.

I felt that had we let him come back, he would have taken us down with him, for he did not want to get professional help with conquering the inner demons that he was battling on a daily basis.

Now, the best summer months were ahead of me, and I was making great money for someone my age. Playing poker was finally starting to pay off, and I had more free time on my hands than anyone else I knew.

Things were going all but too well at Spades. It wouldn’t be long until I would experience my first encounter with SWAT, and get the biggest reality check of my life.


Chapter 1 – Fox’s Club Chapter 9 – Spades — 1.8
Chapter 2 – Spades — 1.1 Chapter 10 – Spades — 1.9
Chapter 3 – Spades — 1.2 Chapter 11 – Spades — 1.10
Chapter 4 – Spades — 1.3 Chapter 12 – Spades — 1.11
Chapter 5 – Spades — 1.4 Chapter 13 – Bell Boulevard — 1.1
Chapter 6 – Spades — 1.5 Chapter 14 – Bell Boulevard — 1.2
Chapter 7 – Spades — 1.6 Chapter 15 – Bell Boulevard — 1.3
Chapter 8 – Spades — 1.7 Chapter 16 – Bell Boulevard — 1.4