Today I am running a post that originally appeared a couple of years ago. I don’t have a new post to give you, so I thought the post below would be especially appropriate for the today for a couple of reasons. You’ll realize why this is the perfect time of the year to revisit this story when you get to the “reveal.” Also, there is quite a bit of salaciousness in the news right now, so I thought you might appreciate a break from all that with one of the most wholesome, family-friendly posts I’ve ever done. I won’t even add a typical “robvegaspoker” pic to spoil the mood.
This remains my all-time favorite poker session, and is also likely my personal all-time favorite blog post. It is certainly my favorite G-rated blog post.
One change from when I original posted it. At the time, I spoiled the surprise in the title of the post. This time, I am presenting it without identifying the “Mystery Man” until the appropriate time in the story. So even some of you have read the story before might possibly have forgotten who I am talking about. Some of you may just have such bad memories that you’ve forgotten the entire story and can enjoy as if it is new to you. New readers are hopefully in for a pleasant surprise!
This post is from July 6, 2015, Enjoy!
Some poker sessions are memorable for reasons other than the results. The session I had yesterday at the Aria, in which I left up exactly $1, will probably go down in my personal history as my all-time favorite poker session.
I was at the Aria waiting for a 1/3 seat to open. I didn’t have to wait too long (by Aria standards) and was finally called to a table. There were two open seats and I took seat 4, directly across from Mystery Man, or MM for short, in seat 1
The other open seat was seat 3, which was almost immediately taken by an Asian gentleman. However, he came to the table holding a stack of red chips that was clearly less than the $100 minimum buy-in for the game. The dealer pointed this out to him, and he explained that he had given bigger chips to the cashier to convert to smaller chips and his money was on the way. Since no one had explained this to the dealer, the dealer was about to call the floor, and would not deal the player a hand until this was resolved.
At this point, MM asked the Asian man, “What do you need? $200?” And he reached into his wallet and handed the guy two $100 bills. At this point, I assumed the two knew each other. But as the session wore on, and there was no conversation between the two of them, it became obvious that MM no more knew the Asian gentleman than he knew me. He handed a total stranger $200!
The gentleman used the hundreds to buy red chips and the game went on. Much, much later, an Aria employee came by and gave the Asian man a $1,000 chip. She told him that she couldn’t cash Baccarat chips in the poker room, and that he’d have to go to the main casino cage to cash it in. At this point, MM said, “I’ll buy that off of you.” And he reached into his wallet again and handed the guy $800 (since he’d already given him $200) for the $1K chip. Now, at this point, he was not risking any money, he had an Aria $1K chip for his $1,000 cash that he had given the Asian man. But he would now have to go out of his way to go to the main cashier to get money for the chip he had just purchased. What an incredibly nice man.
But I had already figured that out. He was quite chatty and friendly with all the players. He often showed a card when he won a pot with a bet that went uncalled, to prove he wasn’t bluffing. And almost immediately after sitting down I realized that the attractive blonde woman in seat 9 was MM’s wife. She was even more outgoing than her husband. She had established a nice friendly relationship with the British fellow sitting immediately to her right, and with the Canadian gentleman sitting to my immediate left in seat 5. Mrs. MM kept teasing the Brit because he liked to open pots for $8 every time. And there was great fun between Mrs. MM and the Canadian over the Canadian’s admitted preference for raising big whenever he was dealt 7-2, and winning many, many pots with it. Because of the friendliness of MM and Mrs. MM, there was an incredibly pleasant, enjoyable vibe at this table. It was a really fun table.
MM and Mrs. MM had a nice banter going between them. When MM handed the total stranger $200, Mrs. MM asked MM for some money and he gently turned her down. She complained that he gives money to “him and not me.” He replied, “Well he’s better looking than you.” Ahem. But that bothered Mrs. MM not one bit.
But I did find it a bit unusual that two of them were extremely interested in the starting line-ups of the Major League Baseball All-Star teams, which were the process of being announced as we were playing. They both had their faces buried in their cellphones trying to learn of the line-ups. I mean, really, who cares all that much about all-star games in any sport? As regular readers know, I don’t follow baseball that closely any more, and my favorite sport is the NBA. But even I wouldn't go out of my way to find out who was selected to the NBA all-star game. But to be fair, I will say this: of the four major US team sports, the baseball all-star game is clearly the best, the most like a real game. The others are all basically jokes. Still, really, why would two people care? They must be really, really big baseball fans! I did notice them express disappointment that no Dodgers made the team. This didn’t seem unusual at all. It appeared from the conversation that these two lived in Vegas, and you know, L.A. teams are basically the home teams for Vegas residents. Vegas is a Lakers town (not the Clippers) and a Dodgers town. If and when LA gets an NFL team back, that team will be adopted by the Vegas locals, no doubt. So they were Dodgers fans living in Vegas. Not unusual.
Every now and then, someone would come over to MM and say hello. Sometimes it was a poker room staffer, sometimes it was a player. Again, nothing unusual….that even happens to me at MGM. Obviously this couple were regulars in the room and had been away for a while.
Then I heard someone expressed surprise that they were there, saying they didn’t expect to see them until the All-Star break. MM said he would be back then but they had some things to do now (or something) and thus were here now as well. I think I heard something similar to this two times. The first time it went right passed me. But the second time…
Hmm…All-Star game. Ok, they were big baseball fans, but returning to the Aria (or to Vegas) based on the All-star game break? Wait, what? Suddenly I started putting two and two together. I gave MM a good, hard look. I listened to his voice and began to think it sounded familiar. I stared at him a bit more. And you know what, MM noticed me staring at him. And my brain suddenly recalled that if MM was who I was beginning to think he was, I had heard that he was a poker player, played poker all over Vegas, that I’d heard from players who had played with him, and I even recalled hearing that Aria was one of the rooms he most frequented.
And being the excellent poker player that he is, I’m sure that Orel Hershiser knew by the look on my face the exact moment I realized I had been playing poker with one of the greatest baseball players of his generation. Seriously, I saw in his face that he saw the lightbulb go on over my head, the exact moment it did. Of course, he’s probably used to it.
Internally, I was shouting, “I’m playing poker with Orel Hershiser! Holy cow!” Fortunately, I didn’t say that aloud. He knew I had figured it out, I could tell, and what I did say was, “I’m sorry. I just recognized you. It’s an honor to meet you.”
He was gracious and modest. He just said thanks and smiled. I’m sure no one else at the table, other than perhaps some of the dealers, had recognized him at that point. But then, the table had an international flair, as I pointed out. In addition to the Brit and the Canadian, seat 2 was occupied by a gentleman with a European accent. Not sure if the Asian gentleman next to me was from the US or actual somewhere in Asia. It was up to me, the American, to recognize Mr. Hershiser.
And I was the right age too. Back in 1988, when he virtually owned baseball, I was paying a lot more attention to baseball than I am currently. I watched that World Series, every minute of it, where Orel dominated after dominating all season long and having that 59-inning scoreless streak. And of course, that was the World Series that featured Kurt Gibson’s iconic home-run in game 1.
I was like a little kid, so excited to be playing with a legend. It was hard to concentrate on poker after that. And I was just marveling at what a nice guy he was. No airs about him at all. Just one of the guys at the 1/3 game at Aria.
Suddenly, I heard his wife start explaining to the Brit who her husband was. And I looked at Orel and said, “Sorry, I guess I outed you.” He shrugged and said no problem. “Usually she’s the one who tells everyone and brags on me.” And so I heard his wife tell the Brit, “And he used to work for ESPN (she had probably already mentioned that he’s currently on the Dodgers’ broadcast team)….and oh, he did play before that…” and she mimicked throwing a baseball.
With that, I couldn’t control myself. Loudly so that everyone at the table could hear, I said, “Used to play?….he was once the best damn pitcher in baseball!” Orel seemed embarrassed, and again very modest, denying that was the case.
After a hand when he and Mrs. H were heads up against each other (and btw, they did not soft play each other), he told this story about their wedding. When the minister asked, the question, “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife (etc)…..” He answered, “All-in.” When Mrs. H was asked the same question, she answered, “Call.” Then the next day, they were playing poker together, and in a hand, he said, “all-in” and she said, “Call.” And then Orel said, “And it’s been like that ever since.”
One time, the three of us were the only players to see a flop. It was Orel, Mrs. H, and me. And as the dealer was about to deal the flop, I think I muttered something about being outnumbered and Orel said to me, “Let’s team up on her.” Wow.
Don’t have time or space for much poker, but I do need to talk about one hand. The lead up to it is that soon after I learned who I was playing with, I called a raise from Mrs. H and caught a bit of the flop, and a weak draw. So I called her flop bet, which was rather large. I missed my draw and she shoved the turn. She had over $200 (a bit less than me at the time I think) and I had to let it go.
Earlier in the session, before learning that MM was Orel Hershiser, I had raised with Ace-King and Orel was one of the callers. I made my c-bet on the flop and only Orel called. I checked behind him when the turn missed me as well. Orel led out on the river and I had to fold, holding Ace-high. He showed one card, a Jack, which represented top pair. That similar scenario had played out several times against other players, where I had c-bet the flop and then let it go.
So then, much later, when I knew Orel was Orel, and after I’d lost those chips to Mrs. H as I described above, I made it $18 with Ace-King. Orel called and a third player called (it might have been Mrs. H, and this might have been the hand where he suggested we team up on her). The flop was very low. It checked to me and I bet $40. The other player folded and Orel called. Another low card on the turn, and again Orel checked to me. Hmm……usually I check here, because the players I face aren’t good enough to recall the other times I’ve checked in that situation, and they’ll call with almost anything.
But it occurred to me that Orel was a really good poker player (I had figured that out long before I figured out who he was) and might remember that I didn’t double-barrel as a rule—unless I had a hand. In other words, he was good enough to bluff. But then, I also realized that Orel was playing well below his normal game, limits wise. He had me covered, and what was my stack to him? Nothing really. Could I really bluff a guy who is used to playing 2/5, 5/10 or even higher for only $100? Maybe not. And I remembered that he had thought nothing of lending a total stranger $200 earlier.
But I decided to give it a try. He wasn’t playing crazy, like money meant nothing to him. He was a natural born competitor, playing to win. I mean that’s what I assumed. The money might not mean much to him but I assumed that when he played poker, like when he played baseball, he was going for the “W”, not the money.
With great confidence, I took my only $100 stack left and stuck it in front of me.
He thought and also talked. “Oh, you’ve got it this time? You didn’t bet the turn before….you must have it. Well, the only hand I can beat is Ace-King, Ace-Queen…..” It still seemed to me that he was leaning to calling. Note, that $100 was more than I had left, so I was pot committed, which may have made an impression on him as well. Finally he said “OK” and folded his hand face up. Pocket 10’s! BTW, Mrs. H gave him a bit of hard time for that fold.
Phew. I had just bluffed Orel Hershiser. The poker player—the really good poker player—not the baseball player.
Orel and his wife had been discussing taking a dinner break, and were debating leaving their chips and holding their spots or picking up and getting back in a new game when they returned (risky, because the place was getting busier by the minute). They said they’d need less than an hour for dinner but you know, he could have gone up to the podium, where I’m sure they all know him, and asked them to hold the seat a little longer if necessary, and I’d be shocked if they wouldn’t accommodate him. But that wasn’t his style.
Furthermore, he said to Mrs. H. “The two of us leaving the table for an hour, leaving the game short….that’s not right. That’s not fair to the other players. We’ll put our names on the list as we cash out.” See, I told you he was a super nice guy…..very considerate.
When he stood up to go get a rack for his chips, he stuck his hand out to me to shake. Yeah, he wanted to shake my hand! I said it was great meeting and playing with him. I told him what a great guy he was.
Then I remembered my friend LuvMalts. One of my dearest friends, she and her husband Woody were the folks who convinced me to start the blog. I had texted her when I realized it was Orel because she is a huge, huge baseball fan, and also a huge, huge Dodgers fan. I bet she remembers every pitch of that 1988 World Series. She was as excited as I was (and incredibly jealous) and had suggested I get an autograph. I’m not really an autograph collector but I suddenly realized she would be thrilled with an autograph from such a Dodger great.
As he racked up his chips, I went over to him and said, “Do you do autographs?” He said, “Yes, sure, whatever you need.” I took out my trusty notepad (didn’t have anything else handy) and had him sign a note for LM. He even asked me three times for the correct spelling of her name. And when he gave me back the pad, he shook my hand again.
OK, so I felt I owed him this much. I whispered to him, “On that hand, when you folded the 10’s, I did have Ace-King.” He laughed. “You did? Well, good.”
Orel is a competitor and if I ever do have the pleasure of playing him again, I’ll have to tread very, very carefully.
But what a great time I had playing poker with Orel Hershiser and his wonderful wife.
But what a great time I had playing poker with Orel Hershiser and his wonderful wife.