The banks and circles of slot machines sat like a technicolor M.C. Escher eye explosion. Two round female security guards were zombies at the rear exit of the buffet. A middle-aged man rushed by, intent on getting somewhere fast. I stood still in the middle of it with my cell phone in my hand.
Maybe it's different for everybody. Maybe it's just a matter of perception. For me, it's like the empty-headed stupor that follows good sex. My vision is clear but I can't see anything on the periphery. Thoughts refuse to coalesce. Intentions present themselves and disappear as quickly as they came. Only, unlike a welcome visit from the Afterglow Bird, there is no electric tingle, no deep feeling of satisfaction. Instead, everything is just numb when I bust out of a live tournament.
Following my dead-money appearance in the $1000 event at the WSOP Tunica, I stood among the slots and video poker machines and realized I had nowhere to go. I'd just bid C.J and Iggy good luck as they walked back to the tables. BadBlood and G-Rob were in the cash games at the Gold Strike. I made a couple of phone calls, but I'm not sure who I talked to or what I said. When I looked up five minutes later, I was standing in the same place. I was more of a zombie than the security ladies.
Through the throngs walked C.J. I knew he had been shortstacked and it was clear he was out of the event, as well.
"I haven't moved," I said.
For a couple of minutes, we talked about his bustout and our options.
"I don't think I can play poker right now," I said and C.J. agreed. We looked at the buffet and talked about the two comps we had in our pocket.
"I'm thinking it may be time for a little negative EV," I said.
And C.J. agreed again.
Much has been written and many more tales have been told about big time pros who have a problem with the pit. No matter how much money they win or lose at the poker tables, they find a way to lose it all or lose even more in the pit. Long ago when I abandoned the blackjack tables for the poker rooms, I made a vow to stay away from the table games. With my storied Pai Gow fascination and California Mike's Craps-pushing serving as notable exceptions, I have managaed to stay out of the -EV waters to a large extent. And yet, there C.J. and I rode down the long escalator to the main casino.
"This is $200 worth of therapy," C.J. and I agreed, completely ignoring the absolute ridculousness of the statement. Within 30 minutes, we'd run our therapy money into a nice profit at the blackjack tables. Fifteen minutes later, the profit was gone and I was playing behind. A last-ditch hand brought me back to even. A look in C.J.'s eye and my reciprocal stare made it clear that we weren't sated.
"Roulette," C.J. said and we walked.
As we set our bankrolls to Search and Destroy, my eyes fell on Let It Ride.
"How do you play that?" I asked.
C.J. needed to only say two words: "It's easy."
"Chip change!" the dealer yelled out and the pit boss nodded as black turned into red.
The game moved along uneventfully and more black was subsequently turned into more red. When it appeared all was lost, a new dealer stepped in.
His name was Alex.
Balding, black, and as big as an NFL tackle, Alex waved his hands like a magician. He looked at the table and realized he was facing an old dude and two youngish gamblers. "Alright!" he yelled, the voice of a Southern Baptist P-Funk Preacher breaking through the din. "Who let the dogs out?!!"
The old man in the two-slot didn't say anything.
Alex instructed, "When I say that, you say 'WOOF!, WOOF!"
Again, "Who let the dogs out??!!"
Alex pointed to a pretty girl at the next table. "Can I get a meow?!!"
"Alright. Now, I'm going to give some money away up in here!"
And for the next 45 minutes, we woofed, meowed, and James Browned our way through a game of Let It Ride that turned the old dude next to us into a hundredaire after Alex gave him trip kings on a $15 bonus bet.
Our stacks went up and down as we found a way to make Let It Ride an even more losing proposition. Still, I found myself laughing, woofing, and yelling like any old tourist looking for a good time. Finally, when I didn't think I could laugh any more, I looked up at Alex. He'd been working so hard, he'd broken a big sweat on his forehead. I told C.J. that Alex should get a raise. If every casino pit dealer was as animated as Alex, the casinios would make even more money than they already do. He was the first dealer to ever make me feel better about losing than winning. He was better than any stage show offered along the Mississippi River moat.
"Alex, man," I said, "You're working too hard. You're sweating."
And suddenly, Alex was quiet. He stole a look at the pit boss and the eye in the sky. He leaned in and said, "Let me tell you a secret."
While I didn't expect him to bring me into the fold and tell me the true odds of winning--er, losing--at Let It Ride or slip me a black chip for my patronage, I didn't expect the next bit of wisdom.
"Listen," he said. "Poor people sweat. Rich people perspire. Me? I'm just cool. I defrost."
And that was all I needed. C.J. and I didn't win anything but we made therapeutical gains that were far greater than our losses. After a 20-minute visit to our comped buffet, we found our way back to the poker tables and proceeded to win some real cash.
And that was what going to Tunica was all about.