Chances are you’ve heard of Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, Phil Ivey, Phil Gordon, Johnny Chan, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth and Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu. Superstars all, they’ve earned their place in the pantheon of great No Limit Texas Hold’em players.
To this distinguished list, there is a new name that must be added: “Cigarillo” Sam Pitzkin. Plainly put, he’s a supernova streaking across the galaxy of poker, a cunning player who is changing the face of the game. Having toiled in obscurity for decades, Pitzkin has emerged as a star unlike any other, a player of such unpredictable technique and innovative style that the very mention of his name causes a shiver of apprehension in even the most seasoned champions of the game.
“If Pitzkin is so damn great,” you’re probably asking, “then why haven’t I heard of him?” Your skepticism is well-founded. I, too, would have to count myself as one of the uninitiated save for a chance encounter one sweltering night in Reno.
The meeting that changed my life
I’d just busted out of a huge tournament on the outskirts of town, losing my $1000 buy-in one place before the bubble, my aces in the hole having been cracked by a pair of deuces that morphed into a set on the river. During the miserable cab ride downtown to my hotel, I’d sworn off poker. Why should I continue to pour my money and time into an activity that made heroes of fools? And how would I explain the loss of a grand to my lovely Rhonda who, innocent to the casual cruelty of the poker room, was awaiting my triumphant return in a deluxe suite at the El Dorado?
I was making my dejected way to the hotel elevator, when I heard a commotion: shouts, the scattering of chips, the sound of chairs being overturned. Seeking distraction from my woes, I followed the noise to the Dorado’s poker room and witnessed a scene unlike I’d ever witnessed anywhere, let alone in a casino. At the center of the hubbub was a man of about my age (which is to say fifty-something), but unlike me in every other respect. He was dressed, rather ridiculously, in cowboy regalia: a ten-gallon hat, embroidered shirt, and what appeared to be leather chaps. He sat at one end of the table, his face displaying neither triumph nor anger. Rather, it was a look of, what? Smugness? No, rather a satisfaction that things had played out according to his grand plan.
At the other end of the table, near an overturned chair, stood a Famous Poker Player, pointing at the green felt, apoplectic, spewing profanities. At first, the reason for his dismay was unclear. At his place on the table were these cards:
And the community cards were:
I was confused. The man had flopped quad Kings!
I turned my attention to the cowboy. His hole cards were:
A straight flush! I played the likely scenario in my mind. The Famous Player, having flopped quads, had laid a trap, probably escalating his bets, finally going all-in at the river, putting the comical cowboy on a straight or, at worst an ace-high flush. His incomprehension was understandable. Why had the cowboy stuck around to the river when he was so clearly out-matched?
Variants of the F-word continued to issue from the Famous Player’s mouth, and after reaching a crescendo of profanity, he lunged across the table, fists raised, poised to clobber the cowboy. He would have succeeded save for the intervention of two beefy security guards, who began to lead the Player, now sobbing, from the poker room.
But the scene wasn’t over. The Player and his attendants were at the room’s threshold when the cowboy rose from his seat, took a belt from his flask and spoke in a loud, theatrical voice.
“I ask you, sir,” he said. “’Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season, When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?’ The great Bard, sir.” ‘Comedy of Errors.’”
With that last remark, he tore off his hat, revealing a tattoo on his balding pate: a seven and a three of diamonds!
This proved too much for the Famous Player, who again lunged for his opponent, but was tackled by the guards, then dragged howling from the room, clawing desperately at the carpet.
In the commotion, I’d ended up in close proximity to the cowpoke who’d defeated the cowboys. There was, how shall I say this, an odor about him, an unsavory smell that comingled tobacco smoke and sharp cheese. The man had finished gathering his chips when our eyes locked. Shooting me a wink, he said, “Grab my knapsack, will you? And kindly watch my back.”
In a trance I complied, following him to the cashier’s cage, then out the front door of the hotel, where he stepped into a cab. He waved me inside and extended his hand. “Sam Pitzkin, sir. I owe you a debt of gratitude. I’d be honored if you’d join me for a libation at the flop house.”
Story to be continued…