15 years ago.
Kurt Cobain had been dead for about a month after he supposedly blew his brains out with a shotgun. Online poker was a distant dream in 1994. The only poker in my life at that time was with a rotating group of friends and fraternity brothers. We played in the formal room of our Southern mansion-style fraternity house. During the afternoons and before dinner, we mostly played Spades and even ran tournaments. At nights, the action shifted to poker.
Once we graduated in early May 1994, the games shifted to an apartment that four of my friends shared. Some nights, fifteen or twenty of us packed into the tiny cookie-cutter apartment in the shadows of North Decatur Road. We frequently played until sunrise in a gambling binge that lasted all summer.
Some of my fondest poker memories were not in Las Vegas, but rather in Atlanta in the summer of 1994. Hard to believe that was 15 years ago. May and June of 1994 was an amazing time for someone like me... a Knicks and Rangers fan. Both of my hometown NYC teams were in the playoffs. They went deep and both advanced to the finals. Only one would prevail and the Rangers ended their drought while the Knicks failed miserably against the Houston Rockets. Actually, it was the Knicks, rather John Starks who lost the game and the championship for the Knicks after he shot an anemic 1 for 46 from the floor in Game 7.
That was the same year of the infamous OJ freeway chase that interrupted Game 5 of the NBA finals. OJ had to freak out during the Knicks game, and man, I was so pissed when the local NBC affiliate cutaway to OJ's white Bronco speeding down the 405. The Knicks for fuck's sake! Jerry and I had to listen to the game on the radio in his car.
Jerry was also from NY and he loved both the Knicks and Rangers. We watched the games together at his apartment off campus. Once the games ended, the poker action began.
I finally had a college degree and the suits who doled out the school loans have yet to ask for a repayment. I was free... for a brief moment... and relished a slacker life of gambling, golf, and other stoner activities. Over Memorial Day weekend, we road tripped to Biloxi, MS and hit up the boats. I went on an insane blackjack rush at Casino Magic. I won enough money to cover my expenses for the rest of the summer. I wouldn't have to hump a shitty summer job while I figured out what the hell to do with a degree in poli sci and film studies with a minor in philosophy. In the meantime, we played poker every night.
Here's a typical line up to start...
Seat 1: Teddy B - The "face man" and quintessential "frat guy". He was by far the most aggressive gambler in our game. He had balls... big ones too. If we played NL back then, Teddy B would have been a monster at the tables. Today, he's a stock broker in San Diego.Our mascot was Smooth, a three-legged cat. I'm not making this up. The cat was missing a freakin' leg. I can't recall which one. The memory is foggy and rather groggy on that one. Any way, the three-legged cat loved cat nip and went nuts over it. Most of the time, the cat hid in one of the bedrooms. As soon as I fired up a fatty, the cat limped out and sat down in front of the TV. Smooth loved the contact high as much as the catnip. Shit, if I was a cat and had three legs, I'd be crocked to the tits every night too.
Seat 2: Mophy - He learned how to play Seven-card Roll'em and Guts games at boarding school and then introduced those action games to our fraternity house. We were hooked. Today, he's a doctor in Puerto Rico.
Seat 3: Rib - My trusted Spades partner and who I thought was the best overall card player in our fraternity (blackjack, poker, guts, Spades, etc). These days, he's an intelligence analyst and we think he works for the cee-eye-eh. But if he told us the truth, then he'd have to kill us, so we don't ask.
Seat 4: Jerry - He was one of the best Spades players in our house. He had the most discipline at the poker table, yet had a lot of gamble in him. He knew the exact moment to shift gears and he kept you always guessing. These days, he's an attorney in Miami.
Seat 5: Singer - Tightest person at the table, which he knew how to exploit. We played poker together in the late 1990s at the Trout House, my local home game in Seattle. We frequently played together at Foxwoods circa 2003-05. These days, he's an attorney in Boston.
Seat 6: Dutch - Son of an oil Barron. He invented his own currency called Dutch Bucks. We later played poker together in Seattle in the late 1990s. He got a master's degree in photography and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Seat 7: Beano - An astute Spades player but he was the slowest dealer. We used to constantly get on his case to deal faster and in turn, he would deal slower! The last time I saw Beano was at a Phish concert in Osaka, Japan. He was getting a master's degree in Athens, Georgia and we lost touch.
Seat 8: Your Hero - 21-year old version of myself had a lot more hair and was a loose cannon.
Seat 9: Smitty - Everyone knew a guy named Smitty in college. Smitty was the youngest in our group and we corrupted him with all of our bad habits, including poker. I was Wooderson to his Mitch Kramer. Last I heard, Smitty was bartending in Atlanta and picking up college chicks.
Games began around 10pm on the dining room, before a second table opened up on the coffee table in the living room around Midnight when the girls from across the girls wandered over. We played without chips. All cash (with one exception I'll explain about later). We all had large change cups that were originally beer cups from (insert party or sorority function here). We literally brought our change cups over and dumped them onto the table and played from piles.
Silver and greenbacks were scattered about the table. Oh, until yellow Post-It notes eventually appeared. They were debt instruments we'd fondly referred to as Dutch Bucks. One night Dutch got felted and had no cash on him. He wrote an I.O.U. to Jerry on a Post-It. Jerry held onto it and we all agreed that his I.O.U. (or whoever owned it) could gamble with it in the game and future games until Dutch paid off the I.O.U. and recalled all outstanding debts. Dutch went to the same boarding school where Howard Lederer and Annie Duke's father taught. Dutch's family was well off and lived in London. His father's oil business was enough collateral to securely back the Dutch Bucks. In addition, he was a stand-up guy and we knew he would pay back his debts as soon as his monthly allowance check arrived.
Dutch went on a losing streak at that point and was cash poor for a few weeks. He injected several hundred dollars worth of Dutch Bucks into the game. It kept him in the game and a chance to win back his losses, but it also elevated the stakes since there was more money on the table every night.
At one point, I had three or four Post-Its stuck together worth $20 or $25 apiece. The yellow Post-Its were sort of like those placards chips you see in European Casinos, except, we were just a bunch of drunken and stoned frat boys from Atlanta.
The amazing thing is that after a while, the value of Dutch Bucks became relevant off the tables. We started swapping Dutch Bucks during our normal every day lives, and this included friends who did not play in the home game with us. Sometimes we'd go out to bars and I'd be short a few bucks for the tab, but I'd offer up to trade Dutch Bucks. Usually, it was an even $1 USD to $1 Dutch Buck. After a while, we all carried around Dutch Bucks in our wallets, because you never knew if you'd come across someone else who also traded in the same alternative currency.
I even bought and sold pot a couple of times in Dutch Bucks.
"Can I buy a quarter of ditch weed? I have $20 and 20 Dutch Bucks."
And of course, once a month, Dutch recalled a percentage of his notes and paid us off. I swapped most of my Dutch Bucks for a weekend of golf in Pinehurst. Dutch's family owned a house in North Carolina and I had the opportunity to play on a top notch course with a cart for free. Well, it was paid for by my poker earnings, but it was worth the trade off.
Our off-campus home game always started out low stakes (nickel antes) and by the end of the night, we were all rip roaring wasted and things took a turn as the stakes were significantly raised bolstered by Dutch Bucks, which in turn were backed by the oil industry. The 3am hour was when guys who were stuck were looking for a chance to get even. The guys who were way ahead wanted to press their luck. And the action junkies? They wanted to keep the buzz going. That's when the Dutch Bucks flew around. Sometimes those pots in the guts games (like Four Barrel) would escalate to several hundred dollars.
Most of the time, our change cups contained ten dollars in coins and twenty dollars in paper bills, and the rest of our bankrolls were yellow Dutch Bucks. Sometimes other players were felted and had to write I.O.U.s, but unfortunately, none of us had the backing of an oil Barron. Our notes were valid while we played that night after that time period elapsed, they were taken out of play. We had to settle those debts privately.
When the sun came up, it was time to call the game. Some of my friends had to catch a couple hours of sleep before work or internships. I was lucky enough to not have a job, because the games and my hording of Dutch Bucks were essentially my job.
Dutch always drove me back to campus where we lived. We passed both a Waffle House and a McDonald's. Waffle House was 24 hours and we stopped there before 6am. McD's opened up at 6am and we ate there if our sessions were really long. After an evening of intense playoff hockey or playoff hoops followed up by a session of poker, we capped the night off with the most unhealthy of meals. The big winner always treated and paid for breakfast, but unfortunately, as much as we created a thriving underground currency, Waffle House waitresses and McD's cashiers did not recognize Dutch Bucks as a legitimate form of compensation. Cash only.
During those nights we played poker in Atlanta, I never imagined that over a decade later, I'd spend my summers in Las Vegas sweating the largest poker tournament in the world. But obviously, what happened fifteen years ago led me down the path where I find myself today.
And yes, I still have some Dutch Bucks lying around. I don't think I'll cash those in anytime soon. The sentimental value is priceless.
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