Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Poker Hall of Fame Dinner

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

As a non-scenster in the poker world, I do everything in my power to avoid attending poker-related functions. And when I do make a cameo at those parties and events, I do a little glad-handing, crack a few jokes, and find a way to make a quick exit. If I was a serious alkie, I'd probably be loving those parties for the free booze aspect, but I'm not that kind of juicer anymore.

However, I made a welcomed exception for the Poker Hall of Fame dinner. I knew it would be one of the highlights of my week in Las Vegas. As one of the 15-member media panel who determined this year's class (along with the living members of the Hall of Fame), I received an invite (+1) for the dinner and induction ceremony where the industry would honor Mike Sexton as the lone member of the 2009 class. The private event was held in the Brasilia Ballroom during the two-hour dinner break of the November Nine final table. The close proximity to the Penn & Teller Theatre made it super easy to attend. Luckily I have a girlfriend and the +1 on the invite was a no-brainer so I took the lovely Change100 who was equally excited to witness Mike Sexton's induction. Michalski was scrambling at the last minute to find a date and he didn't want to show up to such a prestigious event empty-handed. He found a date and no, his date wasn't a guy nor was it a local harlot he found off craigslist. On the contrary, Michalski's date was a sweet Texas girl and the sibling of a WSOP bracelet winner.

We all sat together at a table off to the corner after arriving fashionably late since the final table ran a few minutes behind schedule. Most of "famous people" sat at the middle tables up front. You know who I'm talking about... Texas Dolly, Jesus, Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, and that Phil Hellmuth clown. Sure, my vote counted just as much as Dolly's or Hellmuth's but that's were our equality ended. That's why Michalski and I (and the rest of the media panel) were sitting off to the side and near the back -- sot of like the kiddie table at Thanksgiving dinner. It was a stark reminder that we were skilled enough as scribes to gain access to the ballroom, but we weren't important enough to be closer to the action, which was fine with me since I was surprised that I got a vote in the first place. The cliche fits... I was simply happy to be there.

A poker-themed wine company sponsored the event and provided free wine. The "high roller" wine was available for tasting in the back of the room. I didn't realize that it was a tasting table and I was initially irked at the small portions. The waiters at the tables had full bottles of wine -- albeit a lesser expensive wine. At least they kept the glasses filled to the top.

I ran into Barry Greenstein at the meat station and introduced him to Change100 and although she has been in the poker biz since 2006, she had never formally met the guy known in some circles as Joe Sebok's dad.

"You've got a good man there," Greenstein told my girlfriend.

"I know," blushed Change100.

Greenstein's compliment came before I revealed my votes. Although we could vote for no more than three people, I wrestled with my decision for weeks and had kept my votes private until I revealed two.

"You know Barry, I voted for you and Mike."

He cracked a rare smile. I picked up a tell on Greenstein. He can disguise the strength of his cards, but he couldn't hide the elation that someone actually voted for him.

"Thanks. But I'm glad you voted for Mike. He's the only guy that met all of the criteria. Lots of the (internet) kids don't realize that he hasn't been playing as much because he's busy being an expanding the reach of poker."

Greenstein also made a crack that the Hall of Fame lost some of it's legitimacy "once they let Jack Keller in." Ouch. But that's why I love Greenstein. He's a straight shooter.

I bumped into Padraig Parkinson. I had seen him eight hours earlier at the bar inside the lobby of the Penn & Teller Theatre and he had been drinking steadily ever since. The Irishman (third winningest player from Ireland) was part of a radio show with Jesse May in the UK. Although Jesse and Padraig had me on their show in the past, I had never actually met Padraig. I introduced myself and his eyes lit up. He put his glass of wine on the floor and whipped out his mobile phone.

"I gotta call Jesse!" Padraig said.

Two minutes later, I was on the phone with Jesse May and we were recording a bit for his radio show live from the Mike Sexton Hall of Fame dinner.

I handed the phone back to Padraig and he told me that he had 1% of Happy Shulman at the final table before he made a bee-line for the wine tasting table. That's when Fun Warren from Party Poker emerged from the crowd. Fun Warren is one of the coolest people in the entire poker industry. He's a proper Englishman who knows how to have a good time. Padraig is an old friend of Mike Sexton which was why he was at the dinner. Mike pulled Fun Warren aside and gave him a top secret mission -- be a chaperone to Padraig. Fun Warren's assignment was to keep Padraig out of trouble during the induction dinner. Talk about a tough task. How can you keep an Irishman away from free booze?

During the speeches, Padraig could not sit still and he rushed towards the win tasting tables. Without fail, Fun Warren was always a step or two behind him like a good shepherd to properly guide his soused sheep back to the flock.

A few old school legends sat up on the stage; T.J Cloutier, Texas Dolly, and Jack Binion. They took turns sharing stories about Mike Sexton and busted his balls about being a degenerate sports bettor. Doyle recanted one story many moons ago about Sexton getting tossed in jail after a poker game got raided in North Carolina. Sexton used his one phone call to put in a bet with his bookie.

"Give me Atlanta and the over!"

Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack spoke about Sexton's character. He used the word "class" a few times which is appropriate. Classy guys stand out in the poker world because the majority of people in the business are Grade A assholes and Jerkoffs with a capital J.

Then Tom Sexton took the stage. I had the pleasure of working with Mike Sexton's older brother during the 2007 WSOP. During the down time, Tom told me fantastic stories about old school Vegas, especially dark and deviant tales about Archie Karas and Stuey Ungar. I knew that Tom would give a kick ass speech -- and he certainly delivered. He gave a little insight into Mike's career and his devotion to veterans groups and little league baseball. Mike Sexton is a true American hero.

In once instance, Tom had everyone in stitches and in the other he had almost everyone in tears. Tom got a little teary-eyed when he mentioned their mother who passed away 30 years earlier without seeing Mike Sexton's rise to greatness.

Tom finally introduced his brother, the man of the hour, who took the time to say many positive things about the eight other men who were on this year's ballot. Mike Sexton had the most to say about Tom McEvoy who helped usher in smoke-free tournaments.

Sexton also mentioned his loyalty to Linda Johnson who gave him one of his first jobs in poker. He also suggested that Johnson should be on next year's ballot for the Hall of Fame based on her numerous contributions to the game of poker.

Sexton praised Steve Lipscomb for helping shape the poker world as we see it today with the inception of the World Poker Tour, and of course, Sexton had some funny things to say about his partner in crime -- Vince Van Patten. Yep, VVP was in attendance but no Shana Hiatt (in case you were wondering) but Sexton definitely mentioned Shana as an integral part of the early success of the WPT.

I was fortunate to take part in a special night as the poker community honored one of their most influential members... Mike Sexton.

* * * * *

My Sunday column at Poker News contained some of my favorite quotes from the Poker Hall of Fame Dinner. Definitely check that out.

Michalski and I recorded two episodes of Tao of Pokerati during the Hall of Fame dinner...
Episode 12.4: Hall of Fame Dinner: Voter Hesitation (1:13)
Episode 12.5: Hall of Fame Dinner: Touched by Sexton (2:45)
I also uploaded a video that I stealthily shot during the Hall of Fame dinner. It was a montage of Mike Sexton clips/outakes/bloopers from the WPT. I was filming a big screen and the sound is not the best quality. Just a heads up warning. Regardless of the poor quality, there were some funny moments in the montage.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at www.taopoker.com. All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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