Everyone seems to be telling Puggy Pearson stories these days and I have a bunch of them myself, but my favorite ones have very little to do with poker! The best ones according to me are the ones Mike Sexton has been telling for years about Puggy on the golf course. The only poker story I will mention linking those two names is another memory from Las Vegas of old—the year was 1983 and the Stardust had many of the bigger tournaments of that early era. The three of us were amongst many others that played in a no-limit hold'em unlimited rebuys tournament. There was quite a stir around Puggy's table as he put all his chips in pot after pot whenever he held something resembling a hand—and lost with it almost every time. After reloading and pushing in a number of times the word came around that Puggy had bought in the amazing number of 13 times. Now 13 times is not a huge number of rebuys these days but in those days it was unheard of and even in a 300 dollar event it meant that one had no respect for money, or should I say no normal view of money. For Puggy money was clearly just ammunition for his profession—and if he ever ran out of money he knew where he could go to replenish his roll, back to the poker table! Puggy did not play late into this tournament, that I can tell you. I can also tell you that Puggy was liked by many when he was away from poker but not likeable at all at the table.
We got to the final table and Johnny Chan, Freddie David, Sailor Roberts, Mike Sexton, Pat Callahan, and Dennis Waterman were all there with others that I do not remember. Sailor was raising almost every hand from every position and had quite a pile of chips in front of him, came a particular hand and he just called. I still remember looking across the table at Mike and I think we both fought off the idea of laughing out loud—it was like he ran a flag up a pole and said "I have aces!" Mike limped with 77 and I limped with 55 and now a player with less ability to notice the big picture raised and Sailor re-raised and our pairs went into the muck. The other player called and the flop came with a 7 in it and Mike would have put a big dent in Sailor but could not get to the flop.
When we got to four handed I still remember a hand that I held in the little blind, I raised with Jh10h, and Johnny Chan--this was before he won the first of his world championships--looked at me and said, "just let me look down and find an ace, I'll bust you right now!" Interesting to me as in all the television shows I have done with Johnny and all the hours I have played with him at poker tables this is the only threatening, trash-talking thing I have ever heard from him. He has a self deprecating manner in front of the camera and after winning a big event at the Morongo Casino (later seen on NBC on Superbowl Sunday) 20 months ago he came to my table and sat down to dinner saying, "I'll bet you thought I was washed up years ago and would never win another big one. I'm starved!" He then ordered three dinners! Maybe he was just being funny?
In all cases I thought this was very strange coming from a two time World Champion who has continued to win World Series of Poker bracelets from time to time. Johnny also went on to win the tournament at the Stardust and at the next World Series Yosh Nakano (now a high limit host at the Bicycle Club) passed a betting sheet to me before the first world championship that Johnny won that had him at 35 to 1. This was one of two bets that I was compelled to like and to make. The other player was listed at 45 to 1 and was a person that is likely only a distant memory to most of my readers these days—Betty Carey.
By 1983 Puggy Pearson had also taken up backgammon and I played an arranged match with him for 200 dollars a point where I was giving him the opening roll of 6-1 in a small smoky nightclub in Las Vegas. You have to understand that I was one of the best backgammon players in the world and Puggy, well sometimes Puggy would look the board over and you would swear that he could find a worse move then you could think of! Now on the other hand Puggy was one great hustler and he liked to get a good go for his money. A few hours later I was up about 2,000 dollars and had to go through interminable negotiations and re-negotiations about the terms of our playing—my head was swimming as the proposals kept coming. Every hour he would use the old "I am going to take my ball and go home" ploy and I kept giving him more and more of a spot if he would only stay and play—at long last I was giving him 13-10 on every point settled after every game—now this is a spot that the world champion would be pressed to give to a complete chump and my partner in this alleged mugging withdrew indignantly while I sweated and sweated and finally managed to win about 2600 dollars after 6 hours or so of play. I played him again about a month later and held firm on giving him 6 to 5 with the first roll, this time I won even less, about 800 dollars in 5 hours. Playing Puggy at anything was usually like picking roses—those flowers might look pretty but you had best look out for the thorns!
In a recent magazine article, Bob Ciaffone talks about a tournament decision that lets me talk about something that has always annoyed me, and often goes without remark. Very simply the structures for so many events are weak to a point of silliness—not only do many tournaments arrive at a point where most decisions are driven by mathematical understanding when the players have some, they become card-holding contests--or in the parlance of many--"shoving contests". Bob talks about a situation where he is the chip leader with about 50,000 in chips and second place holding about 25,000 in chips. The blinds are 800-1600 with a 200 ante. If we take the cost of a round (4,000 by Bob's reckoning) and multiple it times ten we see that to have any hope of playing poker you have to have 40,000 in front of you. The problem is that out of 35 players that are left only one has more than 40,000! It would easily be possible for no one to have enough chips to play poker! As the cost of playing each event goes higher and higher the organizers do not pay any attention to the wishes of the few who complain that playing poker is not emphasized—most particularly as the prize money is approached. Instead at many events blind levels that had existed for years are left out as a convenient schedule is worked out for tournament workers—the wish is to get them home and the event played to its completion in less than ten hours—no matter how many runners begin the event! Alan Goehring used his recent WPT victory as a pulpit to talk about the need for chips relative to the blinds and how he used this as a primary guideline for choosing the events which he played in.
In my own version of Bob's story I played in a tournament recently at the Bicycle Club in Los Angeles and was the chip leader when 437 buy-ins got down to 13 players—in less than 8 hours of play. I had 85,000 but the blinds were 1500-3000 with a 500 antes, or 8,000 a round and the average chips was below 40,000. After a round of not winning a hand and playing one I had 70,000 and picked up KK in first position. I made it 8,000 to go and it was passed around to Frank Rite, who was in the big blind and moved all-in. I called, he turned over A9, it came AAQ, and I was crippled while he went on to win the tournament. Two hands later I picked up AA in the little blind and a player moved all-in with 22 and the layout came J6627 and I took the exit in 12th. When these two hands get hammered like this I will likely be going home anyways, but a more important observation is that organizers do not want players to enter their events. As long as the internet and television keep supplying them with new contestants they will be happy—for the moment.
Until next time—play good and be lucky!
Ed Note: Go and see if you can make 13 rebuys in any of Paradise Poker's online No Limit Hold Em tournaments – they run them all day.