When you think about 1960, you probably remember it as the year of the Rome Olympics or the Presidential election of John F. Kennedy. For me, it was also the year I witnessed Danny Robison launch his gambling career. I walked into the woodshop class at Van Buren Junior High School in Kettering, Ohio, and saw another student putting on a hilarious gambling show, flipping coins and calling even or odd for $10 per toss. The student with the gift for gab was none other than Danny Robison. Our teacher had told us he would be right back, as he had an errand to do at the office. The whole class was circled around Danny and this kid from a wealthy family, named Mike Kasta, who had brought $140 to school that day. In 1960, what ninth-grader would ever be able to bring $140 to school? Danny had this guy so rattled with his verbal jabs, he won the kid's $140 in record time. Poor Mike had the fever, and begged Danny to let him take his shirt off and count it as his last $10 bet!
Danny laughed and said, "Come on, Mike, I don't want to win the shirt off your back."
Mike got on his knees and said, "Please, Danny, let me gamble my shirt. Just give me one more chance… please!"
Danny laughed and granted him his wish, as he flipped the coin and immediately won Mike's shirt, thus leaving him in his tee shirt. The whole class laughed, including Mike, amazingly, as it was now time to go to lunch. The teacher had just returned to class to escort us to the lunch room, and must have wondered what all the laughter was about. Danny put his arm around Mike, after winning not only his money, but literally the shirt right off his back, just from flipping coins. Danny said, "Mike, I know you came to school today with $140, and lost it plus your shirt, so I'm going to help you out and buy your 75-cent lunch today." This brought laughter from everyone, even good-natured Mike.
From the beginning, Danny had this special gift to psych out his opponent and keep him off balance while gambling at anything, even coin-tossing. Danny had this charming personality. Even all the way back in the ninth grade, he could get his opponent to smile and accept his losses.
Danny went to Fairmont High School in Dayton, OH, where he was a star athlete. He was on three state championship golf teams, and was also the star point guard and captain of the varsity basketball team. He led that team against a powerful Belmont High School squad which had two superstars named Bill Hoskett and Don May, both future college and NBA stars in later years. Belmont's team won the state title that year, going undefeated, but in their matchup, Danny scored 26 points to lead both teams and chipped in several steals on defense. Danny earned a basketball/golf scholarship to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. In college, Danny would be known as the 'Wild Man' in basketball, because of his wild, aggressive defense. The audience would chant for Danny when he sat the bench, crying, "We want the Wild Man – We want the Wild Man!" When Danny was on defense, the audience loved it, as he always put on an amazing show that would spark the team.
Danny was extremely bright and made straight A's his first year. He may be the only student to do that and follow it up making straight F's his second year. Danny found the party life, with the girls and the all-night poker games, to his liking. His second year he didn't even go to his classes, as he gambled and partied all year. His destiny would become the gambling world in Las Vegas, where his story would become poker lore.
Before teaming up with Chip Reese in Las Vegas, Danny won the Dayton City Golf Championship at Madden Golf Course. Tiger Woods has always had the best caddie in tournaments, and so did Danny Robison that day. Danny's caddy was future World Poker Tour host and WSOP champion Mike Sexton! It was a match play format, and Danny was down six holes after the first 18 holes in the 36-hole championship match. Coming to the 16th hole in the afternoon round, Danny was still two holes down. Mike told him, "It's time to shoot lights out now, Danny!" With his caddie's encouragement, Danny hit three absolutely perfect shots on the 16th, a par-five hole, and shot an eagle. Then just one down, Danny charged to a birdie to win hole 17. Amazingly, with the match squared up and his opponent totally rattled, Danny parred the last hole to win the City golf title. The large crowd that followed Danny and Mike around that day had no idea that both would win WSOP gold bracelets down the road, and both would have brilliant professional careers in the poker world in Las Vegas.
The year Dan Harrington won the 1995 WSOP Main Event was the year Dan Robison won his seven-card stud WSOP gold bracelet. The runner-up to Robison was 1991 WSOP No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Lowball champion John Spadavecchia, with 1990 WSOP Main Event Champion Mansour Matloubi in fourth place, and 1989 WSOP Seven-Card Hi/Lo-Split winner Mike Sexton in eighth. It was a tough lineup, and Dan's popular victory was appreciated by the other players. Everyone in the poker world has always known that about the best cash-game seven-card stud player in the world, for many, many years, has been Mr. Dan Robison.
The stories previously written in my columns called "The Golddust Twins, Parts 1-4", have highlighted Danny's incredible story when he first came to Las Vegas in 1973 as part of a team with fellow Dayton native and poker legend Chip Reese. Here are a few other colorful tidbits on Danny, to give you a sense of his fun personality both seated at and away from the tables.
In the early eighties, Danny was playing in a seven-card stud game at the Sahara with one of his friends named Tommy Cress. Tommy won a WSOP bracelet in 1982 in seven-card hi/lo-split. Tommy can play, but when things aren't going well, he has a tendency to wear his feelings on his sleeve. Danny was enjoying the game, as he watched the smoke pouring out of Tommy's ears following one bad beat after another. Danny got up from the table to go to the restroom, and stopped to offer the attendant a $50 tip if he would take his broom and dustpan over to the table, and sweep over and over, just around Tommy's chair. Danny said, "I'll give you $25 now and another $25 if you do a good job following my instructions. Wait 'til I get back in my seat before you start, and you're going to sweep around Seat 2 only… okay?"
The restroom attendant felt like he had just hit the jackpot for making such an easy tip. After Danny sat down, the attendant went over to dutifully sweep around Tommy Cress's chair only. The timing was perfect, as Tommy and Danny were involved in a big pot right away, raising and re-raising.
Just as Tommy lost another pot on the river, he turns around to ask the attendant, "What in the hell are you doing? Stop all of this sweeping up, you're bothering me, buddy!"
The brave restroom attendant continued, saying "Sir, there is some debris around your chair I need to get; it will just be a minute. Can you stand up and move your chair for me?" Tommy jumped up, extremely agitated, and then noticed Danny pointing and laughing so hard he practically fell out of his seat. Tommy realized Danny had played one of his practical jokes on him at this point, and joined in the laughter. Danny flipped the other $25 chip to the attendant for a job well done, and the game continued.
Danny's sense of humor at any poker table and his entertaining gift for gab are always sights to behold. Occasionally, another player will adapt to Danny's style, which is what happened one day playing against the great one, Doyle Brunson. Back in the early days, Danny was this dashing, very good-looking man, and a girl had stopped by to put her arms around him while he was playing against Doyle. As she walked away, Danny sort of laughed and asked, "Well, what can I say?"
Doyle said, "Danny, that wasn't anything. If I wanted to, I could get more girls than you!" Danny looked across the table at Doyle, who weighed quite a bit more and was definitely older, and began to laugh. Doyle challenged Danny to a bet over the issue, and Danny gladly accepted, enjoying the chatter. Doyle pulled several $100 bills out with some scotch tape, and immediately started taping $100 bills all over his head, while the dealer dealt the cards out. The whole table started to laugh at the scene unfolding, as Danny laughed and said, "Now wait a minute, Doyle, we didn't agree you could do that. It isn't easy to get one up on Danny in a poker game, but Doyle did and stole the show!
One time, Danny, my brother Mike and I were with our sister Lonnie at Circus Circus. Remember, Danny was an all-star point guard and captain of the basketball team in high school. When we got to the game of shooting free throws, to win a doll, Danny said, "Lonnie, let me win one of those dolls for you."
Personally, I think they make the rim a little smaller than normal in that game, as Danny couldn't make three in a row to win the doll. He spent a lot of money trying, though. Finally, Danny pulled out a wad of cash and said, "Here, I'll just pay you $100 for one of the dolls."
The young man running the booth said "No, sir, my boss isn't here and I might get fired if I did that."
With that, Danny began to laugh and offered him $200, then $300, then $400, and finally $500 with money in hand. This stunned the young guy running the booth, and although he hesitated now, he stuck to his guns and said, "I can't do that, sir, as I might lose my job."
As we were all laughing and walking away, Danny said, "Son, let me give you some free advice: Don't tell your boss you just turned down $500 for one of those $5 dolls, because if he finds out, you definitely will lose your job!"
It is easy to write colorful stories about Danny Robison, because he is so colorful himself. I'll finish with a hand that Danny once won against Puggy Pearson, that only Danny, with his quick creativity, could have won. It happened at the Dunes playing $300/600-limit seven-card stud.
To set the stage for this story, I should explain first about the 'Puggy Rule' in golf. Puggy had a tendency to tip the kid at the golf course $100 to soup his golf cart up to go a little faster than the other carts in his group. It was rumored that this allowed Puggy to get ahead of the group during a key moment of the match to find that lost ball or do what was needed to win the match. Players that played golf with Puggy learned to invoke the 'Puggy Rule', which was very simple: If Puggy's golf cart got ahead of the group he was playing, he would have to automatically forfeit the hole!
In poker, Puggy had a tendency to hold onto his chips, acting like he was betting or calling that last bet. If he could see he was beat he would then pull his bet back, saying it wasn't a bet, because he didn't let go of his chips yet. Puggy had pulled this trick on Danny more than once, and Danny had promised to pay him back one day. This story is quite entertaining, as Danny not only paid him back, but the incident led to the changing of poker rules for the better for all players.
In the famed hand at the Dunes, a raising war ensued, with Puggy having three jacks wired to start his hand while Danny showed the showing by fifth street. In the hole, Danny had the and . By fifth street they raised each other 13 times! A blank fell on sixth street for both players, and as the river card was dealt face down to each player, Danny glanced over at Puggy squeezing his last card to see if he caught a full house. Danny quickly peeked at his last card to see if he caught the straight or flush on the river. He knew he was up against Puggy's set. When Danny saw he didn't get any help, he quickly switched his in the hole with his last face-down card. Danny did this while Puggy was intently peeking at his own seventh-street card.
Puggy slammed his last $600 bet down on the table, acting like he caught his full house. Just as Puggy did this, Danny immediately flipped his last card over – the , seemingly, and jumped for joy, exclaiming, "I did it, I did it, I caught a straight flush… I was betting on the come, and I caught the mortal nuts!" Danny's five up cards now included the , , , and . Danny was counting on Puggy doing his trick of holding onto that last bet. With Danny's celebratory show, sure enough, Puggy was holding onto that last $600 bet.
Puggy said, "Now hold on, Danny boy, you motor mouth. You spoke a little too quickly, as I haven't let go of my last bet yet."
With that, Danny started into his theatrics, saying, "Puggy, you're not going to pull that crap on me anymore. Your chips are in the pot, and I want a floor man here right now to make a ruling… right now!"
The floor man called over to make the decision was none other than Doug Dalton. Danny began right in, saying "Doug, I'm not going for this anymore. Puggy is always taking a shot by pretending to bet, then holding onto his chips. When he's beat, he pulls his bet back. You've got to put a stop to this crap right now!"
All action in the room came to a halt, watching this episode unfold. In a fatherly tone of voice, Doug politely explained to Danny that Puggy's last bet wasn't official because he hadn't let go of the chips yet. That was the rule back in those days, and Doug had no choice but to make that ruling. Of course, even though Danny was acting like he was mad as hell, he was anticipating and counting on this precise scenario to happen.
As Doug walked away, Puggy pulled his last bet back and chuckled, saying, "That will teach you, Danny boy, you pre-ejaculating whippersnapper!"
The dealer shoved the giant pot to Danny, and Danny turned all of his cards over for the first time. Danny had bluffed, as he had absolutely nothing… not even a pair of deuces. Danny and the whole room erupted into simultaneous laughter, as Danny had totally out-hustled Puggy in this hand!
Puggy was furious when he realized what Danny had done to him, and started cussing and literally chasing Danny all around the poker room. Puggy said, "I'm going to kill you, Danny, for that!" With all of the commotion, Doug Dalton had to quickly call security to restore order. What a comical scene it was as these two colorful characters romped around the room, while a cocktail waitress stopped in her tracks with a tray of drinks, wondering what on earth was going on.
Fortunately, this rule has now been changed for the better: Any player who puts his last bet over the line is committed to keep that bet in the pot. This certainly protects other players from any such angle shots being taken at them. Danny Robison was sharp, quick, and creative in pulling off what he did to Puggy that night, and it was one of those classic moments in poker lore.
Today, Danny Robison has been happily married to his wife Menda for 22 years, and they have two wonderful kids, Dangelica, 10, and Zion, 7. Both Danny and Menda have found religion and the Lord to be their savior and guiding compass in life. With everything Danny has been through over the years, one can only admire both of them for having such love and support for each other in their relationship.
Knowing Danny most of his life, I've always equated him with that character named Fast Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman in the 1961 movie The Hustler. Each was good looking and loaded with talent. Each strayed along the path of life until he found character. For Fast Eddie in the movie, he found character after he lost his love in a hotel room in Louisville when she committed suicide. He had sacrificed her for a pool game. For Danny Robison, he found character when he discovered the Lord and turned to religion. This undoubtedly saved his life, and has helped save many others.
The next time you see Danny Robison playing seven-card stud in a poker room, whether it is the Bicycle Club, Commerce Club, the Hustler in LA, or the Bellagio in Las Vegas, just remember this: You are looking at a true living legend who has played a big part in poker lore for over the past thirty years.
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.