Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Early poker games

I saved my first casino chip in 1978. Although I wasn’t old enough to legally play poker at the Pacheco Inn (now the California Grand) , I managed to get away with a few hours of Low ball to start my playing career. I lost.

I didn’t go home completely empty-handed, however, because from the $20 in chips that I started with, I still had three $1 chips as I drove home. I was disappointed, since I had a job that paid just $2.50 an hour at the time, and a $20 crunch was more than a day’s pay after taxes. On the other hand, I convinced myself that I had gone through a great learning experience, and decided to keep the chips forever, as a kind of tribute to my first poker game against what I thought were really tough players. After four years playing against my high school buddies who could blame me for being optimistic?

In fact, in the very first game I ever played for money as a freshman in high school, I was ahead almost $5 before by some strange turn of events I started losing hand after hand. By the end of the night my buddy, Barry Wilson, was losing $10. I was stuck $9.20 and had to give a marker to one of the big winners.

It was problematic that the player I had given the marker to was a senior, while I was just a freshman, but the real irony was that I had a crush on his 15-year old sister, Denise. When I scrapped up the money, I walked over to their home and rang the doorbell, hoping Steve would answer.

Did he? Of course not. Denise opened the door, looked excited to see me, and then asked why I was there. When I explained that I had to see her brother, she gave me a strange look, called him, and then passed quick judgment on me after watching me pay him off.

Denise said anybody that would play poker for money was stupid. Strangely enough my first wife thought the same thing.  Denise completely dismissed me after the payoff debacle. I was heartbroken, but got over it when I started beating the games I was playing in on a regular basis. ‘Twas not the case for my buddy, Barry.

Barry had to take a job at Village Inn Pizza to pay his poker loses at the tender age of 14. Plus, I lost the time we had spent together swimming, riding our bikes, and watching him crash his bike, which was a regular occurrence, once because I threw a pool towel at his head, missed, and watched as it landed in the spokes of his bike, stopping it (but not him) immediately.

He got up from the asphalt with burns on his arms and knees and never complained, just game me a grin and pulled the towel out of the spokes and the chain. What a guy! I eventually took to calling him Wipe-out Wilson. Cooking pizzas was probably a safer experience for him.

I rather enjoyed beating the seniors each week, but eventually they stopped inviting me. My first barring. A number of casinos in Nevada would later add me to the list of 21 players they barred, but fortunately they don’t exclude you for being a good poker player, and I’ve been able to supplement my income with poker winnings for the past thirty years.

As for those poker chips, they were brown with a covered wagon on the inlay. The mold was a Hat & Cane, used by Christy & Jones, and there was a $1 symbol on them - but no name. When I made it up to Lake Tahoe in 1978 at the age of 19, the first club I got a chip from was the Park Tahoe (owned by the Park Cattle Company).

I saved a couple $1 chips from the Park Tahoe which were gray with a gold hot stamp in the middle with the "Park Tahoe - $1 - Stateline Nevada." I was too cheap to save one of the Red $5 chips with the coin inlay, but the rim of the $1 chips had four sets of dice and four sets of cards around it - made by the Nevada Dice company. I wrote Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling after that. It's about the casinos of Nevada from 1931 to 1981 - Kindle is free for prime members too.

Believe it or not, I still have one of each of those two early examples of now old (obsolete) casinos. That early trip also netted my a few chips from Harrah's, Harvey's, and the Sahara Tahoe. Every one of those chips is now worth some money ($5-$20 each), and whenever I saved chips, I saved more than one - and traded them with other collectors. It has been a lot of fun.

What are your first collecting experiences?

Thanks for reading - Al W. Moe.


Historian said...

Just read your story on Wipeout Wilson from your link. Pretty funny stuff. I had a friend named Barry also, so thought I'd give it a check.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Feonacy Tyson said...

Thank you I am glad about the encouragement! I love your site, you post outstanding.