Ben Mezrich and the Boys of Poker
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Even so, when I see Big Red sitting at our regular game, I will always picture him back in Vegas, wandering onto the set of the movie 21 in the middle of filming. He’d been drinking for 48 straight hours, so he didn’t notice all the lights and cameras and crew standing around the roped-off area of the Red Rock Casino—or, for that matter, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess sitting at the fake blackjack table. He’d simply seen some cards and some girls who looked like cocktail waitresses, so he’d assumed it was fine to saunter past the ropes and take a seat right between Jim and Kevin. Then he tried to order a drink.
The director, stunned, took a full 30 seconds to scream “Cut!” Then he and I joined Big Red at the table to explain to him that this was, in fact, a movie set, and not a real blackjack table. He only grinned back at us: “Does that mean I’m not going to get that drink?”
After nearly screwing up a major Hollywood movie, Big Red owed me—and thus our regular game was in Vegas for the weekend, mostly on Big Red’s dime.
Late the second night of the weekend, about 10 of our group found ourselves in the poker room at the Bellagio. We couldn’t all fit at one table, so three of us sat down with a group of strangers and the cards started to fall. To my surprise, my very first hand gave me a full house on the flop—and I won a big stack. My second hand I drew a flush, winning again, easily. And then my third hand: a pair of kings. It was an almost impossible series of draws, and the whole table was now looking at me. One kid asked one of us what I did for a living; when he was told I’d written the book about the MIT card players, he glared at me and exclaimed: “I’m not playing with him!” He tossed his cards down on the table and stormed away, followed by the rest of the strangers, leaving just me and my two buddies from Boston, who were, by now, laughing out loud. They knew the truth, that I was a passable poker player at best, who had drawn three lucky hands. But then again, they’d been playing with me in our regular game for half a decade.
It was as good an illustration as I could have asked for: Poker isn’t always about poker, and as the table cleared, I could only laugh with my friends because a few days later I knew I’d be back in Boston, retelling the story at our regular game. And maybe, if I was lucky, I’d be telling the story while I looked down at a pair of bright red aces…