Monday, October 17, 2005


Wow! What a day. I’m running on very short sleep by now. I hope this post makes some sense.

According to plan I caught the jet to Vegas this morning at 9:15. The race ran late so this was my third day in a row of short sleep. I might have snoozed a little on the plane, but it wasn’t much.

I was feeling pretty nervous and apprehensive about this trip. If there was nothing for me to do at the tournament, did I really want to hang around and just play poker for 6 days? To those who don’t get to Vegas, that may sound like heaven, but it isn’t as much fun when you don’t have someone to share the stories with. It can get pretty lonely.

I arrived in Vegas and did the normal things: Get my bags, catch a cab, check-in to the hotel, unpack. The weather is spectacular. I’m staying at the Villa Roma hotel on convention center drive. It looks, how do I put this tactfully, like a dump on the outside. The inside is just fine. My room is neat and does not smell like cigarette smoke. In fact, it is quite pleasant and convenient to the strip.

Once I got myself organized it was time to hit the strip and the scene of the poker tournament, the Bellagio. The setup for the tournament is much different than last year. I was aware that they had remodeled the poker room, but they moved and expanded the room. I was able to peek into the Big Game room where I spotted Dolye Brunson, Ted Forrest and others playing their mega-stakes game. I didn’t even feel worthy to stop and stare for a second.

Then I roamed around the casino looking for the tournament action. I found it in the Fontana Lounge. Actually, the lounge (which looks out over the Bellagio Fountains, thus the name) has been converted into a second poker room. In here, I saw many other pros and pro wannabes. Then something happened that might just make this whole trip worthwhile.

I truck up a conversation with a real nice older fellow named Ernie. We started with the usual banter. He asked if I was playing and he told me that he had won entry in to a WPT and WSOP events, but without making any money. He is 80 years old and retired from the retail business. He mentioned that he has seen so much in his time and that I could never understand what he had seen and been through.

I agreed completely because I know that I have been very fortunate in my life and have been shielded from the pain and fear that many live with. Thank god that I did not get defensive at all. We chatted a bit further and he asked me out of the blue if I liked history. I said that I did. He asked me what I knew about Auschwitz and Birkenau. I replied with the little that I know about the concentration camps, but really didn’t know much. I did remember from a novel that the wife and I listened to in Europe about the Nazis rounding up the Hungarians and shipping them to Auschwitz. Ernie got a big smile on his face and said that he was surprised. Most people know almost nothing.

Then I took a bit of a leap and asked Ernie if he was Jewish. Well it turns out that when Ernie was 19 (in 1941) he was captured by the Nazis in Hungry and shipped to Auschwitz where he worked as a slave. If I thought for a second that I did not feel worthy to look into the big game room, I had no clue what the true feeling of worthlessness was like, at least not until this moment. I was in awe.

Ernie and I spent the next 45 minutes just sitting and he shared some of what he went through like how the Nazis blew up the Birkenau facility because that is where they killed 3000 jews per day toward the end of the war. The wanted to cover their tracks as the Russians approached. This was in late 1944. Ernie also spoke of how the Nazis forced the prisoners (slaves) to march away from the approaching Russians and was eventually rescued by the Americans in Bavaria, Germany and how he had gone from 180 lbs in January of ‘44 to 80 lbs in January ’45 when he was rescued.

Then he told me he wanted to show me something. I had an idea of what he was talking about and had thought of asking to see it, but I couldn’t. Ernie rolled up his sleeve and showed me his two tattoos. The first was given to him by the Nazis. The second was crossed US and Israeli flags. Ernie was kind enough to allow me to take a picture of them.

Ernie and I chatted a bit more and soon had to go our separate ways. Even at 80, the man does not have trouble hearing; he does not wear glasses, has no joint pain, and is still sharper than most 30 year olds. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a happy old age than this man. May God continue to bless you Ernie.

After going to get dinner, I returned to Bellagio. In quick succession, I spoke to a poker pro that I had met last year. He offered me a room in his house if I needed a place to crash which was incredible. He also gave me the cell phone number of the PokerProf who is one of my contacts for this gig. I called him and left voice mail. Then I whet inside and ran into his photographer father who I also met last year and who was quite happy to have my help this week.

So Everything seems to be going as well of better than expected. More stories and pictures are sure to come tomorrow I as I help cover the last event before the main event starts on Tuesday. There might also be a very special event that I can attend, but I’ll not jinks it before it happens. You’ll just have to check back tomorrow.

Poker Pro Spottings
Ted Forrest
Mel Judah
Charlie Shoten
T.J. Cloutier
Eric Sidel
Lisa Lie
Humberto Brenes
David Sklansky
Kristy Gases
Carlos Mortensen


Brownie said...

Hi - I just discovered your blog and have read down from the top to this Ernie story. Maybe his story of faith and endurance is a sign that your father-in-law will be fine. best wishes to you in everything.

KajaPoker said...

Read your comment on CK's blog and came to read the post. Great story! COnsider yourself added to the bloglines...

DrChako said...

Great story. Thanks for the link.