Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fun With Work Friends

  • Around 1973 or 1974, Blue Cross of Massachusetts held a "Men's Night Out" and tickets were provided for a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers.

    Rob (VP of Data Processing), Paul (Rob's AVP), Drew (Director of the data processing division in which I worked), and I sat together. We'd been friends for a couple of years, (in the cases of Rob and Drew, going back to before they'd hired me) and the three of them had known each other for longer than that.

    Just before the game started, Rob turned to face Drew and me and said, "We should do something to make it more interesting. How about if Paul and I pick a player to hit a home run and you two pick a player to hit a home run? We'll bet a dollar apiece."

    This was agreed to immediately and before Drew and I could consult each other on our pick, Rob said "We'll take Yastrzemski (the "zee" is silent, like the "pee" in "swim"), and laughed. Yaz was a Red Sox outfielder, home run hitter, and Triple Crown winner. I do believe Rob had set this up for that purpose.

    Drew turned to me and said, "You pick someone, Donnie. I don't know anything about it." I picked Gates Brown, Detroit's journeyman outfielder, first baseman, and pinch-hitter. He was a .250 hitter near the end of his career and he generally didn't knock down fences, but he was a left-handed hitter and he always did well at Fenway Park.

    An inning or two into the game, Brown put one out of the park. Rob and Paul mumbled about a "fix" and forked over their dollars, then offered, "Do it again? We'll keep Yastrzemski." Drew and I agreed and stayed with Gates Brown, who several innings later clocked another one. Another payoff and more grumbling, but no offer to repeat the bet. A third bet would have been a standoff in any event, as neither Brown nor Yaz homered after that.

  • Paul and I once spent a Sunday afternoon in his back yard playing backgammon for ten cents a point. I won $1.70 and he handed me $2.00. I didn't have any change and he said, "You can give it to me tomorrow."

    Sometime Monday morning I ran into Rob at work.

    Rob, smiling: "Paul beat you at backgammon yesterday, huh?"

    Donnie, flabbergasted: "Whaaaaat?"

    Rob, obviously confused: "I asked him how you two did and he said, 'Donnie owes me thirty cents.'"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Las Vegas Quintet: Part V


Eight of us had decided to spend a weekend in Las Vegas. We took different flights and stayed in different hotels, but pretty much stayed together for gambling and for meals. Most were going home Sunday afternoon, and so six of us were up very late Saturday night.

We were sitting in a small lounge toward the rear of Caesars, relaxing over drinks. It was perhaps two thirty in the morning when one of the women said, "I want to play some craps," stood up and began heading toward the casino. The rest of us fell in behind her and were soon approaching the tables.

It was a ghost town compared to its better hours. Only one craps table was in play, and I think only one blackjack table as well. One whole end of the craps table was empty, and I wound up next to a 30ish woman just as she received the dice, her husband having sevened out.

The game came to a halt for a moment while four of us bought chips. I was by this time a hundred dollar bettor, and used four thousand dollars of my line of credit.

I bet a hundred on pass, everyone's bets were down, and the shooter let them fly. She rolled a point number, I don't remember what, and I put two hundred behind my pass bet and a hundred on come. She rolled another "number" - for those of you who don't know, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10 are "numbers" - and I backed up my first come bet with two hundred and made another come bet. She rolled a few more numbers, making a couple of my come bets for me, and then rolled her point.

Well, that was a good start. I put two hundred on the pass line, she rolled another point number, and I backed my bet up with four hundred. A couple more numbers and she made her point again.

There was a mild stir of excitement at the table and while the pass bets were being paid off I introduced myself. She was Judy (her real name, and all I know of it). She introduced me to her husband, and told me they were from St. Louis.

I bet three hundred, then four hundred, then five hundred, each time backing up my bets with double odds, and she continued to make points.

Well, let's see if she's serious,. I bet a thousand dollars, put a hundred on pass for "the boys" - the crew that was working the table - and put a hundred down beside her five dollar chip. She rolled a ten.

I put two thousand behind my bet and two hundred behind the bets for her and for the boys, turned to Judy, and said, "No fooling around now. We need this right back."

She threw the dice. FIVE FIVE!

As I began to absorb the fact that I had just won $5,000, she shrieked - she was a five dollar bettor and now eight hundred dollars richer. She turned to me and threw up her arms. I picked her up and swung her around to the right (hitting, I later learned, a blackjack player across the aisle).

Well, she made nine passes, which included my $1,100, $1,200, and $1,300 dollar bets, all points, no sevens along the way, which meant that my come bets kept paying off too.

On my $1,400 bet she rolled a point number and then sevened out. When the smoke cleared I was $30,000 ahead, and it all happened in perhaps twenty minutes. By the way, this was the first and only time I ever had $5,000 chips.

To this day, the six of us think of her and refer to her as "Judy from St. Louis."

This wraps up the "Las Vegas Quintet," so let me say that I don't mean to give the impression that I always won. There were some losing weekends too, including two consecutive trips during which I lost a total of $14,000. But my best guess is that I wound up somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 ahead of the game (not counting the free first class air fares, hotel rooms,and meals), and it looks as if it will stay that way.

I don't have the craps "itch" any more. The last time I went to Las Vegas was more than fifteen years ago. I imagine I'd enjoy going once more just to see all the changes, but I don't miss the gambling. In fact, I've been back in the Chicago area for ten years now and haven't been to any of the riverboat casinos.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Las Vegas Quintet: Part IV


Husband and wife Stefano and Julie, Stefano's dad and his girlfriend, and Debbie and I all went to Las Vegas for a New Year's Eve. On the first night we had dinner at Spanish Steppes in Caesars Palace, one of my two favorite Las Vegas restaurants at that time. Since Caesars would pick it up, I "bought" the dinner. The food and wine were wonderful, and a we had a grand time.

The next night we went to Justin's in the Frontier (yes, you've seen these two restaurants elsewhere on this blog). Stefano insisted on buying this night. The six of us settled in at a table, two facing two and one facing one. I was at one end and Debbie was immediately to my left.

We were all in good spirits before the meal, and things got better. Three of us decided on red wine and three on white. As we  guzzled  sipped our wine (we had ordered four bottles) we pondered the menu. Our waiter, a young man - about as young as I've seen as a waiter in the better restaurants - came to the table and asked if anyone had their hearts set on any particular thing. No, not tonight. "Well, then, why don't you just let me put together some appetizers for you?"

That was going to be easier than choosing and we cheered him on. After a while he returned with a huge tray filled with asparagus hearts, crab stuffed mushrooms, crackers and pâté, and who knows what else. For perhaps a half hour we munched, sipped, and laughed. I don't know that I've ever had a meal that was more fun.

Our waiter returned and asked, "Anyone ready for dinner?" Six hands shot up.

"Why don't you just let me put something together for you?" Well. How good does it get? We agreed immediately, (and ordered four more bottles of wine) and perhaps forty-five minutes or an hour later he and a helper returned with two of those huge trays, filled with vegetables, a couple of different potato dishes, lobster stuffed crab legs, beef strips, sauces, and again, who knows what.

As we gawked at the dinner, he commented that our wine was disappearing and we ordered four more bottles. The current four were dry when the new ones arrived.

Over the next hour and a half or so, we demolished the dinner and downed more wine. By now Debbie's shoes were off and her feet were in my lap, all under the table of course. I doubt that we were any more relaxed than anyone else at the table, however.

Our waiter arrived and asked about dessert. Everyone groaned at the thought. "Let me bring you some of our coffee, which is excellent, and you can think about it." Done deal.

The coffee was in fact excellent (one of my criteria for a first class restaurant). After a while more coffee arrived and our waiter said, "Suppose I just bring you a few desserts? You can pick and choose when they get here."

We consented happily, he did, and we were soon surrounded with trays bearing chocolate mousse, biscotti, strawberry tortes, and more. We agreed that we were probably going to Hell for this, but tucked into the desserts.

When they were all - literally all - gone, Stefano asked if we should get some more desserts. I expressed the opinion that "If I eat any more dessert they'll have to worm me." Our waiter was approaching from behind me and said, "That would be extra, sir."

Stefano paid and tipped handsomely, and we hit the bricks, heavier by twelve bottles of wine, appetizers, entrées, coffee, and desserts. We were unanimous in the opinion that we should walk back to Caesars and we did, but the hope was in vain that it would make a difference regarding our bodies' bloated feelings caused by the obscene amount of food we had eaten. No one ate breakfast the next day, and it was only in the middle of the afternoon that we began to think about lunch.

The company was as good as the food and the service. Some nights are special.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Las Vegas Quintet: Part III

23 OF US

After the Las Vegas trip with Mandy, the manager of the Caesars office in Chicago called. "They loved your action. I'm sending your airfare check to you. Any time you want to go out there, just let us know. It doesn't have to be a junket - you can just go whenever you want to."

Free room? Free meals and drinks? Airfare reimbursed? "Donnie, fly first class. It'll be taken care of. Just call us." Cool.

Mandy and I split. I went to Las Vegas a couple more times that year and perhaps once every two or three months for the next couple years, taking a girlfriend when I had one, going alone when I didn't.

One day someone started a movement in the junk mail company I worked for - "Let's get a bunch of people to go to Las Vegas together." In the end, twenty-three of us went, mostly employees and spouses or SO's, and in a couple of cases friends or relatives. I was fairly certain that none of them knew much about gambling, and I invited all of them to come to my house one night, as I could at least teach them about casino craps. I purchased a ten or fifteen dollar set that included a craps layout and chips, and in the event all but one of the group showed up for the lesson.

For many of them this would be their first time in Las Vegas and the first time in any casino. In case you're interested, here are some of the things I told them about gambling in general:
  • Don't start gambling right away. Walk around the casino, observe some of the games and players, ask questions of the casino employees when there is anything you don't understand.

  • It's an exciting atmosphere and everything is calculated to entrance you and to keep you gambling. There are no clocks. There are no windows - you can't look outside and see whether it's day or night. Get used to the atmosphere before you gamble.

  • Drinks are free to gamblers. Don't overuse this perk. If you start feeling a buzz, you've probably had too much and you've certainly had enough. It's one thing to feel bulletproof and invisible when the dice or cards or slots or roulette wheel or whatever are going your way and you're winning, but it's entirely another thing to feel bulletproof and invisible because you're drinking too much. Your judgment disappears and is soon joined by your money.

  • You know how much money you're taking. Decide how much is for eating, drinking, shopping, shows, and so forth, and how much is for gambling. Divide the gambling amount by two - that's the maximum you should allow yourself to lose in one day on this trip. If you're going to have two gambling sessions on each of the two days, divide the gambling money by four. Do not exceed that amount in one session for any reason. In particular, if you're losing don't tell yourself "My luck's bound to change." It isn't. There is no "maturity of chance." Whether you've won or lost on the last play, the odds are the same as always for the next play. If you're flipping an unbiased coin and you throw heads ten times in a row, the odds for heads and tails on the next throw are fifty-fifty.
Interestingly, only the one person who did not attend that night lost all her money in her first gambling session. She spent the next two days following friends around, unable to gamble, unable to shop.

I taught them too much about craps to repeat here, but here's what was by far the most important:
  • Bet "Pass" and/or "Come," or bet "Don't Pass" and/or "Don't Come." The come and don't come bets are exactly the same as the pass and don't pass bets, but they are made when there's already a point.

  • Don't Pass is better by a minuscule amount - tenths of a percent. However, you have to have the right temperament to be a "wrong way" bettor. Most people bet pass, and the last thing they want to hear when they lose is "Yeah!" from someone who won five dollars while they lost. But if you can stand being surrounded by hostility - and I'm not exaggerating - then the "Don't" bets are for you.

  • Betting pass and come, don't pass and don't come, getting or giving the odds, you can reduce the house percentage against you to less than one percent. All other bets are sucker bets. Remember it - All other bets are sucker bets, no matter what your friends tell you, no matter how much money they won betting "Any Craps," or placing numbers, All other bets are sucker bets. It's not as if you can't win with other bets, and it's not even as if you can't have a winning streak with other bets. It's just that you will win less money when you win - more precisely, your profit percentage will be smaller - and the house percentages on those bets will grind you down faster and more often than the percentages on the good bets.
I had imposed my wicked will on the group and got everyone to promise to gather for dinner the first night at Spanish Steppes in Caesar's, where I would buy. A little to my surprise, everyone showed up and I bought dinner for 23. With the tip and group photo - a copy for everyone - it came to about $3,000. I was already $4,000 ahead and didn't worry about it.

When I checked out a couple of days later, I went downstairs to see "the man with the pen," the casino employee who decided what would be comped and what wouldn't. He called up my action history for the weekend on a monitor, whistled, and asked, "Did you ever see your room?" We chuckled about the amount of gambling I had done, and I then said, "There's a dinner bill on there that I don't expect you to pick up. It's not really mine."

"Did you sign for it?"


"That makes it yours."

"Yes, but what I mean is that I bought dinner for 22 other people. We all came out here at the same time - not really organized, different hotels, different planes."

He looked at the monitor for a few seconds and said, "We can pick that up."

Most (all?) of us still have the group photo. I've seen them on office desks, and living room walls.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Las Vegas Quintet: Part II


I guided Mandy around the casino, showing her the craps, roulette, blackjack, slot machines, etc. I gave her some gambling money and she tried a couple of games but just wasn't enthusiastic about any of them.

We had a drink or two and she decided to go up to the room to relax. I had explained to her that I had to gamble a certain amount to get the airfare refund and to be invited back, and she understood that.

As luck would have it, I walked up to a table just as it got hot. I'd bet $50 on the pass line and if a "number" was thrown I'd back it up with $100. If it hit I'd increase my bet to $100, then $150, and so on. I would also play a couple of $50 come bets.

As I said, the table got hot. It attracted a crowd - not many groups of strangers are friendlier than a group of craps bettors at a hot table. The crew working the table was super-friendly and occasionally helpful regarding my betting, and before I knew it I was ahead about $6,000. Someone sevened out and I decided to take a break.

I went up to the room and Mandy asked, "How'd you make out, Donnie?"

"I'm up about $6,000 and taking a little break."

Her jaw dropped and she asked if it wouldn't be wise to stop gambling right now. I told her that wasn't the plan. Remember?

We chatted a few minutes and I went back down to the casino. A few minutes later Mandy, who had been in her nightgown, was beside me at the table. She had called her closest girlfriend to give her the news. The girlfriend had advised her to get me to quit, and when she learned that it wasn't going to happen had said, "Tell him to bet $50 for me."

Mandy wanted $50 of action also, and handed me $100 in cash. I stuck it in my pocket and put a second pass bet of $50 on the table. The shooter rolled a six. I put $50 behind the original $50 and told Mandy "Give me another $50." She did and I added it to the odds bet.

Eventually the shooter made the six and Mandy and her girlfriend were now ahead $170. I put my next bet down and asked Mandy if she wanted to go again. She did and I put another $50 down. Nine, odds, nine again, another $200 profit for Mandy and her girlfriend.

I turned to Mandy and raised my eyebrows. She said, "Whatever you think, Donnie."

"You should take the money and get out, Mandy. You're underfunded."

"OK, Donnie." She stayed to watch me and on the very next attempt the shooter sevened out. I was definitely her hero that night.

I finished the night about $7,500 and several bourbon manhattans ahead of the game.

Mandy was back in bed when I got to the room. She had called her girlfriend again and they were hopping from foot to foot over having won several hundred dollars and over getting out of the game at exactly the right moment.

We talked about how the next several days would go. She didn't want to gamble and unless the dice went really bad I was going to be doing a lot of gambling. We agreed that we would have our meals together and take in a show or two. She said she wanted to spend some time at the pool and to do a little shopping, "Although I don't know how expensive things are here."

I gave her five one hundred dollar bills to use for her shopping, a gesture repeated the next two mornings as well, and she was in heaven. That woman could shop.

We did some fine dining Saturday and Sunday nights ("Spanish Steppes" in Caesars, no longer there, and a restaurant at the Frontier, "The Branding Iron" at the time, later "Justin's," also no longer there). We saw a Joan Rivers show, (warmed up by the Smothers Brothers with Jim Stafford), which was wonderful. I gambled, she shopped and sunbathed. The dice continued their run for me and I finished about $15,000 ahead for the trip and flew home with 130 hundred dollar bills in a trousers pocket.

Mandy was exhausted from her shopping - you should have seen us at the airport with all those shopping bags full of goodies. I, however, was still cranked. As we waited in the boarding area, she slumped in a chair and I hopped around, I began teasing her about various things. Finally, she looked up at me and said, "Donnie, I'll crush you like a bug."

On the plane I asked her what was her favorite part of the trip, and this divorced mom of a six year old girl said, "Lying by the pool and having someone bring me a drink."


Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Las Vegas Quintet: Part I

While living in downtown Chicago, I received a flyer from the Chicago office of Caesars Palace, inviting me on a junket. I knew nothing about the junkets, but I had been to Las Vegas a few times and played some blackjack and some craps. The latter was my favorite and I was a five dollar bettor.

I called the office to get the whole scoop. The deal was:
  • I could go alone or with someone.
  • I would write a check to Caesars for the airfare ($179 per person, if memory serves).
  • I would get a line of credit with Caesars.
  • Lodging and all meals and drinks in the hotel, whether restaurant, bar, or room service, would be free.
  • I would gamble. If Caesars liked my action the airfare check would be returned to me uncashed.
I decided to take them up on it and to take my then current inamorata, Mandy, who had never been to Las Vegas.

With a goal of not only getting the airfare back but also being invited to go again, I did the math. I had to guess how much action it would take to satisfy them, and eventually I decided that if I became a fifty dollar bettor and played sanely, that I really wasn't at much risk. Yes, the dice could be very unkind and I could lose a lot, but it was unlikely over a period of three days. And I might even win with "normal" dice I figured to lose a little over the three days, but not enough so it would hurt and certainly not enough to cover the cost of the room, meals, and drinks.

I opened a $15,000 line of credit with Caesars, which required only that I notify my bank that Caesars would be calling to ask "If he wrote us a $15,000 check today, would it clear?" and to tell the bank that they should answer that question.

Came the day, and we flew to Las Vegas along with many others in a 707. We were bused to the hotel and got into a check-in line. When we reached the counter a young woman asked whether we wanted a room with or without a mirror in the canopy over the bed. I turned and asked, "Mandy?"

"Whatever you like, Donnie."

"Well, which would you prefer?"

"What. Ever. You. Want. Donnie."

"We'll take the one with the mirror."

While we were unpacking and settling in, I asked, "Why didn't you want to tell me which room you preferred?"

"It's too personal, Donnie."


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Bad Bumper Pool Player

One of the regulars at the Board Room was Jess, a very bad bumper pool player who constantly challenged me to five dollar games, never won a single game, and always raised the stakes.

Now there were perhaps eight or ten regulars that I would take two or three dollars from once in a while, or even ten or fifteen dollars, but Jess was a different case. I doubt that I ever won less than a hundred dollars from him in a session, and I didn't feel all that good about it. He didn't seem to have any money problems, but I was not a pool hustler - I had a job, I just enjoyed playing, and the money was a way to keep score.

Finally I reached the end of my rope. He came in one night, ordered a drink, turned to me, and said, "Ready, Donnie?"

"Jess, I don't want to play you any more."

"What? Why not?"

"I don't feel good about it. It's too much money, and you're a nice guy but a terrible bumper pool player."

"I'm not that bad!"

"Jess, no offense, but you're hopeless. You're never gonna win a game against me. I don't care how much money you have, I'm not happy taking it from you."

"Come on, Donnie, I'm really not that bad."

I thought for a couple of minutes. "Alright, Jess, I have a deal for you. We'll play one game for fifty dollars. I'll start with my first ball in the middle of the bumpers and I'll play one-handed. You'll play your normal game. If I win, you give up bumper pool."

"That's crazy, Donnie. You can't win that game."

"That's my offer."

We played, he lost, and in fact he still had three balls on the table when I sunk my final ball.

He gave me the fifty, shook his head, and said, "I never would have believed it. You're right. I am that bad."

He kept his word and never played bumper pool again - or at least he never played again in the Board Room.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bumper Pool in the Board Room

Bumper pool enjoyed status as a craze in this country for a year or two around 1970. I had become proficient at it in Germany in the early 1960s, and so had a head start on other patrons of the Board Room. Some would challenge me to play for a dollar, occasionally five dollars. It worked for me.

One night one of the regulars came in with a business colleague, a stranger to the rest of us. I was playing bumper pool. They stood at the bar and watched. Pretending to ignore them, I nevertheless listened as they talked about me. Eventually, the stranger said, "He's good but he's not that good. The regular, Charlie, said "I'll bet him against anyone you bring in."

They talked a little more, then Charlie walked over to me and told me what I already knew from eavesdropping: "My friend wants to bring a guy from Jamaica Plain over here next Friday to play some bumper pool with you. Are you up for that?"

"Sure. What stakes?"

"Whatever the two of you work out."


Now I'm going to assume that you know how to play bumper pool. If not, have someone explain it to you, or just go with the story.

The following Friday I had one drink to relax a little, and about the time I finished it Charlie, his colleague, and the player - roughly my age (I was thirtyish), walked in. I was introduced to the colleague and to the player, Willie. I offered to buy Willie a drink, he accepted, I bought his and a second for me.

The two of us chatted for a couple of minutes, then picked up a couple of cues for our match.

A small crowd, perhaps half a dozen people, gathered at the bar to watch us. He said, "How about a dollar a game, let me get used to the table?"

That was fine. We played a couple of games, which I won. He then proposed two dollars a game and I agreed. At that time, I heard Charlie ask his colleague, "Double the bet?" and it was agreed. I beat Willie three or four more games, and he said, "How about five dollars?"

I countered, "How about twenty?" By this point I knew that he was going to win very few games and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life taking five dollars at a time from him until he gave up. He agreed, and I heard Charlie say, "Double it again?" and it was agreed again.

The first twenty dollar game was the critical point. We both made our first ball. We both made our second ball. We both made our third ball. I made my fourth ball and Willie missed, leaving his ball with an easy bumper shot. Now I had choices - knock his ball away and put mine on his side of the table, or just go for the fifth ball and try to keep him from shooting again. I ignored his ball, shot, and made my fifth ball, winning the game. There was a little whoop from the partisan crowd.

We played three or four more games and I won them all. He'd been shut out for the night. "I'm tapped."

I asked him how he was going to get home and he didn't know. I gave him back twenty dollars and told him I'd see him some other time. He thanked me and said he'd send it via a friend. I said it had been a rough night for him, but it was my table and maybe things would be different on his table. He said yeah, it might, and we should play in Jamaica Plain sometime. I agreed, but we both knew I owned him and that the table he could beat me on hadn't been made.

At some point I went to the men's room, and as I was washing my hands Charlie came in. He held out several hundred dollars and said, "Take this."

"What's that?"

"A cut for you."

"Naw, Charlie, I didn't have any action with you."

"Donnie, if I told you how much money you made me tonight you wouldn't believe me."

No reason to be ungracious, so I took it and thanked him. When I left the men's room both Charlie's colleague and Willie were gone.

Willie did send the twenty back, but no rematch was ever requested.