Hometown boys alert!
Two of the poker profession's greatest young players are Inland Emperors. Phil Ivey (L) and Allen Cunningham (R below) were both born in good ol' Riverside, CA. Each have 5 WSOP (World Series of Poker) bracelets, and Cunningham was named the WSOP Player of the Year in 2005.
Ivey actually grew up in New Jersey, which is, let's face it, an entire state with a Riverside ethos. Cunningham, though, stayed here in So. Cal, and even attended my college alma mater, UCLA, before giving up on his engineering degree for the pleasure and profit of the felt. The dude couldn't afford NOT to quit school to become a poker pro. Cunningham raked in bank at the cash games at the card rooms off the 5 and 110 (The Bike, Commerce, Hustler) before he moved to Vega$ to "work" full time.
As some of you may know, I fantasize about this scenario all the time, and have recently started hitting up the card rooms on a bi-monthly basis to keep the "live game" skills sharp. In fact, I'm going to quit smoking at the end of the month so I have a modest tournament bankroll to play with.
I started playing poker in my first year of grad school ('96-'97) with galpals and manfriends from my Berkeley English Department cohort. We knocked back shots of Jameson and bottles of filling, Bay Area micro-brewed beers (why?!?), while playing mixed, low-stakes cash games like Hold 'Em, Anaconda hi-lo, your 5 and 7 card varieties of stud, Black Mariah, Queen's Baseball, and even our own made-up games like "Cabin Fever" (4 up, 4 down, no one wins). It was a great way to blow off steam. As I learned in my eerily accurate horoscope today, strategic card games like "pinochle and poker" are a perfect way for Virgos to unwind when they aren't using housecleaning as therapy. All of us needed our poker time to get sloppy, maneuver, act-out, be sexy, clever or weak--things we weren't allowed to express in our everyday grad school lives. The cards and the game were a repository for all our displaced competitive energies and fears of failure. We dealt by shuffling up and dealing.
This probably explains why the poker world is filled with former academics, teachers, and lots of Ivy Leaguers, from Yale homegame compatriots like Alex Jacob (2006 US Poker Champ) and Vanessa Selbst (heroic butch final tablist at the 2006 WSOP Hold 'Em Pot Limit Event--pictured L), to Andy Bloch from the infamous MIT Blackjack Team. Nicknamed the "Professor of Poker," Howard Lederer and his bad girl sister, Annie Duke, are the children of a boarding school English instructor. Their Harvard-educated parents, now divorced, jokingly refer to themselves as "The greatest breeders of poker players in the country." Even the infamous "Poker Brat," Phil Hellmuth, ended up marrying a woman from the Stanford University psychiatry department. Ah....a match made in heaven. Or perhaps required by social services.
Poker is also the profession for choice for lots of badass immigrant Asian dudes and their sleek and sexy "dragon lady" counterparts (as ESPN likes to hype them). It all started with the legendary Johnny Chan, whose skills were immortalized in Matt Damon's poker flick, Rounders. Some prefer the mulleted "Prince of Poker," Scotty Nguyen, or the trash-talking Men "the Master." And we all gotta give it up to the "soft and silent" Indonesian national hero, Johnny Juanda, and lady sharps like Dee Luong and the media darling, Asian-Canadian sistah Evelyn Ng (R).
As for me, I've been ramping up my Hold 'Em game this summer. Kangagi and I have been lucky enough to find a cool posse of dykes of color scatttered up and down the 5, 105 and 405 FWYS for regular home games, tourney excursions, and tribal casino trips. I've won big (Pechanga). I've lost big (Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas). I've made it to 5 final tables for 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th place finishes (out of 90 players) in the 2K "play money" tourneys on Full Tilt. And I've experienced full tilt after bad beats in cash games against the zumanity at the Riviera, or even just in our homegame at the hands of Maria "bulitlit" Butalid, our resident "Just For You" pocket-rocket demon.
All this is to say that if you combine my cumulative poker experience with all of the nature/nurture/kismet called forth by the demographies I discussed above--Inland Emperors, Asian immigrants, and disgruntled academics--a future with poker is definitely "in my cards." (Kick drum, cymbal crash).
Cue Belle and Sebastian's "It Could've Been a Brilliant Career."
If any of you out there on the "interweb" from the Greater or Lesser Los Angeles area would like to hook up with our modest home tourneys and cash games (with buy-ins at anywhere from $10-$25, and a winner take all or 1st-3rd place payout structure), holler via email.
The more, the merrier and the bigger the prize pool.
Let's shuffle up and deal, yo!
Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!