Hold 'Em Tight

Unreal went to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker and all we got was this lousy story.

The first four hands Nassif quickly folds. Perhaps in an attempt to hide his nervousness, he assumes his signature position — head slumped on right palm, eyes half-closed.

Fifteen minutes in he makes his first bet.

Dealt the A♣K♦, a very strong hand, Nassif raises $700,000 and is called by Jamie Gold, who's in first place, having amassed more than ten times as many chips as Nassif. The flop reveals the 5♠3♠2♣, the first three of five "community" cards the players will use in combination with their hole cards to make the best possible five-card hand.

Eric Harkins/IMPDI for the 2006 WSOP
The local hero (left) stares down fellow poker face John 
Magill, who was eliminated in 12th place — good for  
$1.1 million and change.
Eric Harkins/IMPDI for the 2006 WSOP
The local hero (left) stares down fellow poker face John Magill, who was eliminated in 12th place — good for $1.1 million and change.

And just like that, Dan Nassif puts his tournament life on the line, betting everything he's got — the all-in wager that gives this event its No-Limit name.

Gold smoothly calls and shows his hole cards: 2♥2♠. In combination with the board, Gold has drawn three of a kind. Now, Unreal is no Texas Hold 'Em shark, but it's clear that with two community cards remaining to be dealt, Nassif is a massive underdog. The best the home team can hope for is one of the deck's four fours, which would give Nassif a straight.

The dealer reveals the fourth community card, called the "turn": the A♥. Now a four will grant Nassif only a reprieve, in the form of a split pot. Anything else and homeboy's run is over.

As they wait for the dealer to turn over the final card — the "river" — Nassif and Gold stand together and chat. "He apologized for flopping a set," Nassif will later relate. "And then he started chanting for a four so I could stay alive — which is just the kind of person he is."

The river card is the 10♠. Play will continue at the final table for another thirteen hours, but Nassif's tournament is finished.

Exiting the Amazon Room, he fires up a Marlboro and walks to the media room for the obligatory farewell press conference. Unable to locate an ashtray, he hands what's left of his cigarette to a fawning journalist, who smokes the rest.

When the questioning commences, Nassif launches into self-deprecation mode, faulting himself for a slight miscalculation: not going all-in before the flop. He says he's rooting for Gold to win. (Gold will go on to do just that.) "To everyone back home who bought the pay-per-view, I'll give you 25 bucks," Nassif adds.

Then Nassif heads to the cashier to have his winnings wire-transferred to his bank account. Here he encounters a snag: His $1,566,858 has turned into $1,556,858.

That's because Nassif's $10,000 entry fee was paid by PokerStars, and Harrah's, which owns the WSOP, wants no part of it. Instead they're deducting the buy-in from Nassif's winnings.

"As a licensed gaming operator, following the advice of both the Department of Justice and state gaming regulatory agencies, we cannot accept money directly from online sites," Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson later explains to Unreal. "What happened was, we had been under the impression that Dan Nassif had registered as an individual and paid for his seat himself. When we found out differently, we refunded the money to the entity that registered him and he ended up paying the $10,000."

To which Unreal can only say: Spoken like a poker player.

Over the years, many hundreds of players have won their way into the WSOP the way Nassif did, via so-called satellite tournaments. But just this summer the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing most online gambling. That pending legislation, along with existing federal laws, has clouded the future of offshore Internet poker sites. Last month, right in Unreal's backyard, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri announced a 22-count indictment involving BetOnSports.com, inducing the operators of that site to stop taking bets originating in this country. Federal agencies contend that entities like BetOnSports violate the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits wagering over any kind of wire-based communication. The law's application to offshore gambling sites — and, more specifically, to games like poker (as opposed to wagers placed on sporting events) — has yet to be tested in court, but evidently Harrah's isn't taking any chances.

Whatevs, as far as Nassif is concerned. A PokerStars rep has assured him he'll be reimbursed directly by the company. So the check, metaphorically speaking, is in the mail (from the Isle of Man).

That night at the Monte Carlo, Nassif, Captain-and-Coke in hand, plays Caribbean Stud and War with his buddies. A 2 a.m. bed check finds the ninth-place finisher alone in his room. No hooker. But he can't sleep.

It has finally hit him: I'm a goddamn millionaire.

Rather than catch a cab to the Wynn and its on-site Ferrari dealership, Nassif flips on the tube and surfs channels, settling on a rerun of the Little League World Series.


In an article called "Wasteland of Wealth," published in the July 17 issue of The American Conservative, author Chilton Williamson Jr. asks a cynical yet unsettling question: Is the purpose of life money?

"For the West," Williamson contends, "there is ultimately no purpose, no reason, no standard, no justification for, nor comprehension of, anything but the wealth it produces or attracts to itself."

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