(Distributed Sept. 5, 2006)
9-11 VEGAS TOURNEY BONDS THESE 65 PLAYERS FOR A DAY
My tournament partner Scott Reed and I may have been the last two people in the nation to hear about the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I can’t prove that, of course, but it was 5 p.m. on the East Coast when we found out what happened. We were 3,000 miles away, deep asleep at the Four Queens Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, home of the Four Queens Poker Classic.
We were excited to be there, with the chance to play against the likes of John Juanda, Daniel Negreanu, T.J. Cloutier, Allen Cunningham, Scotty Nguyen, Erik Seidel, Annie Duke and others. On this fateful day,
we’d played all night before crawling into bed at 5:40 a.m. Vegas time — just 13 minutes before the first World Trade Center tower was hit.
The phone jarred us awake about 2 p.m. It was Scotty’s wife, Peg. He listened for a few seconds, then in a groggy voice said, “Turn on the TV.”
While most Americans absorbed the disaster sequence one event at a time, we got it all at once. First one plane crash, then another and another and another. One tower collapse, then the other. For us, it all happened at the same time.
Neither of us said much for the next two hours other than “Oh my God” or “Holy —-.” We just sat straight up in bed, stunned, trying to process the unfathomable.
About 4 p.m. I remembered I was a newspaperman and called the office back in Moline, Ill. The staff had published and distributed a rare extra edition within three hours of the first attack and, in a controlled state of chaos, was putting together an expanded Wednesday morning edition.
I took off in search of a computer, or even a typewriter, to compose a 9/11 story from the Vegas perspective. The hotel couldn’t help; nor could several nearby businesses. I was prepared to dictate a story if I had to. After an hour of interviews, observations, and searching for a computer, I went to the Four Queens tournament area.
There, in an act of kindness and trust that still amazes me, tournament producer Bonnie Damiano gave me access to an event computer in the secure registration area. Huge stacks of entry-fee money were in drawers just a few feet away, but there I was, a stranger to tournament officials, banging out a story for hometown readers.
I finished about 6:30, thanked Bonnie again, and went back to the room. Scotty still had the TV on, but there was little new to report. They were showing the traumatic scenes over and over, and they weren’t getting any easier to watch.
Our choices of what to do next were limited. Planes were grounded and rental cars were going for up to $1,000 a day, so leaving for home was out. Sitting in the room watching horrific scenes on the TV would be too depressing. I decided to play poker.
In an agonizing move she later said she regretted, Bonnie made the “difficult choice” to conduct the day’s two scheduled tournaments. Scotty opted to stay in the room, but I had just enough time to register for the seven card stud event at 7 p.m.
Based on the atmosphere in the tournament room, with players bonding together in a patriotic common resolve I’ve never seen before or since, I think Bonnie made the correct decision. Like me, many players were stuck in town with nowhere else to go. We were grateful for the diversion.
Card Player magazine owner Barry Shulman, who would win the tournament’s main event 10 days later, set out a large bowl for donations to the Red Cross and the New York City fire department. By the tournament’s end, more than $10,000 was collected.
Sixty-five of us paid the $200 buy-in that night. I managed to place sixth for $504, my second tournament cash for the trip. I finished just behind Barbara Enright, winner of three World Series of Poker bracelets and the only woman to reach the final table of the WSOP main event (1995).
I can’t recall a single hand from that tournament, but I’ll never forget the night a group of poker players of differing religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions demonstrated — as President Bush asked — that our American way of life must go on despite the evil which seeks to destroy it.
To find out how Scotty and I got home from Vegas, visit www.luckydogpoker.com. E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previous LuckyDog Poker columns at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 RUSS SCOTT
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