Revisiting the darker side

Vinny Vinh doesn't exactly have the sweetest reputation in the world; the address in Houston he lists for contact purposes isn't his own and he's been known to repeatedly engage in dealer and player abuse. This is no angel we're talking about here, but when you deal with speculation of death, it forms a soft spot in the hardest hearts.

Vinny had the chip lead at the end of Day 1 in Event 8, $1,000 no-limit hold 'em with rebuys, then failed to show up on Day 2. Two hours in, friends started calling Vinh looking into his whereabouts, but despite repeated attempts throughout the day, failed to contact the former WPT runner-up (at the 2005 L.A. Poker Classic, where he lost to Antonio Esfandiari). In talking with a number of his closer friends in the community, there was a notable feel of concern and resignation; the disappearance wasn't a big surprise. His stack was large enough that when he finally ran out of chips, he was in 20th place, good for $16,212.

Shannon Shorr, a young veteran of the live tournament arena, posted the following on popular message board twoplustwo.com:

"I very much dislike playing with Vinny because of the way he treats other players and dealers, but I really hope that he is found to be in ok shape. It, indeed, must've been very serious for a player like Vinh to miss this kind of shot at a bracelet."

Vinh isn't the same man who finished second in the 2005 WSOP Omaha world championship. His change in appearance led to heavy speculation of personal problems. Pro Shane "Shaniac" Schleger summed it up with his thoughts, voiced on the same message board: "I actually think there's a good chance that the reason VV didn't show up today was because of some kind of incapacitation (whether it be death, hospitalization or whatever). When I saw him yesterday, I couldn't believe how he looked -- he was emaciated and appeared like he had aged years in the course of a month."

Vinh didn't show up in any of the major area hospitals in those two ensuing days as the community awaited word with expectations of the worst. Finally, Schleger heard from Vinh associate Tommy Vu that Vinny was alive. But what could he possibly be dealing with? You don't just not show up with the chip lead at the World Series.

For those who are shocked by the Vinh revelations; you have short memories. There's a constant battle going on with poker reporting concerning the darker realities of the game and how much detail to give on them, but you know what? The darker side is part of the reason for poker's popularity. The "Cincinnati Kid," "Rounders," "California Split" (notice I didn't include "Lucky You" in there) and movies of their ilk glamorize the underbelly. It makes poker bad to play in a bad-feels-so-good kind of way. This isn't a game populated by angels. TV mostly paints things black or white, but poker, like life, is all about the many shades of gray.

The Vinh saga has evoked memories for many of Stu Ungar. It's easy to forget sometimes, but this is a lifestyle that can utterly consume people. It's because of that that the humane efforts of poker people can mean so much. When Barry Greenstein, Mike Sexton, Kenna James, Phil Gordon or Jen Harman take it upon themselves to give a little back, it speaks volumes to their character. After all, theirs is a profession where greed pays in spades. To be able to separate their persons from those qualities they need at the table is a remarkable thing.

Feel better, Vinny.


Speaking of Smith, the man is a glutton for punishment. It's not enough that I already took five grand from the man, but now he's made me a double or nothing bet. He's going to lose this one, too.

The first bet was that I couldn't lose 25 pounds in eight weeks; I smashed it by losing 34. That put me at 230 pounds for about three seconds before I started enjoying the freedom to eat hot dogs and doughnuts. I think I've probably put on around five pounds since the start of the series; Gavin decided to do something about it.

The bet is that I have to weigh 230 pounds or less by Jan. 1, 2008. So long holiday feasts, hello calisthenics. Goodbye to burgers and 'za, hello apples and celery. Oh yeah, baby, celery: the only food in the world that forces you to burn more calories in the chewing than you consume in the eating. Did you know chili peppers speed up your metabolism and thus help you burn calories faster? I only know stupid stuff like that because of these bets.


There haven't been many experiences more painful than seeing Andrew Feldman in the hallway 80 minutes after starting his maiden WSOP voyage. Andrew and I had met in person for the first time only the day before, but you could see how badly he wanted it. I'm pretty sure he'd resolved to play another event before the river fell.


A couple of good quotes from the last couple of days;

Photographer Joy Miller was speaking to Steve Zolotow when she suggested he move a sponsorship badge to cover his heart. Zolotow responded, "I'm a poker player. I don't have a heart."

"Congratulations! You won! Can I take a picture of you and your bracelet?" -- A random photographer to WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, who was holding the bracelet in question so he could present it to its soon-to-be owner.

Gary Wise is a contributing writer for the ESPN Poker Club and is the feature poker columnist for Bluff magazine.