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Mike Paulle

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

By Mike Paulle

The chance to play in the last hand ever dealt in the Binion's Horseshoe cardroom drew me to the closed casino for a sentimental journey.

The deputy U.S. marshals had already locked all the front and side doors of the Horseshoe by the time I got there at 8 pm on Friday night the 9th of January. Through cracks in between the chained doors, those of us trying to get in were told that only hotel guests could enter the building.

Going around to the hotel entry doors next to valet parking in the back of the building, I was amazed to see the cardroom nearly full of poker players. I'd anticipated that the cardroom would be empty as well.

The reason poker was still being played, while all the rest of the casino was empty, was instantly obvious. Surreal, but understandable.

As we have always done, poker players were playing against each other, not the casino, so the marshals weren't interested in the separate poker bank. There was no house guarantee required by the Nevada Gaming Commission to meet any sudden jackpot or table game short term luck deviation.

Besides, the Culinary Union had gotten a federal judge to sign the court order to seize $1.9 million, not our piddling thousands in the poker bank. The marshals went directly to the main cage on the other side of the building from the cardroom. We weren't forgotten, but we were left alone all night.

There was another reason the cardroom was still going strong, two reasons in fact--poker management veterans Mark Runz and Carol Mihaylov.

When the announcement was made that the casino was being closed at 7 pm, it was Mark and Carol who calmed the natural apprehension that gamblers would have that their chips would instantly become non-negotiable.

Yes, many of the red chip ($5) players left immediately. The $10-$20 game went down right away, as those players had several thousand dollars at risk. Many of the no-limit holdem players left as well, but not all of them.

Most of the white chips ($1) didn't budge. With the focus that is indigenous to poker players, they continued to play the their $4-$8 and $2-$4 holdem games, oblivious, while around them the casino slowly emptied.

It was one of the strangest scenes in the history of poker.

Actually there was one thing that made the male players look up from their hands. Occasionally, one or two of the porn stars that were in town for the adult entertainment convention would come by on their way to their hotel rooms.

Since I wasn't staying at the hotel, I was lucky to be let into the building when I said to the guard that I was going to a poker game. "Ok," he said, "but you can't go anywhere outside the cardroom area."

Throughout the night and next morning several players would try to get inside to play poker, only to be turned away.

We were in lockdown.

The poker dealers that came on at 9 pm couldn't even clock in to go to work. And all the parking garages were closed to incoming cars.

Inevitably, with only the hotel guests getting in, the tables started to close and consolidate as players cashed out.

Finally around midnight there was only one game left, a $2-$4 holdem.

Because some of the Consumer Electronics Show attendees were staying at the Horseshoe and wanted to play poker before going to bed, this Binion's Horseshoe Final Table would stay in action for another nine hours.

At 2 am, the graveyard shift supervisor--Greg Hankins--felt obligated to tell the ten handed table that all hotel guests would have to be out of their rooms by 12 noon on Saturday. Surprising, even though there was concern amongst the CES guests that new hotel rooms would be hard to find, the game didn't close down.

Since no one could clock in, the one game on 'table five' was left with two dealers all night long. Dawn George and Luis Sevilla took turns dealing for over 12 straight hours with a few infrequent respites from Greg Hankins.

The last hours of the HorseshoeAbout 7 am this picture was taken with Wayne Murphy's digital camera by a passerby.

From left to right: John Marshall, Tony Hewlett, Mike Paulle, Greg Hankins (standing), Luis Sevilla (standing), Kevin Zhang, Pnina Shy, Dawn George and Wayne Murphy.

If Binion's Horseshoe never reopens under that name, these nine people will be the last to ever sit at or deal to the Horseshoe's Final Table. They will never be as famous as the Johnny Moss, et al. photo of the first World Series of Poker, but the historical record has been made for posterity.

I'd only wanted to play in the last hand ever dealt at the Horseshoe, I didn't dare hope to win the last hand. But at 9:40 Saturday morning the remaining four players agreed to give the exhausted staff a break and call it quits.

Each player put $10 into the pot as a toke for the dealers and got the last hand dealt face up. Dawn George did the honors as the last Horseshoe poker dealer.

Wayne Murphy, a poker dealer at the Palms casino in Las Vegas was dealt: 8 4

John Marshall, an archeologist from Phoenix was dealt: 4 3

Mike Paulle, a hopelessly sentimental poker writer was dealt: K 5

Kevin Zhang, a webmaster from San Jose was dealt: 9 5

The board came: 6 J 10 / 2 / 7

Amazingly to me no one made a pair and my King high held up.

The ghosts of Binion's Horseshoe poker had rewarded me with a gift for all the years I've covered the World Series of Poker. Or so I'd like to imagine.

Let me hear from you: Paulle@pokerpages.com.

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