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Years ago, I became a solid fan of the humorous poker columns written by Max Shapiro and eventually got to meet my hero. If you have been on the poker scene for 10 or more years, you probably are familiar with this gentleman.

Max was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and came to Los Angeles when he was 16. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he attended San José State on the GI Bill. Then, while working as a reporter for the Gardena Valley News, he discovered the old poker clubs spread out in Gardena, Calif. Of the six original poker rooms in Gardena, only the Lucky Lady — previously known as the Normandie Casino — still stands. Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino was built in 2000 on the land once occupied by the El Dorado Club.

Over the years, Max had many editing and writing assignments. As a young man, twice he won first-place in the annual writing competition for Southern California newspapers and he was named “Outstanding Young Man of the Year” by the local Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Shapiro got involved with poker writing when he played in a home game hosted by poker author/teacher Chip Johnson who asked Max to write a column for a publication called “Players Panorama.” After trying to write about poker strategies, Max soon admitted he did not know what he was doing and turned to his poker humor.

It was a great decision! Through his writing, Max introduced his readers to a host of poker characters. “Big Denny” probably is the best known. Big Denny and many of his other characters are based on real people that Max met at a home game hosted by the gent who became known as “Ralph the Rattler” in his columns.

There was “Action Al,” “Break-Even Benny,” “Happy Harry” and “Booger Boy.” Other characters with highly descriptive names that Max introduced during his long poker writing career were “Windy Waggy,” “Mitch the Mooch,” “Doomsday Don,” “Filthy Willy,” “Alabama Eddie” and “Aberdeen Angus McTavish” (the tightest player ever).

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One of my favorites was “Aunt Sophie” who, well along in years, was a cocktail waitress at Big Denny’s Barstow Casino. At one point, Max found her — renamed “Lady GoDiver” — diving into the fountain in front of Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip, scooping up coins people had tossed in for good luck.

Max tells how Big Denny once conned him when they were competing at the poker table. It seems Big Denny had positioned a midget under the table to signal Max’s hole cards. Is there a better way to “read” an opponent?

And then there was “Dirty Wally.” As Max explained, Dirty Wally died of a stroke right after winning a hand with four Aces at a Hustler Casino tournament. At Max’s suggestion, Dirty Wally was buried holding four Aces in his hand.

Max’s book, “Read’em and Laugh,” fits right in with his humorous poker writing style. He was honored in 2016 by being inducted into the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame created by Oklahoma Johnny Hale.

Max and world-famed poker celebrity Barbara Enright have been enjoying each other as a loving couple since they first met 25 years ago. At the time, they were each serving as host for the Legends of Poker Tournament at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, California. They really hit it off.

True love.. . . They live together in the Hollywood area. He often accompanies her when she plays in tournaments. As a recreational player, he enjoys low/middle limit games. But it’s his humor that makes Max a real star in the poker universe. 

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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