Alto was whale of a player

September 18, 2007 2:55 AM


Carol, last week I told you and the folks that I plan to write a series of articles about the poker players I’ve played with in my lifetime.

The good, bad and ugly — plus a few of the very beautiful lady poker players like you, Oklahoma Sarah, Marsha Waggoner, Linda Johnston, Barbara, Cindy, Susie, Marie, Debbie, June, Phyllis, Sheri, Lori and Vera.

Carol, you know that I have been known to invite a few ladies to dinner, but at 80 years old on Sept. 30, when I am playing poker or talking to a pretty lady, I’m only bluffing!

I have invited all of the folks to join me for my birthday poker party at the Venetian poker room. We will have three days of poker tournaments leading up to the birthday party.

In any case, this week’s subject is Jesse Alto, the second best no limit poker player I have ever played. Alto finished third in the World Series of Poker behind winner Jack Keller and runnerup Cowboy Wolford, but Jesse had 90 percent of the chips. Then a bluff was made by Cowboy Wolford at the final table when only three of them remained.

At the 1984 WSOP championship tournament, I unfortunately had already used up all of my chips. So I became a spectator, along with Jackie Gaughan and Terry Roger (the fellow who founded the Eccentrics tournament in Ireland) and a few other players. Incidentally, Alto, Keller and Wolford have all been inducted into "The Seniors" WCOP/Poker Players Hall of Fame.

Anyway, back to that hand between the three at the final table.

The 1984 WSOP championship marked the first and only time that the final table has been played with real money: Binion’s at the final table removed all of the chips and replaced them with paper money in $100,000 bales of $100 bills. These bills were tied up with strong rubber bands.

Mike Caro has written a great book on "tells" but I am not in it because I don’t know what I am going to do one time till the next. The conversations I generate are never the same in a poker game.

Well, Jesse and I were in an Ace to 5 California low ball tournament at the final table of WSOP! After the blinds and deal, we were ready to draw cards. I have all my money in the pot except for one $500 chip!

I’m holding what I call an "Oklahoma Blaze." Now the best hand in California low ball is A, 2, 3, 4, 5. Mine consists of K,K,Q,J,10. It’s a very good high draw hand, but one of the worst messes I’ve ever seen for low ball, plus I have 50 points in my hand.

I look over at Jesse and tell him about this one $500 chip and my intention not going to bet it unless I make the best possible hand. I throw away one card, making my hand look as strong as possible. I get rid of one of the kings and draw one card.

Whether it was the look in the eyes or trust that the best hand would come up, I caught an ace.

I said to Jesse, "I’ve made the best possible hand I could make," and I bet my last $500 chip!

Jesse looked over at me and said, "I’m gonna let you have it, Johnny, if you’ll show me your hand!" I said, "Why sure, Jesse, I’ve never lied to you. I caught the ace and that was the best hand I could make."

He just laughed with me!

Jesse went to play in the big game in the sky in 1998. Like I said, Jesse was No. 2 behind Doyle Brunson on my list of great players in the world of poker! Disappointingly, No. 1 is not me, nor my dad G.N. Hale. Next week, I may write about Doyle or another of the greatest poker players that I have ever played poker with in my lifetime.

Tip of the Week

This one comes from Doyle Brunson himself. In the playing of a hand, Doyle said "Try to decide how good your hand is at a given moment. Nothing else matters. Nothing!"

Yes, and if you call Doyle after he has decided how good his hand is at that moment, most of the time you will have nothing left with to play poker.

Until next time, remember to stay lucky.