Oklahoma Johnny Hale's the gentleman's gambler

August 27, 2002 8:25 AM
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ANTE UP! "Oklahoma Johnny" Hale has written a book on poker and Las Vegas. He titled it Gentleman Gambler. I was captured by the introduction written by Dana Smith, a friend.

It reads in part:

"”˜He always conducts himself as a gentleman’ is the highest compliment a poker player can receive from his peers. In poker parlance, that means ”˜with the utmost dignity and valiance on the field of battle.’ Come along with a true gentleman and gambler on a rags-to-riches odyssey of money, mayhem and moxie that takes you from the dust bowl of Oklahoma during the Great Depression to the Super Bowl of Poker in Las Vegas, from the bloody battlefields of Korea to the materialistic maneuvers of the highly competitive construction boom around Tulsa in the ’60s.

"”˜Oklahoma Johnny’ Hale, the quintessential Gentleman Gambler, begins with the story of a $2-million poker game in Las Vegas, then reflects upon the sage advice he received from his father and a wise professor, relating how he used their guidance to win at high-stakes gambling games in Tulsa and Las Vegas ”” and at the high-powered games that businessmen play in corporate boardrooms and smoky backrooms, later to be named in ”˜Marquis Who’s Who in Business.’

"Along the road to wisdom and wealth, Hale learned survival-of-the-fittest tactics during his family’s flight from dusty Oklahoma to the promised land in California, joined the navy, earned a degree in civil engineering, fought with politicians and the IRS in the postwar construction boom, and emerged victorious over adversity to rebuild the family fortune.

"In the middle chapters of Gentleman Gambler, Hale relates fascinating stories about the scam-studded junkets he traveled with to Las Vegas, the worldly women he met there, the compulsive gamblers and the high rollers he played with at the craps table, and then puts it all in perspective as he surmises in Chapter 9 that Everything in Life’s a Gamble.

"And famous gamblers? He’s played poker with a few . . . Benny Binion, Bill Boyd, Amarillo Slim, Johnny Moss, Curt Goudy, Bobby Baldwin. In Chapter 11, Hale describes his first meeting with Binion and the ”˜little group of retired preachers and school teachers’ Benny invited him to play poker with at the Horseshoe Club in Vegas . . . the same group that became the nucleus of the World Series of Poker in 1970.

"Hale does not mince words in exposing cheating schemes and money scams in Chapter 13. From chips disappearing off the dice table to the mysterious disposition of a large casino marker to the reappearance of chips in poker tournaments, the author describes actual scenarios that he has personally witnessed. But rather than curse the darkness from which such shenanigans arise, Hale chooses to light a candle in the gambling world he loves by creating a prestigious new poker tournament, the Seniors World Championship of Poker."

One of Johnny’s fans said it best: "Take it from a gambler who’s been playing high-stakes poker in Las Vegas for more than three decades ”” not all the shows are on the stage. The bad boys, the better boys, the brash, the brave and the brilliant ”” all have had their debuts and debacles on the neon stage of Sin City playing their roles of hero and villain with élan, enjoying the ecstasy of victory and suffering the agony of ­­defeat.

"”˜Oklahoma Johnny’ Hale has played with them all, beaten most of them and lost to a few who got lucky enough to pile up their chips faster than he did. In this account of his life and times as a Gentleman Gambler, Johnny takes you with him on his odyssey . . .

"”˜Oklahoma Johnny’ tells you about the $2 million pot that was played at the Aladdin, the hijack that came down in a Tulsa cardroom, the scams that were pulled on unsuspecting junketeers, and the famous gamblers he has gone to war with on the chip-laden battlefields of $1 million poker tournaments."

With poker tournaments so much the focus these days, Johnny’s been there and back. And, he captures it in Gentleman Gambler.