What is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.
Nevertheless, the best poker players invariably have a colorful nom de plume, or pen name. Who among us doesn’t immediately recognize Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, "Amarillo Slim" Preston, Johnny "The Orient Express" Chan or Bobby "The Owl" Baldwin?"
Although I would never be presumptuous enough to put myself in these fellows’ category, I’m happy with my own nom de plume, "Oklahoma Johnny." And I bet there are few of you who know my real name.
I’ve been playing poker for so many years and have written so many columns and books under the pseudonym Oklahoma Johnny that even my wife, Carol, sometimes calls me Johnny. Here’s the story behind my name.
My first poker name was "Crazy Johnny." I earned it because of the way I played poker and tipped some 30-odd years ago.
In those days when I won a pot I would sometimes tip all of the pot to the dealer (I know that some dealers find this hard to believe — especially the few that are on my no-tip list).
Why? When I first came to Las Vegas I had enough money; I just came for the R&R.
I was the director of two of the largest banks in Oklahoma and the CEO/CFO/director of several other companies. I was also the chairman of the board of trustees of the largest Baptist church in Oklahoma, president of the local chamber of commerce, director of the Lion’s Club and one of the trustees in charge of Tulsa County.
So I was a little bit busy in Oklahoma back then and when I came to Las Vegas, I didn’t come to win money, I just came to relax.
Well, to tell you the truth, I was a little bit afraid of being associated with Las Vegas. In those days it wasn’t good business to be known as a gambler who left the buckle of the Bible Belt for Sin City. So, I used a fake name to protect my reputation.
Where did the "Oklahoma" part of my fake name come from? I grew up playing gin and poker with Bobby Baldwin of Tulsa — since he was 12 years old. In 1979, he won the WSOP (World Series of Poker) in Las Vegas and invited me to come out and play with him in the next year’s tournament.
So I came out and played in the 1980 WSOP.
I won a second place, two third places and a fourth place but I could never finish first in that tournament.
So the WSOP tournament director, Eric Drake, said, "Johnny, if you do not win the next final table that you get to, we are going to just declare you the best all-around player of the WSOP and give you a special first-time-ever WSOP Best All-Around Player bracelet."
Sure enough, I got to the next final table — but didn’t finish first. True to his promise, Eric presented me with the first Best All-Around Player of the World Series of Poker bracelet.
Tex Shehan (who is gone to the big game up in the sky) was an old-time poker writer for Poker Player which came before today’s Card Player and the now-defunct Poker Digest. He saw me play in this tournament and said, "He is not ”˜Crazy Johnny,’ he is crazy like a fox. He is from Oklahoma ”¦ he is ”˜Oklahoma Johnny!’"
The name stuck. So I got the name "Oklahoma Johnny" from my friend Tex Shehan.
I am even in the Smithsonian Institution in the display "Fakes and Rakes" under my fake name. I will lay you 8-5 that this story is true, if you don’t believe me.
Tune in next week for some more of the story. Then I’ll tell you my real name. But right now Carol just said, "It’s time to bring the dog inside."
Oklahoma Johnny Poker Tip of the Week
Never ask a friend to loan you money to play poker with. As my daddy always told me, "Son, money is not heavy to carry." You will lose a friend and you will lose your money. If you cannot win enough money to play poker, quit playing poker. Do not pass go. Do not ask to borrow two hundred dollars.
For now, remember to stay lucky!