Friday, October 31, 2014, 10:54 AM [General]

    At first we called him Des. But within a few weeks he’d become Doomsday. Des due to his rather pessimistic oulook on life in general and poker in particular. He was the kind of guy whose last thought at night was that he was no better than an even money shot to wake up alive in the morning. There was a widely held belief that the reason his head was slightly tilted backwards was because he was often looking up to ensure that if a grand piano was falling his way he’d be in with a chance of taking evasive action. He was the only guy I ever played with who was terrified he’d win a big pot because then he’d have enough chips in front of him to lose a huge pot (he considered leaving a game before it broke up to be highly unlucky). He liked nothing better than to put all his chips in on the turn whilst saying "I know the club is coming, but what can I do?" Amazingly, he was rarely disappointed.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was travelling by metro with a French friend of mine to the poker club in Place Clichy in Paris. He started to get a bit antsy as we approached Miromesnil station, where we were due to change trains. He explained that the last time he’d been there he bumped into his ex girlfriend, which apparently was a less than happy reunion. I reminded him 30 trains per hour passed through the station so the chance of another messy confrontation was highly unlikely, but he was convinced it was a straight coin flip. As we stood on the platform, I delved a little deeper into the mathematics of the situation .Suddenly he dived in behind a pillar saying "That’s her! She’s xxxxing mad!" I calmed him down and told him I’d tell him when she got onto the train and we could get into a different carriage at the last moment. The plan worked great. Nearly. She got on the train. He made a run for a different carriage and made it with a millisecond to spare. I got left on the platform. While I was standing there I began to question whether it is possible, by thinking negatively, to alter the odds against something happening without actually interfering. I shrugged off that ridiculous thought immediately. Then again, I remembered I haven’t seen Doomsday Des for years. Maybe he was right about the grand piano too.

    The recent IPO in Dublin lived up to its billing as a tournament for nutjobs and party animals. It was great! In a recession beating move that many countries would be advised to study the Northern Ireland lot brought several times their own body weight in liquor across the border. They didn’t bring any home. There was a sign in the hotel requesting that patrons refrain from consuming food and beverage on the premises that hadn’t been purchased there. Big Philip laughed when he saw it remarking that there were more pizza boxes in the bar than you’d find in Domino’s on a Saturday night!

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    Monday, September 1, 2014, 1:53 PM [General]

    Tony Cascarino is a proper Irish hero. A lot of people know him as a poker player, TV pundit and ambassador but we know him as a warrior who wore the Irish soccer jersey with courage, passion and pride. This is particularly commendable as Tony is about as xxxxing Irish as Bin Laden. To be fair, Tony did have an Irish foster mother so that was good enough for him and certainly good enough for us. Never ever let it be said the Irish wasted valuable drinking time on technicalities and, anyway, the Football Association of Ireland guys were usually very busy figuring out where the next junket was coming from.

    The UEFA officials couldn’t mind their own business and were anxious to inspect Tony’s Irish passport which was technically a little difficult as he didn’t have one. After taking shit from the English for 800 years we weren’t going to let the Europeans tell us you had to be Irish to play for Ireland, so next time Cas arrived in Dublin there was a brand new passport waiting for him. Don’t xxxx with the Irish! Years later, when the story appeared in the Irish press, Cascarino’s popularity soared. He is living proof that Irish isn’t a nationality. It’s a state of mind.

    In 2006, Tony was called up to play for Ireland in Partys Football and Poker Legends Cup. Each team was made up of two pros and a footballer. Ireland should have had a huge advantage as Tony could play poker like a pro. Unfortunately, we had a pro who could play poker like a footballer. And did. If you value your life, you will stand well back if you insist on asking Tony what happened.

    Ironically, Cascarino was probably more qualified to play for Italy than anyone who did play for them against Northern Ireland. They were captained by England’s Michael Greko whose Italian credentials were that he’d played a scene in a chip shop in the soap Eastenders. The other pro was Alan Vinson, who qualified as Italian by virtue of the fact that he spent ten hours of his life in Turin when his beloved Tottenham played Juventus. The footballer was a Portuguese speaking South American who allegedly had an Italian ancestor somewhere in his family tree. His credentials as a footballer were even more dubious. He’d had a trial at Barnet. Allegedly! He didn’t enhance his reputation when he fell over a ball in the studio.

    There followed one of the funniest TV heats I’ve ever witnessed from the commentary box. Italy’s captain dived onto his sword in the first pot. Worse news was to follow as it became apparent Italy’s footballer hadn’t a clue what was going on at any stage. He did look quite happy though. During the break, Alan gave his team mate a pep talk which may or may not have helped if they had a common language. Aggressivo was mentioned more than once. The guy crippled Alan almost immediately when he called him down aggressively with 6 high and won! Alan later explained to the viewers that they were from different parts of Italy so they had a communication problem due to dialect issues.

    With Northern Ireland on the verge of defeating Italy for the first time since Dana won the Eurovision song contest, Italy were given one last forlorn glimmer of hope when the footballer was dealt AA. He passed. Don’t ask. I don’t know.



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    Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 12:24 PM [General]

    The WSOP wouldn’t be the same without a bit of controversy as lots of people don’t have a real life or the propensity to entertain themselves. In the old days, you could take an educated guess as to where it was going to come from. Like Phil going off on one, or Scotty being drunk as three monkeys at a final table, or Casey Kastle figuring out someone’s stack had miraculously trebled during a break. These days, it can come from just about anywhere. Mike The Mouth made a game effort on behalf of the old school by letting off a string of F words that a few years ago would have had him penalised till after the World Cup in Qatar. It all threatened to get a bit out of hand, but died down mainly due to the fact that nobody really gave a xxxx what he said.

    When things did kick off it was all about what somebody didn’t say for a change. Some guy beat Daniel headsup in the ONE DROP charity event to win $15.3 million. Nobody knows how many F words (if any) he was going to use in the press interviews afterwards, because he didn’t say a word to anybody! I didn’t really get it. Mainly because the way I was running I’d have quite happily flown to the moon and done a press conference by satellite if I’d made it as far as a dinner break any day. Or the break after level 4 even. But maybe that’s just me. Apparently he did post somewhere that he didn’t think poker winnings should be celebrated or something like that. Some people were heard to remark that it was a bit late to develop a conscience AFTER winning 15 million, but obviously I wouldn’t subscribe to such a cynical way of thinking.

    Opinions were divided. A small minority thought the guy shouldn’t bother doing interviews if he didn’t want to. An equally small number thought he had an obligation to the game and his fellow players to oblige the press like pro sportsmen do, as poker needs publicity and new blood as badly as Hellmuth needs new names to drop. The vast majority of players were either behind or buried at this stage of the tournament, and either didn’t know what was going on or didn’t care what the hell he did or didn’t do.

    A few days later, I was hanging around the Rio having the craic with David Plastik, which is always fun. If you like that kind of thing. We must have been stuck for something to talk about and ended talking about the ONE DROP. Now if there was one man on the planet who cared less about what was going on than I did, it was Mr Plastik. Where charity is concerned they’d be more than lucky to get one drop out of Mr P. but I’d have bet the farm he’d have thought the guy was dead right to take the money and say nothing. I’d have won. Just for the laugh I pointed out the obvious. If Negreanu had won it would have been great for the game. There was a lot of press guys around who wouldn’t normally be seen dead at a poker tournament, so it would have been a great opportunity to show the game at its best to a new audience, and Daniel woulda been the perfect guy for that mission. WAY more importantly it was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the fantastic project that the ONE DROP FOUNDATION is all about. I said that if Daniel had won he would still be doing interviews. “What do you mean “would” ?” said David, “He’s still doing them anyway!”

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    Saturday, July 5, 2014, 9:51 AM [General]

    They say the modern game requires more skill. That’s not necessarily true. For example, borrowing money used to be a much trickier proposition at the WSOP in Binions. These days, a story about a wire transfer that’s been delayed /lost usually does the job. A little bit of homework is helpful. Like figuring out what bank the wire would have gone if it wasn’t a work of fiction.

    Back in Binions timing was everything. First of all, you had to find a blinding game in the middle of the night and then you had to find a victim. Preferably one who’d just come back from a liquid dominated dinner. Then you had to convince the guy the game was the best ever, you’d lost the key to your box and the guy with the drill didn’t start work till 10am. Then you had to minimise losses until your sponsor went to bed and you could hit the airport. Of course, it also helped if you actually had a box albeit an empty one.

    Was driving around town the other day with legendary WSOP floorman Scof. He’s been in town since shortly after WW1 and is in the habit of pointing at places and telling you what used to be there. He pointed at one spot and told me a guy from New York who was a connected guy once told him he and his buddies were planning to open a casino there and wished to hire him as manager. He was pleasantly surprised when told what salary they were proposing to pay him. He laughed and asked “Who do I have to kill for that kind of money?”. The other guy didn’t laugh and replied : “You don’t have to kill anybody. We will  look after that end of the business.” No. He didn’t take the job!

    Went for dinner with Team888 a few nights ago. They took us to a fabulous Brazilian joint where guys kept coming around with meat until people were so bloated they couldn’t move. One guy came up with a theory that the place was secretly funded by the US government for the purpose of turning everyone into Americans.

    In a classy move, the WSOP awarded an honorary bracelet to Chad Brown. Just twelve months ago, I was having a laugh with Chad here as he was planning a trip to Ireland to play poker. I told him he’d love it. I wasn’t kidding. Sadly, it’s not going to happen as Chad is receiving hospice treatment. The blog he wrote about his circumstances is all about class and courage. I’m not talking about the courage to stick your chips in the pot. I’m talking about the real thing.


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    Monday, June 23, 2014, 6:44 PM [General]

    Players often fondly remind me of the great nights we had at the bar in Binions back in the day. I’ve given up on telling them that I never had a drink at that bar during the WSOP. Or any other bar in Vegas for that matter. But why let the truth spoil a good myth ?

    One day, two players who were to become household names when poker took off big time were drinking beer at this famous bar. In the interests of protecting the stupid, lets call them Player A and Player B. They were both keeping a close eye on a decent sized stud game that was being played nearby. Player A, because he preferred to watch the game rather than listen to Player B, and Player B because the guy in the 1 seat owed him 500 bucks. Seat 1 was a pretty decent player who wisely supplemented his poker income by doing a few bits and pieces for local businessmen. Most, if not all, of these bits and pieces involved killing people but, you know, when a guy is between bankrolls he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.

    After several beers, Player B approached Seat 1 with a view to discussing the outstanding debt. Seat 1 immediately acknowledged that he did indeed owe him 500 and intended to pay him but that at that moment in time he was being staked in the game so the money in front of him wasn’t his. A less than happy Player B retreated to the bar. Player A pointed out that Seat 1 was an honourable guy and a pretty decent egg in general. Especially when he wasn’t murdering people. He also helpfully suggested that if you wanted to piss somebody off, you could do better than mess with a stone cold killer.

    Player B was a fine poker player but one **** drinker, so the inevitable eventually happened. He again approached the poker table and attempted to reopen the discussion re the 500 bucks. Seat 1 politely told him to go away. He didn’t. Instead, he stood there and proceeded to go through a kung fu warmup Bruce Lee would have been proud of. Seat 1 stood up, shrugged his shoulders, and hit the guy with a punch that caught Player B right in the middle of his forehead. He knocked him clean across the room and then sat back into his seat as though nothing had happened and the game resumed.

    After about five minutes, Player B struggled to his feet and staggered to the bar where he applied a cold bottle of beer to a lump the size of a golf ball which appeared in the middle of his forehead.

    There’s probably a poker lesson there somewhere. I’m no expert but I’m guessing its got something to do with game selection.

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    Monday, June 16, 2014, 9:14 AM [General]

    The Irish never come up short when it comes to bearing a grudge and that’s fine by me. We have been the innocent victims, suffering betrayal and injustice at the hands of powerful neighbours so its no wonder we are a race of romantics, poets and drunks. To our credit, they only broke our hearts once when they sunk even lower than we could have imagined possible.

    Most people of a certain age can tell you exactly where they were when the news came through that Kennedy had been shot, Elvis had been found dead on a toilet or Phil Helmuth had made a mistake at a poker table. But absolutely every Irish person has every detail of our darkest day tattooed on his soul lest he ever try to find peace of mind before our martyrs have been avenged.

    It all started off optimistically. The invading Irish army gathered together early one morning at a top secret location. The Irish being Irish the secret slipped out after our enemies bought us beer so just about the whole world knew the secret location was O’Sullivans pub in Paris. After seven or eight hours discussing tactics, we headed to the battlefield to support eleven of our finest in their battle against the best the French had to offer. At stake, was a place at the World Cup Finals. The game itself was a shock to even our most diehard comrades. The Irish journeymen were outplaying the thoroughbreds of France in their own backyard and we were on our way to South Africa until Thiery Henry cheated by playing basketball and the ball finished up in our net. Everyone in the stadium saw what had happened except the referee who hadn’t even been in O’Sullivans all day.

    The fallout was unreal. Its not often the Irish have the moral high ground so we made the best of it. We whinged like xxxx. Henry became public enemy number one. To be fair to the French, they were pretty embarrassed about the whole thing and didn’t want to win like that. We loved it and were thrilled when the French imploded in South Africa. Never underestimate karma!

    Four years later, I was getting ready to go to Vegas for the WSOP (which is more than I could say for our soccer team and the World Cup). I somehow managed to fracture and dislocate my shoulder in Paris which isn’t dreadfully helpful as a buildup. The pain was unreal and I honestly didn’t think it could get any worse. But I was wrong. I was surrounded in the hospital by three doctors who were preparing to pop my shoulder back in when one of them asked “What do you think of Thiery Henry?”

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    Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 10:00 AM [General]

     If you don’t remember the first time you played the Irish Open, there’s something wrong with you. Don’t look for help. It’s probably too late. The first time I played (and lost), it was in the eighties and I was buzzing for a week. A few days before the event, I was in a bookies shop when I was supposed to be somewhere else and couldn’t believe it when I saw Terry Rogers, bookmaker and event organiser, had advertised prices for the upcoming event in one of the racing papers. I especially couldn’t believe it when I saw Famous Seamus was 16/1 favourite whilst you could back Jimmy Langan and Don Fagan, Irelands finest at the time, at 18/1. Even I knew Famous had a better chance of being the next queen of England or running a sub three minute mile than he had of winning the Irish Open. I was having a bite to eat with Terry in the Eccentrics Club that night and asked him how the xxxx Seamus could be 16/1. Terry just laughed and said "If you were an English player and saw that Famous Seamus was favourite would it encourage you to come to Dublin?" I learnt a lot from Terry! This year the bookmaking arm of the sponsors, Paddy Power Poker, adopted the rather strange tactic of pretending, for betting purposes, that ten of the best known players in the world would be competing in Dublin. Everybody knew that, with San Remo clashing with the Irish Open, there was a better chance that Famous Seamus would turn up than any of these guys. And he’s been dead for ten years. I could almost hear Terry turning in his grave.

    Poker players aren’t, in general, half as smart as they think they are. An idiot could figure out the Irish Open was going to be the best value ever this year. I quite enjoyed listening to one of the Irish players explaining to the streaming audience what a wonderful relationship there was between the younger Irish and English players. He neglected to inform his spellbound listeners why they forgot to tell them why Dublin was a must. Well, I suppose the English started it when they broke the Treaty of Limerick.

    It’s taken twenty something IOs for me to figure out how to pace myself over this precariously dangerous weekend. It means you miss out on a lot of the craic but sometimes that’s a good idea. On the Saturday night the bar was pretty lively, especially as my friends Big Philip and Jesse May were flying in the main event. We were joined at the bar by a popular Northern Ireland player who is normally pretty quiet but on this occasion he was out of his mind and rather loud. I could see that this wasn’t going to end well so I bit the bullet and toddled off to bed. If my reads in the tournament were as good I’d have won it with a day to spare. Eventually, our hero was persuaded to hit the hay so all was well. For a while. At 8am, he woke up and decided to use the bathroom. For some reason or other, best known to the architect the bathroom door and the bedroom door are quite similar so, quite understandably, our man lost a flip and finished up in the corridor. As he hadn’t had the good sense to take his room key with him on his journey to the bathroom he found himself short on options so he, quite sensibly, headed for the front desk to obtain a new room key. At round about the same time a Singapore airlines crew checked in and were waiting patiently for the elevator. I’m told they looked really well, all dressed up in their uniforms. Then, the elevator door opened and they were probably a little surprised to be met by a poker player who wasn’t quite as well turned out. To be fair to him, he was wearing his second best pair of boxers and a complete set of socks. It appears that this was unknown territory to all concerned, so everyone just stood there in silence for about thirty seconds. Our man recovered first, remembered someone had told him that sometimes attack was the best approach in a stand-off, and kicked off with "What did you guys do with that plane anyway?" and continued with "I know some of you know where it is, but nobody’s saying anything". Only at the Irish Open.

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 8:18 PM [General]

    Europe’s oldest Holdem tournament, The Irish Open, takes place this weekend. It may not be top of every player’s must play list any more, but it’s top of mine. The economy, a saturated calendar and lack of TV coverage may explain a lot, but for me it’s all about the history. When I walk in to play this event, I can almost see the ghosts of the great characters who’ve played and lost and would rather have lost than not tried. Because they knew this was our tournament. A celebration of being Irish, either by birth or at heart. If you haven’t figured that out you’re missing the point.

    It all kicked off when eccentric Irish bookmaker Terry Rogers wandered into Binion’s in the middle of the WSOP (it was probably in 81) and couldn’t believe his eyes. Terry was one smart cookie and figured that tournament holdem would go down pretty good with Irish gamblers. He was right there! He took a bit of advice from his new best friend Benny Binion, returned to Ireland and opened the Eccentric’s club and The Irish Open was born. The Eccentric’s club was hysterical. It was really just two appartments over a shop on Dublin’s North side but it was the most magical place I’ve ever played in. Terry was right about the Irish and holdem but had to keep changing the rules on rebuys as this bunch of degenerates needed protection from themselves. At one stage, the weekly tournament was a freezeout. BUT if you got knocked out you could leave the building and come back as somebody else. It seemed quite normal to us. There was a rule that you couldn’t borrow or lend money in the club. If this rule was infringed, the lender was suspended for a year. One night, Terry forgot his own rule and lent a guy a few quid. Then he remembered and suspended himself! You couldn’t make this shit up.

    Then Terry pulled a master stroke. He persuaded the best players in the world to come to Dublin’s Killiney Castle to play poker for a week. They all came. Doyle, Chip, Stuey, Slim... they were all there. The Irish media lapped it up. In a week, Terry had changed completely the Irish publics perception of the game. For that, we owe Terry and the Americans who put the game on the map here a lot. Ireland being Ireland, the wheels had to come off at some stage. One evening, the guys who were looking after the cash went on a dinner break. As a precaution, they took the cash with them for safekeeping. As an extra precaution, they never came back. Everyone thought it was very funny. Except Terry maybe.

    Over the years, Americans have been great and enthusiastic supporters of The Irish Open. Mike Sexton always speaks very highly of the event and Irish poker in general. Dan Harrington is a regular visitor. Phil Helmuth has said some really nice things about it. Negreanu came all over Dublin with me to meet the smaller players. They loved it. And Doyle came back after 25 years and had an incredible rapport with the fans and the players.

    Its NOT just another tournament. It’s a way of life. I haven’t won it yet but I’m never going to quit trying. You’re only beaten when you quit.


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    Monday, March 31, 2014, 5:34 PM [General]

    If you like your poker hardcore, you’d have loved the recent omaha high roller tournament in Dublin’s Regency Hotel. It was the day after France obligingly missed a last minute chip shot to hand the Rugby 6 Nations Championship to Ireland at England’s expense (God bless the French. They know their history) and the day before Paddy’s Day. Ouch!

    The trip started quietly enough. I had lunch with Ken Doherty. He told me he had been commentating in England on the Snooker Masters event. On an evening off, he and fellow snooker legend John Virgo went to a fish and chip restaurant for dinner. No expense spared with these guys! During dinner, they noticed that a guy at a nearby table kept looking over at them. Eventually, the guy came over, apologised for interrupting them and told them he was a huge snooker fan and had followed both their careers over many years. The snooker guys could teach a lot of poker players how to be the best in the business at talking to fans so they were chatting away for quite a while before Ken asked the guy what he did for a living. He said he was a drummer in a band. Ken asked "What kind of band?". "Iron Maiden" he replied!

    In the hotel bar, a couple of guys asked me if I had any Devilfish stories. I told them about a late night dealers choice cash game in the Aviation Club. The Fish and I were sitting beside each other and both losing. I don’t like losing as a rule but on the plus side the Fish, like a lot of funny poker players, is at his entertaining best when he is behind. Frenchman Paul Testud was in the game. Devilfish kept calling him Fred because of his uncanny resemblance to serial killer Fred West. Paul just smiled at the Fish every now and again as A) he was winning B) he hadn’t a clue who Fred West was and C) he spoke even less English than the  Fish. After a while, on Paul’s button he chose PLO HiLo as his weapon of choice. The Fish raised, Paul reraised, the Fish raised again and they got it all in preflop. I took a peek at Dave’s hand. He had KT84 (3 diamonds!). I couldn’t help myself, I burst out laughing. Paul scooped the pot. Devilfish kept a straight face as he looked at me and said “I didn’t know it was hilo”. Comic genius!

    After a great couple of days of great craic, I went to check out of the hotel. While I was doing so, a German guy barged in front of me and started to shout at the very nice girl I was dealing with. Apparently, he was annoyed because he couldn’t check in until 3 pm as there were no rooms available yet. I politely told him that the girl was dealing with me and that he would have to wait in line if he wanted to shout at her. He pulled back a bit and I resumed my business. I told the girl that, as Id been showering that morning, the water had suddenly turned a dirty brown colour. She asked if I thought she should send a maintenance guy to investigate! Only in Ireland. I laughed and told her I didn’t really care what she did. That was a huge mistake. As I walked away and the German guy started shouting again I realised that I should have suggested she give him my room!


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    Saturday, March 8, 2014, 10:08 AM [General]

    A few years back, I watched Frank Bruno fight Bonecrusher Smith. Bruno won every round, except the last. One punch settled that one. And the fight. A live poker game can be a bit like a boxing match. Scoring points is fine, but if you can’t take a big punch and get up off the floor, forget about it. A few years ago Jeff Duvall and I were playing in a big game in Paris every day. He told me there was an Irish guy in the smaller game in the corner. I looked over and guessed it might be the redhaired guy. I’m pretty smart like that. The next night, I was walking through the bar where the redhaired guy introduced himself. Said his name was Rory. He didn’t introduce his two friends but that was ok. I already knew what two bottles of Heineken looked like. A couple of hours later, the seat beside me in the big game became available. Rory appeared at great speed to claim it. He had a big tray of chips which were in danger of hitting the floor. On the plus side, he had a beer that looked to be in absolutely no danger of being spilt. Definitely Irish. He was pretty busy. What with playing nearly every pot and chirping away. And keeping the waiter on his toes. A big pot of London Lowball kicked off. Jeff had what looked like a pretty hand. Rory’s looked pretty ugly from start to finish but he was calling every bet with tremendous gusto. After the last card had been dealt Jeff bet the pot and Rory called without even looking at his hand. He won and dragged in the biggest pot of the week looking like a champion. Jeff took it well and just smiled at me. The game ended shortly afterwards. The next day Jeff told me Rory had approached him at the cash desk and politely asked him which French bank he should open an account in as he had a little extra cash he didn’t want to be carrying around! This would’ve been enough to tilt a lot of guys. Not Jeff. He’s got a tougher jaw than Bruno.


    I was in Dublin for D4s ACOP. It was a bunch of fun. Maybe the pros have forgotten how much craic can be had playing the game but this lot haven’t. The bar wasn’t bad either. Barny Gribben was telling us he’d recently taking up shooting as a hobby and was taking lessons. He seemed to think the instructor was going on a bit telling him over and over again not to put his hand in front of the barrel of the gun. Then he noticed the guy was missing two fingers on one hand. I guess poker players would stop making the same mistakes again and again if the penalty was a bit more punitive. I would for sure!

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