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The Barstow Poker Hall of Fame

By Max Shapiro

“Hey Maxey,” Big Denny bellowed on my latest visit to his dumpy card shack, “did ya hear about da Minnysoda Poker Hall of Fame?” 

“That’s ‘Minnesota,’” I corrected him.

“Oh, yeah, dat’s da name of da city.”

“Minnesota is a state,” I said wearily.

“Yeah, whatever. But did ya hear about dere Poker Hall a’ Fame?”

“Yes, I read about it. It was started by the Canterbury Park Racetrack and Card Casino to honor poker players from that state and those who helped the development of poker in Minnesota. So what about it?”

“Well,” the big guy explained, since Minnysoda is startin’ one, I figgered I could do da same an’ have a Barstow Poker Hall a’ Fame.”

“Barstow!” I exclaimed. “Who from that place has ever done anything for poker or won anything worth mentioning? Just whom do you plan to induct – Aunt Sophie for being the world’s oldest cocktail waitress in a casino? Or maybe you can find one of the local farmers who walked out of your joint with more money than he came in with? That would certainly be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. Or maybe even a Guinness Book of Records listing.”

“Don’t get smart wit’ me, Maxey. As a matter a’ fact, I already made my choice. It’s gonna be Slugga da Mugga.”

“Slugger the Mugger?” I said in disbelief. “Isn’t that goon one of your pals from prison who’s out on parole now? What’s he ever done to get in your Poker Hall of Fame?”

“It just so happens, pal, dat da Slugga won 14 out of our last 15 tournaments, dat’s what.”

“Really? What’s his secret?” I asked, fully knowing the answer. “Does he have some special style of play?”

“Nah, he just moves in every time it’s his turn ta act. Sometimes he even moves in before it’s his turn. But he always seems ta get da winnin’ cards,” Denny winked.

Surprise, surprise. “So how come he’s only won 14 times? How did he lose the other time?”

“Aw, da dealer was drunk and used a reg’lar deck by mistake insteada da marked one. Dat dealer’s on a leave of absence now.”

Some leave of absence, I thought. The poor guy’s probably buried out in the desert someplace along with all the other people who crossed the big ape. “Well,” I said, “a Barstow Poker Hall of Fame certainly sounds like an interesting idea. But don’t you think that maybe we’re getting too many Poker Halls of Fame? We already have the original one, a Seniors, a Women in Poker Hall of Fame, now Minnesota…”

“Don’t give me dat, Maxey? Didn’t ya start one yerself – da Poker Writers Hall of Fame? You inducted yerself an’ never even got around ta lettin’ nobody else in.”

“Not my fault,” I explained. “I wanted to induct Nolan Dalla and Mike Paulle the following year, but they were too cheap to pay the $100 induction fee.” 

That got me to thinking. Believe it or not, there actually is another poker-related Hall of Fame with only one member: The Tournament Directors Hall of Fame. Back in 2001, when Binion’s still ran the World Series of Poker, this HOF was created by Becky Binion Behnen’s husband Nick. The first -- and still the only -- inductee was the casino’s own tournament director, Matt Savage. While Matt’s credentials are beyond dispute, you’d think Behnen might have come up with at least one additional name over the next 12 years. Anyway, if Savage can be the only one in his Hall of Fame, then so can I.

Just then there was a knock on the door and Slugger stumbled in, staring at a piece of paper he was holding. “I been studying up on poker so as I can play even better, boss. What I can’t figger out is what a ‘valle meld’ is.”

“Ya big dummy!” Denny yelled. “Dat ain’t poker, dat’s pan. Look, Slugga, don’t worry none about how ta play da game. Just move in each time like I told ya an’ my dealers will do da rest.    Now get outta here an’ quit botherin’ me.”

Despite his questionable inductee, Big Denny moved ahead with his plan. This was big news in Barstow because until now the only other annual event they had to celebrate was the cucumber harvest festival. Banners proclaiming the upcoming induction were put up all around town and the Barstow Bugle ran a story on its front page, even managing to spell some of the names correctly. The big day arrived, and things went pretty much as I expected. The ceremony opened with Aunt Sophie singing the Star Spangled Banner…until she forgot the words half-way through and was booed off the stage. Then Big Denny made a speech, mostly about what a wonderful place the Barstow Card Casino was to play in, and detailing all the upcoming tournaments and events for the coming year. Finally, he got around to the induction ceremony.    He got as far as the first sentence when the proceedings were interrupted by an officer from the Department of Justice walking on stage. It seemed that Slugger had violated a condition of his parole by engaging in gambling activities, and instead of being put into the Barstow Poker Hall of Fame, he was put back into his old prison cell.

And that’s the true story. In a way, Big Denny ended up upstaging both Matt and me. While we may be the one and only inductees in our respective halls of fame, the big guy now has one with nobody in it.

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