By Wendeen H. Eolis
Today Nolan Dalla is in high gear for another starting day of the Main Event of the 45th Annual World Series of Poker at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The WSOP’s longtime media director has been in residence, at the WSOP, since its inception at the Rio in 2004. His association with the WSOP is even longer; dating back to 2003 during the WSOP’s waning days at Binion’s Horseshoe.
But-----The WSOP is just one piece of a busy canvas for this ever-peripatetic writer and quintessential poker historian. Dalla’s personal journey has taken intriguing twists and turns, putting him up close and personal with many of the industry’s most powerful movers and shakers and then some.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s WSOP, I turned the tables on Dalla for this article. I chatted up the master interviewer, three different times, including one at a dinner with his stunningly beautiful and very engaging wife Marieta—on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary.
Nolan, Marieta, and Wendeen do dinner at Giada (LV)
Dalla—A Most Familiar Face at the WSOP
Dalla's job at the WSOP is multi-dimensional. It has evolved over the years. He collaborates with and works under Seth Palansky, Caesars Interactive (CIE) Vice President of Communications; assuring that the WSOP circulates relevant information to journalists, players, and the public. He is also the WSOP’s senior writer, with the notable distinction of hundreds of appearances at the fabled tournament’s final tables. From the traditional multi-week spring/summer WSOP in Las Vegas, to WSOP circuit events across the country, and glamorous international venues, Dalla has been there, done that, and got the tee shirt!
Every year Dalla takes in, absorbs, and breathes out tournament stories in singular detail—frequently providing curious facts and bringing little-known tidbits to the surface. Dalla states his philosophy on poker: “Behind every player is a story….my job is to bring it out and tell it.”
For the past six weeks, Nolan’s life has focused, almost singularly, on his duties at the WSOP. Harrahs has renewed his employment each year as an outside services provider—recognizing the benefit of his vast relationships and experience. One Caesars executive calls him “an insider who understands the boundaries of an “independent contractor” with the WSOP family.”
On a daily basis, he walks the mile long corridors of the Rio, with an ear to the ground and a highly trained eye, in search of the unique nuggets that separate him in his craft as a writer. He also makes his way to the WSOP gold bracelet ceremony for the presentation of the coveted jewelry to the winner of each event. At the end of the World Series of Poker, Nolan will pack up his WSOP hat for other pursuits, but he is already breathing the scent of next year’s WSOP.
Dalla is One Busy Guy!
Dalla’s professional career includes mid-stakes poker player, avid sports bettor (and lifelong gambler), deep-diving poker media writer, prolific tournament reporter, energized poker commentator, enthusiastic BARGE contributor, best-selling –author of a poker book, classy public relations director, enlightened poker business executive with Poker Night in America and a loyal company man to powerful clients. A legion of respectful colleagues and poker players supply these descriptions, including the adjectives. And, Dalla’s career extends far beyond the poker world to politics, diplomacy, and his popular blog as a “provocateur” at NolanDalla.com.
Dalla has a passion for writing from a very personal perspective—about people, social philosophies, and a wide range of events including his food and wine adventures. Friends call him a keen observer of the human condition. Foes call him a “high-strung left winger.” Both true, Dalla acknowledges. His twitter account gives us more helpful hints about the colorful tapestry of his biography. He refers to himself as a “writer, polemic, anti-thesist, socialist, humanist, skeptic, contrarian, free-thinker, blue-collar philosopher, Johnnie Walker Black drinker.”
Proper and Delightful Disclosures!
This reporter is blown away by the amount of poker content Nolan has contributed, which includes articles for almost every major poker publication, since he came on the scene in the early 90’s. Having hand-picked Nolan as a teammate for the first live streamed, real time coverage of a poker tournament-- at the U.S Poker Championship in Atlantic City in 1999—I learned a bit about Nolan’s work ethic, first hand. He was a terrific commentator, but by the end of the collaboration our respective nerves were frayed. He was less than subtle, and I was more than miffed, when he told me he had little appetite for a reprised gig, if I were in the saddle!
Our paths continued to cross. We soon forgot our differences and broke bread together. Collegiality evolved into friendship that has taken us to savored restaurant meals around the country, each time our travels have intersected—for more than a decade. So, I was surprised to learn, while involved in the interviews of Nolan for this article, that I was just beginning to peel the onion, in earnest.
Interviewing Nolan is a Trip!
Nolan was in midstream on a house renovation when I popped into town this past spring and offered to monopolize his time with rapid-fire questions a la Vanity Fair’s “Proust Questionnaire” I inquired; he answered. Hear him in his own words:
What are some of the things you stand for?
Truth. Everything else is secondary.
Curiosity. All progress starts with being curious. So long as you are curious, you’re never bored and possibilities exist for improvement.
What are some of the things you stand against?
Hypocrisy, evil, oppression – most abundantly exemplified all organized religions.
What is the most overrated virtue in society?
Fame, followed very closely by fortune. Neither are particularly correlated to happiness.
What living person do you admire the most, and why?
I most admire the people whose names we often do not know. The caretakers and caregivers of those who are aged, or sick, or in pain. I admire those who fight diseases, volunteer in less-developed countries, those who write and speak out against evil and oppression. I don’t so much admire famous people such as government leaders or popular artists as much those who are far less famous doing all the really tough jobs that the rest of us aren’t brave enough to do.
What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
My short list of great writers and thinkers would include Leonardo de Vinci, Socrates, and William Shakespeare. As for action rather than words, I’d say Spartacus for leading a slave revolt against the Roman Empire knowing full well the odds were stacked so heavily against him, but he fought and died anyway for the basic human right to be free and gave others that hope.
What living person do you despise?
Let’s start with North Korea’s crackpot leader, who is the personification of evil. Then, toss in all the sheiks and royals in the Arab world oppressing their people. Benjamin Netanyahu certainly belongs on the list. In America, it’s an eight-way tie between Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Dick Cheney, Charles Krauthammer, Jennifer Lopez, and Tony Kornheiser. How much more time and space do I have?
If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?
A dictator would be nice. I’d say Pope, but that would throw the Catholic Church into chaos, wouldn’t it?
What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
My capacity to change; to evolve in light of evidence and learn more and keep an open mind that possibilities exist beyond my current ability to absorb them.
What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
Time. I need more time. I would like to have more time not only to do what I want but to do the things that need to be done.
What is it about you that might surprise people?
That I’m half Italian in blood, but 100 percent Italian in spirit. My paternal grandfather came to the U.S. from the Trentino province in Northern Italy which is in the Alps. I’m convinced the passion and love I have for food and music is genetic.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
It’s a toss-up between meeting Marieta and getting a “yes” the day I asked her to marry me. That’s pretty exciting hearing that someone you love agrees to spend the rest of their life with you. What can be more exciting than that?
What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
Witnessing the Romanian Revolution in 1989, from the balcony of the Communist Party Central Committee Building in Bucharest, where Nicolae Ceausescu had been speaking just hours early before he fled the scene in a helicopter off the rooftop. That was about as amazing as it gets seeing the Iron Curtain come down within just a few hours.
Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
A different galaxy.
Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician?
Book: “The Power Broker,” by Robert Moses
Favorite movie: “The Godfather”
Favorite musician: Van Morrison
Favorite author: Christopher Hitchens
Favorite Painter /Composer?
Cezanne and many of the other impressionists. Also Jackson Pollack, for entirely different reasons.
What upsets you the most?
My inability to be more than I am, and do more.
What bores you?
Repetition. Reality shows. And baseball.
My favorite quality in a man or a woman:
A sense of humor.
Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
I do not believe in any god or gods. I am a secular humanist. It’s up to humankind to solve our own problems and make our own advances without the intervention of some invisible and non-existent Sky Daddy.
A Few More Details Before We Move On to Part 2
A lifelong gambler, Nolan is an Italian Texan. He grew up in Dallas. He worked his way through college playing poker and betting sports. A graduate of the University of Texas in 1984 and a masters candidate in public policy administration at UT-Arlington, a year later, Nolan cashed out of poker and left left graduate school. He grabbed a government service position for five years, before returning to his hometown of Dallas—unemployed.
The yet- to-become poker journalist re-discovered poker. He racked up enough winning sessions to support himself over the next few years playing poker in Texas and on road trips to Las Vegas--with extra monies from bartending stints flowing into his till. Nolan may still have plenty of gamble in his bones; at Caesars he holds a Diamond Card!
But, we have barely scratched the surface of Nolan Dalla’s story; working with Nick Behnen at Binions Horseshoe, writing the Stu Ungar biography, getting involved in Mike Caro’s examination of poker cheats, taking calls from Isai Scheinberg of Poker Stars, attending BARGE events for years, weighing in big time against casino mogul ,Sheldon Adelson, and more. Come back for Part 2.
Editor’s Note: Wendeen Eolis is CEO of EOLIS, a legal consultancy, a public servant of longstanding in local, state, and federal government assignments, and a competitive tournament poker player in spare time. She was the first woman to cash in the main event at the World Series of Poker and the first woman to do so twice. See her wikipedia listing, and eolis.com press clip index for more information. This article is her exclusive property. She can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or at the website: www.eolis.com.