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"Most Eccentric?"

Iíll Let You Be the Judge

By Sammy Vaughn

Sammy Vaughn is a long-time successful tournament player, who finished first and won a million dollars in a Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament. In his column, Sammy writes about anything he damn well wants to write about.

Editorís Note: As most BJI subscribers know, Sammy has been writing about some of the friends he made during his long tenure in the blackjack tournament circuit. Back in the good ole days, the same group of skilled players would travel from one tournament to another to compete. They often became good friends and would socialize during these tournaments. The story that Sam reminisces about below is about one such friend: Gene Crancer


The first time I noticed this fellow, we were among a group of blackjack players when someone offered to buy everyone a round of drinks. Our subject declined, mumbling something about having to quit drinking. When it came my turn to order, I said that Iím like him and also refused to order booze. He then said to me, but loudly so all could hear,"I quit drinking in 1984. What year did you quit?" I answered, "In 79." He acted annoyed by my response, and asked me what I had been drinking that had gotten me in so much trouble. I responded, "Only beer." He then announced with a slight sneer, "I only drank good champagne!" All the guys were silent as if they felt uncomfortable with the tone of this exchange. When I muttered, "G.D. wino," no one responded except our boy who said, "What did you say?" I said it louder this time: "G.D. wino." For the briefest instant Gene looked indignant, and then he laughed and shook my hand warmly. He had realized that he was still acting proud of his drinking prowess and was happy to be put in his proper place. We have been fast friends since this incident which occurred in the early nineties.

Sense of humor? When he introduced himself, he said, "Gene Crancer, thatís like cancer only with an R."

Gene was attending college to study English Literature in the hopes of teaching in the South Park Elementary School, just like his idol Mr. Garrison. Yes, Gene lives in South Park, Colorado. If you donít understand these South Park references, ask one of your intellectual friends that watch the Comedy Central on the boob tube. In his astute feel for commerce, he realized that the salary in the teaching world could not pay for his tremendous "thirst" or his trips to Vegas. So Gene became a bona fide "Financial Advisor."

When I asked him what his job entailed, he showed me. He said to me, "Tell me about your fiscal situation." This was very easy to do since I had it all in my pocket. I took out two tens, four ones, and a five from my left front pocket and put the bills on the table. Gene put a ten and two ones in on pile and the same amount in another pile. He told me to put one stack in my left pocket and the other in my right pocket. He then advised me that my finances were balanced. I then said, "Wait a minute. What about the missing five bucks?" He then advised me that was his fee and that when I got more money he would advise me some more. That was my first (and last) analysis of my finances.

I have written about the business plans of some of my other cronies in previous articles that Iíve written for the BJI, but let me tell you, Geneís was certainly unique. He soon figured it out that his "Vegas habit" would require hundreds of people that would need financial advising if he was to be happy. Fortunately, he discovered a very wealthy young man, who was not only rich, but who also had a lovely young wife. Ole Gene became his financial advisor and advised the young man to purchase many annuities and insurance policies. These, naturally, all had large up-front commissions. When the poor fellow passed away, Gene, being the conscientious agent that he was, consoled the widow. He consoled and consoled until he got her to the altar. The new Mrs. C. is more mysterious than my Ms. Vicky. (Mrs. C. never comes to Vegas, while Ms. V shows up once almost every year.)

His new wife is very practical. She told our hero that when he got a face-full in Vegas and got himself beaten and rolled, and sent to the emergency room, he should insist on a good plastic surgeon because an ER doctor might leave stitches in his forehead saying "idiot." She said that would be true, but it would be bad for business.

How many guys do you know that would get two adjoining rooms, so a visitor would not see all the empty bottles? Gene always had his booze sent up by the case because room service was sometimes too slow delivering only one bottle at a time.

Gene once drove all the way to the "Stardust," only to return home before a tournament began because his cat died. On his way to Vegas, he always stopped in a small town in Utah to sleep. I asked him why. "I always stop there," he said, "because I never could pass up ĎBeaver.í" (Think Iím kidding? Look it up on a map.)

Every Saturday night when Gene was in Vegas, he would excuse himself from our crowd and said that he had to go downtown for Chinese. (Always for Chinese.) And he never wanted anyone to go with him. Strange. We never could figure out where in downtown you can get good Chinese. Turns out it wasnít food, but a Chinese Ho. He was seeing not Chicken Chow Mein but rather someone that looked more like Kung Pow. Kunged down Fremont Street from 9th street to 19th on one side, and plowed back up on the other. Thatís our boy Gene.

Usually when an alcoholic looks for help, he often turns to the Bible or the Blue book. Our boy Gene turned himself over to blackjack guru "Stanford Wong." He became the most faithful disciple of Wongís that I could conceive of. He memorized every word and every nuance ever written by him. I had the opportunity to introduce Gene to Stanford at the Riviera about 10 years ago. It was like taking my kids to see Santa. I told Gene what Mr. Wongís real name was before I got them together, and begged him not to genuflect when he met the great man in person. As it turned out, all went well and Gene was on cloud nine for a long time after his meeting with Wong.

A good friend of Geneís, and all of us old timers, was Frank Zayle from Denver. Gene always begged Frank to ride with him to Vegas. Geneís ride was an older, small sports

car which was very hard on the body over the long drive. On their next to last drive down to Vegas, they had a third rider. The car was not designed for more than one driver and a small child, so as you can imagine, this trip was a nightmare from hell. On their last motor-trip adventure to Sin City, the engine on that torture-machine literally blew up. But I donít really think Mr.Zayle had anything to do with that tragic happening.

The last time I played the Stardust, Gene walked in with an extra hop in his step. No, thatís an exaggeration; actually it was more like an extra "shuf" in his shuffle. He loudly proclaimed that the doctors concluded he didnít have MS. It seems that the many years of heavy drinking had destroyed so many brain cells that it was affecting his motor skills. He was so proud of biting the MS bullet because he, like most of us old fogies, have had some health issues over the years. He claims thatís why he no longer comes to town. I think he is grieving over his car (and his fear of flying).

Two small events at the Riv. really stuck in my mind. These were live $ tournaments where Gene was always betting $10. Five dollars was the minimum and we argued for years about this: I said if you are making a defensive bet you should bet $5, not $10. Back and forth we went on this for five years until we met on the first round at the Riv. On the very first hand Gene carefully placed, not the expected $10, but surprisingly only $5 in the betting circle. He was glowing when he stared at me to see my reaction. I calmly put out, not my usual $5 bet, but a $10 wager. I almost fell off of my chair when he saw those two red chips in my betting circle. His reaction was priceless!

Later, I met Gene in the elevator on the way to my next tournament round. I only had $300 of the required $500 buy in and wanted to avoid a trip to the cage. So I asked Gene to give me two hundred bucks. He started fumbling in his pockets and stalled for so long I finally told him to forget about it. On the way to the cage I ran into Carl Paulison from Tempe, Arizona. Heís the tournament guy that looks like that a movie star with the perpetual sun tan. He was also our ticket-man when we needed airline tickets. After many years of trading in resale of tickets, South West airlines is now trying to sue him for something. Good luck Carl, because youíre going to need it.

I said hi to Carl and asked him to give me two bills which he did. On my table I not only advanced, but I won $400 besides. I turned around and gave Carl two black chips and said to tell Gene that I gave you the $400 I won as a thank you. Now Carl is a better actor than the Hollywood guy with the suntan (and he also has a better tan), so he totally sold Gene on our story.

It was great listening to Gene retell that story. First, he said he lost that money for being too slow with loaning me the $$. Then he changed his story to say what a nice guy Sam is. I loved it! Nowadays, Gene lives like a hermit in Evergreen, Colorado. If you saw the "spare change" episode of "South Park," thatís the next town over from South Park.

It turns out, Gene was a hell of a good tournament player (a 1994 Hall of Famer). While I had luck beyond my abilities, he had just the opposite results. He was such a perfectionist in his play, he lived in fear of the mistakes that we sometimes all make. He had perhaps too much respect for the really good players and what they would think about his moves. I believe this is what held him back from becoming one of the greatest tournament players that ever lived.

Gene, Iíll see you this summer old buddy. Be well.

Phx. Sam

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