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By Sammy Vaughn

Sammy Vaughn is a long-time successful tournament player, who finished first and won a million dollars in the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament. In his column, Sammy reminisces about the "good ole days" in Las Vegas, and tells tales of some of the interesting characters that he had the pleasure to meet over his many years on the tournament circuit.


While going thru some papers the other day, I came across a picture from a long-gone issue of "Blackjack Confidential" magazine. The year was 1998; the place was Jean, Nevada. The soon to be long-gone Captainís Landing was the venue. The cast of players at the final table was really interesting. Most of them had a little "comeuppance" due from me.

Iíve already written about two of the very great participants at that final table in previous issues of BJI: Nancy Kubasek and Jerek Markowiak. I seem to be a lucky charm for Nancy; every time Iím at her table, she wins the tournament. At some point, damn it, I need to win one from her.

Jerek Markowiak, the Polish national contact bridge team member, had already bested me in the finals at the old Santa Fe casino. That was before the original owners, the Sahara Group, went banko with it. Jerek bet second after the chip leader bet the max. All six of us were close, but I was 4th or 5th. When J. matched her max wager, I was able to take the low because I knew none of the other players was experienced enough to shut me out.

Going for the low nearly worked. The leader showed by her reaction that her hand was no better than 18. Jerek split a pair and also doubled one hand. He had two stiffs against a dealer 3 up. I busted my meaningless hand. The other three players doubled max bets, and low and behold, they all had stiffs. If the dealer pulls a 19 or better I win. The dealer got much more than 19, more like a 22, and dreams of first to last place money in the real world. J. won that tournament; but this is a different time and place.

The third guy I needed to get even with was David Page. Dave was in his very successful period. He won the Stardust for 100 grand plus. In a mini at the old "Showboat" on Boulder Highway, he beat me in one of, if not the most impossible final last hand comebacks in BJ history. I tell you this not as a bad beat sob story, but an amazing happening.

At the countdown, I had the largest lead I had ever owned then or since. David was not only last, but also bad last. First bet was all in for him and he got a BJ. Everyone laughed when he said, "finally" to his first blackjack.

The next hand he got another natural and complained "too little, too late." Do you know the odds against three consecutive blackjacks?

Well, when Mr. Page received an Ace-King on the next hand (his third consecutive snapper), he was so excited that he turned it over out of turn, and in so doing, he forced me to split 9s against a dealer 10.The dealer thankfully busted for me, so my lead held. Three naturals in a row by David and Iím still in the lead is an amazing story by itself. But if you think the lottery odds are a good gamble, you probably will not be impressed when I say that David Page got his forth BJ in a row after the countdown. To finish it off right, he got a pair of face cards on the last hand (no kidding).

Soon after this tournament, we both went into a ling slide to oblivion. Mine lasted until mid 2003 when I caught lightning and great fortune (winning the million bucks). Unfortunately, Daveís decline is much longer and more serious. It even drove him to the jungles of Central America to try and evade the dangling dong of destiny. But Dave will soon be back with, I expect, the same sort of run that I enjoyed. In the process, he will roll over many of us; I, for one, wish him well.

The forth player on the table was a new guy. He had some early good wins but was just starting to develop into the all knowing, all-powerful, all world king of self-confidence that we now know as the fabulous Joe Pane. The reason I am sure he was still learning became clear on the last hand of this event.

With three hands to go, I won a double max bet that took out my old antagonists, David and Jerek, all at once. With only Nancy, Joe, and myself left on the last deal, Joe had to bet first, and because he was in the third money position, he had to bet the max.

Nancy was in 2nd place and bet enough to cover Joe. I had only to cover Nancy to be in the best position possible. The dealerís upcard was an ace. Joe, who was betting first, took full insurance for some unknown reason, or he had a BJ himself.

Nancy covered, and of course, I followed suit. When the dealer turned over the snapper, not only did it give me the win, but it also exposed Joe at that time as a beginner. Plus Ö the dealer managed to draw that face card without me once jumping up and down and calling him a "monkey, monkey, monkey."

Oh yes, the ditch digger I promised to tell you about. He is a bear of a man from California. He is also the most positive, even-tempered, easygoing competitor I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. His name is Arnold Jensen and he has been digging up California for many years. He wasnít digging for gold but those who already had it, rewarded him handsomely.

Let me tell you my idea of his business plan. His father probably was digging all the holes for the famous outhouses of central California. As a pre-teen, Arnold began filling them back up when they went out of style. When that job was done he looked to gasoline filling stations that were being planned for every corner of every town in California. He began digging the holes and planting the storage tanks for their gasoline. The rumors that our Arnold left the small leaks in those tanks on purpose was never proven but they did insure that when every corner had a gas station, Arnold would be called to dig those leaky tanks out of the ground. When the tanks had all been replaced, or the stations had been turned into payday loan offices or smog control fixers, Arnold was at loose ends. The reason all those ugly old gas station buildings are still standing is because the EPA big brothers say the owners canít sell their own property unless they call Arnold to dig up those old contaminating fuel tanks.

Arnoldís lovable wife, manager, boss, and business manager wanted to move-on so she made Arnold sell all his equipment except his original shovel, which he never wore out. She sold his front loaders, back hoes, side hoes, Chicago hos, San Diego hos, in fact she sold all of Arnoldís hos. Plus the trucks and trailers that they came in on were also sold. But she did keep their palatial, diesel-pusher, motor home that used to take up three or four parking spots at the Stardust. Now they travel the west in the million-dollar rig. Arnold needs at least a third in the tournaments just to fill the gas tanks. Arnold is the big guy with the big suspenders, and Genieva is his perfect mate.

As always you must remember that "itís my story and Iíll lie if I want to lie, if I want to."


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