-- Promo sign for ESPN TV show "Tilt" in Las Vegas cardrooms
LAS VEGAS -- It's not even 10 in the morning when this guy sits down on the wing across from me in the Excalibur's fishy beginner's limit poker room.
He's this gruff sounding dude and looks a lot like a younger version of "The Matador," Michael Madsen's character in the ESPN fictional poker drama called "Tilt." In case anyone hasn't seen the subpar show, The Matador is this grizzled poker pro who makes his living punishing tourists and anyone who tries to go against him at the poker table. An all-around nasty guy.
"I'm looking for a raise," says the Matador, out of the small blind, before anyone looks at his cards.
Me: Right now?
"I'm looking for a raise," he repeats.
And he gets one. The guy on the other side of the dealer's button makes it $8 to go. The table is a $2-6 spread limit, meaning that on any betting round, you can bet anywhere between $2 and $6.
The Matador eyes his wee blind being raised and calls.
The flop is a 3, J and 5.
"I want you to know I have a Jack," the Matador says to the preflop raiser, a pudgy tourist who looks uncomfortable at being the focus of the Matador's attention. You can see the Matador's eyes laser beam right through Pudgy's cards to see a pair of tens. He looks a little disgusted at the amateur.
But the Matador decides to check, and so do two other callers. Pudgy Tourist makes it $6. Everyone calls.
The turn is a J.
"Now I have three Jacks," the Matador barks out to the field of three other callers. "I check."
The next two callers seem relieved that no chips come from the Matador's stack. They check as well. The preflop raiser doesn't seem to care about the Matador's bravado. He bets it out. The Matador calls. One other guy stays with the hand but to the table it's becoming pretty clear this is really a mental battle between the Matador and the guy who raised his blind.
The turn is an A.
"Now I have a full house -- ace and jack," the Matador says, pulling out $6 in chips.
The second guy calls, not believing him at all.
But before Pudgy Tourist can decide whether to call with his pocket tens, the Matador slams down his hole cards -- an ace and a jack -- on the table.
"I told you I had a full house," he says.
Now he realizes his mistake -- Pudgy Tourist didn't even have the chance to put chips on the table.
"He said call," the Matador barks at the dealer. A whole circle of people at the table shake their heads. "We didn't hear anything."
"Save your money," he says to Pudgy Tourist. "But if I come to you later and say, 'Can I have $2 for the bus home,' you'll give it to me, right?"
The Matador laughs and stacks his chips. "I thought I was going to go broke."
Me from across the table: "There's still plenty of time for that."
He looks up at me and laughs.
But I was wrong about that. The Matador disappears for a few minutes and then reappears with a rack in his hand. He starts to stack his chips.
"I woulda liked to play poker with you guys longer," he says sheepishly.
A casino security guard is standing right behind him. Nobody knows what he did outside the poker room for those few minutes, but it was something to displease the casino.
He cashes out and guards escort him out of the building.