Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some Tales Lead to Poker... Some Tales Lead Away

The nice thing about having a poker blog is the way that some stories can start with a random happening and lead to a poker tale, while others can begin with poker and take a left turn into parts unknown. That's the only thing "nice" about this post. I may have already told this story in my blog, long ago, and if I have, then my advance apologies to anyone who remembers it. Fortunately, 80-90% of you weren't readers here back in the era when I might have told this one... and besides, I can't really remember if I did or not. Senility has its consequences.

Occasionally a story comes along dealing with a violent crime that is in some way peripherally connected to poker. Last year it was the murder of aspiring pro William Gustafik by his wife Jill Rockcastle. Just recently there was another, the bloody and violent triple slaying in New Jersey of a family which was quickly "solved" by authorities and led to the arrest of 32-year-old Kang-Hyuk Choi, who was described as a high-stakes poker player who frequented Jersey and California casinos. The murder scene was described as an "absolute bloodbath" by authorities, and Choi, when arrested, had his arm in a cast due to severe slashes that, authorities have stated, occurred during the slayings.

Bad stuff, that. But what I've found riveting are the threads on 2+2 where players who repeatedly shared table time with Choi -- both at the Borgata and at the Commerce -- say that he was as mild-mannered and polite as anyone at the table, and the thought of this player that they thought they knew somehow committing a crime this violent was more than just a shock. One poster even recounted how Choi had been asked about his heavily bandaged right arm, and then didn't say anything before mildly acknowledging that it had been injured in a fight.

Yes, the slayings were said to have been done over a money dispute. It's sure that we'll learn more about this later.

But it brings back other memories, very sad, very bad. A couple of years ago, the last time I was at the WSOP, I encountered not one but two old friends from my original poker home game in Wisconsin who had played their way into the Main Event. One of the two, a man named P., who has now been happily married for several years, was part of a farming family that I'd come to know quite well when I lived up in the Badger State. He was the middle son of three boys to a fairly prominent and hard-working farming couple, and I counted all five family members among my friends. P. was the only one of the three, however, who was really into the farming business in the way of his parents.

His younger brother R. instead worked for one of the major industries in the area, a factory producing windows and other home-construction components. He'd risen enough on his third-shift job to be an area supervisor, minding another few employees, one of whom was a rather shiftless, party-hardy sort who was chronically absent or late and wasn't much of a worker even when he did happen to show up.

There was a gruesome double murder one night, where an elderly couple was senselessly robbed and violently stabbed to death, all for something on the order of $64 or $68, if memory serves correctly. Maybe it was over $100; I disremember the exact amount but know it was paltry.

Sure enough, the shiftless third-shift worker referenced above, along with one of his party mates, was soon arrested in connection with the slayings. It was after our mixed-league bowling or one of our card games when I learned about the connection. P. said, "You heard about those murders? That guy worked with R. R. said he was always worthless but the night after that happened he showed up on time and worked great."

Sick feeling I had, like there was more to the story. And for whatever reason, when there's a really, strange tale or weird question to be asked, I'm the one people confide in. Don't ask me why, because I do not know. But they do.

P. said this: "And R. told me that the guy gave him $20 that night, that the guy had borrowed before, and he thinks it came from that murder. What do you think he should do?"

And I shook my head, because I didn't really know. I suggested maybe making a charitable donation with it, or contributing it to flowers or to the church of the murder victims. Or just to get rid of it, somehow, and try to forget it ever happened. But you don't ever forget the handling of blood money, do you?

I suspect there's a lot of players who've sat down with this Choi who are now thinking these very same thoughts. Were that I had any good advice for them, or a way to guard against bad thoughts, particularly those players who might have done very well against this Choi in recent weeks. I do not, though, have any advice to share. I'm reminded of the famed butterfly effect, action and reaction, one thing leading to the next in unknown and unpredictable ways. Butterflies can be beautiful, but they can be very terrible, too.

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