A Predator’s Guide to Breaking Up
A sawdust joint is an end-of-the line kind of gambling parlor. It’s a place without frills and pretension.This column will be about gambling and gamblers; about regular people who play games for money. Most won’t be geniuses or savants. Some will win a little money. Many will lose a lot. But all of them will have a good sawdust story to tell.
It was well past midnight when we pulled into the parking lot of a Greek diner on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. We had been driving around most of the night in search of a gin game that Josh heard about from a guy he played backgammon with in Bryant Park. It was supposed to be a modest game, a bunch of MaBSTOA guys who got together at this underground poker room once a week to play gin for a nickel a point. That sounds like chump change, but in gin it can add up to hundreds of dollars a hand.
It had been years since either of us had done anything like this. I figured our days of chasing action around the city were behind us—spending the night in strange industrial spaces playing cards with even stranger people, asking guys to vouch for us, yelling into intercom boxes that we know so-and-so and we’ve shot pool with so-and-so, late-night phone calls telling us that the game is really wild right now and get down here fast. We were adults now. We gambled like squares—out in the open in a smoke-filled racino, or huddled over a computer late at night like creepy perverts. This outing had proved that we had lost the ability to sniff out underground games, and this diner would be the site of our surrender. We corralled a booth, ordered eggs and coffee, stuck the knock card in an empty glass, and dealt the cards.
“Penny a point?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“You ever been to this place before?”
As a matter of fact, I had.
The Gambler’s Book Shop in Las Vegas is a modest little store, but it is filled with every kind of media on every gambling-related topic you could imagine. You can buy a DVD that teaches you how to control the roll of a die. You can buy a photocopied booklet that teaches you how to master Chinese Poker. Josh and I have taken many cab rides from the Strip out to the Gambler’s Book Shop over the years and have built up a couple of decent-sized gambling libraries of our own. On one such trip in 2009 we came for one book and one book only—a tome they kept behind the counter, safely locked away. When Josh asked for it, Howard Schwartz, the shop’s owner, looked skeptical.
“Do you know how much that book costs?” Schwartz asked.
“I know how much it is.” Josh replied. Schwartz knelt down, unlocked the display case, and carefully laid the book down on the counter in front of us. It was a deep hunter green square with leather binding and gold inlaid lettering on the cover. It looked like a bible, perhaps intentionally. Josh fingered the cover’s gold lettering. “Gin Rummy – A Predator’s Guide.” And there below the title, in smaller letters: “Michael Sall.”