Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
Titanic Thompson and Son
The Senator ran the only poker
game I have ever seen where the house man keeps trying to loan
large sums of money without juice to grinning strangers. He'd
have young lawyers and accountants who had never played Hold
'em losing up to ten thousand their first time. After the first
week, I played out of the chip box also. The Senator would give
me about a thousand each week and owe me lots more. The debt
was beginning to look a lot like monopoly money to me. It wasn't
as if I didn't know the Senator was very careless with the truth.
He'd brag about booking the Super Bowl in a fancy place like
the Petroleum Club in Midland. He'd collect from the losers and
stiff the winners and get back on the blacktop. That's what he
was doing to this crypto high-class poker spread.
The Senator was full more short cons than a telemarketer. He'd have the Cajun serve vanilla ice cream floating in Amaretto when people arrived. Whipped cream and the cherry. He had people drinking early as a little snack. I laughed for several days in a row when the Cajun stole everything he could load in his old Chevy and headed back to some bayou. The ever larcenous Senator was the most outraged crime victim in Texas.
One night after the game broke up, the Senator suggests I play heads-up with this tall guy who had only watched the game. Curly taught me that if a citizen challenges you to play your road game, try him on the cheap but keep eye-balling the proposition. The idea is that if he can beat you, you can pull up. If you can beat him, he may go off on a big number. I agree to play and thought the Senator wanted half my action but he declined. I wouldn't let the Senator sit behind me because I thought he might "send me over." The tall guy was Jack "Treetop" Straus. He had already won one World Series bracelet. I only pulled out $400.
I could read the Senator's unhappiness and began looking around and rubbing my eyes. We both shuffled and dealt very slowly where they would be no room for doubt about cheating. We both were very aggressive and I knew it would not last long. I flopped top pair with big slick and Treetop flopped two pair with 8,9 off-suit. He busted me. I told him, "I've enjoyed all of this I can stand." We sat around swapping stories. Straus was one of he most colorful road gamblers I ever faced. My favorite story on him was the time he was going to teach Stu Ungar to play golf. Treetop beat Stuey out of $85,000 on the putting green. Jack Straus was a real bet-it-all gambler who often won big or got broke in huge cash games or on sports bets. When Straus won the World Series, he got all-in but forgot one five-hundred dollar chip that he had "accidentally" left under a napkin. They let him continue to play with the one chip. The ruling was so bad you would have thought the guy was a Texas legislator, but Straus won the tournament. That old chip under the napkin trick is older than God.
A few weeks later, the Senator
ran in Titanic Thompson's son to cheat me. Fine partner he was.
Titanic's son came by one time and passed out business cards
and gave some phony name. Outlaw whisper joints were usually
on a first name or road name basis. The first night he played,
I noticed that he moved both hands up and down while he dealt.
Curly Green had taught me that a cheater will use the move or
the grip when he is not cheating to maintain consistency. From
the first he touched the deck, I was bird-dogging him. It is
best to make it obvious that you are checking for cheating. I
took the deck and ran my thumb from the bottom to the top on
the corner. This makes the cards fly by like the frames of an
old movie. If any card is marked or different from the rest,
it will jump out. I took a card and held it at an angle up to
the light until the glare removed the pattern. If there was paint
or marks, they would stick out. He was moving his hands like
he could deal seconds or bottoms. You need marks or to peek to
make seconds useful. Seconds make a little swoosh sound since
a card is coming from between two cards.
Titanic Thompson was one of America's most famous gamblers and best dressed men from the twenties to the late seventies. He won millions of dollars at golf, poker, and his outrageous rigged proposition bets. He lost it back on huge horse and sports bets. He bet a group of gamblers he could drive a golf ball 500 yards. He took them to a golf course next to a lake in the dead of winter when the lake was solidly frozen over. He turned toward the lake and the ball rolled out of site on the ice. Amarillo Slim tells the story in his book of Titantic starting a squabble on purpose with a room full of gamblers. He raised his arms up high and everyone saw his big pistol. His adversary complained it was unfair for Titantic to be talking so tough when he was packing barking iron. Titanic bet everyone that would bet he did not have a pistol on him. All of them had seen it just seconds ago with their own eyes. Titanic had not left the room. After the bets were down, Titanic undressed and allowed a full search. No one found a pistol. They searched every conceivable place in the pool hall. How do you think he did that trick?
Once Titanic hired a man to drive a truck load of watermelons up to the hotel where the gamblers took the breeze on the porch. He'd had the man unload the watermelons and count them and put them back earlier. Titanic could talk up a bet in a marvelous fashion. If he wanted to bet me the sun would rise in the west tomorrow, I wouldn't go for it. With everyone betting on how many watermelons were in the truck, Titanic got long odds, he could guess within two of the exact amount.
The pro golf tour didn't pay much in it's early years. Titanic Thompson was America's highest paid golfer for decades. He would always win by one stroke and have side bets going. He'd beat a left-handed golfer and then offer to bet he could shoot a lower score using the other fellow's clubs. He could play golf, shoot skeet, throw horseshoes, bowl, and shoot pool right or left handed. Byron Nelson was one of the top pros of the day. When a group of gamblers got up a bet of Nelson versus Thompson for nine holes, Titanic shot a course record 29.
When Titanic met up with Johnny
Moss in Lubbock, Texas in 1938, he bet Moss $8000, Moss's whole
bankroll, that he couldn't shoot a 46 on nine holes with a four
iron. They agreed to meet the next afternoon. Moss went to a
welding shop and had his four iron welded down to a two iron.
A small crowd of gamblers came to watch the match. Titanic had
paid a man to go around and raise the rim of the cups making
putting difficult. Moss caught on quickly and had a man go ahead
and put them back. Moss won the bet.
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