How did you arrive at the Palm Beach Princess Casino?
I found my way to the Palm Beach Princess because of my friendship with (poker room managers) Lou Patierno and Joe Rolle. When they opened up this card room a few months ago, one of the first things Lou told me was “We gotta get you down here.”
What’s the story behind you and Lou Patierno?
Lou approached me a few years ago to do an online teaching site. … I take a little bit of credit for whatever improvements there have been in Lou’s poker game. He was a losing player and I got him all the way up to break-even. (laughs) But that’s how our friendship started. He loved Vegas so much he ended up with a permanent room at my house.
Is this your first time playing poker in Florida?
No, a few years ago I hosted a tournament in Jacksonville … I also testified in a court case for the same casino a few years ago. … They had me as an expert witness.
You have all kinds of poker milestones, including four WSOP bracelets and a world title. Where does winning the first-ever Binion Cup Champions Invitational rank?
Probably next to the main event, as far as the tournaments at the World Series, it’s probably the second most important. The reason I say that is I’m a candidate for the (Poker) Hall of Fame this year, and winning this tournament put me right back on the poker map. Since I’ve been around a long time I certainly have established my credentials for longevity, which is one of the criteria. (I wanted to) show them I can still compete at the very highest level, and it gives me a realistic shot at making (the Hall).
What did you do with the 1970 Corvette you won as a result?
My plan was very simple. I could sell it and finance the rest of my tournament or I could keep it, deal with the tax issues, and probably get a lot of speeding tickets and crash and kill myself. So I opted for the first option. (laughs) I never actually drove it.
You said ahead of time that you wanted to win that event more than anyone else. Why was it so important for you to come out on top?
It was mainly because I did want to re-establish myself that I could play against the world’s best players. There’s 25 living World Series Main Event champions and 20 of us showed up. Where are you gonna find a tougher lineup than that? If I could conquer that lineup I think that kinda re-established my credentials as a top player. The old joke is, those who can’t play teach, and those who can’t teach write books. (laughs) I like to think I can do all of the above.
In terms of poker history, how significant was it to be the first WSOP Main Event champ to win entry via satellite?
I liked it. (laughs) My main concern back then was just getting into the tournament, and I didn’t care how I did it. That was my dream, to compete for the world championship. When I first moved to Las Vegas in 1979 I told some of my colleagues, I said, “You wait and see. Within five years I’d be playing in the World Series Main Event.” They all laughed at me, and thought it was a big joke. I didn’t say I’d win it, but I made it a year early. Because that was the first year I got in it, the year I won it (1983).
With about a dozen poker books to your credit and a regular column in CardPlayer, do you find writing keeps you sharp?
Well, yeah, because you want to make sure that any information you put out is accurate. … When I teach or write it makes me better because I want to make sure that I communicate effectively and accurately. So yes it does.
Do you ever tire of writing?
People might be surprised to hear this but I actually hate writing. I like the results, but to actually sit down and get motivated, once I start and get the first sentence out there I’m OK with it. But it’s just very hard for me to motivate myself. … Right now I’m probably not going to write any more poker books, but I’ll continue with my column.
You used to be an accountant, right?
Wow, you really did your homework! I turned in my pencil in 1978. I got fired from my last job on May 11, 1978. I always remember that because that’s like a milestone. The day I got fired my boss said, “Tom, I couldn’t have had a better accountant than you, but …” I was not what you would call politically correct. I’m a night person, and trying to fit me into a 9-to-5 role … and back then we’d also have home games on the weekends. Sometimes they’d start on a Friday night and wouldn’t end until Sunday night. So I wouldn’t be too fresh come Monday morning.
So how did you get started professionally in poker?
I’d been subsidizing my income for several years off the poker. I also was very active in table tennis back then, and they had the National Table Tennis Championships at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. That started in 1976 and I didn’t go that year, but the very next year they had it right before Christmas, so decided I wanted to go out there and play. So I did. … I was there six days and I would spend most of my time losing most of matches because I was up all night playing poker. (laughs) … I won about $1,000 in a week playing seven-card stud. At the time my salary was $18K a year and the president of the company was making $50K a year, so as I like to say, “You do the math.” So that really interested me.
In the ’90s you were a leading advocate to make poker rooms smoke-free. How satisfying is it to walk into just about any poker room now and breath clean air?
Let me put it this way. A guy came up to me at this last World Series, a guy I didn’t even know, and he says, “Tom, I want to shake your hand and thank you for your greatest poker accomplishment, do you know what that is?” And I said “Yes I do. We’re playing in a smoke-free environment at the World Series, which I helped get on.” Now I’m not saying I didn’t have any help and plenty of support, but at the time I was very briefly involved with the World Series … I took a job there as card room manager just so I could have an impact on the World Series. I talked (Binion’s) into allowing the World Series to go non-smoking for the first time (in 2002). It wasn’t easy, but I did it.