It was a little past 1 p.m., not that time really matters here. The sound of poker chips idly being rubbed together was in the air, in the manner the sound of locusts on a deserted stretch of Texas highway is in the air.
Poker — no-limit Texas Hold ’em poker — was being played wherever you flopped and turned in the Rio’s Amazon ballroom Friday. Even way back among the lonely tables in the Tan section. Or maybe they only were playing Tripoli in the Tan section, because it was hard to see that far.
There’s a guy named Tommy Tomlinson, an excellent writer and sometimes poker face for a website called Sports on Earth, who says everybody comes to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker.
A total of 6,352 anted up for the Main Event. So he had to be here. I’m talking about KGB. Teddy KGB.
Teddy KGB was the villain, as played by John Malkovich, in a 1998 movie about poker called “Rounders.” Well, Grama was a bad guy, too. But not as bad as Teddy KGB, who wore a bushy beard, an old red Adidas warm-up jacket atop a plaid shirt, and ate Oreos from a chip rack. He also liked to splash the pot.
When Teddy had a good hand, he’d twist his Oreo apart and eat each half. When he had a bad hand, he’d put the halves back together and place the cookie back in the rack.
This was the Oreo Tell, and any real poker player could see it from there to Omaha. But it was a movie, and the Oreo Tell is what enabled Matt Damon (Mike) and Edward Norton (Worm) to sort of live happily ever after for a little while after the credits rolled.
A lot of frat boys started playing poker after that movie came out. Some wore red warmup jackets or Teddy KGB T-shirts before they switched to the Unabomber look, hoodies and dark glasses.
You still see a lot of Teddy KGB T-shirts around the circuit, I am told, but you didn’t see any at the official WSOP souvenir stand on the long hallway to the ballroom, because everything in the souvenir stand had to be licensed and stamped with the official WSOP logo.
There was a guy selling poker-related art nearby, not dogs playing poker, but a woman dressed in fetish gear who had an ace coming out of her you-know-what. This was the kind of art you’d expect to find hanging from a hole in the wall at Teddy KGB’s place. So his presence still is being felt.
The grandiose featured table at the WSOP, with its red and blue floodlights, sort of resembles the stage at a U2 concert. Seated from left to right were: a guy who sort of looked like the former race-car driver Alex Zanardi, a guy with a hoodie and dark glasses, a frat boy with a slick haircut, a guy who looked like George Carlin, an animated guy wearing a Blackhawks cap, another guy with a hoodie and dark glasses, another guy with a hoodie and dark glasses (thereby satisfying the WSOP minimum ante of three guys with a hoodie and dark glasses at every table) and Doyle Brunson.
Nobody with an old red warmup jacket. Nobody twisting apart Oreos. Nobody saying “Pay that man his money” in a thick Russian accent, not even when an announcement came over the public address that a couple of poker faces had been eliminated. So now only 648 remained, and everybody still sitting there would be getting paid.
(The two guys who got bounced did receive free entry into next year’s Main Event, which costs $10,000. So that was a lovely parting gift, a lot better than, say, receiving the home edition of Concentration.)
Because I was carrying a notebook, poker people kept approaching with questions I could not answer, such as “How many chips does Doyle have?” and “Why does every table have three guys wearing a hoodie and dark glasses?”
I told them I didn’t know, and then I asked the poker people if they had seen Teddy KGB.
One poker person said he saw him splashing the pot in the Purple section.
So I went over there, but I didn’t have the right credential. And because I wasn’t wearing a hoodie and dark glasses, I couldn’t bluff my way in.
From the other side of the rail, I saw this bald guy with sad, sunken eyes. He was wearing a red T-shirt with a royal flush over the breast pocket. Only this guy had a wispy gray Fu Manchu.
My stack was getting shorter. So though Joey Knish is a New York legend, and was the closest thing I had to a friend in this place (actually it was just a guy who looked like John Turturro if you squinted hard), I ducked into the Rio swimming pool complex on my way out.
It was a long shot, but maybe I’d find Teddy KGB lounging by the pool, because God knows Teddy could have used a little sun.
When I asked the girl at the Cabana del Sol sunscreen shack if she had a seen a poker player wander through, a guy with a beard wearing a red warmup jacket, carrying on with a thick Russian accent about “this son of a bitch, all night he ‘check, check check,’ ” and “in my club, I will splash the pot whenever the (expletive) I please” she said she had not.
But, she said, about an hour ago three guys with hoodies and dark glasses had walked by on their way to the Voo Ultra Pool Lounge, where swimsuits are optional.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.