David Bruce: Gambling Anecdotes

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On September 20, 1973, Billie Jean King and Bobby Briggs met in a tennis match played in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The match came about because of the braggadocio of Mr. Briggs, who enjoyed making outrageous bets and playing matches in which he was handicapped by carrying a heavy suitcase in one hand or by holding a leash chained to a dog as he played. In this case, the 55-year-old Briggs challenged a woman tennis pro who was 25 years younger than he. The match was filled with hoopla. Mr. Briggs entered the stadium in a cart pulled by six beautiful women, while Ms. King entered while riding on a chair carried by five handsome men. Before the match, the two competitors exchanged gifts. Mr. Briggs gave the “girl” a lollipop, while Mr. King gave the male chauvinist a piglet. Of course, Ms. King defeated Mr. Briggs in a match televised in 36 countries — she also won $100,000 in prize money.

As a boy, writer Bill Barich was friends with another boy named Eddie Greco, who worked in a restaurant frequented by people who raced horses for a living. They gave Eddie tips—tips that paid off when gambling. Eddie passed the tips on to Bill, and Bill started gambling. Oddly, he discovered that when he placed a bet, no one at the gambling counter ever checked his ID to make sure that he was old enough to legally gamble; however, when he tried to cash in a winning ticket and pick up his winnings, the person at the gambling counter always checked his ID. This led to Bill looking around for a friendly adult to cash in his ticket—and NOT ask for a cut. (Uniformed sailors were very helpful in this regard.)

A young girl bore a note from her father to Rabbi Akiba Eger: “In my great distress I must appeal to you; there is not a piece of bread in my house. My wife and six children are almost dying of hunger, and I cannot find work. If I had as much money as a card player loses in a game at a gambling house, it would save me from distress.” Rabbi Akiba lacked money, but to raise money for the act of charity, he went to a gambling house, went over to a card game where a lot of money was in the center of the table, and asked, “Tell me, are not hearts trumps?” Then he showed the note to the card players, who read it and told him, “You win, rabbi,” and gave him the money for that hand.

While singing at a Three Choirs Festival, Astra Desmond stayed at the same hotel as composer Sir Edward Elgar. One morning at breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, Sir Edward asked her to show him her leg, which was hidden by the dining table. She did, and he looked at it and said, “No good.” Everyone was surprised by his actions, so he explained that one of the horses in a race was named “Grey Silk Stockings,” and if Ms. Desmond had been wearing grey stockings he would have taken that as a sign to bet on that horse.

In 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs to broke the single-season home-run record set by Mark McGwire; however, by doing so, he lost a $100,000 bet. Early in the season, teammate Shawon Dunston suggested that Mr. Bonds might break Mr. McGwire’s record that season. Mr. Bonds did not think that was possible, and Mr. Dunston suggested that if he broke the record then he could buy him a brand-new Mercedes-Benz. Mr. Bonds, of course, broke the record, and he did buy Mr. Dunston a $100,000 Mercedes Benz.

After Jim Thorpe retired as a professional athlete, he worked as an extra in movies. Once, he and several other extras participated in a contest to see who could make the longest standing long jump. Betting on the outcome was William Frawley, who later played Fred Mertz in the TV sitcom I Love Lucy. Mr. Frawley knew of Mr. Thorpe’s athletic prowess, so he bet on the “old” man. Mr. Frawley won his bet, and Mr. Thorpe’s jump of 10 feet, 8 inches, was only 6 inches shy of the current world record.

Chico Marx — the fake-Italian Marx Brother — was famous for his comedy. He was also famous for his gambling. He once bet movie director Leo McCarey $100 that he could throw a walnut further than him. Mr. McCarey agreed to the bet, and he picked a walnut from a bag of walnuts that Chico had and threw it. Chico then threw a walnut much further than Mr. McCarey and collected the $100. (Chico was not above cheating — he had earlier filled his walnut with lead.)

A man once asked Rabbi Hillel a series of stupid questions, and Rabbi Hillel answered each question patiently, using the Torah as his source of wisdom. Finally, the man admitted that he had made a bet that he could make Rabbi Hillel angry and that he had lost the bet. Rabbi Hillel asked how much the man had bet. Hearing the answer, Rabbi Hillel said, “You may have lost 20 dinars, but you have gained something of far greater worth: a taste of the Torah.”

Leon Schlesinger was cartoon director Tex Avery’s boss, and he was a very hard man to get money from. However, he loved to gamble, so when Mr. Avery wanted a $25 raise, Mr. Schlesinger proposed that they draw cards to see who got the highest-value playing card. If Mr. Schlesinger won, Mr. Avery would get no raise. If Mr. Avery won, then he would get a $50 raise. Fortunately for Mr. Avery, he won—jack to eight.

In 1961, before becoming a famous golfer, Lee Trevino worked at Hardy’s Pitch-N-Putt, where he entertained people by hitting golf balls with a quart-sized soda bottle that he wrapped in tape. Once, a man offered to bet him that he couldn’t use the bottle to hit a golf ball that would strike a 100-yard sign. Mr. Trevino asked, “What zero do you want me to hit?” The man decided not to bet.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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