Back in January, a poker author named Eileen Sutton vaulted to “overnight fame” due to an incredible article she wrote for Salon.com entitled Poker for Girls: In New York’s male-dominated world of underground poker, I found my true strength. While new fans of her work, like me, only started to pay attention to her output after the article was published, the fact of the matter is that Eileen is an accomplished poker writer, having penned some fantastic stories and strategy articles for Red Chip Poker, among others.
With her tale of surviving and thriving in the NY underground poker scene so vividly told, I knew she would be a great guest to have on the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast, which I co-host with Bruce Briggs. I was right!
Below, you’ll find the entirety of Episode 287 of the podcast, which includes the interview starting at the 12:28-minute mark. You can also read the transcript below.
ROBBIE: Welcome, everybody, back to the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast, and now it’s time for our interview. I first heard of Eileen Sutton back in January, when an article that she published on Salon.com was making the rounds on social media. In it, she described her decades-long affiliation with poker’s New York underground scene. Since that time, we’ve been in touch on and off via social media, until I realized that with all the great poker stories she had to tell, she would make a great interviewee right here on the Top Pair podcast. So, Eileen, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the show.
EILEEN: Thank you so much, it’s an honor and a privilege.
BRUCE: Well, we know you’re busy and we appreciate you carving some time out for us, and I think we’ll have a great time visiting for a few minutes.
EILEEN: Yeah, absolutely. I just want to correct one thing, and I can correct this and then, I mean the good news is that I have a compensating massive ego, which will make sense in a second. But somehow, when I first—I authored a poker book, and somebody put out a press release about the book that I had been in the game for decades, which is not true.
ROBBIE: Right. Oh! ‘Cause that’s where I got that from. OK.
EILEEN: So, I’m a former journalist, and when I saw that I had a small meltdown because I’m so committed to accuracy, and I wrote to the publisher and I said “This is so unacceptable, I don’t ever want to be misrepresented.” I’ve been in the game for… I had grinded hard on New York’s underground scene for several years and I have plenty to say about it, and first learned poker about five years ago. So it was just an error that just started circulating online and we corrected it ultimately, but it’s still out there. But I just wanted to say that.
ROBBIE: Good to start off on the right foot. I think maybe we should scrap all the questions then, huh?
EILEEN: No, no!
ROBBIE: Just kidding.
BRUCE: We’ll just have to cancel everything and reschedule this about five years from now, ‘cause we only want old people on the show, we don’t do newbies.
EILEEN: Believe me, I have opinions. And actually, I’ve been a writer, wearing many hats—what I have been doing for thirty years is I’m a writer wearing many hats. So I was reading yet another writing book this morning, and the author was talking about just how, when you write, it just sensitizes you to what you don’t even know you know. And when I saw and became aware of your show and was thinking about your focus—which is wonderful, having a focus on home games—and in preparing for this conversation I didn’t even kind of realize what I knew or kind of had forgotten, because I have had a very rich home game and underground game experience for the last five or six years. So I’m happy to have the opportunity to be reminded of what I know and what I’ve gone through here, so it’s been a trip.
BRUCE: Well, that’s great.
ROBBIE: Very cool. You came to my attention for the first time with that Salon.com article that I had mentioned. It was called “Poker for Girls: In New York’s male-dominated world of underground poker, I found my true strength.” That’s obviously quite a title, and we’ll get into that in one second, but before we start there I want to start a little bit at the beginning. Just tell us, you know, give us your elevator pitch, I suppose, who is Eileen Sutton? Just for our listeners to get a little bearings before we begin.
EILEEN: I’m gonna say… just to speak to who Eileen Sutton is as a poker player, so I have I think kind of an unusual story, insofar as I found poker completely by accident through a corporate networking event in New York City. I’ve had a corporate life; I’ve had a financial services marketing business for nineteen years in addition to my writing life, and now in addition to my poker life. So I found poker completely bizarrely at a networking event when I was fifty-five years old. So, there was a lot of poker in my family, in Los Angeles I had this huge family, a huge, sprawling, Jewish family, and everyone kind of played poker. My grandfather reportedly died at a poker table in San Diego when I was about ten. No, seriously! There’s this game called Pan, which is very big in the LA Jewish community and in other cities as well. My parents played Pan for forty years, my extended family played poker. I have all of these kind of vague memories of this kind of card culture in the family. But it was never my life. So at fifty-five, I was playing poker, I learned the game one day, and I was immediately—I’d literally been playing for an hour. And I was immediately a maniac, like, I was competitive, I was angry, I was tilted. And I said to myself, like, why do you care? Why do you give them, I mean, you’ve been playing this game—so, something was just unleashed in me, so from that moment, I learned the game in another bizarre environment, I learned at the 92nd Street Y, which is this legendary cultural institution, and the woman who was leading the corporate thing, she taught classes there. So I went to the Y, I took three weeks of poker classes with all these other women, and it was just wild. And from there I went into the home game mode, very low-stakes home game tournament culture in New York. I was a very serious, kind of emotionally and psychologically serious, but a recreational player. The contradictions were that I was streaming high-stakes poker every night, and just saying like “These are my people,” like setting money on fire, even very early in my poker life, but I wasn’t really studying the game. I mean, I was playing maybe once a week. I didn’t have that kind of—and I feel defensive and ashamed about this, because I’m insane—but I didn’t have that, like, those beautiful origin stories, and maybe you guys have those that you’re like in high school and you’re playing online for twelve hours or whatever it was, or you played for sixty hours a week or something. I didn’t have that beginning. So anyway, I was kind of in the home game world, and then I found New York Free Poker, which, there is a national Free Poker League which you guys may be aware of, which is not exactly a home game and not exactly a casino and not exactly an underground game, but the New York Free League plays for points, and then there’s real competition each year now in Atlantic City and Vegas for real money. But there’s a dealer and there’s a table and it’s a real game. I found that league and then, just playing on a real—just a whole—I remember the first time sitting down there, and there was absolutely nothing at stake, and I was just so ecstatically happy. And so I was playing in the league, and then quite by accident through my writing life I met Matt Matros, who’s a three-time WSOP bracelet winner. And again, this is just my destiny—you know, I was playing free poker, I was just kind of still knew relatively nothing about the game, but very motivated and increasingly ambitious and started to see that this was something that was going to be a lifelong engagement. And I approached Matt and I said, “Will you coach me?” And, by the grace of the angels, he said yes. And so then it just got weird and wonderful, so I’m playing free poker and I’m being coached by Matt, who’s just a genius.
EILEEN: It was incredible. Then, at that point, I started to really—Matt had fifteen years in the game at that point, but he was a writer and a poker player so he modeled that life for me, and then it started to really take shape. He trained me as a tournament player when I first started, and I just knew and I said to him very early in our relationship, “I think that the cash world is going to be my life.” And that’s how it evolved, and then I had an opportunity. I met Ed Miller, who as you may know is a very prolific author. I ended up editing Ed’s ninth book, and then he became my second coach. And Ed is a genius in a cash context. So that again took my, I mean, just put my educational arc on steroids. And then at that point I started, I found the underground scene in New York and Ed was my coach, and then I ended up writing The Total Poker Manual, which came out this last December. And yeah, so it’s been, compared to maybe even you guys or a lot of your guests I’ve had a relatively short time in the game, but I’m extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished and where I am. I’m sixty-one now, so I don’t have the typical lifestyle of a 61-year-old woman—if I play a game I’m coming home at three or four o’clock in the morning.
EILEEN: It’s pretty bizarre, it’s really kind of a Raymond Chandler-esque for me a lot of the time—you know, in a car service coming over one of the bridges and I’m looking at the New York skyline at four o’clock in the morning. It’s surreal and beautiful. So I’m grateful.
ROBBIE: For sure. And that’s an incredibly unique story, like you say, you guys have the story, myself and Bruce, of sure, we’ve been doing this for a decade, that’s not typical but I think that’s exactly what makes your story so interesting is that you picked it up later in life and you’ve been so fully engrossed in it for these past few years. So I guess getting back to this article, I had never heard of you and I guess maybe others had, but I think you sort of had this “Hey, I’m here in the poker world!” like all of a sudden people know who you are, based in January. What is it that compelled you to write that article in the first place and sort of go public after just sort of doing it as your life, but I guess not as a public figure, in a sense, for those few years?
EILEEN: Well, I was very fortunate to have—and now I’m trying to think how this happened—God, I don’t know. I somehow got connected to James Sweeney of Red Chip Poker, and… see, this is the problem, this is the tiny little downside of over sixty, is I’m kind of losing some memory bits. But anyway, James invited me to blog for Red Chip because they wanted to have more women in their blogging ranks. And there’s so few women in the game—I mean, women statistically play in much greater numbers online, and still do. Women were 4% of the WSOP Main Event population in June 2015, and I don’t know what the 2016 numbers were. And live, Joey Ingram the other day put out a stat that women are now down to 2% of the live population. I haven’t confirmed that. But James had an interest in having more of the women’s perspective for Red Chip as that brand was being born. So he very graciously invited me to blog for them, and once I started blogging for Red Chip… my poker story for me is not just about my age, which I think is unusual and all that kind of stuff, but the game relative to my personal history is I think a compelling story. And I started to write, I was blogging for Red Chip and then I got the idea that, I’m a fiction writer, I’m a novelist and a short story writer, and I’m very private in some ways, but I really wanted to tell this story and write a memoir about my poker life, and the working title for that was Poker for Girls. So I started to build out chapters for the memoir, and then I got an agent for my memoir so we’re trying to get the book sold, and at that point I started to take excerpts from the memoir, and Salon bought that piece and I have another essay that is circulating that I’m trying to get published. And then a literary journal in London recently gave me 5,000 words, which is a lot of space in a journal, which is an extended excerpt from my memoir as well. So the memoir is not yet published, but we’re trying to get it published. So that was the origin of the Salon piece, and just trying to get some attention on the book and trying to make my story more visible.
BRUCE: Well, you talk about that New York underground poker scene, and I think everybody that’s in poker now, obviously, a lot of us cut our teeth on or maybe got the hook set by watching that famous Rounders movie that was all about the famous New York underground poker scene, and you’ve moved pretty freely amongst it for the last few years. Do you watch that movie and go “Oh, yeah, I know that guy” or “That certainly is a character,” or do you watch it and go “Man, these guys really took a lot of liberty with those type of things”? How does that stack up against your real life experience?
EILEEN: Good question. Great question. Rounders had a certain edge to it, and I think there was a little bit of creative liberty there, though I think the John Malkovich character is somewhat extreme, and perhaps there are spots there. I have gone toward underground spots, and again as I was preparing for this chat, I realized that there’s underground games in New York and there’s home games in New York, and then there’s a merged kind of environment which I call the underground home game, which I can unpack in a minute. But I’ve gone toward all of these environments with a lot of courage, in the sense that I am generally traveling alone, I’ve been careful about vetting where I play, there’s a couple of neighborhoods in New York where I will not play, and I’ve been in a couple of edgy spots. But in terms of seeing those… yeah, I have seen a lot of intensity and different kinds of aggression, absolutely I’ve seen that. I think the psychological portrait that Rounders put forward, what we all go through—periods of absolute self-destruction, the tilt festivals that we all deal with, just the kind of desperation and then the glee of… poker is such a rollercoaster, and I wonder and I hope—I mean, for myself I’m increasingly finding a smoother engagement with the game, especially emotionally and financially, but I think it can be a roller coaster for a little while as we find our way. So I think that Rounders is… I mean in the old days, like the Stu Ungar days, Stu grew up in my neighborhood, I have friends who played with Stu when he was a kid and they would hustle him, they hustled him out of his lunch money through physical sports because he was like a scrawny little kid and he could never do anything like stickball or whatever, so they would like hustle him out of his lunch money through the physical stuff even though he was a genius mentally. But yeah, in the old days in New York you had what was called in the sixties and seventies social clubs, which is a little bit, Rounders was taking its inspiration from a club called the Mayfair. And it was a little bit of an edgier scene, poker was not sexy and glamorous and on television. The social clubs in New York were these beautiful—a lot of the Puerto Rican community, and the working-class Puerto Rican community especially on the Lower East Side, I’m very romantic about that period in the city and I have friends who are my age and a little bit older whose fathers and grandfathers were in that scene. Those narratives are very precious to me, and I talk and I’m like I sit at my friend’s knee and I ask them questions about scene all the time. And that’s what the Mayfair and Rounders came out of.
ROBBIE: It’s so interesting, you talk about this coming home at three and four in the morning, looking at the New York skyline and having to vet the places. It’s certainly, you do paint—I’ll use your wording—an incredibly romantic picture of it all. There is one thing though, I sort of take a step back and I say, well, you’re not exactly as far as I am here in Israel from casinos. So, have you ever had the desire to or do you go to casinos regularly, or do you really just stay underground in the home game world and stick to that, or maybe you’re heading out to the World Series and want to see that sort of madness, or what sort of directions do you head in?
EILEEN: I am just about to take my game out of New York. I have been very spoiled, because it’s just also kind of a function of my evolution as a player. There’s things that I love about the underground scene that I’m just very, very attached to, even though it’s more expensive. But for me to even travel to Parks or to the Sands, it’s only an hour and a half away, but it’s renting a car and just dealing with the set of expenses, and I’ve crunched those numbers a lot. I’ve just looked at the map, thinking of playing in Pennsylvania—I don’t have the patience, I have such a wealth of opportunity in New York, I’m very careful about my rake, I vet all the games. Honestly, I’m not paying a higher rake in New York. I have a friend who started a home game recently, not started—well, yeah, he actually did, he added onto his—and he’s virtually charging so little rake, it’s virtually no rake. I mean, it’s so little that it virtually doesn’t even constitute as a rake. But I would like to have the casino experience, and I’m ready to do that. I think, and there, again, like the other level, tree, branch of my romance tree with poker has to do with my very strange attachment to poker’s Old West roots. And I must have had a life, like, in America in 1890 or something, I must have. Because spiritually, the notion of walking into the back room of a saloon, like, why would I care about this? But the intimacy of that and the emotional stakes of that moment, which I think the underground community still captures—you know, basements. It’s this beautiful bakery and the guy who owns it is a poker player and at the end of the day they close the doors and they put up these black curtains and then they brought out a felt and then nine players showed up. I mean, I just adore that. I adore it, for so many reasons. So I’m about to take my game to Pennsylvania, for a number of reasons, and I have a friend who has a car and so financially it’s a little bit more manageable. I don’t ever play tournaments, so I watched Super High Roller last night, I paid attention to the WSOP and all of that. I’m not as emotionally engaged with that part of poker. And I grew up in LA and spent some time, I spent a lot of time in Vegas when I was 20, playing craps and blackjack, blah blah blah. But I know that the cash action in Vegas is great during the WSOP, and I have a lot of friends who go out. I’m not able to go this year, but I may be there next year, so.
BRUCE: That’s great. Getting back a minute to your Salon article about Poker for Girls, it brought to mind an interview we did back in January with Clare Fitzgerald, who’s a poker writer and she’s the copy chief at Casino City. She had an interesting story too, and it kind of contrasts with yours—she likes to play in home games, but she doesn’t like to play with men or males. She has found in the Boston area an all-female home game that she regularly attends, and she just feels a lot more comfortable cultivating her game there and learning and not having to have her guard up all the time, and I know there’s controversy with the WSOP having a ladies’ tournament and saying, well, that’s discrimination, and if we come in and pay the amount we should be able to do it. Your article sort of struck sort of a familiar note with me that you almost prefer to play in male-dominated games, that it almost reminded me of martial arts, where they say you can play against somebody that’s stronger and bigger and more aggressive, but if you engage them and use their strengths against them, then you’ll end up being the victor. So is it true that you do kind of prefer playing with men, or is it female-only games, or what is your view on that part of poker?
EILEEN: That’s a great question. I generally prefer to play with men. I’m a huge tomboy, and I have always been more comfortable with boys, and just—I call them boys. In my Poker for Girls I just refer to men as boys. But even in grade school, I had a lot of—women, girls, I was hard for girls, I just didn’t experience a lot of love from young girls, for a number of reasons, and it kind of shaped me, for a lifetime, really. So I’m very comfortable with boys, with men, I’m very masculine and sometimes in my affect, I swear like a sailor, I’ve been kicked out of games for swearing too much, I mean, and women have kicked me out of games. So I like what you say to the martial arts thing, I absolutely—you could talk me out of this, let me say this. But I do resist the notion of all-female games. I resist it. Not because women can learn more from men. I just think it’s goofy. You wouldn’t have all-male games. And I understand that some women, there’s a reason that—once I started blogging for Red Chip and women were writing to me from all over the country and telling me their horror stories about live poker, and I get that, and I respect it. I get a lot of respect in New York, I’ve had a handful of incidents that were ugly, but not anything like what some of my female comrades have experienced in live settings casinos, where men were, without… were disgusting, I mean really cruel and disgusting. And so I get that. In terms of using, you know, if you put me next to, I’ve played with the occasional woman who taught me things. I agree with Vanessa Selbst in the main that women are not socialized into a certain level of competition and aggression, and it doesn’t mean it can’t be learned. In my case, my game is now at an inflection point, in terms of my level of aggression and my bluff ratios. I get away with murder because people just never expect women to be bluffing. So, yeah, for me personally I’m just generally more comfortable with men, and I do feel, in the main, I mean I actually… Vanessa came to a charity event in a writing group I’m involved with, we do a charity poker thing each summer. She played with us the second year, and that was interesting. She said she’s never won a charity event. But I think finally, in the end, when you look at some of the best female players like Vanessa and Jen Harman, I mean I don’t really—I do believe that women are, as women, it’s a funnel, right? As more women enter the game at the base, right, and moved up through the ranks, and I’ve reached out to some of the brands that are sponsoring the biggest, most well-publicized games, the high-stakes games, and I’ve reached out to say why aren’t there more women playing and all that, and they often say there’s just fewer women in that very high-stakes population, and hopefully over time that will change. And I think when it comes down to it, it really has nothing to do with gender. I think that there are some real social factors which I just detailed, in terms of why women do or don’t enter the game. But what’s interesting too is that the Free Poker League in New York has a huge female population, and I’ve talked to people around the country where there’s a very large female population in that bar poker league dynamic and that kind of context. So it’s very interesting in terms of why women do or don’t engage in the game, where those numbers are bigger, why the online environment feels safer, etc.
ROBBIE: One of the other things and anyone who’s familiar with poker probably they’re familiar with Texas Hold’em and of course that’s what you detailed in that Salon.com article. But in other writing’s that you’ve done, you obviously acknowledge a variety of other poker games. So when you play, do you still focus on Hold’em or are you more of a mixed games aficionado nowadays?
EILEEN: I’m not at all, I’m not at all a mixed game person. I played a little bit—in the book I wrote about a number of games, but I generally only play Hold’em. I’ve played PLO a little bit, just because I was coerced. But I’m generally focused and again, I feel embarrassed about it, which is stupid. But I feel like oh, I “should” be more versatile, and whatever. But I don’t care. And then Randy Lew, who’s doing just fine for himself, pretty much only plays Hold’em. And when Randy boldly said—and I know Randy because I included him in my text, lovely guy—and when he said at one point, he just said “Yeah, I don’t play anything else and I don’t care,” and I was like “Yeah, me too!” So I pretty much focus on Hold’em, you know, people have opinions about you should learn other games and train your brain and work those muscles and blah blah blah. And I really have tremendous respect for people who are very good mixed game players, and I will never be that person.
ROBBIE: Hear that, Bruce? She respects us!
BRUCE: I can identify with those feelings, though. My group still has an epic story today about how they had to drag me basically screaming and clawing at the table into a mixed game or trying Omaha or something different, and it’s my linear kind of black and white thinking or logical mind, I’m saying “OK, I’ve been playing Hold’em now for two or three years, I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near proficient or to the level that I’d like to be, why should I play a different game? Why should I take my focus away from trying to improve my Hold’em game? I should continue to play Hold’em until I’m comfortable with my level of proficiency there.” And they finally talked me into playing mixed games, and I’ve never gone back since then. I still play some Hold’em, and I’ve found a great delight in the other games, and some of them have even helped me improve my Hold’em game, because they’re all kind of a different dimension of this same basic poker concept.
EILEEN: Oh my god. OK. Now, I’m so competitive, I’m like “OK, I should do that.”
ROBBIE: Well, you are always welcome in Israel, and I’m sure in Salt Lake City as well, to any of our home games.
EILEEN: I will. Sometimes people play PLO, sometimes folks want to play I think, I don’t know, five… maybe one of the stud or draw games. I don’t know. But, Bruce, how do you think it helps, like, what’s your sense of how it does help your Hold’em thinking, etc.?
BRUCE: Well, particularly in flop games, which is where I put Hold’em and Omaha, and in stud games to some degree too, it caused me to pay a lot more attention to what was on the board. Because in Omaha, one of the guys I was learning with in our own group, he basically said, “Every time you see a flop, mentally try to figure out what the nuts are, or what the second nuts are, or what the draws to the nuts are, because in Omaha, that’s probably what’s going to end up prevailing in the end.” And so it just caused me to focus a lot more, and maybe I was just getting lazy with Hold’em, just playing it kind of on cruise control, and the same with Stud, you know, because you’ve got seven-card stud, you’ve got five cards exposed for each person and it forces you to pay attention to what cards they’ve got out there, what stories they’re telling as far as what hands they may be trying to accomplish with their betting patterns and also the cards in front of them. And so it helped me, I think, in focus and that, and the area that it kind of hurt that I have to watch every once in a while is when I go back to playing Hold’em, I’ll sometimes fold great hands because I’m so used to playing Omaha now that these hands would never hold up, and again people in my group will joke and say “Ah, you’re seeing monsters, aren’t you?” and it’s Hold’em, guy, so you’ve got to recalibrate, but it keeps you on your toes.
EILEEN: I agree, that’s a great explanation. I relate to what you’re saying, I do.
BRUCE: Well, I’m fascinated by your book and we’re definitely going to put a link in our show notes so that people can look at it, I’ve looked at it too and it’s available on Amazon and it’s available on my favorite, Kindle, so that’s a good thing. I’m probably going to be a purchaser and a reader of it. And I love your background, you know, with degrees in philosophy, English literature, and creative writing. And I for one, totally getting off the subject, and putting on my fanboy hat, I think E.L. Doctor-ow, is it? I never know how to pronounce his last name. Doctor-ow? Is that how you pronounce it? Doctorow? Man. His book, that World’s Fair, was one of my favorite all-time books, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a movie or anything. Of course, Billy Bathgate and Ragtime has been made into a movie and also a Broadway musical, so I’m jealous that you’ve been able to rub elbows with him. I’d give anything to go spend a night over a couple of beers and pick his brain. But how did you define the topics for your Total Poker Manual?
EILEEN: I was approached, actually again through Matt, he was approached to write the book. And for Weldon Owen, who is a publisher in San Francisco who has a very established bestselling series called The Total fill-in-the-blank, so they did The Total Camping Manual, The Total Fishing Manual, etc. And they got the idea to do a poker book. So they got a corporate sponsor, Card Player Magazine was our fantastic corporate sponsor, and then they approached—there was an editor involved and he knew Matt and they called Matt and Matt said no, and Matt wrote to me and said “Do you want to do this?” and I said “Yeah!” So even though I hadn’t been in the game for years and year, I’d been in the game certainly long enough, and I’ve been a writer for my whole life, really, and felt confident. I mean, scared and crazy a lot of the time, writing this huge text, and I was kind of on my own with it, didn’t have a lot of help editorially once we got into the rhythm of the book. But, you know, I’d worked with the publisher at the start and I’d mapped out the basic structure of it, and then for myself—I had read and absorbed content obsessively for the last several years. So I had access to Card Player’s content database, which is massive, and there were a number of experts and pros and writers and people that I’ve been attached to and that have taught me and helped me, and so I wanted to create a text that, you know, I was just pulling from all the experts that helped me and I had my own ideas about stuff and I wanted to create a somewhat kaleidoscopic text that’s very immersive, that’s visually unlike anything in poker literature. It’s completely one-of-a-kind. It’s not some advanced strategy book, it’s not an Ed Miller kind of book or it’s not a Sklansky kind of poker book. But it’s a brilliant, immersive text I think visually, you can move around in it. I think of poker as, the game for me is kaleidoscopic. At any point that you look through that little kaleidoscope poker tube, you’re going to see something slightly different. So even now, I’m constantly—and I’m sure for you guys, too—there’s little details and little things that your eye notices and your brain files away and shapes how you play differently each time you play. So I wanted the book to feel that way, and again we mapped out the four or five games that I covered, the bigger section is Hold’em and then the last section of the book is a more advanced strategy section, but you can put your toe into the stream of this book if you’re anywhere from an absolute beginner to maybe at the edge of beginning intermediate, and I think get something valuable.
BRUCE: Yeah, it looks like you even had a section there on how to run a home poker game for fun, so you did kind of, obviously we’re the Home Poker Game podcast, so maybe briefly highlight what’s in that section again for our listeners that are either running a home game or want to check on some things or are anticipating maybe starting a home game.
EILEEN: For me, the best home games, and this is some of what I detail in the book, the best home games are run really professionally, in the sense that they’re taken seriously, there’s money involved, even if it’s a $35 buy-in tournament, where I’ve seen the whole range of home game hosts, and I’m sure you guys have too, those who are perhaps not as obsessive or those who are more obsessive and very controlling about the game, and the whole range of personalities in between that. And I would say, for myself and for folks who are thinking about running a home game, really be clear about a) what your player pool needs in terms of the kind of game and mistakes et cetera, and then if you’re running a cash game, be just very mindful about the money involved and the emotions involved. To me, the best home game hosts are really like good parents, in the sense that they’re really they’re the authority. The dealer for me and the host have obviously the most authority in the room, and I rely on that confidence and that authority. I’ve had a couple of instances, on in particular where a guy at the break at a home game where I played for a long time, and he was presumably a friend, and he was insane, and I was chip leader and he just goes crazy and he grabbed my chip stack and he started counting my chips and I—
EILEEN: Oh, no no. It was insane! And I grabbed his hands and I said “What are you doing?!” in other kind of language, I said “What are you doing?” and he wouldn’t release his hands. I mean, it was the most cuckoo moment I’ve ever had in a home game. And he finally released my chips and I said “You owe me a huge apology,” and he said “I don’t owe you anything.” So—
EILEEN: I called the host the next day and I said, “I need to talk to you.” The host of this game has been playing poker for thirty years, and she was amazing. She goes, “It’s handled.” ‘Cause I said to her “I’m not coming back if this isn’t addressed.” She said “It’s completely handled. It will never happen again.” I said “OK.” So, again, structure, and ordering, really running a game, consistently, with a lot of authority and confidence and just always keeping in mind what’s at stake. People say to me—and we could talk about this for two hours—but people say “Oh, it’s just a friendly home game.” I will say “There’s no such thing as a friendly poker game.” I happen to believe that, even though 95,000 people will disagree with me. But even if you’re playing a 25/50-cent home game, I’m sorry but you can still, the host is still going to have to deal with somebody going on tilt or whatever.
ROBBIE: Of course. Well, Eileen, obviously the degree in creative writing doesn’t even begin to illustrate how well you tell these stories. There are a couple in particular, I hope I’m not putting you on the spot too much, but in past conversations we’ve had we’ve talked about both of ourselves being Jewish, and you mentioned that you had a couple of interesting—or, many, there were a couple that struck my fancy—Jewish poker stories to tell. So I’m hoping that you don’t mind exploring that, there was one in particular with Jerry Seinfeld. Would you be able to tell that one?
EILEEN: With Jerry Seinfeld? Really? No, that’s not me.
ROBBIE: Oh! So I’m going to move on to the other one. That’s why I said put you on the spot, ‘cause I had them recorded here. So it was not Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve got a different one here that you wrote. You had one about the recently departed Don Rickles that has to do with Yom Kippur.
EILEEN: Oh, yeah, no, that’s not a poker story at all. But I do have a Don Rickles story. I think Robbie and I had talked about, I have some Hasidic Jew stories from my population in Brooklyn, which are charming, I guess. But, so do you want me to tell the Don Rickles story?
ROBBIE: Yeah, sure! Why not. Stories are great. Sorry for the audience; I thought there were poker stories. My misunderstanding, but good stories are always still fun.
EILEEN: No, Don Rickles—
BRUCE: And it’s really easy to understand how you would confuse Jerry Seinfeld and Don Rickles, I mean, they’re just practically two peas in a pod, so that’s totally understandable. My god.
ROBBIE: No, no, I just thought—there was a story—no, no, I made a goof. I’m sorry. For the first time in 287 episodes, I made a goof.
EILEEN: It’s fine. No, ‘cause I grew up in Beverly Hills actually, and lived on the West Side in LA as an adult. But you know, LA is like celebrity-ville, it’s just, it’s the whole culture of, you know. So the synagogues there in some of the neighborhoods, just have a lot of famous people in them. So, Don Rickles was in my congregation and it was a high holiday thing, and it was Yom Kippur and the cantor had sang all day, and he was tired and whatever, clearly he had been fasting, etc. etc. So we came out of the service, and it was like seven o’clock, and I can’t even do this justice because I can’t do Don Rickles’ voice. But he just went up to the cantor, and we all streamed out, slowly, taking the cantor’s hand one by one and Don Rickles went up to him, and he just—and the cantor had this magnificent voice—and Rickles just looked at him, and he just goes like “Nyeh, not bad.” You know, like that. It was not terrible; try harder next time, or something like that. Only he could just insult a cantor at the end of a fast and nine and whatever it was, twelve hours of singing or something like that.
BRUCE: Well, Eileen, we really appreciate your taking time out of your schedule so we could sit and talk. You’re a delightful guest, and have all sorts of stories and perspectives. I know you mentioned that you’ve got a memoir that’s in progress, we would love to maybe extend an invitation, maybe once that gets a little more formal and is ready to be released, it’d be nice to have you back to talk about that and explore it. I’m anxious to read it, especially after visiting with you, so again we appreciate you taking the time to spend some time with us. We’ll make sure we put links on our show notes for this episode for your website, that’s suttonstories.com, and @PokerForGirls, your Twitter handle, and the only thing I would say is your assignment for when we do have you back on is that you do come back with a Jerry Seinfeld story.
EILEEN: Oh my god, that’s hilarious. OK. Alright, I will.
ROBBIE: Well done, Bruce.
BRUCE: So before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners?
EILEEN: Just that, notwithstanding my love of boy poker comrades, I’m very, very devoted to helping women in the game and it’s very important for me to help women be comfortable on the felt. If you have women listeners who want to reach out and talk to me about any aspect of their poker life, they can reach me through my website. And that’s something that’s notwithstanding my being so immersed in the male population in New York, it’s very very important for me to bring women into the game. So know that. And I want to thank both of you for the opportunity, it’s been absolutely delightful to talk to you both, so thanks.
ROBBIE: Well, same here, thank you.
BRUCE: We look forward to keeping in touch and having you back again.
EILEEN: Sounds good. Take care.