Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Ballad of the Crawford Kid

Six years ago, George Bush walked into a Las Vegas casino wearing a ten-gallon hat and shiny new boots. He had huge wads of cash in every pocket and was accompanied by a posse of true believers. The Crawford Kid was a glittery rhinestone cowboy ready to show Vegas what a real Texas bettin’ man could do.

Stepping across the threshold, he paused for a few beats and cased the joint, unsure about where to go or what to do. Then, miraculously, a seat opened up at the ultra-high stakes blackjack table. This was the opportunity of a lifetime for the Kid and he swaggered up to the stool and climbed on like he was hopping into the saddle to break a wild mustang.

Problem is, the dealer was no fool, and he immediately spotted the Kid for what he was—a big-talking rube. All hat and no cattle. In his career Mr. dealer had seen scores of rich kids like George all drunk on money and power coming into the casino thinking they actually controlled the universe, when in reality it was the other way around.

King of the world on his leather throne, the Crawford Kid started playing. Of course, Mr. Dealer started playing as well; playing the rube like a violin. George won some of the first few hands and was ecstatic. “Look,” he said. “I know what I’m doing.” The posse cheered, blinded by the piles of chips next to the kid’s hand that they hoped he would share with them when it was over.

A few more winning hands emboldened the Kid. He wasn’t into card counting or theories of probability. George relied on his instincts, those gut feelings he had about when to hit or hold, and they were working beautifully. He started betting more with each hand.

Soon, the winning and losing started evening out. A more mature gambler might look at his stack of chips, see that he was comfortably ahead, and leave the table to play another day. But, as the dealer well new, Bush was not mature, and the cowBOY became agitated that he was losing hands.

After a few more losses, the Kid’s thinking went something like this: I’m bound to win one of the next few hands, so I’ll increase my bet even more to recoup what I've lost. This is a fatal mistake for gamblers and one of the reasons why the house always wins. The good dealer, like the matador toying with an increasingly angry bull, knows that the weak gambler eventually loses his ability to play rationally the more he goes in the hole.

The other players at the table sensed that the Kid was growing testier the faster his chips disappeared, and they quietly withdrew from the game. George didn’t understand why they were quitting when he knew for a certainty that things would start turning around for him any hand now. Even many in his entourage took their leave, which angered the Kid even more.

Now he was losing consistently. He blamed the dealer. He blamed his closest friends. He blamed the casino. But he never blamed himself. Nor did he stop playing. He kept betting and borrowing money from people, feverish with the need to win some hands and regain his money and his pride. The losing continued.

Finally the Kid was flat broke, but he wouldn’t leave the table. He became belligerent and threatening. There was discussion among management about how to handle the situation. They new George was from a wealthy, politically powerful family and were not enthusiastic about the publicity that would be generated by throwing him out. But soon complaints from other gamblers grew loud enough to spur the managers to action, and they finally tossed the Crawford Kid out of the casino.

The Kid works on a ranch now, clearing brush for a living. He is a bitter and angry man these days, and he blames that Vegas casino for all his troubles. If you’re around him, you’ll hear him muttering to himself, “One more hand.” “Just one more hand.”

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