Day 2: A Total Flop
On the way to the tournament, I tempt fate.

"You know what's going to happen, don't you, guys?" I say. "One of us is going to get pocket aces early in the tournament. We're going to have to put all our money in. And we're going to get unlucky and lose to a much worse hand."

True to form, an hour into the tournament, I look down and see two aces. I raise. One person reraises. I put all my money in. He calls. He has two queens. A queen comes on the flop. An ace never shows. Three queens beats two aces. I'm done. Out of 1,449 players, I think I finished 1,813th.

As I walk off the floor, I run into ­Clonie and some of her friends - including Karen, the sister of and manager for Robert Williamson III, a fantastic all-around player­ and perhaps the best pot-limit Omaha­ High player in the world. (Omaha is like Texas Hold 'em, except you get four cards down instead of two.) Williamson is one of several pros who are fond of Tunica, and not just because Joan Rivers is performing later in the month.

"The Horseshoe is one of the few boats in the world that doesn't make me sick, and it has a great poker scene," Williamson says. "Not just the tournaments, but the live action, too."

Clonie exchanges niceties with passersby. ("I've seen you on TV, "one smitten man tells her.) She says that she and Karen will make it to the cocktail party that night in High Roller's room.

High Roller is having a cocktail party? Sweet.

I wander over to The Raccoon's table. True to his name, The Raccoon had been more rumor than man the first few days.

He was gambling until daylight and sleeping till sundown. "Bluffing too much," he says. He was soon out. Only Señor Cowboy lasts more than a few hours. But soon he busts out, too. We freshen ourselves for High Roller's cocktail party.

An hour into the party, the guest list consists of us six losers (minus The Raccoon, natch), Clonie, and Karen. "This is the sorriest party I've ever been a part of!" High Roller yells. "It's certainly the sorriest party I've ever thrown!" He declares it's time to gamble.

We follow High Roller and Vino Corleone into the $100-minimum-bet blackjack area to watch them work. Vino promptly pulls out his good-luck charm: two small plastic pigs, which he aims at the dealer in order to place the bad swine mojo in that general direction. High Roller, meanwhile, gets the entire table to scream "Omaha!" every time the dealer busts. Why? "Every blackjack player worth a darn knows that Omaha, Nebraska, is just north of the 21st parallel," he says. Actually, it's just north of the 41st latitudinal parallel, but the shtick is too good to ruin with mere facts.

The mood changes as the poor young dealer goes on the most magical winning spree ever seen at a blackjack table. If you have 20, he has 21. If he turns over 15, his next card is a six. They keep him at the table for two shifts. This does not sit well with High Roller. He lets the pit bosses know of his displeasure as they pretend not to hear him despite standing four feet away.

"This isn't right!" he yells to everyone within a five-casino radius. "I know this isn't right! And they know that I know! And I know that they know that I know!" He snatches Vino's pigs and hurls them across the casino. Vino scurries after them, cursing. You don't get entertainment like that at home.