Day 3: Feeling Pokery
High Roller and Vino have had all the fun they can stomach, so they jet home. Sweater Vest has also checked out, leaving only Dr. Real Estate, Señor Cowboy, and me. Oh, and The Raccoon, whom we sighted briefly. (We were leaving, he was going to bed.) High Roller leaves us a gift: the room key to his comped suite. For a day, we High Roller it.

This means we can concentrate on some serious poker. We've performed poorly in the tournaments, but most of the pros will tell you that cash games are where they make their money. We all sit down in a $1/$2 no-limit game and buy in for $300 each. That's basically the last of my money.

For the next seven hours, we have a blast. Señor Cowboy strikes up a friendship with the man to his left telling blond jokes. What do you do? Señor asks him. "I'm a highway transportation oversight manager," he responds. Which means what? "I'm a truck driver."

As our stacks of chips begin to grow, we realize that our rather tough home game has served us well. We can play with these guys. In fact, we quickly pick out the good and bad players. The worst is the young man next to Dr. Real Estate, who, after making a bet and winning a pot (something that shouldn't be a surprise to a good player, right?), turns to the good doctor and whispers, "I thought I smelled fear."

For the trip, the three of us finish up $300 a piece or more. To celebrate, we dine at the other fine restaurant at the Horseshoe, a Cajun eatery called N'awlins Louisiana Cuisine. (The Raccoon even shows up for our 8 o'clock reservation; he must need breakfast.) I'm not sure what makes this four-course, three-hour affair one of the best dinners of my life. Maybe it's the camaraderie. Perhaps it's the sublime ­barbecue shrimp appetizer. Per chance it's the fact that we're charging it to High Roller's room. Nevertheless, as the meal draws to a close and our stunning young Asian waitress asks us in a beautifully incongruous Mississippi accent, "Y'all wahnt uh slayice o' suhweet pat-tay-tah chuheese cayke?" we know we've reached heaven on earth. In Tunica, of all places.

The next morning at 5 a.m., a few minutes before he has to catch a ride to the airport, The Raccoon bursts into the room. He throws his clothes in his suitcase and complains about the donkeys he was playing against and about how unlucky he was “on fifth street,” the nickname for the last community card you’re dealt in Texas Hold ’em, also called “the river.”

“I hate the river!” The Raccoon says before dashing out. I bury my face in my pillow. How can you hate the river here, I wonder. The river is what gives Tunica its beat. A beat you can happy-dance to.