Flush With Success

When do five cards mean millions of dollars? When you're playing in the World Series of Poker. Just ask one of the year's finalists, North Miami Beach's John Spadavecchia.

John Spadavecchia never has heard of Anthony Holden, but he implicitly understands and agrees with the Englishman's above statement. "They tell me I'm very hard to figure out," the expressionless American declares. "I can play for hours, the tightest player in the world, and when I come in I have a hand, and then all-a-sudden I come in and I don't have no hand, I've got nothing, but they think that I still have a hand. That's what you gotta do. Make them always guess. That's the main thing. If you play the same way, you're gonna get eaten up.

"You might have a lucky streak and you have a lot of chips, but then if you play more, you're gonna give it up," the expert warns. "You're gonna lose it all. They gonna get you. I see it all the time. People think they have me. I give up my hand, I give up my hand, and then all of a sudden they give it to me in one shot. I know exactly what they're doing. They're stealing and stealing and then one time they gonna try to steal and I'm gonna trap 'em. Maybe I let him keep raising and I don't raise, I just call. I let him put his money in and then all of a sudden he's got too much in, he can't get out anymore. When I hit him he's gonna put his money in. And I have him."

According to the cardsharp, "No-limit poker is 60 to 70 percent bluffing. Forget about being a math genius. You have to be able to read people, to make your move at the right time, because, you know, one mistake and you're out."

Hugh Vincent, the man who took home the most money from last year's World Championship, basically agrees. "I don't memorize a lot of numbers, but you need a rough idea of what the odds are," Vincent advises. "You can't take the wrong end of the bet very often and come out ahead. You've got to be able to recognize, at various times and under the circumstances of the moment, what are playable hands. I had the best of all possible worlds last year. Every time I got called I had the winning hand, and the few times I didn't get called I didn't have anything."

Vincent and Spadavecchia became friends after their record-setting showdown. "My wife calls him John Spaghetti-O," Vincent chuckles. "It pisses him off."

"I met his wife, he met my wife," says Spadavecchia. "We sat at the same table in Foxwoods twice, but he got sick and left there early. He played good last year in the World Series. He bluffed me out twice. But he's not going to do it again. I know him better now."

"I don't really have a strong impression of John's strengths and weaknesses," assesses Vincent, "except to say that playing him's a little like trying to figure out the truth in the O.J. trial. But I suppose I almost have to go back out [to this year's World Series] and give the boys a chance to get some of their money back."

The difference between a poker player and a gambler is a crucially simple one. A gambler, be he one who bets on horses or sports events, on casino games or raindrops running down window panes, is someone who wagers unfavorable odds. A poker player, if he knows what he is doing, is someone who wagers favorable odds. The one is a romantic, the other a realist.

-- Anthony Holden, Big Deal

"I'm trying to train my boys," Spadavecchia reveals. He and Cecilia's three sons range in age from 24 to 30. To the average Joe, the thought of a man training his children to gamble is, well, bad parenting at best. But Spadavecchia is nothing if not a realist. While the youngsters show promise, the elder Spadavecchia's adversaries needn't lose any sleep over an emerging family dynasty just yet. "They're tough players, you know, but they cannot be competing with world-class players," their father explains. "But they get into it. Like anything else, if I'm in there, then they wanna come and play, too. I did take them to New Orleans a couple times. They came pretty close and then they choked. They had a hand and didn't play it right."

He makes a convincing case that no-limit poker tournaments are games of skill, not chance. "I used to shoot craps just for a little fun sometimes," he allows, "to take frustration out when I get knocked out. But that's strictly, um, a crapshoot. But that's exactly what it is. I like to play games that involve skill, and poker, especially tournaments, is one of them. I can play blackjack, count cards, but it's very boring. You can't make too much money doing that. And if they see you counting, they'll take you right out. I prefer poker tournaments. I can play a good side game, you know, win a lot of money, but I enjoy tournaments because there's more skill involved. Side games you can always dig in your pocket and get more money out. In the Been-yan World Series of Poker, everybody starts with $10,000 in chips. No rebuys. You run outta chips, you out."

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