I saw her legs first, and, mercy!, that was plenty. They were long and tanned and ornamented only by the flimsiest of sandals. When she stood up from her seat in the taxi, I could not do anything but watch her. It looked like she was wearing nothing but a cover-up, like a diaphanous nightie, really, in a creamy golden brown. She had on shorts — I peered carefully to be sure — but they were short-shorts (or perhaps short-short-shorts), quite a bit shorter than the very short hem of her cover-up. Her breasts were everything you would expect and more — whether natural or man-made is yours to decide. Long brown hair, halfway down her back, and a piquant little face, simultaneously cherubic and charmingly feral.
In other words: Simply Gorgeous — and thus will she be denominated. A Las Vegas showgirl? Maybe. But in Sin City not every girl who looks like she could carry twenty pounds of ostrich on her head works under a room-sized chandelier. Had I been asked to wager, I would have put my money on trophy wife. She looked too much like money to grub away her days chasing paychecks and tips.
This was all happening in the parking lot at the pavilions of the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, home of The World Series of Poker. I had self-parked, sneaking onto the property by way of the unattended employee’s gate to try to get a parking space less than half-a-mile away from the action. She came by cab, and hence she was delivered right to the entrance of the Rio’s vast conference spaces. I was walking up as she was walking in, so what could I do but follow her?
But I wasn’t watching her, I swear, not by then. Like any man, I can be bewitched by beauty. But the Willie way of comprehending a spectacle is not to watch the event but to watch the watchers. There’s an outdoor patio by the doors to the pavilions, a big smoker’s porch if you will, and I was watching all the boys hanging out for a smoke as they studied Simply Gorgeous in every little detail.
There was one guy, a big beefy dude with a jaw like a boulder, who could not stop staring at her. His mouth was hanging open, and I thought at any second he might drool. I couldn’t help myself: His lust-take was just so ravenous I started laughing out loud. He started to laugh with me, and this ESPN guy pushing a huge boom camera said, “I know what you guys are laughing about!” Damn betcha. I expect Simply Gorgeous knew, too, but she strode ahead nonplussed on those endless, eye-magnet legs.
None of this was new to me, and I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I lost sight of Simply Gorgeous amid the throngs inside — and it’s not like I had anything other than a passing interest in her. She was simply there to be seen, and I do love to see things — some more than others.
Instead, I played railbird — that is to say, I hung around as a useless kibitzing spectator. I’ve played in poker tournaments, and I almost always finish in the money, but I’ve never had the bankroll — or the nerve — for big buy-ins. But I came to take in the biggest poker tournament of them all, the $10,000 buy-in Main Event. I was there for the first day of Day Two. The Main Event is so huge that, even though the Rio gives The World Series all the meeting spaces it has, they still have to split Day One across three days, Day Two across two, and only from Day Three and beyond are they able to finish one day’s play within that one day.
I visited all three of the vast meeting rooms, each one packed with headphone-wearing, iPad-pecking poker pros and very serious amateurs, each of whom hopes to turn two weeks worth of grinding out hold-em pots and defending the ever-escalating blinds into an eight million dollar payday. I talked to a lot of the railbirds, many of them players who had already busted out. The atmosphere all around was a sort of intense delight, like the ecstatic concentration you feel when you’re riding a bicycle down a steep hill: It’s exhilarating, but you don’t dare make a mistake.
And when I stepped out of the Amazon room, where the final table will be staged, there she was, curled up in a bulky chair in a little sitting-room-like alcove. Walking up to a love seat across the way, I asked, “Do you mind if I sit down?”
She looked up, and only after a second’s deliberation did she smile — totally worth waiting for. Simply Gorgeous has a simply gorgeous smile, and what would you expect? She said, “Make yourself at home.”
I sat down, but I made a point of looking at the passing crowds, not her. She was sitting with her back to the milling pokernauts, most probably from habit; I can’t imagine it’s all that fun to be stared at constantly. Even so, the boys were craning every which way to catch a glimpse of her.
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” I said that, without quite making eye contact with her. “Over on The Strip, all the single women are wandering around the casinos and the clubs looking for guys. And over here, all the guys are looking for girls.” Both of these observations are true, but The World Series crowd was at least twenty-five-to-one male, and maybe closer to fifty-to-one.
“These guys aren’t here for women.”
I just smiled at that. When men compete, they’re competing for women. You gotta be some kind of dumbass to think that a woman like Simply Gorgeous is going to be attracted to a dirty, smelly, scruffy poker player — but not all of them are like that. The CEO types and the pinky-ring types and even some of the math geeks who grew up playing online poker were meandering around in the corridor near our little alcove, each one of them looking for a way to make his move.
And if those guys — masters of the universe in their own eyes if not in anyone else’s — were intimidated by Simply Gorgeous, I could not even imagine the guy who wouldn’t be.
But I didn’t have to. Across the way, the door to the Amazon room flew open and out popped a little gnome, five-foot-five max and half that wide. Dirty, smelly, scruffy, all of the above, with a fringy little beard that will never amount to anything.
He came rushing across the hall and rushed right up to Simply Gorgeous and planted a big wet sloppy kiss right on her irresistible lips. He said, “I pushed all-in and now I’m heads-up three ways, so I had a minute, and I couldn’t bear not to come out and kiss you. Gotta run. If you don’t see me back here in two minutes, I tripled up and we’re in the game for at least another day.”
She said nothing, just kissed him again, quite comprehensively, before he rushed off.
I waited a beat and then shot her the obvious question, silently, with a quizzical look.
Simply Gorgeous showed me that simply gorgeous smile. She shrugged her shoulders a little and said, “He treats me like I’m someone special.”
And of all the girls in Vegas, grimly determined locals and flighty, carefree tourists, there is at least one woman who knows how to distinguish a winner from just another guy…