A life spent writing sports teaches valuable lessons, such as: Try to avoid meeting childhood idols for fear they might threaten to kill you, as Cesar Cedeno did me on the Dodgers’ charter flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1986, 13 years after he became my favorite player in the wake of Roberto Clemente’s death.
As an adult, I have but one idol and had managed to avoid interacting with him. His name is Norman Chad. His game is sports humor. Chad’s syndicated weekly column, Couch Slouch, opens a window into a neurotic mind so bent on humor he single-handedly could turn C-SPAN into Comedy Central. Instead, he serves as color commentator on ESPN’s poker coverage. He’s part Borscht Belt comedian, part poker savant.
I reached Chad on Tuesday, and he not only didn’t threaten to kill me, he revealed himself to be exactly who he is on TV and in print. An idol endures.
Who better to give advice on the best means of making it to the final table in Lawrence’s poker event of the year, at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Alvamar Country Club, than Chad? (A donation of $75 at the door gets you a stack of chips. All proceeds, including those from a silent auction that includes a Mario Chalmers-signed basketball, go to the Alzheimer’s Association.)
The winner of the Fourth Annual Alzheimer’s Benefit Texas Hold ’Em Tournament gets two round-trip airline tickets and three hotel nights in Las Vegas. Everyone else at the final table gets to brag that they made the final table.
Kitty Shea, director of Harbor House, a Lawrence home for seniors who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, first tasted poker in the tourney. The poker clinic for novices is at 6 p.m.
“Show up for the clinic,” advised Shea, the event’s director. “That’s what I did, and I made it to the final table.”
Chad’s advice for rookies: “Keep it simple. People see things on TV and try to get fancy. Play ABC, small-ball poker. Only play premium hands early. Keep dropping out of pots until you get the right spot. Play big hands, aces, kings, queens. It’s also called scaredy-cat poker.”
Chad’s humor was honed by witnessing so many oddballs on championship-seeking trips through several states with his father. They entered their Siberian Huskies in dog shows.
“Tuffy was like one of the kids in the movie Hoosiers,” Chad said of his dog’s day in the Westminster Dog Show in New York City. “He was blown away by the smell and all those people yelling (bleep). It was a horrendous day. We didn’t talk about it after that. ... My father was the handler, and he didn’t have any idea what he was doing. I’d be heckling him when he came out of the ring: ‘Dad, did you have to chew gum during the show?’ I spent my whole childhood taking dogs around getting ribbons.”
The life prepared him for spending 18-hour days inside casinos.
“Poker players are just as weird (as dog show folks),” Chad said. “And they whine more than dogs. Man, they’re a miserable lot. Just like in any other odd pursuit, people who are really into it, really good at it, are myopic about the rest of the world. They see things through the lens of a card room every day.”
Time to ante up for a great cause. See you Friday.