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Aces, Johnny! Aces!

April 12, 2006 | 10:09 am

I'm sitting at computer, trying in vain to type while ignoring visions of pocket aces dancing in my head. In about 7 hours, I'll be attending Lakers Casino Night, the 3rd annual extravaganza benefiting the Lakers Youth Foundation. Glamorous sponsors, glamorous people, glamorous setting and... The K Brothers. Well, it mostly all fits.

As BK and I have mentioned from time to time, we play in a weekly no-limit Texas hold 'em tourney, mostly made up of people who play 3-4 times a week and/or work for the World Poker Tour. They're all very good, and while BK and I don't always finish in the money, we can definitely hold our own against them. In my humble opinion, we're solid players who enjoy a little competition. And the entire team (save Texas-bound Von Wafer) should be in the house this evening. From what I've heard, many will be pushing around chips and trying their luck at the tables. Thus, there's always a chance I could end up sitting to the left of some Laker, deciding whether to re-raise him or fold. Obviously, nobody's winning any money tonight, since all proceeds are for charity. But there's still pride at stake, along with my fleeting shot at potential greatness. I mean, let's be honest. How often am I ever gonna get an opportunity to beat Kobe Bryant at anything? While the chances of having a showdown with every member of the roster is remote, the smart player nonetheless does his homework. Better believe I've spent the last couple days talking to players and scouting out info.

Like most things in sports, it all begins with the coach. Before last night's game against the Warriors, I asked Phil Jackson about his prowess at the gaming tables. He smiled, then revealed this tidbit. "My game is cribs, but I do like backgammon. I don't know if either one is going be offered."

Okay.

Unless "cribs" is short for "cribbage," I have no idea what game he's talking about, either. Phil seemed to recall Luke Walton playing pretty well in last year's event. Walton's name actually popped up a lot as a quality cardsman, so I put him on my radar as one to watch (and judging by word of mouth, Devean George is also worth taking seriously). After reminding Phil of the book he bought Wafer earlier this season, he agreed it was indeed unfortunate for tonight's patrons that Von is helping the Ft. Worth Flyers during their playoff run (and when I asked Brian Cook at Tuesday's practice to forecast the likely "fish", Von was also his man. Then again, Devin Green predicted Cookie himself would be easily taken out, so who knows?). Phil thought Sasha might fill the void nicely in Wafer's absence, but guessed that the fellas will likely just avoid that game altogether.

Despite a lack of endorsement from Green (who doesn't gamble much and mostly just wants to enjoy fellowship with his teammates), B.Cook seemed more than confident about his chances. Asked about potentially matching up against Kobe, he's never played Ocho in the past, "but would probably take him. Me and him are real competitive. I always win all the shooting games, so he might get me in Texas hold 'em. But I doubt it."
Kwame Brown's definitely got his own style. "I don't play the cards. I just play the people. I bluff everybody." It sounded like classic poker strategy until Brown revealed the true origins of this method. He doesn't really know the rules and simply relies on pricing people out. "I've played one or two times. I just folded people out of the game. I kept raising, until they found out I didn't know what I was doing." Kwame's gonna wear sunglasses to maintain his poker face (and "try not to laugh"), but admitted his is not a great strategy for going the distance. And speaking of bluffing, Kobe boasted of his ability to get it done with smoke and mirrors. "I'll bluff the hell out of you. I'll win with a pair of 2's!" After years of watching Kobe square off against opponents he's clearly got outgunned, the idea of watching him battle with a metaphorical rusty butter knife sounds pretty fascinating.

On the flip side, Ronny Turiaf confessed that he can't bluff to save his life. In news that should shock roughly nobody, he's a bit too animated for playing possum. "I don't do well with my facial expressions. I give it up pretty easily." That said, don't underestimate the rook. He's recently made friends with professional players Phil Ivey and Erik Lindgren. "I've tried to get some tips from them and stuff." But after sifting through the gossip and hearsay, I've decided there's only one player in purple and gold truly worth fearing in heads up.

Aaron McKie.

No name garnered more respect than this cagey vet's. Word is, dude can play. Hell, he even taught the entire team a spades-five card stud hybrid called "Boo-Ray," which he's apparently also the team honcho (Lamar Odom and Kwame are big fans of the game as well). And when I asked McKie about this evening's festivities, his eyes lit up like saucers. I don't recall him looking that excited when the Sixers played the Lakers in the 2001 finals. "I play it all. Black Jack. Hold 'em. Stud. Dice." Asked if he could school some of his co-horts, he played it cool. "We'll see, because everybody's gonna let their secrets out." I'm guessing his poker face is better than his "Gee, I'm genuinely worried about my chances against these guys" face, because I didn't buy it for one second. When it comes to bad folks to run up against while you're short stacked, McKie is the consensus McKing.

Finally, Chris Mihm said his ankle wasn't bad enough to keep him from hitting casino night. Let me tell you right now, don't matter to me one bit if he's gritting his teeth and playing hold 'em through injury. If we end up at the same table, I'm taking it right to him. I'm like that bad sensei in The Karate Kid. "No mercy." I'll refrain from actually sweeping his leg, though, since the team really does need him healthy for the playoffs.

Remember, there are tickets still available at ticketmaster.com. If you've got the dough and feel a bit generous, plunk it down for a good cause. It's the closest you'll come to seeing Andrew Bynum in a casino setting for another three years.

AK

Note: The title is an inside joke (and not even a very funny one, at that) between me, BK and our friend Steve, who likely won't even be reading this post. Sometimes you just gotta amuse yourself.


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