(Fort Lauderdale, FL) After racking up our chips, we called it a day on the set of Poker Night in America, the poker reality show that airs on the CBS Sports Network. The high-stakes competitions showcase poker skills, lucky streaks, gambling styles, grit and gab.
To my left, at the poker table was the handsome sharp-as -a-tack, poker genius, Doug Polk. He bought into the game with an intimidating $100,000. To my right was semi-pro Avi Freedman; he’s been killing the game of late. He brought out a bankroll of $30,000. Across the table were poker millionaires Frank Kassela and Shaun Deeb. Kassela is part of the rarified club of poker players that have scored a hat trick at the Annual World Series of Poker Tournament. Shaun Deeb has needles at the ready to insert under the skin of players that takes him on.
My 5K buy-in was the minimum stack permitted; I had another 5K in my pocket, if needed–compliments of my silent corporate sponsor. I like having a chance to decimate the competition with fewer bullets, but between the talent and the mega buy-ins all around me, I had no intention of coming up with more money against this crowd! I was committed to one strategy in this spot–disciplined aggression. It was my best hope with a pittance. At the end of play, I was down a few pennies, but I was up for a night on the town!
Led by high stakes player and poker talent scout Matt Glantz, a group of us hit the cocktail lounge to down shots or sip sodas before moving onward for more post-combat camaraderie. Poker Night regulars Jennifer Tilly and her long-time boy-friend Phil Laak (better known in poker circles as the Unabomber), had been occupied in the commentator booth all afternoon; they joined us. Prancing in stilettos and sneakers, respectively, Jen the only Academy award nominee who has won a World Series of Poker championship (Ladies Event) and Phil, also a WSOP champ (in an open event and Oscar worthy poker celebrity, hoofed it with us to the parking lot. We took off in two cars for the best stone crabs in town.
A rehash of the day’s events was quick and pointed at the dinner table. Big stacks dominated. Jen (the glamorous chatterbox) and Phil (the unpredictable eccentric) held court with style; they were witty, smart, gregarious, and completely engaged with each other–and with the rest of us during our nearly three-hour dinner. They provided plenty of laughable moments, but it was I who enjoyed the last laugh, thanks to this generous couple.
At the end of dinner, we played “credit card roulette for the check. By a process of elimination in this numbers game, the wheel of fortune was about to point the check either on Jennifer or me. Suddenly the game came to a halt. Jen looked coquettishly at Phil as he announced, “Jen, Wendeen, this check belongs to me! Thank you Jen and Phil.
Last week, Wendeen reconnected with President Barack Obama, outside Washington (where they first met in 2008), at a stirring event held at the Streiker Center/Temple Emanu-el. After sampling chef Daniel Boulud’s famous short ribs, the President took pictures at a VIP reception before the Event. He would soon settle in for a “conversation” with Rabbi Joshua Davidson in the main sanctuary of the temple.
In earshot of Wendeen’s friends, nearby, as she approached to greet the President, he called out to her , “Hi Wendy.” She joined him–responding with this smile, caught by the camera! The only people who call her “Wendy” are family (Wendy was her nickname until she turned 6!), singer Wayne Newton, a client and longtime friend who resides in a world of his own, and the good president. Wendeen couldn’t bring herself to correct thepresident!
There was good reason that President Obama resonated deeply with his audience. He offered simple and sage advice to attendees on how to thrive in our complicated world. He said, “I tell my girls, “Be kind and be useful.” Wendeen is grateul for his perspective.
On the occasion of President Obama’s third State of the Union address, I was privileged to be in attendance and witness his ongoing metamorphosis from community organizer and novice power broker, to compelling orator and worldly statesman. President Obama insured that all of the optics were aligned–for his fellow Americans and his global viewers.
Uncharacteristically, he put the brake on his penchant for off-putting frequent references to “MY administration,” using the phrase very sparingly–maybe only once. Instead he chose more unifying and inclusive words, generously, and for emphasis invoked “my fellow Americans” twice. “No Drama Obama “was at his best, in a low steady voice filled with controlled passion. He just left to the side contrived political fanfare.
The uniqueness of the occasion was duly noted by media, beforehand–noting both his august office and the imposing lectern at which the president gave his no nonsense and no big news speech. Mr. Obama opened with a matter of fact, “Good evening,” and moved into his subject briskly. His voice conveyed his position of authority while reflecting a strong undercurrent of multi-layered emotion, maybe not so different from a vast cross section of the American public
Terrorist threats produce a powder keg of emotion as dangerous as the threat of an attack. The president seemed mindful of his listeners, apparently aware of eroding approval and growing skepticism about his bona fides to deal effectively in complicated foreign affairs issues. He addressed his listeners across the country as participants to be persuaded rather than as subjects expected to tolerate a blind “father knows best” policy. Indeed, he connected more and pontificated less, than usual and there was a noticeable absence of his oft spoken colloquial pronunciation of words that end with ing.
He took responsibility for charting the course. But, on this occasion he presented to the world, faith in his team the American people as much as the members of his Administration..
In calling the extremists “thugs, killers and a death cult,” the president summarized succinctly the sentiments of most of the world–across political parties and social classes. These were his most powerful and penetrating words of the evening. In contrast at his recent post-president appearance, Mr Obama makes clear he remains resolute, but he is more rested.
Note: An earlier version of this article appeared timely to his 3rd State of the Union Address.
At a time when Las Vegas is all abuzz about the implications of Steve Wynn’s fall from grace, I am reminded both of his rise as a visionary who brought a glitzy casino into the Wild West downtown section of Las Vegas and his homerun in recruiting World Series of Poker Champion, Bobby Baldwin, as an executive. Wynn took Baldwin up the corporate ladder to the positi9n of president of the Golden Nugget.
Well schooled in accounting matters and people reading skills, Baldwin went on to become president of Mirage Resorts, Wynn’s first property on the famous Las Vegas Strip. He then moved onward and upward to Wynn’s next crown jewel, Bellagio, before joining the C-Suite of the behemoth MGM Company, where Wynn’s arch rival, Terry Lani, was the CEO.
When MGM, took aim at the Wynn properties and acquired them– lock, stock, and barrel, Baldwin remained a winner, convincing Lanni to send him up a higher corporate ladder in the MGM infrastructure.
Wynn was forced into a sale, taking a pretty penny and a non-compete agreement that put him off the casino- building grid for years. But once freed from his non compete shackles, Wynn was back in the saddle. he built a new spectacular resort and recognized, once again as an incredibly effective casino visionary–with plenty of political clout.
And then came an all too familiar jolt of late– a powerful man in the crosshairs of allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Last week, Steve Wynn resigned his position of Chair of the National Republican Committee and then as Chairman of the Wynn Hotel and Casino. acknowledging, only, that the accusations lodged against him, had caused a public relations disaster for himself and the properties that bear his name.
For Baldwin — a storied history continues. The late Terri Lanni called Baldwin’s decision strategies “artfully refined over the years,” undoubtedly perfected by paying careful attention at poker tables–where he is still a threat to younger poker wizards.
As a woman who has worked and played in male dominated worlds, including casinos from Las Vegas to Macau, I have learned that even in the last bastions of rugged male chauvinism there are good role models as well as bad ones to be found.
I have known Steve Wynn casually for more than 30 years-well enough to share a few group meals and work together on a couple of charity dinners in Las Vegas; not well enough to have any personal clue about his alleged sexual improprieties with the Company’s massage therapists–some of whom worked on my ever -aching feet. I have had a bit more personal experience with Bobby Baldwin–enough to know that I was very fortunate to make his acquaintance.
By the looks of the first poker table I visited (in downtown Las Vegas), I suspected that it would be “slim pickins'” to find a few good men! Baldwin turned out to be one of many poker pros who has taught me crucial negotiating skills through the power of keen observation.
My early on poker friend, “Suds,” a successful businessman and an elite poker player, introduced me to Bobby Baldwin. I instantly took the measure of the man as smart, well-mannered, focused, skeptical, determined, and– a skilled “people reader. He exuded inner confidence.
I don’t know Bobby Baldwin well, but I certainly have experienced his winning ways. At the Grand Prix of Poker–way back in 1985, we were both invited to play in the “Super Bowl of Poker Charity Invitational. Bobby crippled me –early in the proceedings. He played a pair of sevens as if they were Aces–because he knew I would fold to his big raise! And then he toughened me up by warning me to hunker down and study how best to play each hand. Bobby Baldwin’s sage words have proven applicable, everywhere!
Baldwin has the world on a string!
While I held on long enough to reach the final table, my hours there were short and less than sweet. Bobby eventually knocked me out in fifth place, taking advantage of another moment of inexcusable distraction on my part. I tracked Bobby down to thank him for the thrashing and promised to take his words to heart.
The high profile C-Suite executive of MGM and former winner of the World Series of Poker Championship had already begun his rapid trajectory to the top of the corporate ladder, before I met him, noting, “The only difference between the poker room and the boardroom is the shape of the table.”
Weeks after our Grand Prix encounters, we met up at a formal charity event in Las Vegas. He complimented my gown and then kidded me, about being distracted at the final table of the Grand Prix, whispering, “It pays to watch hands when you are not in them.”
Following Bobby’s suggestion, I began to approach card tables and conference tables with more focus, determined to prove I was not one of those people with the attention span of a gnat!
I created exercises to improve overall sensory perception, and learned the high value of awareness of people’s speech and silence–both at the poker table and in business meetings. As I developed these skills, I made more confident analyses of risk -reward ratios, and I found myself in fewer jams–everywhere.
Master dealmakers are distinguishable t by their people-reading expertise and negotiating savvy. Bobby’s advice resonated deeply with me. I learned, slowly and methodically how to improve my attentiveness. If I had to guess how Bobby Baldwin came to hold the world on a string, I would make a ladylike wager that his secret “sauce” is his power of concentration and attention to facts and behavior that others miss regularly. He also holds his cards very close to the vest.
Decades after Steve Wynn’s Grand Prix Poker Charity Tournament, I was visiting the late Terri Lanni, former Chairman of MGM. By this time, Bobby Baldwin had become president of MGM. He popped into Terri’s office and joined us for a casual chat. I reminded him of the long ago poker confrontations, while attempting to convince him I was no easy target anymore. He smiled agreeably, but gave no hint as to his own conclusion.
The New Year had gotten off to a good start; an eclectic group of business and public service projects was on the boards. And then came an offer Wendeen could not refuse; an invitation to participate in a live poker game to be televised on CBS Sports.
The player roster was as eclectic as any she had ever seen; lawyers, poker pros, a movie reviewer, and James Woods, the MIT educated actor, were on the list.
Some 15 Years ago Wendeen and Jimmy struck up an acquaintanceship at a poker tournament in California, each intrigued by the other’s connection to NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Jimmy had played Rudy in the movie of the same name. Wendeen had played a role in Giuliani’s run for Mayor and had served as a special advisor to him on City Hall Affairs.
The years flew by with occasional crossing of paths, a dinner here a poker date there. But in the upcoming Poker Night In America show they sit next to each other for most of the day–hemming and hawing about their respective holdings and mugging for the camera as reacquainted friends.
It is a tradition! Sharon and Wendeen celebrate the holiday season, sharing their love for Manhattan; restaurants, theater, museums, and, the must see Alvin Ailey dance company. The joy of Ailey’s longtime signature piece, Revelations, never runs out of joy.
Last weekend Ailey paired Revelations with the beautiful new Odetta, a tribute to the legendary folk singer, at the Saturday matinee–a tip Sharon bestowed on Wendeen. And Wendeen returned the favor, tipping off Sharon, an avid civil rights activist to the impassioned, riveting choreography that explodes before your eyes in the dance company’s timely offering of “Uprising.”
The two sisters continue their family time celebration over the Chanukah and Christmas holidays, taking in great food for thought.
At the annual World Series of Poker the business of the industry is as much the talk of the town as the daily WSOP events themselves.
It is the meeting ground of everyone who is anyone in the poker world. That notably includes Rich Muny, Vice President of Player Relations for The Poker Players Alliance. Here at the Rio in the quiet corridor before the crowds arrive, Wendeen and Rich meet up to chat about the latest rumblings in Washington on online’s gaming future in America.