I’m happy whenever there’s table talk at a poker table, unless it’s about politics or religion, which devolve too quickly into heated disagreements and an ugly tone. Otherwise, the topics can vary widely, from a sporting event on a nearby TV to a recent road trip to the hand that won the bad beat jackpot last week. Quite often, someone will tell a story that reminds someone else of a related story that reminds yet another person of something similar, and before long, we’re all involved.

That’s what happened the other night when someone told a tale about the most disgusting thing he’d seen at a poker table. It involved a guy who took off his sandals, propped a foot up on the table, and proceeded to cut his toenails. I’m all for maintaining good grooming, but that’s the sort of thing best taken care of in the sanctity of your own home, not in public.

Next, someone brought up an experience we’ve all had — sitting next to a player who stinks. I don’t mean they’re bad at poker. I mean they’re bad at hygiene, as though they avoid soap and water the way an Orthodox Jew avoids a ham sandwich. Like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoons, they must not be aware of the stench surrounding them, although everyone else is. This is particularly a problem in tournaments, where you’re assigned a seat and have to stay in it until your table breaks or you’re eliminated, while in cash games, you can get up and move to an open seat at your table or to another game, if necessary, to avoid an olfactory assault.

About five years ago, I complained to a floor supervisor about the insultingly aromatic guy next to me. Fortunately, the floor man knew how to handle this tactfully, asking Pepe Le Pew to step away from the game for a conversation that resulted in him picking up his chips and leaving the casino. The dealer, who was in the other chair adjacent to the offender, leaned over and thanked me, saying he had been breathing through one side of his mouth because of the stench.

But neither of those comes close to the most disgusting thing I’ve witnessed at a poker game.

In the early years of this century, before the no-limit-hold-em boom began, the wildest games in St. Louis were limit-hold-em with $20/40 stakes at the President Casino on The Admiral, a big ship converted to a full-time casino and docked permanently next to the Gateway Arch. The $20/40 game went on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, with a smaller $15/30 game on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was not unusual to have four tables running with a long list, particularly on the weekends. The games were ultra-juicy, and I was there at least three nights a week.

One of the players was a crusty old SOB named Eddie, the kind of guy who hadn’t been happy since the doctor slapped him on the day he was born. Eddie complained regularly about everything, including the fact that he never won. One of the other players, Tony (at the time arguably the best poker player in town) encouraged Eddie’s sour demeanor by requesting the seat next to him and then mumbling things that Eddie couldn’t quite hear, which only irritated him even more. Because he had bad eyesight, Eddie refused to sit in an end seat and would berate anyone who didn’t let him sit closer to the center. Because we wanted Eddie in the game (for his chips, not his attitude), most of us accommodated him by letting him take either the one seat or the ten seat, putting him on either side of the dealer.

On the night in question, Eddie had been there for an hour or two, grumbling and losing. Suddenly, the woman who was dealing jumped up and shouted very loudly, “What the hell?” This got the attention of everyone in the room, which instantly went silent. Horrified, she looked down at the floor, then at Eddie, as she yelled at him, “Did you just piss on me?”

Sure enough, rather than get up and go to the men’s room to relieve himself, Eddie had unzipped under the table, pulled out his junk, and released a stream of urine onto the floor — and the dealer’s leg. He tried to deny it, but there was no other possible explanation. Besides, the jerk’s fly was still open.

Put yourself in this woman’s place. All she did that day was go to work, hoping to earn enough tips to make the job worthwhile . On occasion, she might have to put up with a player berating her over a bad beat or for other reasons (read my earlier piece for examples), but there was usually no physical risk in tossing cards and pushing chips. She certainly didn’t expect some guy to spray his liquid waste on her leg!

As the dealer continued to yell at Eddie, two floor guys and a security officer ran over, heard her explanation for the ruckus, and immediately escorted Eddie out of the room and off the boat, never to return. Then they told us that the game could not continue at that table because the whole area had to be cleaned. Fortunately, there was an empty one not far away, so we all moved there — except for the dealer, who went to get the Essence Of Eddie off her pants, shoes, and skin, and then fill out some paperwork. She didn’t return for the rest of her shift, but was back a couple of days later, when her shift was filled with poker players commiserating with her over what had happened.

Naturally, even before the advent of social media, the news of the incident spread through the St. Louis poker community within minutes. Almost as quickly, the gallows humor kicked in:

  • “The flop and turn were fine, but the river was really bad!”
  • “I’ve seen a dealer put out a wet board, but that’s ridiculous!”
  • “I’m wearing boots when I play from now on!”

And, of course, this:

  • “I’ve seen people pissed off at a poker table, but never pissed on!”