Would you believe a man died from confusion while playing a complicated variation of poker?
Chinese poker is not the most popular game in casino culture in the West. Still, the unusual variation of the famous card game has been at the center of a recent controversy involving a mildly intoxicated man’s demise. What was supposed to be a game of fun and excitement quickly took a tragic turn for the worst.
With a human life lost to the immense complexities of the game, lawmakers are undecided on who is liable. Should the casino be held responsible? Are the ancient origins of Chinese poker to blame, and if so, how can we persecute its makers? Or is it those who popularized recent formats of Chinese poker the ones to hold accountable for the death of an innocent man?
Bright Lights and Bar Snacks
It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. Not an unusual time for a man to stumble half-drunk into a popular Las Vegas casino. Like so many others, the bright lights drew him in from the streets. Free $5 bet. Free drinks token on sign up. Is this place even real?
It seemed like a haven to the flocks of tourists and locals who never left the city, either through choice or other circumstances. When the bars were too rowdy, and it all seemed like too much, the sophisticated yet welcoming atmosphere of a casino never did go amiss. When Tony Gauntlet entered the doors of the casino, he could never have guessed what was about to happen to him.
That night, observers and witnesses filed different reports. Some said that Gauntlet seemed happy and relaxed and was having a good time, enjoying his favorite games. Others said he seemed restless, in search of decent Texas Hold ‘em cash games that he could exploit, which were missing from the poker rooms given that the number of tables keeps decreasing.
The most reliable of witnesses saw Gauntlet sitting at the slots for hours, occasionally placing coins and pressing buttons, even less often scooping wins and printing tickets to exchange for cash.
After he had exhausted his supply of quarters, Gauntlet had gone in search of a more sociable game. He had tossed chips around on the roulette tables for a while, laughing and joking with other players as they shared the ups and downs of life on the spin of a wheel and the rest of a ball. His mood was high at that point.
“I remember seeing a man really enjoying himself at the tables. He wasn’t splashing the cash or anything. In a way, he seemed humble. He was rooting for everyone else’s bet, getting the other players involved,” said Susan Skatter, a roulette player who shared a table with Gauntlet moments before he met his end.
It was shortly after this point that Tony Gauntlet went in search of a poker game. He was a known Texas Hold ‘em player and liked that the game involved his mind as well as being sociable. After sobering up a little, he felt ready, but he was too late to buy-in to tournaments, and the cash games that night seemed to have a specific theme: they were all Chinese poker.
“Roulette is more my thing.”
The rules of Chinese poker are only simple if you already know them!
Other players noticed Gauntlet sitting down at a table wearily. Witnesses said he looked unsure of the game and didn’t appear to know the rules of Chinese poker, but the dealer reassured him that he could sit down and give it a try and that there were others like him who had never played the game before.
The first hurdle came during the starting hand. Gauntlet expected to be dealt two cards face down. He was dealt five face up. He was given one more card and told to arrange his hand. With his head likely spinning at this point, Gauntlet carried on. He looked around the table and copied the pattern of cards that other players seemed to be making.
By the end of the hand and with no betting taking place at all, Gauntlet looked down at a random arrangement of cards. He didn’t know whether he had won or not until the dealer declared that he had “fouled” his hands, and therefore, had to pay out to other players. Confused but determined to gain an understanding, he continued.
A few hands later, Gauntlet had fluked a couple of points and voided more hands. That was the moment he turned to another player, known locally as Strict Jim, and declared, “I think roulette is more my kind of game!”
It’s at that moment that police believe Gauntlet’s life could have been saved. Sensing his discomfort and confusion, the dealer, players and casino bosses could have done more to respond, but instead, Gauntlet was left to his own devices and continued to wrap himself in a spiral of confusion and dismay.
One Hand Too Many
The situation worsened when someone told Gauntlet the rules of the game. He learned that you must make three separate hands, one three-card hand, and two five-card hands and that the hand strengths had to run from weakest to strongest so that the best hand was on the bottom.
Gauntlet was found at 2:36 a.m. in the bathroom of the casino. His mind seemed to have caved in, though the autopsy should reveal more information. His family will be glad to know that there are worse ways to die than playing Chinese poker. At least he died doing a weird version of what he loved. Hopefully, that gives them peace of mind.
Speaking to the Vegas papers, Gauntlet’s best friend said, “It was too much for Tony. His brain was wired up to deal with Texas Hold ‘em, a game which gives players two cards in their hand and five cards shared on the board. There is betting in Hold ‘em, and the strategy is completely different. Tony is a regular gamer, but he should have known that Chinese poker is a whole different fiasco. It’s a different game dammit, a different game (*breaks down).”
Tony Gauntlet’s death has raised several issues in the community. Should card games be allowed to travel freely across borders? Is more education needed to integrate card games into new communities? Is it down to the individual to learn and understand each game before they play it? So many questions, so few answers.