Willie Nelson's Home Game5 years ago
When I read last year about the World Series of Poker car park being a favorite hangout of the pot-smoking part of the poker pro fraternity, the idea of getting stoned and playing poker seemed far-fetched to me.
Outside of college-dorm poker nights, surely a wasted brain and a winning night on the felt are an unlikely combination? Well apparently, not if country music legend Willie Nelson’s poker games are anything to go by!
The 83-year old has apparently combined a “supernatural” tolerance for weed with a life-long passion for poker and hosts his own poker nights in his oceanfront pad in Maui, attracting famous names to his Hawaii hideaway.
Woody Harrelson is one celebrity who has discovered, to his cost ($40,000 apparently!), that Nelson can not only smoke his guests under the table, but also wipe them out on top of it! Actors Luke and Owen Wilson and fellow country legends Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson have also been taken to the cleaners by the wily ‘outlaw country' music star.
Nelson’s poker and weed antics have even made their way into country music lyrical legend. Coolmaterial.com related last year’s FarmAid set by Jack Johnson, who had penned a tribute to Nelson, one of the events organizers, which ran:
Willie got me stoned and took all my money
I was 50 dollars up and then my mind went funny
It didn’t really help that I didn’t know the rules of the game
And it probably didn’t help that I couldn’t remember my name
After Willie got me stoned and took all of my cash
One high-low split and then he kicked my ass.”
Nelson’s remarkable career has brought him millions of dollars through tours and record sales – and with his famous neighbours also being wealthy beyond most of our wildest dreams – the infamous weed-filled home games are almost always high-stakes cash-only affairs. Debts must be paid on the spot in cold hard cash, and even close-neighbour Harrelson had to pay his $40K in greenbacks before he could leave Nelson’s home!
“Friend or foe, debts must be paid, and reports are some games have become heated over the years because of these stipulations,” is how Coolmaterial.com’s Mike Newman described it in his piece on Nelson. And the chances of a stoned Nelson forgetting a debt because of the weed are slimmer than the neck of his well-worn Martin-N20 guitar ‘Trigger’.
Rapper Snoop Dogg claims that Nelson is the only man who ever smoked him under the table in the joint stakes, and when the country outlaw had to make a choice between his 3-packs a day cigarette addiction or his love of weed, the ‘high’ won out. Toby Keith, another star of the country music scene, was even inspired to write his hit song “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again,” after a lengthy smoking session in Texas.
So where did the poker in Nelson’s life come from? Well, it’s a long-standing affair – Nelson playing it as far back as the 1950’s – and he even met his long-time musical companion, the recently departed Merle Haggard, during a game in 1963. When Haggard was interviewed last year by GQ magazine, the chat inevitably turned to poker:
"Willie and I met in a poker game in 1963 or ‘64, and we’ve always loved to play poker and we play poker every chance we get,” said Haggard, although he can’t remember who exactly has come out on top over their many years together on the road.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember any crippling event in either direction—we both played pretty good,” he says – although one big hand stood out in his memory from their album recording poker sessions:
Oh, he had a good hand. He had a full house, of small cards, a small full house, and I had two big pair, and I bet him $500 and he raised me $500,” recalled Haggard laughing. “I’m a good loser, you know. You’re going to lose if you play poker—you’re gonna lose once in awhile. You can’t win every hand.”
The famous Nelson insistence on hard dollars rather than IOU’s were confirmed by Haggard:
Oh yeah, we play in cash. There’s no checks,” he stated emphatically, before turning his thoughts to Nelson’s style of poker playing. “You can’t bluff Willie Nelson because he calls every goddamned bet. He’s predictable—you can bet your ass he’s going to call you. I think he would probably be described as an aggressive player. He plays all the way through. He goes all the way to the end of the hand.”
On their combined love of the game, and the difficulty of facing an aggressive opponent such as Willie Nelson he states:
Well, poker is a game of the mind, you know—it’s not necessarily the cards. When you have somebody that calls every hand, it really changes things around. You have to reconsider.”
Although Haggard is no longer with us – a painful loss which Nelson feels deeply – the poker games are still a huge part of Nelson’s unorthodox lifestyle. Seventy years of smoking weed and almost as many playing guitar and cards have marked him out as a legend in many different ways.
When basketball coach Don Nelson commissioned his own Nelson home game painting from John Woodruff, it depicted a poker game surrounded by friends and celebrities – a bright and breezy view of the life and times of a poker, pot, and people pro – with Nelson taking centre-stage as he has done his whole life.
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