06:15:21 am on
Thursday 25 Jul 2024

Playing with a Poka Face
David Simmonds

A Frankford musician and poker novice has won a $2.5 million winner take all tournament in Las Vegas.

Walter Wrstylnkw is lead tuba player in "Wally W and the Walleyes", a fixture on the eastern Ontario ompah circuit.

Wrstlnkw ("usual pronunciation of the last name, but just call me Wally") tells the unbelievable story this way.

"We were on the way to MIlwaukee for a Schmenge Brothers tribute concert, and the radio signal started to drift. But we were certain we heard a station from Nevada advertising a 'giant winner take all polka tournament - come to Brutus' Castle this weekend - $2.5 million on the line, only $25 entry fee'."

"Me and the boys couldn't resist. We hadn't a clue what the musical rules were, but we have a pretty large repertoire, we are quick on our feet, and we do some great novelty numbers. I can make the tuba fart like a cow, and our clarinet player can make a duck sound - in fact, he sounds like a duck most of the time, come to think of it". So we thought - what the heck, you only live once, Milwaukee isn't going anywhere fast, let's head for Vegas."

"We were a little puzzled when we arrived at the hotel. We expected to see bands from all across the continent. But the only guests we saw were emaciated looking 24 year olds with dark glasses and hoodies."

"Turns out we had made a slight hearing error. So we did the logical thing: we adapted to the situation. We offered to play the closing banquet - for nothing. I told them our version of Beer Barrel Polka would leave Celine Dion's version in the dust."


"Let's just say the hotel manager couldn't wait to get us out of his office. And to get us out quickly he offered us a complimentary seat at the tournament."


"Now, none of us play poker, but we drew straws and I won. So I called the wife back home in Frankford and she started teaching herself poker online. The next morning, she phoned back and gave me the basic theory. And i just stuck to a simple system: only bet a hand if you're given two red cards with pictures. And that got me to the final table."


We challenged Wally more sharply. Luck and a simple strategy can't take you to the very pinnacle. There has to be a little more to it than that.

Wally narrowed his eyes and grinned mischievously. "Well, there were a few other little tricks - all perfectly legal. To begin with, if you play polka music you are a little like a synchronized swimmer - you smile all the time. I think it rattled the other players to see an expression of positive emotion. And since I didn't really know what a good or bad hand was, I had no emotional reaction to try to suppress. So they couldn't read me."

"And frankly, i think they found my Lederhosen a distraction as well. Oh, and every time I won a hand, I counted my chips aloud, 'and a one, and a two, and a three....' They couldn't stand that.

Was that it?

"Well, there is a little bit more," acknowledged Wally. "You can't bring food to the table, but there's no rule against eating before you play, and it's not my fault if I happen to spill the contents of a bratwurst and sauerkraut sandwich on my shirt. I think seeing and smelling the entrails threw their concentration off."

"And one last thing, me and the boys are getting on a bit: polka is not young people's music. And I got talking to the janitor - turns out he's about my age, from the Midwest and a big Walter Ostanek fan.

He couldn't stand all these young whippersnapper poker millionaires, with their rap music, chip clinking, mumbling and lousy tipping. So, by some strange coincidence, the hallway elevator music was switched to polka and it was just loud enough to seep through into the room we were playing in."

And before he knew it, Wally was the last man standing. All of a sudden he was a celebrity. But nobody took him up on his offer to have the boys play some western polka at the presentation ceremony. The hotel did generously offer to gas up the band's van to help ease their way out of town.

So what will Wally do with his winnings? "That's easy," he replied. "New instruments and outfits for the boys. A new van so we can take our wives to Milwaukee for the next Schmenge Brothers reunion. Stock the freezer with bratwurst. And then go to a top studio and record a surefire hit CD - ' Banned in Vegas'."


The British writer Auberon Waugh once accepted a trip to Africa to give a talk on breast-feeding. "I spent days researching the subject and said all the usual things. You know, that it's thought to be the best thing and all that." And? "They interrupted and stopped me half-way. I subsequently discovered I should have been talking about press freedom."

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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