PCA 2014: Doc Jennings doesn't do interviews
Doc Jennings sits alone in the High Stakes cash game area of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure tournament room. He won't let me take his picture, and he won't let me record his voice. I am only given an audience because Terri Auletta, a longtime PCA veteran, makes the introduction.
"I don't do interviews," Jennings says. "I don't know why I'm doing one with you."
This is a curious thing for him to say, because his entire existence in this room is an advertisement, a full-on practice in publicity. He's looking for action, and to get it, he's willing to give poker players the one thing they all want. In fact, he's got several of the prizes right on the felt.
Old school rounders know Jennings as one of the best A-5 lowball (an almost forgotten game in 2014) players in the world. Many new players have never heard of him. Still, that shouldn't be a problem, because famous or not, Jennings has the greatest advertisement of all: a big stack of chips. Thousands of dollars in chips sit in front of him. He has so much money, while we're chatting, he absently knocks two black $100 chips into the floor and barely seems to care where they went. I pick them up and put them on the table, and he barely seems to notice. It's a common problem. No one is noticing. There's the old saying about never playing cards with a man named Doc, and the PCA players are apparently heeding the warning.
And so Doc sits alone with his advertisements spread out in front of him.
See, Doc Jennings wants action, and so he's printed up his own championship bracelets. They are labeled with the stakes he'll play. If you beat him heads-up in a cash game (say, 40-80 limit A-5), he'll give you the bracelet to go along with the money you won. There is a gold bracelet to win if you bust him four times out of seven games.
"Like the World Series of Baseball," he says.
He wears a gold bracelet, his personal symbol of having won one of his own contests. It's all another part of his advertisement for action. There are no bracelets for hold'em. There are no bracelets for Omaha. The only champions in Doc Jennings' world of bracelets are those who play his almost forgotten games.
"I like to show off and entertain," he admits.
A dentist from Fort Smith, Arkansas, Jennings has recorded live tournament results going back to European tournaments from the 1990s and running up through 2009, but he insists cash games are where his heart has always been and where it remains. He's willing to sit and wait for someone to play him. The bracelets are a neon billboard that reads "ACTION HERE," but it's a billboard along a desert highway where people don't drive anymore. It's a lonely existence. He could walk to any table and play a game he doesn't like, but right now, he's chosen to walk a path he truly believes is his destiny.
Doc Jennings came to the Bahamas a few days ago intent on getting some big stakes limit lowball games going here. It's a tough sell in a room full of people who are still nursing at the teat of Texas Hold'em. Jennings showed up on Saturday, but the cash games hadn't started yet. Today's the first day there's been live cash action in the room, and still Jennings isn't getting much of it.
I will be candid with you: when you first meet the man called Doc, it's hard to know what to make of him. He's a deeply religious man with a deep love for poker and an even deeper well of confidence in his ability.
"I'll play anybody. I'll fly to their city," he says.
He speaks with a soft Arkansas drawl I know well as a child of the Ozarks. He talks of playing with Doyle and Puggy and all the other names poker people know well. It's charming in a way you simply don't find in the days of online poker screen names and troll-ish poker forums. He is a true character, the type of man you fully expect is a player in stories told by grizzled old gamblers. Put another way, regardless of whether you know him or know of him, it's very hard to dislike Doc Jennings.
"I'm mostly just famous in my own head," he says. Maybe this is true, but like a lot of the apocryphal poker lore, I have no way of knowing for sure.
What's impossible to ignore, though, is simply how much of an anachronism he is at the PCA. It is the realm of the young poker player. Just feet away sit the likes of young living legends Jason Mercier, Shaun Deeb, and Jennifer Harman, people who know every game but are chin-deep in Open-Face Chinese Poker, a game that has only existed for a few years. Dealers cycle through the box at Jennings' table, but no player comes to sit down during the time we're chatting and for more than an hour afterward. It's as if no one wants to come close for fear of getting the smell of an old game on their clothes.
But someone has.
Jennings admits one of the bracelets has recently gone missing. It's a 40-80 silver band, and it's on the arm of a man not too far away.
"I don't even know the name of that guy," he says.
I do know the guy, and Jennings reads my face for knowing.
"What's his name?" he asks.
"Shaun," I say.
And it's true. Deeb--a legend at the PCA and in the online poker realm--is proudly wearing the bracelet and showing it to fellow legend Mercier. Deeb looks dubiously proud to finally have a bracelet of his own, but the bling is not enough to get Mercier to move over to Doc's table.
And so Doc sits alone. In his heart, he knows he's only meant to play A-5--he literally considers it the equivalent of a spiritual calling--but no one is giving him action.
"I know I should just play ace to five, but I get bored," he says. It's a true internal struggle for a man who knows the path to walk but can't find anyone to walk it with him. He can either hike alone or go another direction he know he'll regret, if not financially, spiritually.
Jennings is quiet for a second and looks across the room. "Maybe I'll just do interviews for the rest of my life." It's a joke, and he laughs to let me know, but it's clear, he's lonely in a way only a card player can be.
"It's alright," he says with a dentist's smile. It's meant to reassure me, but it doesn't.
For all of his "I don't do interviews," Doc Jennings actually is a great talker, maybe even as good as he is at A-5. He's endeared himself to me. He's earned a fan. I find myself returning to the High Stakes area over and over again, each time hoping someone has sat down to try for one of Doc Jennings' bracelets. Nobody does. Nobody wants to play Doc's game.
Some two hours later, I make one last pass and see four high stakes players who have taken seats around Doc Jennings. They are playing 25-50 Omaha. It's an abomination for a disciple of limit lowball poker, and yet there sits my man with his chips in play.
For some reason, it makes me sad. No one will win a Doc Jennings bracelet tonight.
Are the big players avoiding Jennings because he is too tough to beat or because he plays a game they can't deign to play? I don't know that answer either. In fact, I'm not sure I really know anything, because the only sure thing I thought I knew was that Doc Jennings doesn't do interviews.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging