Roasting John Bonetti

"If he was my son, I woulda killed him when he was three."
--John Bonetti
on his protege

For all the things the online poker world has given the game, it lacks one simple thing. In the ethereal online realm, there are no real characters like John Bonetti. For that, many a dealer and fellow player would likely exhale in sublime relief. But for the folks who love poker as much for the characters it generates as the money it brings in, there are few people who can rival Bonetti for the sheer number of stories and profanities he provides.

John Bonetti

As the 2005 World Series of Poker broke for dinner, a crowd filed into the Palma Room of the Rio. The younger generation of road gamblers may not have understood the sign on the door. The might not have understood why and the grizzled veterans of the game wanted to roast the 77-year-old poker veteran. They might not have understood why the event was rated a strict NC-17.

The sign on the door would've said it all...if it could've out-talked Bonetti

For those who are unfamilair with Bonetti, he's a mutliple WSOP bracelet-holder with a reputation for such vituperative dealer and player abuse that Binion's Tony Shelton joked (at least I think he was joking) that a cabal of his contemporaries once conspired to poison Bonetti, but the killer drink wouldn't work.

"Not only is he brutal, vulgar, and has the manners of a water buffalo," Shelton said, "the son of a bitch is indestructible."

Bonetti laughs at his own expense

Like any good roast, the flavor of the night was bitter, and quite frankly, hilarious. An all-star line-up of gambling and poker pros spent the specially-extended dinner break handing out decades of Bonetti stories and taking the man to task for the years he's spent wishing dealers' eyes to fall out.

In short, it was payback time.

Shelton, Mike Sexton, Richard Sklar, Max Shapiro, Mike Lang, Phil Hellmuth, PokerStars' Dan Goldman, and a group of other special guests laid out barb after barb. Sexton said there's a good reason Bonetti and Hellmuth get along so well. "They have their own private ass-kissing club," Sexton said. "Nobody likes either of them."

Phil Hellmuth

Dan Goldman roasts Bonetti, offering the story of Bonetti cursing an Aruban video poker machine. "I can't believe I'm getting f#$%in' cold decked by a video poker machine."

Nolan Dalla welcomes the crowd

Standing room only at the John Bonetti Roast

Richard Sklar, falling over at Bonetti's antics

Max Shapiro

Oklahoma Johnny Hale

For all the speech-writing and preparation that went into the event, few can rival Bonetti for extemporaneous abuse. He's built his life and reputation on it. And so when it came time for him to speak, he gave it back tenfold. Two of my favorites:

  • On Phil Hellmuth's nine WSOP bracelets: "What are they? Eight inches long? He could string them all together and wear them as a headband."

  • On Sexton's World Poker Tour commentary, Bonetti said Sexton has a full six months to figure out how the players should've played their hands..."And then he still needs Vince Van Patten to help him figure it out."

    While most people who have encountered Bonetti will have a horrible story to tell, there are those who tell a different story. There are those who tell stories of Bonetti's backing them in tournaments and taking them under his wing in hard times. There are those who claim to know a heart underneath the ugliness. There are those who say Bonetti is a good man. And, oddly, I think they mean it.

    As the evening wound to a close, PokerStars' Dan Goldman pulled from his pocket something that any WSOP player would recognize. Just a bit bigger than an index card, with a black strip across the back, it was impossible to mistake. Goldman pulled the ticket from his pocket and handed it to Bonetti. The man who is not unfamiliar with backing players stood and received his free buy-in to the World Series of Poker Main Event. Unlike Bonetti, PokerStars won't be sweating the veteran and taking him to the woodshed if he misplays J2 under the gun.

  • Bonetti reacts as he's handed his WSOP main event ticket

    Ultimately, the abuse in the Palma Room had to end. After all, there was a little tournament going on in the next room. Surely, Bonetti could find someone to abuse there.

    For a man who has built his reputation on vicious verbal attacks, it was little surprise he called this evening of brutality, "the happiest day of his life."

    Brad Willis
    @BradWillis in World Series of Poker