Quieter moments around the poker table are rare when the spirited group of friends regularly gather for poker at Great Island’s Overlook Clubhouse. Above the din of poker chips being tossed and stacked or cards as they’re shuffled, dealt, and flipped, uproarious laughter and ongoing banter flows freely.
“It’s the best $5 you can spend!” says John Pizzorusso, or simply Pizzo, as he’s known on poker nights.
Early into the evening after one of the first rounds, Bobby Commito aka "The Snake” or "Bobby Jesus", due to his general overuse of the word, wins and is quickly heckled: “No wonder you don't have any friends!” Someone belts out before Pizzo explains they usually give Bobby Jesus the kiss of death by saying it’s going to be his night. It doesn’t usually work, though, as The Snake regularly emerges on top. Pizzo regrets, “It hasn’t been my night in months.”
They rib each other throughout any given hand as they play Texas hold 'em, one of the most popular variants of the card game of poker, and I learned that no one really goes by their real name: beyond Pizzo and Bobby Jesus, meet Jon Gilbert, or The Assasin; Greg Hayward, the quiet force called Legend; Paul Sullivan, known as simply Sully; Dave, a naive new inductee who is already nicknamed The Newbie; Tag who is known to be a troublemaker and the one rumored to have who started it all; and more.
When Covid ceased their gatherings, Pizzo, who they also call The Yorker and is chided endlessly for his accent and for his “poor taste” in sports teams, explains how members shifted to online play via Poker Stars to stay connected – it was during their virtual play when nicknames emerged and have since stuck. Back together in the clubhouse, a fairly dedicated core group of players meets several times a month, according to Carole Savino, who has been – until very recently – the one and only female player for the past three years and who, by all accounts, holds her own. For the most part, everyone gets along in the spirit of the game but not without colorful expressions. It seems when Carole’s at the table, the guys strive to keep it cleaner, she says: “but only marginally.”
When asked how she tolerates the often brash fellas Carole retorts, “that’s a loaded question,” but goes on to explain how the guys have been extremely welcoming to her as a female player. It doesn’t hurt that Carole admits she loves a challenge after growing up playing cards in a big, competitive family. In sales for 30+ years in the male-dominated publishing industry, she usually found herself among one of few females at any given time: “I love a challenge – did I mention that? I love developing my strategy, I love to grow, and I love to win!”
A recent newcomer, Sandy, heeded the call put out for new players and rejoined as a return player after many years away from the game. She seems to handle the group with ease, recalling she was there with Tag when he started it all – 18-20 years ago, depending on who you ask – alongside Sully, Legend, and Pizzo. She’s garnered a few wins recently and you may recognize her license plate which bears her nickname: The Joker.
By the end of the night, winners emerge. Multiple tables will merge into one as players drop out after losing all their chips, of course.Tuesday and Friday play will yield a winner maybe $30-40, while Wednesday’s $20 initial investment in the “Big Game” may bring an individual player $100 or more. Of course any winnings tend to disperse back out to the group in the form of pizza.
Tom MolinoIsums up his experience after joining about 4 or 5 years ago: “I’ve come to the conclusion that whether you’re an experienced poker player or a novice you can’t win if you don’t get the cards. A big part of the game is luck. There are lucky days and unlucky days but either way everyone has the chance to be a winner.” Tom is known for his wit amongst the other players though, he says, “you take a fair amount of abuse with this group!”
All in good fun, another player – The Assasin – says, perhaps ironically: “We check our guns at the door.”
“It’s easy money,” someone calls out, though most aren’t here for the cash. Make no mistake, everyone wants to win – your name on the leaderboard is considered a high honor – but the players come for the
“The group is tough but tight” says Carole who clarifies that if she needed anything, she feels certain the group would step up. “They are a great bunch of guys, they rag on one another but come back for more, most of the time.” She credits three characteristics ofthe players who last at Great Island’s Texas Hold’em club: patience, perseverance, and persistence.
“He goes comatose when you raise, you know that!” Tag reminds the table, keeping everyone in line like the leader he remains when a player grumbles over another who is caught stalling their turn. He reiterates that they believe the more the merrier makes for a good game, that they always seek new players, and that newcomers need not be intimidated. Brandishing his wit once more:
“Don’t feel bad, nobody else here really knows how to play, either!”
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