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Every year in March, Manny Rose visits Las Vegas. He goes there not to gamble, nor even to watch the shows and sun himself by the pool. No, Manny Rose goes to Las Vegas to play gin rummy, a nice cozy game of gin rummy with only about 700 other cardplayers, all of whom would rather play than breathe. This is the annual Las Vegas gin rummy tournament, a high-stakes game for high-stakes players. Manny Rose had played in the tournament six times before, and he had never won. But two weeks ago, on his seventh try, Rose won the big pot, $20,565.
There were 740 players in the tournament this year, carpenters, film producers, truckers and salesmen from Pennsylvania, Utah, Mexico and California. Each paid a $100 entry fee to play the game. Manny Rose, who is a stockbroker from Sherman Oaks, Calif., flew to Las Vegas with his wife Marilyn. He had made no special preparation for the tournament, simply following his normal routine of weekend gin rummy at his country club and an occasional friendly game with the wife.
For two days Rose and the other contestants, scattered throughout 10 Las Vegas hotels, played 16 games of gin rummy each, 200 points a game. Gin is played straight in Vegas: no bonus for each box, no doubling of points if the up card is a spade. The four players from each hotel with the best won-lost records qualified for the final round of 40. Manny Rose had a 13-3 record, qualifying easily.
From 40 the group was pared to 32, then halved to 16. That's when William Singer was discovered. Tournament officials are always on guard against the pro. Card detectives prowl the playing rooms, looking for mechanics," listening for the telltale break in the rhythm of shuffling and dealing that indicates a dishonest dealer is at work. On registering for the tournament, each contestant must declare that he has not been employed in a Las Vegas gaming house during the last five years. William Singer was recognized as a man who had worked in a local casino a year and a half ago. Singer protested and later sued, but officials threw him out.
Manny Rose had his closest call in the semifinals when he played a California farmer named Mitford Crinklaw, who once reputedly made a $100,000 bet that it wouldn't rain for 30 days. The Rose-Crinklaw semifinal, one game of 400 points, was close all the way, Crinklaw finally edging into the lead at 391-390. "I wasn't nervous at all," said Rose later. "I just figured the next hand would be it, one way or the other."
Rose picked up three 7s, a king-jack of hearts, two aces, a 2, a 3 and a 9. ' " Queens were discarded early," Rose said. "I drew a jack and kept it. Then I drew another card and, bingo, the queen of hearts had come home. I threw the odd jack and knocked for seven. I think I caught him with about 30 points. I was in the finals."
Rose's opponent in the finals was Phil Tanzini of Los Angeles, owner of a Sunset Strip nightclub known as the Whiskey � GoGo. Tanzini is a member of the famed Beverly Club, best-known gin rummy den in the country. In his semifinal match, Tanzini had picked up a run of good hands and had sailed through Vernon Kleve, a construction worker from Minneapolis, in 25 minutes.
The final was carried on closed-circuit television, the big eye staring impassively at the cards, the players, the table. Marilyn Rose watched the first four hands and then, unable to bear it, paced the hallways for the rest of the game. For a while the score was close, but gradually Rose moved ahead and won easily 505-247.
When it was over, Rose picked up a $12,000 check for winning, plus another $8,565 for his share of a special sweepstakes. Then he and Marilyn got on a plane and flew home. The next day he was back at the country club playing a little gin rummy.