Honestly, I don’t recall the sequence of events that led to $110,000 being in the pot. But I remember that most of the money in the pot previously belonged to Tkachuk and me. In some games of Guts, there is a “maximum burn,” meaning no matter how much money is in the pot, a loser won’t pay more than a predetermined limit. At that point, we didn’t have a “maximum burn” in our game. Because of that, I expected most of the players to “drop” rather than risk putting $110,000 in the pot. Even if you are earning millions, it’s hard not to blink in the face of a risk of losing more than a hundred grand. Nervous laughter filled the back of the plane as the pile of cash and IOUs sat on the table. With that amount of money in play, the game suddenly seemed far crazier than it had seemed 15 minutes before.
Given my personality, you know I had to go in. When the call was made to declare our intentions, there was only one other player holding a coin. It was Big Walt. That created a buzz in the back of the plane, because everyone realized instantly that one of us was going to have to put $110,000 in the pot. Remember, loser has to match the pot. Big Walt and I looked at each other with forced grins that said neither of us was happy to be in this position. Neither one of us wanted to show our hand. I’m not sure either of us was breathing at that point. The insanity of this confrontation was clear to both of us. Our “friendly” poker game had become dangerous; it was a threat to team harmony, to friendships and probably to marriages.
“Do you want to just split the pot?” Tkachuk offered. “Yes,” I said.
I think both of us exhaled at that point. Guys were complaining as Big Walt divided up the money. They protested that the game should be continuing with another $110,000 in the pot. But the grousing didn’t last long because in their hearts they knew Big Walt had made the proper decision for a variety of reasons. First, Tkachuk and I had fuelled that pot by losing previous hands. It wasn’t as if we were going home with $55,000 profit. Second, Tkachuk and I were the only likely participants for pots this size. It wasn’t in the team’s best interest for their two prominent players to be facing off for that much money. Third, everyone understood that we had no business playing for that much money in this setting. It was daring to play for $25,000; it was irresponsible to be playing for $110,000.
Finally, the unrest died quickly because Big Walt was a highly respected leader. Once he decided that splitting the pot was the right course of action, no one was going to argue with him. Everyone always looked to Big Walt to make the right decision.
After that hand, we decided to dial back the stakes of the games. We instituted a maximum burn limit. My observation is that that $110,000 pot shocked us all back to reality. We decided to move to safer ground. The poker game continued, but we were all more keenly aware of the line that shouldn’t be crossed. We never again ended up with that much money in a pot.
What you probably really want to know is who would have won that hand. Yes, after we agreed to split the pot, Big Walt and I did compare hands. Big Walt would have won with four of a kind. I had a full house. I would have been on the hook for $110,000.
— Jeremy Roenick, in his book J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey