One of the most magnificent pieces of literature ever composed was a simple poem entitled “If” that was published in 1910. It was written by the great wordsmith Rudyard Kipling, and – over the past 100 years -- it has become one of the most memorized poems the modern world has ever known. Even today in England, one line of the poem is inscribed over the player’s entrance at the Wimbledon tennis championships: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same."
The poem, a favorite of fathers everywhere who yearn for their children to seek virtue, is a timeless classic and, personally, my favorite part of the poem has always been the four lines that start the third verse:
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss”
Well, Rudyard Kipling would have loved Ashley Revell, a gambler from England who, several years ago, did exactly that. In a crafty publicity stunt, Revell sold his house, his car, his clothes, his books and all else he held dear to walk into the Plaza Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas and bet the whole thing -- $135,300 -- on just one twist of the roulette wheel.
Actually Revell did the stunt back in 2004 but the story got “new legs” other day amid rumors that some “real life” television series will try to turn the idea into advertising dollars. While I doubt I’ll watch some flamboyant pitchman try to make the TV version interesting, I was impressed by Revell’s moxie and watched an actual YouTube tape of his face as the wheel and his brain were simultaneously spinning.
Ashley’s idea was to bet his entire stake ($135K) on either “red” or “black,” the simplest bet on the table. The odds at winning, once a color is chosen, are about 48-percent since American tables, with 38 colored and numbered pockets, have a zero and double-zero pocket that don’t pay on a color. Ashley picked red; this on a whim just before the spin, and when the wheel stopped the ball was nestled in “7 red.” He pocketed $270,000 – gave the croupier a $600 tip and walked out of the casino. “All or nothing,” he promised, “is the purest bet you can do.”
Later he told reporters, “That was just the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life. The first thing I am going to do is buy some new clothes. It was just wicked. I can't describe my feelings going through that.
“I just wanted to get the bet over with, and know either way,” Ashley said candidly. “I wanted to know. “Obviously, I was feeling lucky, but I just didn't know … The main thing I have learned from all this was that it wasn't really about the money. It's easy for me to say now I have won, of course, but it is important my family and my friends were there to back me up – and, if they weren't there, I wouldn't have risked everything."
While I wouldn’t suggest any else giving the roulette wheel a try, now I know that some people are willing to risk everything they own just to have a chance. And I, like the British Poet Laureate, think that is pretty special.
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IF, by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”