Editor's Note:  Nolan Dalla is one of poker's foremost authorities.  He first attended the WSOP in 1985, has written one of poker's greatest books (One of A Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar, the World's Greatest Poker Player) and has officially chronicled more poker tournaments than anyone alive today.

We at WSOP.com are thrilled to feature Nolan's work on our website.  And during this World Series of Poker, we will publish every event Official Report written -- all by Nolan himself.  For those who can't attend the WSOP in person, or follow the action hand-by-hand, don't fret.  Reading the story from Nolan's perspective will give you a bird's eye view to the action.  And speaking of bird's, here's a Nolan Dalla special.  Though it is not about poker, it is about life.  And it is stories like these about poker that Nolan so eloquently brings to life.

Some poker stories have nothing at all to do with cards and chips.  This is one of them.  This is the story of “Orly,” a helpless dove born on the streets of New Orleans, who was last seen flying high above the Las Vegas Strip.  It’s the story of how the smallest of creatures, even a bird, can teach us things we knew not before – about the most important things in life and what we live for.
 
It was barely visible at first.  A faint blur of a grey object off in the distance, which could easily be mistaken for a dirty rag, rested motionless on the pavement.  Suddenly, the rag moved.  Moments later, the rag walked.  Moving closer, it became clear that the rag was not really a rag at all, but instead was a baby dove. 
 
The infant bird couldn’t have been more than a few days old.  The bird lifted its head.  The bird chirped out a faint cry, barely-audible over the tumult of the afternoon rush hour.  The bird let out a desperate cry for help.
 
The baby dove was a New Orleans native, born sometime during May 2009.  Its temporary cradle was a litter-filled gutter on a busy boulevard called Carondelet.  Its bed was a gummy blanket of black tar.  Cars, trucks, city buses -- all bellowed by, blasting their exhaust fumes, choking the bird’s frantic gasps for survival.  Each passing vehicle came within inches of squashing the tiny bird, thus ending a life no human knew existed, nor noticed, nor would miss.
 
If Las Vegas is the center of my universe -- the place where I chose to work and live much of my life -- then New Orleans is most certainly my spiritual refuge.  The city is a mistress of temptation – beckoning one to imbibe in its most luscious epicurean delights.  Over the past five years, I’ve spent more time in New Orleans than any other city, other than my home in Las Vegas. 

This love affair is due entirely to poker.  I work two major tournaments each year which take place at Harrah’s New Orleans – including the World Series of Poker Circuit which is held every May.  This means I “live” in New Orleans about five weeks per year, on average.
 
The working hours are long.  There are no days off.  But it’s a job I have come to love and a place I look forward to with great passion.  It’s also one of Marieta’s favorite cities and I had the luxury of having her with me on my most recent trip [1]. 

Yet, New Orleans in May cannot come at a worse possible time.  Just prior to working 51-straight days and nights at the World Series of Poker which begins in Las Vegas at May’s end, I am in New Orleans for the preceding 15-straight days, with its considerable workload and taverns of temptation.
 
Precisely one year ago, another WSOP Circuit season concluded at Harrah’s New Orleans.  The date was May 22nd.  I was scheduled to begin working in Las Vegas just three days later -- on May 25th.  This is where “Orly’s” story begins.
 
There was no other choice.  When faced with the prospect of near-certain death, or taking in the baby dove, at least temporarily, the sacrifice of lifting the small bird out of the gutter was not so much a sacrifice at all, but was instead an inherent act of human kindness.  Anyone with a heart would do the same thing.  
 
For the first time, the bird felt the soft caresses of a human hand.  Cradled in the protective makeshift crib of Marieta’s palms, the dove was instantly named “Orly,” in honor of the bird’s origin.
 
Orly eventually found herself in our hotel room, where she was a complimentary guest of the Hilton Hotel for the next four nights [2].  There were immediate problems.  Trouble was, she refused to eat.  A cursory lesson in ornithology taken from the Internet revealed that baby birds are best fed using either a syringe or an eye dropper.  Asking for syringes raised a few eyebrows inside one downtown New Orleans pharmacy.  But then, an eye dropper was found and Orly began to enjoy her daily diet of moist oatmeal and cracked seeds.
 
With each passing day, Orly became a little bit larger and a little bit stronger.  She rested inside a makeshift bed made from bath towels and newspapers.  Still, Orly was far too small and frail to be released back into the urban jungle that had given her such an audacious birth a short time ago.  As our departure date neared, it became more evident that Orly would not have time to fully grow and would not be mature enough to survive on her own in the wild.
 
With only 24 hours remaining before a scheduled departure on an American Airlines flight back to Las Vegas, we began contemplating the unthinkable.  Should we release Orly at a city park and just hope for the best?  Could we possibly ship Orly as a pet and bring her with us back on the return flight to Las Vegas?  Could she be mailed as cargo?  Should we try and smuggle her on the flight, if all other options failed?
 
As it turned out, each option eliminated itself one by one.  Heavy rains and a lightening storm the following day meant the odds were stacked heavily against Orly’s survival back in the wild.  As for carrying Orly on our flight, airlines have strict policies against bringing wild birds on aircraft.  Furthermore, birds cannot be shipped without all kinds of impossible health requirements being met in such a short time.
 
At 4 am that night, my head hit the pillow.  My next conscious memory was awaking and seeing Orly’s blinking eyes, resting next to my pillow.  To this day, Marieta swears she did not place Orly there purposely, but rather the bird made her own personal appeal sensing this was her D-Day – her day of destiny.
 
In each of our lives, there are rare moments of clarity, precious moments which cannot rationally be justified, but which reveal themselves as unmistakable opportunities of personal virtue.  They are indeed gifts that enable us to remind ourselves of those things which are most important.
 
Just as there was no choice other than to lift Orly from of the gutter four days earlier, there was no option other than trashing $600 worth of non-refundable airline tickets and renting a car for a long one-way journey.  The cost would be $759 one-way, plus gas and hotels – not to mention about three days spent out on the open road.  I calculated that the 1,711-mile drive from New Orleans to Las Vegas would take about 28 hours.

All this – for a bird.  For Orly.
 
Orly rode shotgun most of the way.  She hopped between my shoulder and the dashboard.  Orly seemed to enjoy sitting in the equivalent of bird first-class.  After leaving New Orleans, we passed through Baton Rouge, then on to Lake Charles, then through heavy traffic in Houston and up into central Texas.  With each passing mile I began to enjoy the drive more and more, and Marieta too began to marvel at the travel experience.  The next day, our journey passed through San Antonio and then on a long, seemingly endless passage across West Texas [3].  By dawn, we were in El Paso.  A few hours later, we were driving in the southernmost part of New Mexico.  The horizon was filled with new places I had never traveled to, nor were sites I had seen.  Day three included my first visit ever to Tucson.  Then, it was on to Phoenix.  Five hours later, we were crossing the Hoover Dam into Nevada.  It was midnight, just hours away from making the “Shuffle Up and Deal” announcement, which would officially launch the 2009 WSOP.  And Orly now had a new lease on life.
 
So, what ever happened to Orly?  During the next few weeks, Marieta nursed her to be a healthy adult bird.  While I focused all my energies on final tables at the Rio, contemplating the significance of gold bracelet victories and vast sums of money won, Orly was released into the sky.  I was told of how Orly flew high into the air at first, circling back one last time to catch a fleeting glimpse of the saintly caretaker who had saved her, who without her devotion would never have had a chance at life.  It was as if her final swoon was her way of acknowledging the ultimate gift which is that of selflessness, the rare human trait of simply doing something good, with nothing expected in return.
 
One year later, Orly now flies over the bright skies of Las Vegas.  Each time I see a bird in the distance, I wonder.  And I ask myself, “is that Orly?”  There is no way to know, really.  I like to think Orly is out there somewhere.  I want to believe Orly is alive and well.

Even so, it matters not.  As I gear up once again for another 51 days of the WSOP, I am humbly reminded of the anniversary of that sacrifice, not of monies of energies we gave to a helpless bird, but rather the gift Orly bestowed upon us.  We were given the opportunity to spend time together, to see new places, to talk and exchange our thoughts and ideas, and in short experience all of the things that bring us the greatest degree of satisfaction and happiness. 

Indeed, we gave Orly life.  And in return, Orly gave us the chance to live and to enjoy that which matters most.

Footnotes:

[1] “Marieta” is Mrs. Marieta Dalla.

[2] It’s unknown if “Orly” was actually a male or female. 

[3] In West Texas, I was pulled over and given a speeding ticket.  When the state trooper asked for my occupation, I mentioned the WSOP, starting in just two days.  Hoping he might be a poker player, I thought that might get me out of a $160 ticket.  Instead, the trooper bragged that he had pulled Scotty Nguyen over a few weeks earlier, driving 90 mph up in the Texas panhandle.  It’s a small world.