Jerry Stensrud: Making Commerce Casino Great

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Jerry Stensrud

If anyone deserves to be in the Poker Industry Hall of Fame, it’s Jerry Stensrud. During his 25-year tenure at Commerce Casino, Stensrud helped develop Commerce Casino into the largest poker room in the world, a distinction it still holds today.

This is Jerry’s story in his own words.

“I started playing poker at the tender age of 8. When my grandfather would clear the table at family functions, that meant the poker game was on. Once I got a taste for the game I was hooked.

I played in family games until I joined the Coast Guard. My introduction into poker games in the service was a disaster. It kept me broke and on base for quite a while.

I finally asked guy who consistently won what was wrong with my game, and he said without hesitation, “You play bad.” I talked him into being my tutor for a percentage if I won. I finally had beer money!

After the Coast Guard, I moved to Southern California and discovered the city of Gardena. They had six legal poker rooms holding 36 tables each. The only legal games at the time were draw poker low ball and 5-card draw high.

To Catch a Thief

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It was deal yourself, which meant every kind of poker cheat was spread out in these rooms and many times management went along with it. Most players were just lovers of the game–amateurs mixed in with some tough pros.

The pros hated the cheats but never had the power to stop all of it. When I became swing shift manager at the El Dorado Club in the 80s, I never had so much fun in my life playing cat and mouse with the cheats.

One story stands out from around the time we had started to bring in dealers. I had come on shift and surveyed the room as I did every shift. I noticed an unfamiliar face in a 15/30 lowball game.

This player kept his head down trying not to make eye contact. I go to the office and sit on the guy. He’s got the shuffle, the grip, stacking as he brings in discards, but he never moves.

I sit on him for two hours, and he’s an angel. Finally, it dawns on me that he knows I’m in the office, so I leave, order some lunch and eat at an empty table in plain sight.

While I am doing this, the cameras are rolling on him. I leave the food on the table and sneak in the office from another door, rewind the tape and look at his work.

Oh, my God, I don’t have the typical card cheat; I have the Michael Jordan of cheating! It was beautiful to watch and nobody had a clue. He was working alone dealing bottoms and holding out at the same time.

This was like winning an Oscar! So now I go get him. I walk in front of the table, make eye contact, take my right hand and brush my left arm. The thief will acknowledge this and get up from table without problem almost 100% of the time. A guard and I escort him into the office where we get his I.D. and mug shot.

He wants to tell me his problems. He started cheating at cards at the age of 12 in the Bronx and has been doing it his whole life. He has a Cadillac in the parking lot he’s making payments on, two kids in college, a mortgage and a wife who spends big.

He says he is 54 and too old to go legit. This guy had tears in his eyes. I spotted him years later in Laughlin, Nevada working the blackjack pit for the house. I always wondered if he went straight.

Largest Card Room in the World

Commerce Casino

I went back to playing. When the Bicycle Club opened, it had dealers at every table. The known cheats were told they could not play; it was paradise. I was living the good life when I got a call from the Commerce Casino. My name had come up to manage the poker section.

After much arm twisting, I took the job. Little did I know what I was getting into.

The owners came from other businesses and had hired a bunch of the old Gardena crooks to run the place They were pals with the cheats. The owners were honest but just didn’t know who they had hired, so I became the new sheriff in town come to clean up Dodge.

Commerce became the largest poker room in the world, and I doubt that anyone will ever be bigger. I put 25 years at Commerce and have so many people to thank that I could fill pages. I retired four years ago, but I’m still playing.”

Jerry has done as much for poker as anyone in the industry. It’s been an honor to know him.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.  He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” at www.robertturnerpoker.wordpress.com to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Bridge to Poker: Meet Poker Pro Robin Kay, Part 1

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Robin Kay is one of the most humble people you will ever meet in a card room. Before I met her, my husband Robert Turner would tell me about a woman who started playing at Hollywood Park Casino.

He told me, “There is this woman Robin who has come out to L.A. recently. She has an uncanny ability to make her opponents want to play longer and enjoy the game more. That’s a rare quality for a poker player.”

Robert continued, “What impressed me most was not her skill level, which is high, but her attitude toward her opponents. She is different; she has the ‘It Factor.’”

This piqued my interest, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her and discovering that there is much more to Robin than meets the eye.

Bridge Royalty

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Robin’s father, the late Norman Kay

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Robin’s mother Judy Kay-Wolff

The first surprise is that Robin comes from bridge royalty. Her father, Norman Kay, was known as the “Babe Ruth of Bridge.” He was a 27-time national champion while her stepfather, Bobby Wolff, is an 11-time world champion whose column “The Aces on Bridge” has been appearing daily for over 25 years and is syndicated in more than 130 newspapers worldwide. Both men were inducted into the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) Hall of Fame.

Though she has been playing cards since she was 4 years old (Robin says while other families were going to Disneyland, hers was going to bridge tournaments), she didn’t find out her father was a legendary bridge player until she walked up to a table for the bridge club at college orientation.

The person manning the table told her that there was a very famous bridge player with the same last name as hers and brought her a book on bridge that was written by her father. She had no idea!

Though bridge was in her blood (Robin’s mother Judy is a well-known bridge player, who was a teacher and administrator with a national title to her name), Robin forged her own path and majored in mathematics and economics and soon found herself working on Wall Street as an options trader on the American Stock Exchange.

At the age of 30, as she was beginning to get burned out, a girlfriend, whose mother Gail Greenberg founded Honors Bridge Club, suggested Robin teach bridge there.

Soon, the world of bridge and poker would collide in Robin’s life, which would change her life forever.

Read how in Part 2 next week.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.