The First Poker Boom

Stardust

I was discussing music with my wife while we were listening to satellite radio in the car. Some stations were listed by decades. I knew just about every song from the 1960s and 1970s, and I had in fact seen many groups in concert from that era, but I knew nothing of the 1980s, the decade my wife grew up in.

Then the thought struck me that I knew nothing about the 80s because I had gambled away a whole decade. I spent so much time playing poker tournaments and live poker that nothing crossed my mind but poker. I traveled all over the world playing cards seven days a week without stopping to smell the roses.

In that decade, I probably won hundreds of tournament. At the time, it would not be unusual to play in Las Vegas in a poker room with 4-8 tables. The Stardust and Golden Nugget, which were the two biggest rooms in Las Vegas and the world at the time, featured only 15-20 tables.

I felt there was nothing more for me to accomplish, so I decided to retire at 32. I was living in Alabama at the time. I had bought a 2,500 square- foot home with five bedrooms and a huge pool. My mortgage payment was $99.00 a month. It was a great life I had built all from poker.

Then everything changed. California legalized Texas Hold’em around 1986. I was in Alabama thinking of all that gold, and I left for California to seek my second fortune. I was not wrong; poker became huge in Los Angeles and all of California.

In the 80s poker really exploded. George Hardie had a dream to build the largest poker room in the world when he opened the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, California, on November 30, 1984. The Commerce Casino opened the year before. These were super poker rooms and brought in new demographics to poker. Hold’em appealed more to the mainstream than lowball. These rooms were no longer considered second class but rather showplaces with the focus on poker for the first time in gaming history.

I was offered a job as a poker manager, then general manager at the Horseshoe in Gardena, California. At the time, everyone was spreading limit poker. Poker players were coming over from Las Vegas and the rest of the world to play poker in California. These players were used to playing PLO and Seven Stud Hi/Lo, so I introduced these games into the game mix in California.

The owners offered me ten percent of the casino to spread the new games as it was all new to them, and they had no business to speak of. I soon found myself in charge of a California casino. I developed twenty poker games in 90 days. It was a dream job.

Las Vegas was now trying to catch up to California. Eric Drache, Poker Hall of Famer, said Steve Wynn was interested in purchasing the Commerce Casino, but laws in California prohibited Las Vegas’ licensees from owning casinos in California.

Steve Wynn set a new standard when he built the Mirage in Las Vegas at a cost of $630 million, which was the most expensive hotel-casino in history at the time. When the Mirage opened in November 22, 1989, it featured the best poker room in Las Vegas with 31 tables. In 1990 Donald Trump opened the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which would feature the east coast’s largest poker room. Foxwoods opened their casino and featured poker a few years later.

All of these great rooms laid the groundwork for the next poker boom that would take place from 2000 to 2010. I was at the right place at the right time to be a part of both history-making decades. With that much poker being showcased coast to coast, you can see how a person could get totally consumed by it.

I worked so hard for so many years that I lost contact with the outside world. The 1980s were a total blur. If something wasn’t poker or casino-related, it wasn’t on my radar. My friend Eric Drache said he lost the 70s when he moved from New Jersey to Las Vegas, so I’m not alone in this.

I became so consumed by work and gambling that it was like I lived in two worlds—one world with family and friends and regular life and then there was this other world that consisted of non-stop grinding.

Was my poker success worth it? Looking back on the amount of work and poker playing that I did, I would say no. I would not recommend that to anyone. But as Eric Drache said, “What else could we have done?”

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

He has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

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The Life of a Gambler: Easy Come, Easy Go

Poker Legends Doyle Brunson and Stu Ungar

Poker Legends Doyle Brunson and Stu Ungar

Las Vegas is a town defined by big gambles, spectacular successes and lost opportunities. A dealer once told me he had taken out a loan on his house to play a progressive slot machine at the Hilton. He and his wife, a cocktail waitress, had worked so hard for years to pay off the mortgage.

He said, “Robert, it has to hit.” It did hit, but it only got them even for the month they played. What if it hadn’t hit? Did he have a back-up plan? Was the long-shot of hitting a jackpot worth the very real risk of losing his home? I had a difficult time understanding his reasoning. Then I realized, there was no logic involved.

In my years of visiting and living in Las Vegas, I have seen how gambling can conquer even those who seem to be in control. The truth is a town like Las Vegas offers so many ways to knock you off your center and provide you with adrenalin rushes 24/7 that few gamblers are able to resist.

This is a perfect example. I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Stu Ungar. He was walking from the Dune’s poker room with three women to the craps table, and I followed them. Stu bought in for $10,000 and placed his bets.

I watched in amazement as this kid with such a great reputation as a gambler began to shoot the dice. Stu lost it all, except for about $1,500 dollars. I will never forget what happened next. He took the last $1,500 from the tray and said, “This is for the boys,” and pitched the money across the dice table.

My thought was he is not a great gambler but a sucker with no regard for money. It is this “no- regard-for-money” attitude that makes or breaks great gamblers. How many gamblers really master self-control? In gambling, money can lose its value. In that regard, Stu was no different from your average gambler.

Another legendary gambler I have seen in action is Archie Karas, who is famous for turning $50 into $40 million, then losing it all. When Archie won all that money at the craps table, I begged him to invest in something for his future, but I could see in his eyes that it wasn’t his future he was thinking about during “the Run.”

Archie called me at the Bicycle Casino one Saturday morning and said he was going to play a $500,000 Razz freeze out with Johnny Chan. Archie beat Johnny, a player I consider to be in the top three of all time. Archie once told me, “Robert, look at all these players that have their pictures on Binion’s Hall of Fame. It should say Hall of Shame because I beat them all.” And he did; he beat Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese and Johnny Moss, all considered some of the best players ever to play the game. Archie is considered to be one of the greatest gamblers of all time—there certainly will never be another like him.

When I first started coming to Las Vegas in the 70s, I was playing poker at the Golden Nugget when an older gentleman dressed in a suit sat down. Different people kept coming up to him and congratulating him, so I assumed he was an employee of the casino.

He was playing very aggressively and drinking heavily. After playing for about an hour, he was approached by security and a couple of suits. They asked him to come with them. I was curious about what had just happened, so I asked about it the next day.

I was told the gentleman was a pit boss who retired after 25 years. The casino had a retirement party for him earlier that day. The problem was he had already lost $25,000 at dice that night, and rumor was he had not gambled in 25 years. Management intervened because it appeared he had fallen off the wagon.

I have been in the gambling business for over 50 years both as a player and as a marketing executive. I have seen it all. What drives most gamblers is the desire to make that score that will change their lives, so why then do they keep gambling even after they win life-changing money?

You can be successful in the professional world of gambling if you can master the art of staying in control of your bankroll and yourself. Like everything in life, it’s all about moderation. Know your limits before you start.

If you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, call the National Council on Problem Gambling’s toll-free helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

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

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

The Best Poker Player I Ever Met, Part 2

Maverick Card Player magazine once ran a feature that claimed Charlie Esslinger was the best poker player who ever lived. Though he may not be a household name, to me there is no doubt he was the greatest poker player I ever met.

He was not only an exceptional poker player, but he was also a great game strategist. He studied poker and other card games before computers and strategy books became the norm. But more importantly, he understood human nature. He could make you a bet on what time a guy would order a drink or what time he would quit the game or even on how much he would lose.

When I would kill time before a game, I would play gin with Charlie. After about the fifth card we drew, Charlie would say, “Let’s bunch the hand (a term where you both surrender) because it’s draw. Robert, you can’t win.” He could play any gin rummy hand to a draw and name all the cards in your hand. He thought it was funny to see the look on your face when he could tell you nine of the ten gin cards you were holding.

This demonstrated how he was aware of everything. I asked Charlie to explain his seemingly random hand selection. His answer surprised me. He said that cards ran in patterns, so he would observe the board for hours to see how the cards ran and played accordingly. Who was I to question one who never lost?

You have to remember that in those days most games were limit, and No Limit was hard to find. I tried, like so many people, to give Charlie a free bankroll to play higher, but he always told me, “It’s not the money; it’s the game. It can’t get any better than these Golden Nugget players. Why would I change?”

Once Charlie was waiting on a seat and playing $2/$4 limit. I said, “Charlie, how can you play so small?” He replied, “I play as hard here as any game. If I can beat this game, I can beat any game.”

A mutual friend of ours, Ray Hall, once told me over breakfast that he was ending his friendship with Charlie. I asked him why. Ray said, “When we are driving to the games, Charlie tells me what a great player I am. In the game, if I was losing, Charlie was the first one to offer me money. On the ride back, he would tell me I was the best player and I just got unlucky. Every morning I would take to his apartment the thousand or two that I borrowed in the game the night before. It took me twenty years to realize he was the best player, and I was his huckleberry.”

In later years, Charlie became very concerned that his mind was leaving him–a mind that could play any game with a genius IQ. The most studious poker player I ever met was now in his sixties and didn’t feel at the top of his game. He said the doctor said he had early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. His mother had died from it. He watched her suffer and did not want to go through that.

One night at a poker game Charlie asked if someone would find him a pill he could take and never wake up. He said he would pay them $5,000 dollars. Players started wondering if Charlie was ok.

In a motel in Alabama where they were playing poker four nights a week, Charlie played one night wearing only his pajamas, which was very strange for a person who always dressed to the nines. Charlie had rented an apartment to be near the game in Athens, Alabama.

It’s said he left the poker game and went to his apartment. After not showing up to the game for a few days, which was unusual, a couple of his friends went to his apartment and found his body and a gun along with $900,000.

I will never forget what a gentleman gambler he was. He was the first to stand up and pull out a chair for a lady. He always tried to keep the game under control. If there was a dispute over $5, he would throw in a $5 chip to settle it.

He was master at money management. He knew what every player’s worth was, what he could extract from the game and when it was no good, it was time to quit.

I don’t want him to be remembered for how he died, but how he lived. If there ever was a modern-day maverick, Charlie Esslinger would be it. I was honored to know him.

National Suicide Prevention Lifefline

1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

The Best Poker Player I Ever Met

Charlie Esslinger, left, with Jeanette Suttle and long-time  Las Vegas pro Harry Suttle

Charlie Esslinger, left, with Jeanette Suttle and long-time Las Vegas pro Harry Suttle

My father would always stop at a bait shop and small grocery store in Farley, Alabama, before we went fishing. One day he introduced me to a man he said was a professional gambler whose family owned the bait shop.

My dad told me never to play poker with that man. I was seven years old, and I never forgot his words.

Years later when I was the manager of a high-end men’s store, the owner said, “Robert, I want you to meet Mr. Esslinger. He wants us to order some suits and special white-on-white shirts.”

The man was the professional gambler my dad had introduced me to when I was seven. Charlie Esslinger ordered a dozen shirts and four suits by Hickey Freeman made of Italian wool and silk.

He looked more like a banker than a gambler.

About two months went by after he picked up his suits. He came back into the store and ordered the same items. I said, “Charlie, this is the same order as last time.” He said, “Yes. I left those suits in Las Vegas. I didn’t feel like packing.”

When I started hosting my own poker game, I asked Charlie to play. He said he lived in the same apartment complex, and he may stop over.

Thus began a long relationship with the man my dad said never play poker with.

Charlie would play every day. I was mesmerized by him; he never lost, not one time in the fifteen years I knew him. It got to a point where everyone thought he must be cheating, but I knew it was something else. Could he be the best limit poker player alive?

One night Charlie invited me over for a little party he was having at his place. Inside Charlie had about six girls dancing all over the apartment. During the festivities, Charlie dropped his wallet on the floor.

I told Charlie I kicked his wallet under the couch. He said, “Robert the girls will get it all anyways.” He was quite the philosopher.

Charlie then took me aside and said, “Robert you have to change the hustler crowd you’re hanging around with.”

Charlie continued, “Everyone likes you, and you have a gift for cards, but the guys you hang out with will get you in a lot of trouble.” I took his advice, and it changed my life.

Not long afterwards, the players all refused to play in my home game. I asked them why. They said unless I barred Charlie, they would never play at my place again.

I had to call Charlie and tell the one person who I considered my mentor and friend that he was barred from my game for no other reason than he was too good.

A few years later I was hosting a bigger game, and the players agreed to invite Charlie back. That lasted 30 days. They selected a spokesperson to tell me that they would never play with me if I didn’t bar Charlie. The live producer in the game said, “Charlie is my friend, but I can’t beat him at poker.”

Again I had to bar him for winning.

How does a man go twenty five years and never lose a day in his life until he decided to throw a party at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas? Charlie found a way, and he did it every year.

He would play his cards face up just to give back some of the money he beat the players out of every day. If he caught a pair, he would cap every bet, and then laugh if he drew out. He would lose around $10,000 just for fun.

During these times, he would get drunk and give the cocktail waitresses hundred dollar tips until finally Bill Boyd would have security take him to his room. The next day I would see him with a hangover in the poker room back to grinding away.

They had to change some poker rules just for Charlie. He would sit at the poker table listening to music on a transistor radio, and the players would complain. The Golden Nugget had to ban music at the table. The next day Charlie would read several newspapers, and the players complained again, so they instituted a no-reading rule at the poker table.

Charlie would sit there and not play a hand for hours, and then he would be in a massive pot. The board would read QQ772, and Charlie would show Q7. I tried for years to figure out how he did it. To this day, it is still a mystery.

In Part 2, I have more tales to tell about my mentor Charlie Esslinger.

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

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

A Buyer’s Market: The New Poker Rewards Programs

Poker Promotions

I remember something Bill Boyd, a Poker Hall of Fame member and the legendary poker room manager at the Golden Nugget, told me when I worked as a host for him around 1978. I asked Bill for a comp for two very loyal customers who wanted to have dinner in the restaurant.

Bill said to me it’s better to comp after they eat and do it as a surprise. He said if you comp players up front, they will eat you out of house and home.  Bill would walk into the restaurant and pick the check up after they finished eating. He saved the Golden Nugget a fortune.

It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

I have been on both sides of giving and receiving comps. Most of my meals over the past 25 years have been comped, but I have also used them to great advantage when I have hosted games, so I understand there must be a balance between cost controls for casinos and their value as a marketing tool to retain players.

Comps in Las Vegas always had limits to manage the cost. I remember in the old days the Stardust only had a free buffet, but regardless of the form they take, food comps have been the main marketing hook for casinos for sixty years, especially in California.

The cost of free food for top-section poker players has cost the top card rooms in Los Angeles millions of dollars a year. It was not uncommon for players to order up to $50 at a time and eat a few bites only to discard the food and order again an hour later.

I remember the Bicycle Casino would offer free food to Omaha players in smaller limits during certain lunch hours to get the games started. I would sometimes see 9 steaks and just as many shrimp cocktails and desserts ordered at once.

This kind of abuse reached a tipping point where it just was not cost effective to continue this traditional practice. Starting in March, card rooms in Southern California instituted a new policy.

From now on players will earn a certain amount of money per hour based upon their play. Reward cards and tracking systems are becoming the norm, and they are just as valuable to the players as they are to the casinos.

Both recreational players and pros alike need to understand the system and maximize the value they can derive from it. If you want to survive as a professional player, understanding the reward system is vital for you to be a winner.

Whether the rewards are in the form of freeroll tournaments or other special promotions, such as discounted hotel rates, not taking advantage of them is like throwing money away. Utilizing the money returned as perks can be the difference between being a winning or losing player in poker.

Some casinos do an outstanding job with player rewards such as Hollywood Park Casino. Hollywood Park Casino pays up to $6 an hour in some games, and players can use their points for cash and free massages if they wish.

In some card rooms, players get increased points for certain slow periods and certain days. However, nothing beats cash back or rakeback for players trying to earn.

Because the rake makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the game to be profitable for the players, it is imperative that players research the best rakeback deals. The hourly rakeback added to a player’s reward card can be applied to a player’s bankroll and help offset the heavy cost of the rake on a player’s earnings.

Even as we see read about a number of poker rooms closing, we also have many poker room expansions, such as The Gardens building a mega casino in Hawaiian Gardens, California.

In Bell Gardens The Bicycle Casino is adding a brand-new Hotel Casino, and the most ambitious project of all is Hollywood Park Casino’s new billion-dollar entertainment complex and state-of-the-art poker room.

The power is in the players’ hands now as casino marketing departments scramble for players. The rewards will get even better, so learn to use them to your advantage and remember it’s all about the ability to earn.

In my next article, I will cover specific rewards programs and promotions in poker rooms from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

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

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

Old-School Card Room Marketing

Ultimate Poker

Why do poker rooms fail in this post-Black Friday landscape? Why do online sites think they can simply advertise their way to the top?

In my last article “Offer Promotions Poker Players Can’t Refuse” I stated that with creative ideas and the attendant hard work, it is possible to turn around casino card rooms in this current environment.

In this article I would like to expand upon that and add specific things any card room can do to be successful.

Nowadays you have to be like a politician and personally invite players to your gaming site or card room. Once you have the customers’ attention, then the real work begins.

Let’s take Ultimate Poker as an example and analyze what caused them to fail.

For any poker room to succeed, it must have a certain number of players and a variety of games available around the clock. Players need to know they can log on and get action any time of the day or night. Ultimate Poker could provide neither.

Even with Station Casinos marketing the Ultimate Poker website through its Nevada casinos, a $1 million marketing campaign and a marketing agreement with the UFC, Ultimate Poker folded in a year and a half.

I was really troubled by the failure of Ultimate Poker, which seemed almost impossible given all they had going for them. Could Ultimate Poker have bought the business? The answer is, “Absolutely. “

What Ultimate Poker failed to do was add a personal touch to their marketing and reach out to every poker player in Nevada making them an offer they could not refuse. All the marketing dollars in the world are not going to help if you don’t put in the sweat equity.

With all those marketing dollars, they could have instituted the following:

  1. Hire approximately one hundred affiliates with great incentives and communication programs to monitor what was working and what wasn’t.
  2. Hire over a thousand players with 80% rakeback. Build a great relationship with them, so they could help identify the site’s weak areas and have input on how best to promote the online site.
  3. Take some of your best customers to lunch and ask for their recommendations on ways to make the site and their player experience better.

You may say that sounds like a lot of work. Well, if you want to be successful, it requires a lot of hard work. You say this is old-school marketing, and to that I answer, “Nothing beats the personal touch.”

In California when they legalized hold’em, one casino dominated the gambling market. So how did number two overtake number one? Here’s how they did it.

The general manager at the time hired everyone who wanted a job. Over a hundred players were hired to promote the middle-limit games.

The GM knew that out of a hundred proposition players, or props as they were called, only ten percent could survive gambling. He hired friendly people who had friends.

The players who had reputations for providing lots of action would eventually go broke. His challenge was to keep finding and hiring players as very few could survive in a job gambling six to eight hours a day.

Did his plan work? Yes! This casino went to number one and has never looked back. It was an amazing marketing concept that I have used to turn around many casinos without one failure.

This is not a new concept in casino marketing. When I was in marketing at the MGM based out of the Beverly Hills office, it was my job simply to recruit players. The cost of acquisition was never an issue as long as the company had a shot to make money from the players.

For as long as I can remember, casinos have hired people to go out and find players. As old school as this may seem, it works. Translating this to the online world means offering incentives both to affiliates and directly to new players.

Remember when Party Poker had hundreds of affiliates that took them to number one? Everyone wanted to be part of the growth of the new online poker business. Many people worked their tails off, which led to Party Poker’s spectacular success.

It troubles me to see sites that had people promote them for years, but once they reach a certain level of success, they abandon those same people that brought them to the dance.

The concept is simple: All business is about people, but in gambling even more so. People want to be where the action is.

Once you create action, the promotions are just maintenance to keep your players happy. I had rather spend marketing dollars on people-to-people business than intangible concepts like analytics and data mining.

Call me old school; I’ll take it as a compliment.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker 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 and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

WSOP 2014: HISTORY IN THE MAKING

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The 2014 World Series of Poker is on track to becoming one of the most successful events in poker history with increasing numbers in nearly every event. The WSOP kicked off with Vanessa Selbst winning her third bracelet and $871,148 in the $25,000 buy-in Mixed-Max No-Limit Hold’em event cementing her title as the highest-earning female poker player of all time with over $10.5 million in total winnings. She is the first and only woman to win three bracelets in open WSOP events. She is currently ranked the number one poker player in the world, the first woman to ever hold that distinction.

The $1,500 Seven-Card Razz event drew massive interest when Ted Forrest went head-to-head with Phil Hellmuth.  It was an epic battle between two great players with 18 bracelets between them. Phil seemed well on his way to capturing his 14th bracelet, but after several hours of heads-up action Ted came from behind to win $121,196 and his 6th bracelet, his first since winning two bracelets at the 2004 WSOP. This was Phil’s 101st cash and 50th final table at the WSOP, both records.

Another record was set in the Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship as Dan Heimiller outlasted the field of 4,425 players to capture his second WSOP bracelet; last year’s Seniors Event attracted 4,407 players.  Dan walked away with $627,462 in first-place money, and with 53 career WSOP cashes to his name, he has surpassed poker icon Johnny Chan (45) and is now chasing Phil Ivey (55) and T.J. Cloutier (60). Dan will award two percent of the Main Event to a random Twitter follower that retweets the giveaway. If Dan wins, it could be worth $200,000. Follow Dan @danheimiller.

The Millionaire Maker shattered last year’s record 6,343 entries with a massive field of 7,977, making it the second-largest tournament in poker history, trailing only the 2006 WSOP Main Event which drew 8,773 players.  31-year-old aspiring novelist Jonathan Dimmig walked away with his first bracelet and the $1.3 million first-place money.

The third largest live tournament in poker history was the so-called Monster Stack which drew 7,862 entrants. With a total prize pool of $10,613,700, for a buy-in of $1,500 Hugo Pingray walked away with $1.3 million and his first WSOP bracelet. The success of this event proves what I have been saying for years—players like lots of chips, no re-buys and as much time as you can give them in the structure.

Another big story at this year’s WSOP was Humberto Brenes, known as the Shark from Costa Rica, cashing in four out of four events in the first six days of the series.  To date, he has eight cashes. Humberto and Phil Hellmuth set the record for the highest number of money finishes (eight) at the 2006 WSOP. The record now stands at 11 set in 2012 by Konstantin Puchkov. Humberto, a future Poker Hall of Famer, told me he is going to concentrate more on poker next year. That’s good news for the poker world as he is a class act and a great ambassador for the game.

This year I played in three events and was able to place 20th in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud, which featured some of the toughest tables I have ever played. At one point my table had Mel Judah, David Chiu, Tom McEvoy, Daniel Negreanu and Bertrand Grospellier. It was hard to calculate how many bracelets were in that group. At my age, I feel lucky to be cashing after playing in the WSOP for over 30 years, especially against such world-class competition.

The $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship was won by John Hennigan, a world-class poker player who I know from the pool world as a great 9-ball player.  When I met John he was called Cornflakes. Now he is known as Johnny World, a feared opponent at any poker table. This win marked Hennigan’s third straight cash in this event.  After coming close the past two years, he won his third WSOP bracelet, the $ 1,517,767 first prize money and his name etched on the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy. History was also made in this event when Melissa Burr became the first woman to both cash and final table the Poker Players’ Championship.  She finished seventh; she has made two other final tables this year.

This year’s charity event called the Big One for One Drop is a $1-million buy-in poker tournament started by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte to raise awareness of water-related issues amongst the poker community and beyond. Dan Colman beat out 41 other players for the massive first prize of $15,306,668.  Known as a great heads-up player in the online world, he seemed media shy.  However, he took to the Two Plus Two forum to state his position.  He made one of the most perceptive statements I have ever heard a poker player make. Coming from a 23-year-old makes it all the more profound. He acknowledges poker has a dark side, and he doesn’t want to promote a game that gives players false hope.  I think there is more to this story.  Only time will tell.

Overall, I thought the WSOP was very well-managed especially considering the record-setting numbers the staff had to deal with.  Of course, there is always room for improvement, and hopefully the WSOP will listen to the players’ concerns.  I was glad to be part of such a historic event.

But more importantly, poker lost a great ambassador for the game this week. Chad Brown lost his battle against cancer and was awarded an honorary WSOP bracelet, which was on his wrist when he passed on to the big game in the sky. It makes us all realize poker is just a game, and there are more important things in life.  

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker 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 and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.  He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

 

WSOP 2014: Year of the Woman

Poker Women

This is a great week for women in poker with events such as the Women in Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony honoring Allyn Jaffrey Shulman and Deborah Giardina and the WSOP’s Ladies’ Championship. But the biggest story of the summer is Vanessa Selbt’s becoming the winningest female player in poker tournament history with her historic bracelet win in the $25,000 Mixed Max event at this year’s WSOP. She also became the first woman to hold the top spot on the Global Poker Index (GPI), a ranking of the top live tournament players in the world. Female participation in the WSOP has increased dramatically since I began playing in it the 1980’s, but we as a poker community can do much more to increase those numbers.

Last year, I wrote about this same topic, and it is a good time to revisit it. To move forward we must first honor the achievements of the pioneers that blazed the trail for today’s women in poker. No discussion would be complete without first talking about Barbara Enright. To this day, Barbara Enright is still the first and only woman to make the final table of the WSOP Main Event. She accomplished this historic feat in 1995 when she placed 5th. That was just the beginning of her firsts. She was also the first woman to win three WSOP bracelets and the first woman to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Phil Hellmuth.

Though no woman has reached the final table of the Main Event since Enright, two women came close in 2012–Gaelle Baumann, who placed 10th, and Elisabeth Hille, who came in 11th. Only two women have lasted the longest in the Main Event twice—Annie Duke in 2000 and 2003 and Marsha Waggoner in 1993 and 1997.

Loni Harwood’s spectacular run was the big story of the 2013 WSOP. The 23-year-old poker player from Staten Island, New York, won her first WSOP bracelet that year in the final $1,500 No Limit Hold’em event of the series. That win marked her 6th cash of the summer (accomplished by only three other players that year) and tied Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series. With $874,698 in tournament earnings for the entire summer, Harwood jumped to the No. 8 spot on the all-time WSOP money list for women that year. Harwood’s three final table appearances at last year’s WSOP was an impressive accomplishment for any poker player, male or female. Add to it the fact that the percentage of female participation is so small made her achievement all the more stunning.

Female players are every bit as skilled as male players, but I feel one of the fundamental problems facing women is the lack of opportunity and sponsorship. Sponsorship money is critical for competing in poker at the highest levels regardless of a player’s gender. Women make outstanding ambassadors for poker, and it is a mistake to overlook them for sponsorship opportunities.

It is time for both men and women, the legends of the game and the up-and-comers, to work together to increase the level of female participation in the game we all love. Women such as Lupe Soto work tirelessly promoting women in poker, but it is time we all do our part.

It is just a matter of time before a woman finally wins the Main Event. I have been playing poker for nearly 50 years, and I have had the pleasure of being at the table with some of the best female players in the world. They all have the makings of a champion, but to watch a woman win it all would be a historic feat I hope to see in my lifetime. Maybe this is finally the year….

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also was instrumental in helping 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 and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.

Before Poker Was Cool, Part 2: Lyle Berman

Lyle Berman

It’s hard to write in a single article about all the contributions Lyle Berman has made to the gaming industry. Lyle, like Jack Binion and Steve Wynn before him, had a great passion and respect for poker and its players. Lyle was not just a lover of poker but one of the most successful entrepreneurs the gaming world has ever seen. He has headed such diverse operations from the Rainforest Café restaurant chain to Grand Casinos, Inc., and he was instrumental in the development of the World Poker Tour. His name has become synonymous with gaming in the last two decades.

What is unique about Lyle is not only is he a successful businessman, but he is also an accomplished poker player. Lyle has three World Series of Poker bracelets to his name and based on these contributions to the game he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.

After I had retired from poker in my 30’s, my friend Billy Thomas called me and said, “Robert, how can you not go to California? They have legalized hold’em, and there will be thousands of players who will switch from low ball and draw to hold’em.” I explained to Billy we needed at least $15,000 each for us to go and that I was retired and had promised my wife I wouldn’t use any of the money I had won to go back on the road to play.

He said Lyle Berman will give us a bankroll–all you have to do is call him. I did just that, and Lyle sent around $15,000 each right into the cage at the Bicycle Casino. Lyle helped many poker players in the 80’s and 90’s (more than anyone I know), which turned out to be great investments. But he didn’t do it for the money; he did it because they were his friends. Players from Stu Ungar, Jack Keller and T.J. Cloutier all benefitted from his generosity.

I remember when I called Mike Sexton to tell him I wanted to roast him at the Bicycle Casino. Mike said, “Robert, I am not the one who should be honored with a roast. No one has done more for poker than Lyle Berman.” So the Bicycle had a big party to honor Lyle.

Lyle wanted me to help him turn around the Stratosphere after it had failed. Lyle invited me to meet him for breakfast at the casino. There was a newspaper lying on the table with a headline shouting, “Stratosphere Fails.” Lyle said to me that he had replaced the president yesterday and was meeting with the new president in a few hours. I was wondering how Lyle could handle all the stress.

As we started to eat, Lyle noticed the cream cheese. He couldn’t believe that they were using the wrong brand. He asked to speak to his food and beverage director. Lyle proceeded to tell him that this particular brand of cream cheese was unacceptable. I knew that with this streak of perfectionism Lyle could handle the stress of the casino transition. I wish I could remember the brand of cream cheese that he hated to see if the company is still in business.

Another legendary story involved Doyle, Chip and Bobby Baldwin. We were all at Bob Stupak’s Vegas World during a poker tournament before Lyle bought it. There was a rumor going around that a big Omaha game was being planned, and Lyle was the main attraction. The sharks waited on Lyle to start the game, and after a few hours the buzz around the room was how big a game it turned out to be.

All of sudden it broke up, and everyone wondered what happened. Lyle had busted Doyle, Chip and Bobby out of $400,000 and had quit to go to a dinner or a meeting. The look on their faces was priceless. That was classic Lyle.

From then on Lyle was not the main attraction. He became one of the best Omaha players in the world. He continued to play some of the highest stakes cash games in the world, but no matter how successful Lyle became in business, he never gave up on his friends or the poker world.

Lyle would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Legends of Poker and became friends with George Hardie. George had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica. George had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Lyle, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica, which helped established poker in Mississippi.

In my next article I will talk about how George Hardie changed the California gaming industry.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker 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 and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

Before Poker Was Cool, Part 1: Jack Binion and Steve Wynn

Binions-Nugget

Before Chris Moneymaker and what we know as the modern age of poker, there were several gentlemen who elevated the game before poker was cool. It’s debatable who did the most for poker, but it’s undeniable that it’s close. I was lucky enough to have a personal relationship with four of these legends, and I actually worked for two. My connection with these four men helped shape my career, and I will always be indebted to all of them.

Jack Binion, while president of the Horseshoe Casino, showcased poker twice a year and made it his main marketing tool with the Poker Hall of Fame and the World Series of Poker. He hired Poker Hall of Famer Eric Drache. Drache, in turn, worked with Jack McClellan as his tournament director. Together these three grew poker every year and made the WSOP the premier poker tournament in the world.

In the early days, I found myself short of money. I told my friend Ray Hall I wanted to play a tournament, but I was broke. He said, “Go see Jack Binion, tell him you’re a poker player, and you’re broke.” I thought this was unusual, but what did I have to lose? I went to Jack and explained my situation. He replied, “Go to the cage and tell them I said to give you $2,500.” He took a poker player at his word and gave him a bankroll, no questions asked. That’s how it was in those days. We were like a big family.

When he was trying to grow the WSOP to a hundred players in 1982, there were only 96 players signed up. I had not won a satellite to get in the Main Event that year. Another friend of mine said Jack Binion wants to get it to 100. Tell him you’re not in. I went to Jack, and he said he would put me in the tournament. There were 4 of us he put in to reach his goal. This is a man who put his money where mouth is. How could you not love a guy like this? I like to call these the Golden Days, and it was all because of Jack Binion who continued his father Benny’s legacy.

Jack hired PR firms to promote the WSOP, had professional photographers document it and provided free rooms and food for poker players for years. He surrounded himself with his closest friends who happened to be poker players. His love of the game and the people who played it changed poker forever.

Steve Wynn needs no introduction. I went to work for Steve around 1977 as a poker host at the Golden Nugget. He had just put in the most beautiful poker room in Las Vegas. Before that, card rooms were just an afterthought in most casinos. The two major poker rooms in the late 70’s were the Stardust and the Golden Nugget. The Golden Nugget had a better reputation for poker than the Stardust for two reasons: one was Bill Boyd, a legend in the poker industry, who was the poker room manager at the Golden Nugget and two, the Stardust had an underworld reputation.

In the early 80’s the Stardust expanded poker and hired a tournament director named Bob Thompson who created the Stairway to the Stars and gave Steve a run for the money. Not to be outdone, Steve created the Grand Prix of Poker. This friendly competition caused Steve to create one of the best poker tournaments in the world at the time.

Not only did Steve have to outshine the Stardust, he had to outdo his friend Jack Binion. He decided to give away prizes for the best all-around players. One year he gave away a large boat. The next year he gave away a Corvette.

Steve was the first one to bring poker and Hollywood together. He brought glamor to the game. Like Jack, he surrounded himself with poker players. His president at the time was Bobby Baldwin. Steve did something else no one else had ever done before or since–he put on a fashion show for the wives that was second to none. He spared no cost on the production.

But there is one thing I will never forget. Before the main event of the Grand Prix, he turned off all the lights in the casino. Giant screens came down from the ceiling, and he showed video highlights from the series. Steve is a showman, and he continued this tradition at the Mirage when he put poker dead center in the casino and made it a showplace.

Binion and Wynn had taken poker to the next level. Everyone has been playing catch up ever since. In Part 2 I will write about George Hardie and Lyle Berman who added their own flair to the game.

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

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.