Jason Somerville has kicked off his shoes and let them rest under a chair toward the back of the room. He shuffling around, reserving–maybe restraining–his energy. In front of him sit dozens of people, all waiting for only one thing: what Somerville will say next.
From a few feet away, someone suggests it’s time for Somerville to get started. The young man, one legions of people know as jcarver, responds first by clicking his iPhone and holding the screen up for all to see. It reads 4:57pm.
The implication is clear: Somerville is supposed to start just because everybody in the room is ready? What if somebody is running down the hall trying to make it to the Q&A before the first question?
“I’m an on-time kind of guy,” Somerville says aloud, and resumes kicking his stockinged-feet around the carpet of the Resorts Hotel ballroom.
Promptly at 5pm–and not a second later–Somerville grabs the microphone and opens up what amounts to a live version of a Reddit Ask Me Anything.
“This is your chance to ask things you were too embarrassed to ask in Twitch chat,” Somerville tells his assembled fans. “I can’t imagine what that would be.”
The on-time kind of guy is ready to once again live his life aloud in front of a crowd.
For the the uninitiated, Jason Somerville’s resume begins like a lot of modern poker players. He took empty pockets and turned them into a small fortune. Before he was 20 years old, he turned $100 into $100,000 in the span of one year. Since then, he’s won millions of dollars and a legion of fans, and he’s done it in a way that nearly no one else in the poker realm has managed to do.
Unlike live poker pros who are only concerned with grinding all day everyday between the solitude of their headphones, and unlike the online pros who sit before a bank of monitors covered in finely-tuned Heads-Up Displays of their opponents’ statistical proclivities, Somerville is a pro of a different sort. Sure he plays poker almost all day and almost every day, but he does it live on the internet’s Twitch platform for all his fans to watch. It’s part of a small empire Somerville has built for himself, one he calls Run It Up, and one that has afforded him celebrity status both in the poker world and online gaming communities. Just last week, he had 30,000 people watching him simultaneously while he played a PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker event. If he’d been playing in Madison Square Garden, he could’ve filled up the arena with his fans and left 12,000 outside waiting to get in.
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This is not something that only happens occasionally. That kind of one-day event adds up to millions of views per month from people who subscribe to his channel for $4.99, paying to be a part of the Run It Up warrior nation, people who watch Somerville during his hours-long streams that he has, in the past, done for up to 70 consecutive days.
How does he do it? What makes him so special?
Well, there are a lot of things, but there is one that he specifically confessed that Saturday afternoon in Atlantic City.
“I’m beyond the point in my life where I want to be a cog in someone else’s machine,” he said.
This afternoon, sitting off in the wings, is a man with a wide smile on his face. Each joke Somerville cracks makes the man’s smile wider. If you watched close enough, you’d see there is more than amusement on his face. Each smile is lit up with pride. Scott, Jason’s father, is for the first time getting to watch his son perform live.
“I don’t know how he talks and stays creative and energetic from beginning to end,” Scott admits. “He has endless energy.”
For more about the event, see Run It Up Resorts Rumble: A destination and a journey
Somerville’s parents drove to Atlantic City from Long Island where Scott is a builder. They’ve been watching their son turn himself into a one-man online empire for the past decade, but they’d never seen him work a crowd. It would be a heady moment for any parent. It’s one thing to see your son’s first paycheck. It’s another thing to see him signing autographs.
“My wife and I thought he would be a lawyer because he’s so good at arguing, so good at debating,” Scott said. “This was his own creation.”
That’s not to say the first paycheck wasn’t momentous, as well. A decade ago, when Somerville was still a teenager, he woke up his father at 3am to announce he’d just won $35,000 in a poker tournament. Scott, sleepy and nonplussed, responded as any father might.
“I said, ‘Sure, son. Show me when the check comes,'” Scott said. “The check arrived, and we went out and bought him a new sports car. That made it real. From that point he has been a meteorite.”
“You and I come from different places. We’re nuts and bolts guys. The kids though, the internet is in their blood,” Scott said, marveling as his son made time for another fan. “He aspired to it. That microphone can be intimidating, but he knew he wanted to overcome it and get comfortable. He puts himself into it 24/7, even when he comes home to relax. He doesn’t have time to relax because he’s constantly trying to make what he does better.”
His parents are not without concern for Somerville’s workaholic ethic. There are nights Somerville will call his dad after a long stream and beg off the call because he has three more hours of work to do before the night is over. It’s the kind of thing that makes a parent want to anchor their child and make sure he doesn’t burn out.
At the same time, Jason’s parents encourage him from a respectable distance, knowing that their son’s success has come almost entirely through his own magic and his ability to make something from nothing.
“I call him The Rainmaker, because he made rain from nothing. He made money from nothing. You can’t have anything but pride,” Scott said.
In the middle of the room, Somerville is explaining himself for all to hear.
“I don’t want to deal with other people,” he says unapologetically.
This isn’t some sort of blind and misguided misanthropy. It’s something Somerville learned on his way up. He’s had partnerships with major sports organizations, daily fantasy businesses, and live casinos. His Run It Up life is intricately tied with both the Twitch platform and PokerStars. Nevertheless, Somerville’s experience has taught him that he’s good when he works with others, and he’s great when he works alone. He doesn’t just want to be the only cook in the kitchen. He wants to own the damned kitchen, too. Or, to repeat: “I’m beyond the point in my life where I want to be a cog in someone else’s machine.”
“Doesn’t it make you angry? Isn’t it so dumb?” Somerville railed. “Let’s use this angst. We can use this passion…for change.”
If there is a fuel additive for what drives Somerville to spend nearly every waking moment at work, it appears to be passion. It’s a word he uses a lot but never lightly. Even when he may be flagging, he finds a little extra energy in people who still give a damn about wanting to see poker and poker players succeed. He recognizes that what he’s doing is more than making money doing a thing he does better than anybody else. He sees that he, too, can be an agent of change. In other words, he may not want to be a cog in someone else’s machine, but he’s more than ready to be the driving wheel in an engine of progress.
“I haven’t felt this passionate about poker in a long time,” Somerville said.
And so he plans. Next week, he’s taking his Run it Up show to Reno, and if he gets his way, he’ll be doing this sort of live event as many as four times a year in America and maybe overseas. In between those, he’ll stream on Twitch all the time. He also mentioned taking the occasional two-week break, but it’s unclear if he actually believed he would.
His last bit of poker advice to the Resorts crowd was simple: “Use your brain, your gut, and your heart. That’s more than enough to make money playing poker.”
If you’re Jason Somerville, that was also exactly what it took to be a rainmaker.
By the time the Q&A session ended, an hour had flashed by. Somerville waited for anyone to dredge up any more questions before telling the assembled fans he’d see them at the party that night. A couple of hours later, Somerville showed up at a fete that might as well have been hosted in his honor. He could’ve easily cloistered himself at a table full of people who wouldn’t badger him. Instead, he walked the room, making sure he saw all of the people who had traveled so far to see him.
Somerville called himself an on-time kind of guy, and in the moment he was speaking literally. Regardless, for anyone watching him that day, the meaning was greater:
Somerville is not only a man who is prompt, but he is also a man who has appeared at just the right time for poker and the people who love it.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging.