Making poker fun again

May 18, 2016

Do you remember when you first tried poker? I don’t, because I was five (maybe) and my dad and I were sitting on the living room floor. He was dealing five-card draw to me and explaining the ranking of the hands. These are the actual chips we used; I saved ’em, you know:

Plastic Chips 2.jpg

He said don’t keep a kicker when drawing to a pair, and don’t draw to an inside straight. I guess I thought it was fun because we kept doing it, right?

Then school, friends, baseball, and guitar got in the way and I stopped playing for 15-20 years. I rediscovered the game in the mid-80’s and, man, it was fun. It was part psychology, part math, part human interaction, and… wait, I’m telling this to a bunch of poker players – you don’t need this explanation.

Or do you?

I mean, at some point, the money – it got so big. Kids barely out of (or still in) their teens were making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, or per month. Tournaments started having six-figure prizes – then it was seven figures, and even eight-figure prizes going to one person. And his consortium.

As with any marketplace, the smart guys and gals stepped up their game to more efficiently take money from others. Because people, there was a lot of it to be had. Pretty soon, their virtual tables on PokerStars looked like this:

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On their second monitor, they were looking at this:

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And there’s a 737-300 from ATL on final approach to Runway 28 at 15:22:41.

Somewhere along the way, the money pretty much took over. Somehow, we forgot that for 99.9% of its aficionados, poker is about fun. But there’s this one guy who didn’t forget that:

Jason at RIU Resorts 2.jpg

Yeah, Jason “jcarver” Somerville. People say he’s a poker pro, he says, “Actually, no, I’m a kid in a dirty basement who likes games.” And this past Saturday, a lot of other kids1 escaped their dirty basements and joined Jason at the Run It Up event at Resorts Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City.

I won’t give you the blow-by-blow – my colleague Brad Willis did that far better than I could have in this piece. I just have a story or two I want to tell. Maybe a picture or three. You wanna see poker be fun? Yeah, check this out:

Two players to a hand 2.jpg

Do you think they’re trying to figure out somebody’s four-bet bluff range? Nah, me neither. They’re more like, “Hooooold the baby!!”

Or when you read Brad’s blog piece (which you will do), you’ll read about Chris Young. I’ve got a picture and a story about Chris.

First the picture…

Chris and Sarah at RIU Resorts 2.jpg

That’s Chris, with his friend Sarah (who’s a peach) on his way to the final table of the main onlive event. Do you think they’re thinking about a goddamn Audi that almost killed him? No, they’re thinking it’s awesome that he just doubled up near the bubble.

And here’s the story. Chris got to the final table, which looked like this:

RIU Resorts final table 2.jpg

Don’t you think we need to have more final tables at which people are eating ice cream sundaes?

Everything was going swimmingly until somebody came over to me and said, “Chris is disconnected.” Sure enough, on the giant screen at the front of the room that was showing the final table, we could see that he was disconnected, but was trying desperately to get reconnected.

Then – man, it was like the Grinch figuring out Christmas. I looked up at the avatar of the guy who acted after Chris, eventual winner Dan Sewnig. His time bank was counting down while he waited for Chris to get back in. “It’s not right for him to go out because he’s disconnected; I can wait.” As Jason Somerville’s fans would say, “Not like that.”

Out of nowhere comes Bryan Spadaro, the representative of the Poker Player’s Alliance (PPA), with his laptop. “Give him this.” So we gave Chris Bryan’s laptop, he logged in, and was back in the game at the final table. I thought Sarah was going to cry with relief.

And you know what? It was about as shocking to the assembled multitude as Steph Curry hitting a three. Chris, he’s a fellow poker player and fellow Golden State Run It Up Warrior. It wouldn’t be fun if he busted out because he was disconnected. And we’re here to have fun.

Like I said, I’m not here to give you all the details; I’m here to tell you what I and a bunch of other grizzled poker veterans felt. Like the aforementioned Brad Willis, who’s been with PokerStars for 11 years, eyes twinkling as he watched (and documented) the joy in the crowd. Or my colleague, Rebecca McAdam, saying, “I haven’t experience that level of gratefulness among players, probably since around 2005.”

So it’s time for me to show my gratitude. To Jason Somerville, for telling the world that it’s just fine for poker to be about fun and hi-jinx. And to everybody who turned out and made a ballroom at Resorts a giant-basket-of-puppies day of poker fun.



1 Some of those “kids” have kids (or grandkids) of their own. But that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? That the state of being a “kid” is in your heart.

Lee Jones first joined PokerStars in 2003 and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones



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