I used to manage an internet cafe where teenagers would come and play PC games on the many terminals that we had set up. They would spend so much time there that it became a de facto day care center for the parents who would drop off their kids daily. They spent so much time there, the parents would often ask me to drive them home after we closed and even give me gas money. Eventually they asked me if I could just keep the place open late just for them so that they would not go wandering elsewhere in the middle of the night. So many nights we would all just sit there, each of us with a computer terminal playing our favorite PC game. And back then there was only one game that we played, Counter Strike. It was a first person shooter game and we could literally sit there for hours clicking away at our mouses and shooting each other in our virtual heads. But one night I suppose the kids tired of the game and asked me if I wanted to play no limit Texas hold’em. I told them that I did not know how to play but they said they would show me and so we played $0.05-$0.10 no limit. This was back in 2003 just after Chris Moneymaker had won the main event of the World Series of Poker and the game has held me captive since.
We began to play poker more and more. After that first game we would play a couple of times per week. Then it became three nights, then four and eventually we were playing every night. In the beginning we would pull the desks out from the kiosks that were built for the computer terminals to make an ad hoc poker table. But as we would do this starting at midnight, people would look in through the front glass of the internet cafe and wonder what the hell a grown man was doing with a bunch of teenagers late into the morning. So we moved the game up to the attic of the business and continued to play without interruption. We did not have any tables upstairs so a group of us would sit on the floor in a circle and take turns dealing. Eventually there would be four such circles nightly, all playing a game of hold’em huddled around and hunched over a decks of cards. Obviously everyone started to complain about the playing conditions so I struck a deal with everyone. If I were to buy the tables and chairs to make the experience a bit more comfortable, then they would all have to be fine with me collecting a rake. Aside from two kids, everyone else agreed and thus was born my first poker game.
Seeing as how we were in an internet cafe, it did not take long before we started to play online as well. I had most of my money back then in Party Poker and I would play everything from limit, no limit and even games like seven card stud. The kids who were not eighteen years of age yet somehow all had accounts. Regulations were a lot more relaxed back then or they would just get their older siblings to open accounts for them. During the summer they would all come in by opening at 10:00 AM and spend about the first seven hours or so playing Counter Strike. But after dinner, they would all come back and open up their online poker accounts and play cards. And as soon as we closed at midnight, we would all congregate upstairs where the game eventually got as high as $1-$2 NLH. I remember one particular night a new kid showed up to play and he got involved in a hand that still stands out in my memory to this day. A player opened in early position, he 3-bet with AJ suited and then the other player shoved. Considering that this was a game full of teenagers, that was a call nearly every player would have made in that game. But this kid tanked for a long time then folded the hand face up. I remember pulling him aside later on in the evening and telling him that I knew he would be a great player one day. I will not reveal the players name, but I ran into him years later when we were both living in Vegas. He had just turned twenty one years old but had been playing for a couple of years at the Venetian with a fake ID. A few years after that, he would finish second in the World Series of Poker Player of the Year ranking. He played his very first live hand in my game when he was all of fifteen years old.
This went on for months, but as I was paying little attention to the actual business of the internet cafe it went under. So I had no place to run the game anymore and I ended up giving my players list to a friend who wanted to start his own game in his apartment. But that game stopped after a while as well and after having done nothing but just playing poker at the Bike for a few months, I decided to restart my game. This time I got some friends together to pool our money and rented a warehouse on the north side of Los Angeles. We had a twelve month lease as a party planning company. I figured that was a good cover for why we had so many poker tables around as I had told the leasing agent that we specialized in casino night events. So I had six custom made poker tables built, bought some sixty chairs, cards and the rest and off we went. I remember on one particular night I had my partners and the staff we had hired stay all night in the warehouse putting stickers on the chips we had purchased. I remember the name of the club vividly as I called it Chesterfield West. It was an homage to the movie Rounders as the name of a club they played in was called the Chesterfield. In the scene where they all run into each other at the same table in Atlantic City, one of the players remarks “Welcome to the Chesterfield South” as a joke that they had just transplanted their entire game southward.
I initially thought that the game would just run from where we left off when I ran it in the internet cafe. But such was not the case as some of the players had moved away or lost too much money to continue playing. I had spent about $15,000 to get this game off the ground so I had to do something and so I took a huge risk. There was no Facebook back then as MySpace was still the most popular social media platform. So I did a search for people in my area who had listed poker as an interest and sent out a mass invite to all of them. Over the next four days I received several messages from people wanting to play and thus the game was born again. We would play $1-$2 on most nights, sometimes playing $2-$5 and it was a good game. I had the dealers trained very well and had them running the games efficiently. Word got around town and soon we were running multiple tables and having new faces show up nightly. The staff, my partners and I would gather nightly at 6:00 PM at a local Chinese restaurant to have dinner then slowly make our way to the warehouse around 8:00 PM to start the game. The games were going so late that I would basically sleep at the warehouse on a couch that we had put in the lounge. I would have to go to my friend’s house in the afternoon just to take a shower.
We were taking some huge risks back then and the biggest one was perhaps continuing to allow underage kids to play. We certainly had plenty of them wanting to play as they could not play in the casinos. On one particular weekend, one of these teenagers came in and lost about $2,000 on a Friday night. He had told his older brother about it, who happened to be a lawyer. What happened next I cannot be completely sure about, but I soon got some visitors in blue who would basically order us to stop the game. When everything was said and done, we got off fairly light. Our landlords were told about what was going on of course but they still would not let us out of our lease. So we could not run the game anymore but still had to sit on that warehouse and pay the rent for another six months. I still slept in the warehouse as I figured I should get some use out of it. So I moved out of my apartment so I would not have to pay double rent and spent most days and nights in the warehouse either playing poker online or watching movies in the lounge that we had built.
When the lease to the warehouse was finally over, I decided to look for a new apartment with some friends. After a few days of not finding anything we liked, I remember a couple of us sitting in my car and concluding that we should move close to a casino since we all loved playing poker so much. But then in a moment of clarity, we looked at each other and all said at the same time, “We should just move to Vegas!” From that moment we began to make plans to move to Sin City. Nothing was really holding us in Los Angeles anymore as I was not working, did not have an apartment and my would be roommates had just graduated from college. About a week after we had agreed to move, we took a tester trip out to Vegas to see what the apartment market was like. There were plenty of apartments available in the city that were much cheaper than what we were used to in Los Angeles. So on the second day of our trip we signed a sixteen month lease on a three bedroom apartment in a suburb of Vegas called Henderson for $1,100 per month. After a few nights of poker and some ill advised blackjack, we headed back to Los Angeles to pack up our belongings and make the move to Las Vegas.