April 28, 2018
These articles will mainly feature female poker players and personalities and places to play, with the primary focus being on tournaments. I am based in southern California but would love to cover people and places from all over, so please feel free to reach out to me if you think there is someone or something worth writing about.
That being said, I’m going off-rail just a bit with my first article by interviewing a male poker personality, but someone definitely worth knowing, Justin Hammer. Justin is the Tournament Coordinator at Commerce Casino, located just outside downtown Los Angeles, and works alongside Matt Savage (who is probably collecting a royalty check for the poker movie “Lucky You” as I’m writing this), the Tournament Director at Commerce Casino and numerous other venues in addition to being the Executive Tour Director of the World Poker Tour (WPT), and together they put on, in my humble opinion, four of the best yearly tournament series. Their most popular, the Los Angeles Poker Championships (LAPC), just ended last month and they’re now gearing up for the California State Poker Championships (CSPC), which run from April 27th through May 20th. The schedule includes numerous guarantees, satellites and single and multi-day tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $65 to $1100, which is for their $1Million Main Event. You can follow this link to see the full schedule: https://www.commercecasino.com/tournament/cal-state-poker-championship/
The tournaments are well structured and well run. This can be contributed the fact that, while Matt, Justin and their entire tournament crew make it a fun place to play, they do not tolerate any bad behavior, which makes it a very comfortable place for women to play. I wouldn’t expect anything less with names like Savage and Hammer.
Also worth noting is that most buy-ins come with a food voucher that can be used upstairs in the newly-remodeled tournament room to cover the cost of a meal from a select menu or in one of the eateries downstairs in the casino where it can be used to get a discount off of the bill. Speaking of downstairs, if you get knocked out of a tournament and are still looking for action, the casino, with its hundreds of poker tables and table games, will not disappoint. The adjoining hotel, The Crowne Plaza, has very nice rooms and offers a player’s rate. Bring an extra friend or two, making it a girl’s trip, and it becomes even more affordable. Good luck and hope to see you there.
Now, back to Justin. I “grilled” him with some tough questions:
Q: How did you get started in poker?
Justin: When I was 16, my older brother invited me to a home game that he had with his buddies. Partly to have a fish in the game, but mostly to have a designated driver. We played a variety of games for nickels and dimes. The more I was around it, the more obsessed I became. That was right around the time it started being played more and more on TV, which even further ignited my passion.
Q: What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the job?
Justin: I get to be around the game I love, and meet a variety of different people in the process. Each day is a new adventure in the poker room, and I look forward to coming to work to experience it every day.
My least favorite part is going to surveillance. It almost always means that something wrong/bad has happened, so I’m always hoping I don’t end up there.
Q: You’ve filled in for Matt as the WPT TD on several occasions. Other than the obvious answer of lights/cameras, what’s the biggest difference between a televised and non-televised poker tournament?
Justin: Cameras definitely add an element of prestige to a tournament. When they’re on, rails get louder, decisions get magnified, and players are generally just more self-aware. It also adds some pauses to play while waiting for the director or production staff to make sure they have the angles they need.
Q: What’s been your most interesting or memorable poker experience and why?
Justin: The first time I got to work with Matt Savage at the WPT500. I was already running tournaments at the time and was a fan boy. I tried to soak up as much as I could from him for the week that he was there, and it inspired me to push harder to be better at understanding tournament directing.
Q: If I’m a woman who’s never played a live tournament with men and there’s a very good chance I’ll be the only woman at my table what advice would you give me?
Justin: The poker world is figuring out that women are an important part of this game. You shouldn’t feel scared or intimidated to sit down at a tournament. Most are aware of the importance of treating women with respect at the tables, but if you’re unfortunate enough to encounter someone who isn’t aware, let a floor person know immediately. It’s our job to make all players feel like they’re in a safe and enjoyable environment. I take that job very seriously. We had 5 women winners at this year’s LAPC, the most ever. I think it shows that as they start to feel more comfortable/protected at the table, the more they’ll show they are a force to be reckoned with.
Q: What is a fun fact about you that most people don’t know or wouldn’t guess about you?
Justin: I worked a lot of odd jobs before I got into poker, including soccer ref, pizza delivery driver, janitor, car salesman, account executive, printing press operator, and even a dice dealer. None of those were much fun though, so I think I’ll stick to poker.