Justin Hammer: Growing The Game & Making Guarantees
Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 221
Justin Hammer on social media:
Today’s guest on CPG was a 2022 finalist for the GPI tournament director of the year, is the tournament supervisor for the MGM Grand, and is touted by CPG favorite & one day poker hall of famer Matt Savage as one of the very best in the world at his craft… Justin Hammer.
I had an amazing time speaking with Justin & learning about everything that goes into estimating & hitting tournament guarantees, what the other side of an overlay feels like when guarantees are missed, and how it feels running tournaments in Texas where, as we all know, everything is bigger.
Before you dive in and learn more about Justin, there are some technical difficulties in today’s episode so please bear with us and, if you just can’t take it, tag Matt Savage on Twitter and send him your complaints.
I’m sure it’s somehow his fault.
Now, without any further ado, I bring to you one of the very best & brightest tournament directors in the whole world… the one & only Justin Hammer.
Click any of the icons below to find the CPG pod on the platform of your choice. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy my conversation with Justin Hammer on the Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast.
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Well, hello there, my friend, welcome to another episode of the chasing poker greatness podcast as always. This is your host, the founder of chasing poker greatness.com. Coach Brad Wilson and today’s guest on C P G was a 2022 finalist for the tournament director of the year is the tournament supervisor for the MGN grand and is touted by C P G fan favorite and one day poker hall of Famer, Matt Savage, as one of the very best in the world at his craft.
Justin hammer. Despite being named after an Ironman villain, I had an amazing time speaking with Justin and learning about everything that goes into estimating and hitting tournament guarantees. What the other side of an overlay feels like when guarantees are missed and how it feels running tournaments in Texas, where as we all know, everything is bigger.
And before you dive in and learn more about Justin, there are some technical difficulties in today’s episode. So please bear with us. And if you just can’t take it tag Matt Savage on Twitter and send him all of your complaints, I’m sure it’s somehow his fault. And now, without any further ado, I bring to you one of the very best and brightest tournament directors in the whole world, the one and only Justin hammer,
Brad: Justin hammer. Welcome to chasing poker greatness, sir. How you doing?
Justin: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me happy. Uh, very happy to be here.
Brad: It’s my pleasure. You know, Matt Savage, our mutual friend connected us. What is it with tournament directors and strong last names you got Savage and hammer. Is it like a prerequisite? Do you guys like go to school and this part of honestly training program?
Justin: It’s, it’s like a chicken and the egg sort of thing. I don’t know if we like, be like, got to where we are because we have such cool last names or , if it’s just a, a coincidence that we like have cool last names and then all got in the same thing.But yeah, I don’t know. There are, uh, there are a lot of, uh, power names and the tournament directing business, for sure.
Brad: I need a cool name. You guys need to hook me up. Um, let us see what we can do.
Justin: I have my parents to thank for it. I was, I was born with it, but it, it can be awkward sometimes. Cuz people call me hammer when I’m at work all the time. And then somebody who doesn’t know me that well, they’re like. Oh, that’s a really cool last name. How did you get that? And it’s like, uh, or a cool nickname. It’s like, oh, I was, I was born with it. Like, it’s not like that. Wasn’t my nickname when I was doing time and I like had a reputation for shutting down anybody with a bad attitude. No, I was just born with it.
Brad: Ah, come on, man. Just, just lie. What’s what’s, what’s the big deal.
Justin: I try to lie, but they always see right through it. That’s why I’m on the tournament, directing side and not the playing side. They see right through it.
Brad: I see. I see. And yeah, speaking of tournament, directing, you know, let’s talk about your story and how you got in this world, you know, in the first place. And, um, if you don’t mind me asking, you know, how, how old are you so that we can kind of yeah. Set the stage for what your entry into the world of poker look like?
Justin: Sure. Uh, I’m 38. I’ll be 39 next month. So, uh, coming up on my forties, but I. I fell in love with poker. Uh, when I was in my teens, I would play in some home games with my brother, my older brother. He had, he had moved out and he lived in the house with his buddies and we would play all the, uh, crazy games that the, the young kids don’t even know about nowadays. But like everything was like table stakes, except there’s always one game that you play where you have to match the size of the pot, no matter what. And somebody has to go to the ATM, pull out 40 bucks in it and it devastates their life. But, uh, I, I just loved the game. I loved playing it. I loved the social aspect of it. And, uh, as soon as I turned 18, I was in Southern California at the time. And most of the Indian casinos were 18 or over. So I started playing one to five spread limits stud at a place called Morongo in Southern California, and slowly graduated up to three, six limit. And then at some point they came up with. One two, no limit. It might have even been one, one, but, uh, I was going to school to become a lawyer in college. And I got to a point where like I realized that it just wasn’t going to be for me. I saw lawyers on TV or whatever. I thought it was cool. But once you start actually hanging out with them, it’s just so much more work than it is arguing. And that was just, I knew that I needed to be involved with poker at some point. And so my wife now she was my girlfriend at the time she was going to school for teaching. And I just said, I, I want to go to Vegas and I want to pursue this. And it was a, maybe I’ll play, but probably not like I’m very realistic. Like, I don’t know if I have the chops. I don’t know if it. Sustainable. I don’t know if this is even a thing that people do, but like I’ll get involved in the working side of it so that there’s some guaranteed money coming in. And then if I decide to go and then I go to Vegas, I started working, uh, I dealt the world series of poker in 2007. Uh, that was kind of my first job. It was like a, basically a break in job. Like you think world series and it should be spectacular. And it is, but like also they need a thousand dealers, so they can’t afford to be too picky. So I went to dealer school, I learned how to deal. I got a job at the world series of poker and then poker was kind of tough to get into.
Brad: Why was this so hard getting into poker back then?
Justin: everybody wanted experience and nobody wanted to like give you a break. It probably, wasn’t hard for people to had a lot of experience, but. Dealing the world series in my mind was like great experience, but in someone, and now that I’m on their operations side, I kind of understand it more, but like, it wasn’t really experience. So I was still very green, but, uh, bins with hiring and I just, I went in for an audition and then I just showed up every day, like, Hey, you ready to hire me yet? Like, Hey, is it cool? Can I do I’m ready? If you need someone I’ll work off the clock. I don’t care. Eventually, like just persistence got me in. And I worked, uh, I worked at Binions for first three years of my career in poker. Uh, I trained under Paul learned how to run tournaments learned kind of the operation side. I was the floor supervisor probably after six months and then did a little bit of both. And I would work the grave shift at Binions. I worked the other nine to five and whenever the room went dark at Binions, we’d go across the street to golden nugget and we would play poker all night. And that was kind of, uh, How I first got in, then I went over to aria in 2012 ish, 2011. Maybe I dealt for again, probably about six months. And then they were looking for people that wanted to run tournaments. And I said, all right, I’m in, uh, I ran tournaments at aria, including when they first started doing the high rollers. I did a lot of the, the first super high roller bowl. That was 500,000, the 25 and 50 Ks that they did just regularly. I was there when they started the, if you’re on time, you get, uh, no rake thing that they do now. And having been there on both sides before and after they did that, it just makes perfect sense. And it’s now it just seems like genius, but you would show up and there would be 15 people that you knew were going to play and there would be two people signed up and you just wander around like, Hey, are we gonna go or ready to go? Or 30 minutes after start time. And they’d be like, oh yeah, yeah. As soon as. This guy that I’m talking to signs up. And so like, we could just never get the tournament going. And then once we started doing that and it’s, Hey, here’s an extra 500 bucks in your pocket thousand, whatever it is now, all of a sudden you get there at two o’clock and you’ve got 15 people signed up. So, uh, it was really good. Then I worked with Matt Savage during the very first w PT 500 in, uh, 2015. And that’s kind of where our relationship started. So when they were looking for people at commerce, uh, to take over the tournament coordinating position that was vacant by, uh, my buddy, Sam Quinto Savage kind of put my name in the hat and got me that interview. And then, uh, we worked together at commerce until 2019.
Brad: Yeah. And, and Savage doesn’t do anything with commerce these days, right? Uh, I think, did they come off the WP? I’m not exactly sure what happened in that situation.
Justin: So COVID did like this big reset for commerce. And it was honestly, there was some things that they were, they were kind of wanting to do anyway. And this was an excuse. I’m not saying like getting rid of Matt Savage is one of ’em. I don’t think that’s true at all, but like, it was kind of, they wanted tournaments to be a little different, like most everywhere now tournaments have kind of molded into self-sustaining like they need to make a profit on their own. Commerce was very much at a time where tournaments were just a marketing tool and their job is to get people in. And yeah, you wanna make enough that they kind of support themselves, but the real goal is get ’em in, get ’em out and then downstairs playing where they make their actual money. And as it kind of transformed and a lot of it was me and my time there and Savage and his time there when I was there, like it started mold, like it moved with the tide that is tournament poker and commerce. Was never real big fan of that. That’s never what they wanted tournaments to be. Anyway. They kind of just wanted them to still be the marketing tools that get people into cash games. And this was like a good,
Brad: why do you think they were, they were resistant to that, like while every, all the other rooms were kind of moving towards something different.
Justin: I, I think there’s some of it is just there’s the old school mentality. Like they were there when tournaments worked really well. That way. Like when some, I would go back and look at some of the old structure sheets sometimes from commerce, like circa 2007, 2008 in that range. And they were just. You get 3000 starting chips, you get 30 minute levels and it’s single entry. If you’re not there on time, you don’t get to sign up. And you look at some of the results that they got, they could do these tournaments and get 2000 entries. They would have to put patio or tables on the patio to get people in like that. There’s a lot of people that were there during that time that still believe that’s the way it can be done and should be done and will be done, or what have you. And I think they want to try. And even if they don’t think they could do it the same way now they want to get back to that kind of mindset.
Brad:Do, do you think there’s merit to that approach? I, I was there, I, I guess in 2007 during like California state poker championship, um, those sort of years, and then lap, C’s like the second largest festival. in the world. I, I believe to this day, um, behind the Ws O P so it’s like a, it’s a giant place. And I’ve spent a lot of my life living at commerce casino. So it’s a place that that’s pretty new, near, near, near to my heart, which may surprise many listeners of the podcast and many regulars at commerce who don’t always have great things to say, but, you know, for, for whatever it’s worth from my side, I’ve always loved playing at commerce. I’ve just enjoyed being at the commerce casino. Um, although I do understand people don’t like it, and I I’ve heard that it’s certainly changed because I haven’t been there since probably 2015 or so, so seven years. So it’s, it’s changed quite a bit in the time that I was there up until today. I think.
Justin: Yeah, it has for sure. Now, uh, I don’t know, like they, it just seemed like. Bringing Matt back was just this big restart that they just, for whatever reason didn’t wanna do. I mean, LAPC, isn’t a WPP thing anymore.
Brad: that’s crazy. That’s easy to me. Like that’s, that’s wild that, it not, it’s not a WP T stop.
Justin: and they’re not, they’re not doing mix games the way they used to because they kind of want, they wanna do the mixed games. They wanna do the tournaments for the games that they have on the floor. Because again, that mentality is get ’em in for one thing so that they go and do something else. And it’s, I, I, I’m a believer that if you do a horse tournament and you have a Omaha game that the horse players will go down and play Omaha, or if you have, even if you have like a deuce, the seven tournament, and then you have OE on the floor, like those are all the same players. It’s the same pool. Like if you like playing. Basically, if you like playing, not hold em, then you like playing, not hold em. And all those guys kind of go to the same place, but it’s, it’s a switch. And who knows, like the eCommerce has done a lot of things. They’ve been very successful for a really long time. And so some of those, like, yeah, when I’m, when I’m in charge of things, I see things a little different, or I wanna do them a little differently, but also I haven’t had the kind of success that they’ve had over the last 30, 40 years now they’ve got, uh, DJ Vega. He’s doing the tournaments over there. He’s my number one guy.
Whenever I do something, he’s the first person I call on when I need help with something. And I think he’s a really sharp guy. I think he’s got a lot of good ideas and if anyone can make it happen over there with them, I think he’s, he’s a great choice. So I’m looking forward to see what they do over.
Brad: Awesome man. And you and I are, are the same age. And so I can kind of see your timeline in, in my mind’s eye. Right. You’re playing as like a teenager, um, which is before the moneymaker. Boom. I imagine, you know, like late nineties time period, how, how did you stumble across poker? Like how did it even get on your radar in the first place? Just the, the home games with your friends or just Southern California, you just see them
Justin: things like they progressed for me, a lot of it. Like I, I was there during the moneymaker boom, and that was really cool, but I was already pretty into poker by the time moneymaker won. I remember there was a, uh, a travel channel. Before w P T there was a travel channel show about, uh, the year that CRI or, uh, no, uh, Carlos Mortenson, the year that Carlos Mortenson won and it wasn’t poker like we do now. It was more like a documentary. Like they weren’t showing hands. They were just kind of showing the process. Right. And like him going through and winning. And it was like this game that I’m playing with my brother and his buddies for nickels and dimes or whatever, like people do this in an organized, big, fun fashion. And then of course rounders came up and that whole like, oh, we go to these private games and when you, we win and then there’s just, I can read all the judges’ hands blind just by seeing their up cards I stud and this cool, like. Oh, yeah. This game is really cool. And rounders was, and now you look back and a lot of that stuff, like doesn’t even make sense, like just the whole we’re playing for 10,000, you open for a thousand dollars with Kings. Like some of this stuff just doesn’t make sense anymore.
Brad: 20, 25, 50, right. It’s like, oh, right, thousand. Right.?
Justin: We’ll just, I’ll make it a thousand and then he’ll make it 5,000 and then I’ll consider folding Kings, like just this whole, but obviously the movie was great and it served its purpose and it’s a lot of fun.
Brad: I had compliment on by the way. And, and like, if you think about it from like a movie since right. It’s like heads up poker match, 25, 50 flag for 30 K would last like a good 18 hours. It would be the most boring movie of all time. if it was like in Andy sense, realistic. Um, yeah, but I I’m with you rounders. Was a major hook into it. Just peaked. My curiosity made me interested about the lifestyle and playing cards, like for a living where you’re kind of like hacking, um, you know, ha hacking a career where you don’t have somebody who’s telling you what to do, and you can just play cards and you, you can, um, it’s a meritocracy, right? Which is, All very appealing things to, uh, I mean me in present day and also 18 or 17 or 16 year old, Brad, a as well. So for the podcast listener here, uh, I just wanna give a warning. We we’ve had some technical difficulties in the interim and I have no way to do a smooth segue from what we were talking about before, because I lost track of where the hell I was at. We, we were talking about rounders and how, you know, I, I said that it would be quite a boring movie if it were 12 hours of Mike MCee battling KGB heads up in, in earnest, um, which is a slow pace for movies. Um, I, I think probably not acceptable, but for what it’s worth, I think that compliment did do a good job of creating intrigue and story and yeah, it, it pulled me in and I still say all the time that Mike MCee is probably the most influential person in my whole poker career, just because of that one character. Um, and getting back to your story, uh, let’s. Just kind of fast forward through the, the commerce days, the dealing, the applying, um, and then the directing, what led to your leaving of commerce casino and moving to the great state of Texas.
Justin: so commerce and to just finish up on rounders real quick, I think a lot of movies, they like as poker players, we want it to be very pokery when they do it, but as a casual fan, it’s just, it’s usually not very entertaining, whatever the real poker is. So I totally understand when they write movies that are cool, like, oh, I made it a thousand dollars. If you know nothing about poker, that’s a lot of fun. Just like, if somebody’s really good. So they make Royal flushes. Like we know that’s not a thing, but if you’re watching as a casual fan, like I, I get it and whatever gets somebody’s, you know, foot in the door for poker, I’m all for it. But, uh, I. I had a big tournament that we did at commerce. The last one that I did there, my, uh, Swan song called the, uh, the Abys, which was you play the same level for the first six hours of a tournament. And it is funny because it’s almost where my career ended up after running the tournament, the, uh, the ABI be Abys. But, uh, it, it missed the guarantee by a pretty decent chunk.
Brad: how much, what what’s a decent chunk?
Justin: It, I mean, it was like 20,000. It wasn’t like, I mean, as far as MIS guarantees, that’s not like it’s. Probably the sixth most in my career that I missed by to be honest, but like, it was more of a series of things that like sometimes in this business, it’s you better be sure. Like, okay, I missed one a year earlier by a hundred thousand. So then it’s kind of like, you better be sure going forward. And so this was one of those series where it’s like, you better be sure if you’re gonna put it on. And so like I gambled and I put it on there and I wasn’t sure. And it missed, and it led to some conversations. I won’t say that I was outright fired, but I mean, it was close to that. Like we just, we decided it would be better to go our separate ways. And so that’s, that’s kind of what happened. And then that was right before COVID and I had lots of stuff. I was ready. Like this was a stepping stone in my career. Like I was ready for it. I would. Had been talking to some local Indian casinos about running series there, and I’d gotten the green light on some things. I was working at thunder valley, uh, with my buddy Ben Irwin. And I had lots of, uh, series lined up working with him. COVID happened, everything went away. So now, I mean, I was in that boat like two or three months before everybody was, but eventually everyone caught up to me, unfortunately, and then we were all just kind. Looking for work.
Brad: could, could, could you talk about the pressure of guarantees from the tournament director side? Like what goes into predicting those guarantees? And then, you know, you just mentioned that the downside of missing the guarantee is that the operators probably unhappy with said tournament director. So like, how does that relationship work? And then how do you, uh, I mean, how do you even come up with a guarantee for a specific event?
Justin: There’s a lot that goes into it. I can tell you the toughest, the toughest way to do that was doing it in Texas, because there’s no real history. When I was at commerce. You know, you do a, when you’re trying something new and you put a guarantee on it, you can kind of factor in what you know, like what, what type of turnout do we get in September generally? What. What type of buy-in level are people comfortable with? If I’m putting an experiment on it, how exciting is it going to be? Is it going to draw people in because they want to try this or does it need to be just enough that they’re willing to try it? Like sometimes people just want to come in and you know, they’re gonna come because it’s a great idea. And then sometimes like this ABIs, you just have no idea. Like it’s, you know, generally what kind of turnout you can get around that time, you know, you can gauge interest based off of, you know, social media and posts on your website and things like that. But generally you look at the time period that you’re running it, you look at the buy-in, you kind of weigh in how many people you need to get in there. Like just generally to support having a tournament and how many you think would show up if you did nothing and you try and find a number. I think ideally people in you’ll see in my career and I I’m a big risk taker. It’s just. Part of being a gambler gambler and a player myself. But I think ideally if I could just do things perfectly, I would miss every guarantee by a hundred dollars. Like if I could just figure out the perfect number you told me exactly what I, if I could just see the future and plug in all the numbers and know what I was going to get, I would miss every guarantee by a hundred dollars. Cuz nowadays you see, and it’s fine and it still serves a purpose and I’m not knocking it, but like you see people put a hundred thousand guarantee on a tournament. They know they’re gonna get 500,000 for, they put something on there that, you know, it’s just, it’s super safe. And to me, if it’s never in danger of missing like zero chance, it misses ever, then it doesn’t serve the purpose. At least not the way that I want it to. So I do, I put something that I don’t get me wrong. I always hope it’s going to get there. It’s not fun when it misses, but I want it to be something that’s like, oh my God, he thinks it’s gonna be that big. Okay, I’m gonna go play it. And if that’s the kind of reaction that you’re looking for. You have to swing for the fences. Sometimes, sometimes you have to say, look like this. People are knocking that I did a 2 million guarantee for a 5,300 cuz that’s a big buy in and small guarantee comparatively, but there’s never been a 15 300 in Texas before that the two, this isn’t like MGM putting on $2 million, it’s a drop in the bucket to their billions of dollars that they have. This is an individual owner who’s saying, okay, we’re gonna put this tournament on. And if it doesn’t get to $2 million, I’m gonna pull that money outta my pocket and I’m gonna pay the rest of it, which to his credit, the last series we did miss by a hundred thousand and he did pull that money out of his pocket and he did pay it to the players. So like I know that he’s good for it. I know he believes in what we’re doing, but like for me to tell that same person, no, no, make it a 5 million game. I know we’ve never had a single $5,300 player in this room ever. But let’s guarantee we’ll get a thousand of them next month. How does that sound like saying that we’re gonna do it with 400 was pretty strong. Like it was pretty bold and it, it’s also a stepping stone. Like you can’t come outta the gate with a thousand player guarantee. You have to like build up to it.
Brad: Now you have more data to, to base your future predictions on. Right?
Justin: Right. And like more of a roadmap. What did we do that worked? What did we do that didn’t work? What did people like? What did they not like? And when you’re doing something like this, how many people didn’t come to Texas because they just, they still don’t understand what’s happening here versus now that people came. And if you talked to people who came and played this tournament, you hear a lot of good things. And I believe that because normally the bad ones filter through me. I’m the first person to hear about ’em. And I have heard a lot of good things and not a whole lot of bad things. And so I know that people that came had a good experience, we had. Uh, Nate silver was here, kitty KU, Landon Tyson, a lot of the, uh, Pete Carroll, who, or, uh, Carol who won the tournament. He, I just went to Seattle Seahawks. Uh, he won the tournament. Like we had some big, we had some big names come out and play and had a really good time.
Brad: we can’t forget either, uh, a good friend of the podcast. Nick Howard got second, actually. Um, who’s put, you know, he’s released, uh, we’ve probably released close to 10 episodes together O over the last couple of years, just a super, super, super great guy. Super happy for him.
Justin: Uh, yeah, there was, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to talk to him about it, but I actually gave a penalty at the final table that he was involved in.
Brad: Nice. No, I, I did. I haven’t had a chance to did, was it him getting penalized?
Justin: No, he was the, he was just the other player in the hand. Mm. Uh, it was. It was one of those tensions get high at the final table, obviously. And they were playing for a lot of, uh, a lot of money and it was one of those in any other circumstance, it probably would’ve been easily squashed, like no problem. And I don’t, I don’t think either of them was, were super outta line just generally. I think they just were in that situation. And I think it had a lot to do a lot to do with the fact that, uh, there was a hundred thousand dollars pay jump like there were, they were for handed in the tournament at the time and it was, uh, it was just kind of like, I don’t think you, it turned, it was actually Nick who made a, he made a move that. It looked bad, but you go back and you watch it. And he definitely wasn’t trying anything. It just looked bad. Like he brought out chips and then tried to raise more than what was in his hand. And he admitted, like, that’s what, that’s how you know, like, oh yeah, I shouldn’t have done it that way. But, uh, the other player in the hand took offense to it and then it kind of just, uh, you’re outta line. I’m not outta line. You’re outta line. No, you’re not. And it just kept escalating.
Brad: Yeah. So, so he like grabbed chips, put ’em out and then verbalize the race. Is that what happened?
Justin: He like, kind of went back to grab more without really verbalizing it.
Brad: What a NOBE!
Justin: Yeah, no, I mean, it wasn’t, it was just like a brain fart.
It was one of those, like, and honestly, these are the types of things. All I’m worried about as a tournament director is are you shooting an angle? And a hundred percent, he was not shooting an angle. So like, it’s one of those. Yeah. We’re gonna have to make it a call or raise whatever’s in your hand type of situation. But like the other player in the hand kind of talked about it as if it was an angle. Yeah. To which Nick took offense to, to which he took offense to him taking offense. And then we were fine. We were fine. Like, I was there, I had him calm, but then, uh, Nick raises and uh, other players said shocker. And it was like, okay, now, now I’m gonna have to give a penalty just for the word shocker. Because like, because I asked you not to say anything and you did it anyway. So like, and I called him over and I was like, Hey, look, I, if I’m doing my job, I’m involved in this as little as possible. Like, you all are figuring out who’s going to win this tournament. You and the cards, not me. I don’t wanna be involved in this at all. And so kind of pulled ’em aside and told ’em like, okay, look, we’re gonna miss your small blind. That’s what we’re gonna miss right now. That could have a significant impact on the tournament. I hope not, but right now it’s your small blind. If we have to come over here again, it’s gonna be a small and a big blind and then if we have to do it again, then it’s gonna be a couple of those. I said, I don’t wanna do that. I don’t wanna be involved in this at all. And like just the few minutes that I had him over there, when he missed the small blind, he calmed down and played the tournament. And I, I don’t know. Maybe if Nick tells you this story, it’s better, but when he went and sat back down, like to get back at him, he just ripped seven dues off for like 30 bigs and Nick called at they shack. And. Busted him from the tournament. So it, after it all was said and done, it worked out good for him. So that is . That is quite a weird story. Um, yeah, I guess it was James Carol. I gotta say it. It was James Carroll who won the tournament. I like, I went to sea Seahawks, P carro. It’s James Carol who won the tournament.
Brad: Pete, Pete Carroll may have been there. There is a lot of people who who’s to know that Pete Carroll wasn’t at the tournament, you know,
Justin: that’s true. Yeah. That’s true. That is James deserves to have his actual names out on the podcast. He’s the winner of the tournament. His name is James. Pete Carroll is the coach at Seattle sea hockey. um, there we go.
Brad: that’s true. Yeah. That’s true. That is James deserves to have his actual names out on the podcast. He’s the winner of the tournament. His name is James. Pete Carroll is the coach at Seattle sea hockey. um, there we go. Speaking of MIS guarantees, what’s the biggest MIS guarantee that you’ve had as a, as a tournament director.
Justin: Uh, I’ve had two that were six figures. I missed one. Uh, I missed one by a hundred thousand at commerce. It was the Cal state poker championship. It was a million guarantee and we got to 900,000 and then. Uh, I missed the one at crime. We tried to do a tournament during the world series of poker, which I will never do again. And it was a, uh, $1,700. Buy-in 1.5 million guarantee. And it got to, uh, about 1.3. So we missed that one by like 180,000.
Brad: And as you’re kind of seeing like, oh shit, we are, we’re not gonna hit the guarantee. Like, what are you feeling in those moments? And like, what thoughts are going through your, your head?
Justin: I can tell you the difference between me and Matt Savage. Matt Savage will tell you if it’s not, it’s no fun. If there’s no sweat, that’s what Savage will tell you. There’s it’s no fun if there’s no sweat, I disagree. I think, I think it’s very fun when there’s no sweat, but honestly like every, every time I’ve missed one in my career, there is this. This feeling like this sense, like you just know it’s coming, it’s never like it just, especially in these tournaments that are four day events and you need a thousand entries and then like day one, you get 50 players like, oh crap. And it’s sometimes like I’ve had it happen at commerce where it was, I need a thousand in four days and day one was 90 and day two was a hundred and day three was 200 and it’s like, oh no, I’m drawing dead. And then day four was like seven 50 and you get there and it’s no problem. Like at commerce that has happened in Texas, that’s not really going to happen. You know, it’s gonna go like good, better, best as it progresses. But like it’s, there is a pit in your stomach where it’s, what do I do? And sometimes, you know, you’re not gonna be able to fix it. You’re not gonna be able to get an extra hundred bodies in the door for 1700, but you might be able to get 20. And then it’s what are you gonna do with those extra 20? Like how are you going to sell that to ownership? Like, okay. Yeah. I need you to write a six figure check, but it could have been more they, they don’t, they don’t,
Brad: you want the good news or the bad news,
Justin: right? It’s never, like, if I say you owe me 180, but at least it’s not two 50. Like, it doesn’t really make them feel better. So like, it doesn’t feel good. It feels very much like you have been grinding a tournament and you’re on the bubble and you finally look down at like four. So you just rip your last seven bigs and you get called in five spots and they all have an repair. Like you just, you know, it’s coming. Like, you’re just, you know, that things aren’t going to go, but it’s also. Nothing is a bad experience, unless you don’t learn anything from it. That’s always been my stance going through this in my career. Like even if it gets me fired, like what did I learn from it? How am I going to do better at what I’m doing? And so when we missed that other one, it was okay, Hey look, here’s, here’s some mistakes that we made. We thought that with the way with the community that we had and the way things seemed to be going in Vegas, that we could pull off a decent size series. Now I don’t think that’s true. Can we do something during the world series? Sure. Should we swing for the fences? Probably not. And so it was also, I took that as an opportunity. I wrote a blog called what is it like when you miss big guarantees? And I just explained from my point of view, Hey, here’s what it’s like. And I got a lot of feedback on that blog, like, oh, I never realized that there was so much pressure on you to do things like that. I never realized that it’s. Basically like you’re losing your own money when you do things like that. Like you work a series and you don’t make a lot of money because the house didn’t make any money. And so, like, I just kind of explained what it’s like, and you could still see that on the prime site if anyone’s interested, but like
Brad: that’s shocking. Really. I wouldn’t have imagined that like casinos didn’t enjoy losing money. Ands that’s yeah. the shock of the year there.
Justin: And there, there are places that, I mean, don’t get me wrong. Nobody likes it. But, and even the places like you think, oh, they’re a billion dollar conglomerate or whatever. And they lost a couple hundred thousand, but it’s never, it’s never just one giant bucket that they pull and put into there’s people who are in charge of certain departments. And when you run a casino, it’s like it all, it’s like an umbrella. It sprinkles down. There’s one person who’s in charge of five people who are each in charge of five people. And then it gets all the way down to. Your job is to make these tournaments profitable or to make the room profitable. And if you have these big misses, then you’re not doing your job. It’s not, we lost 200,000 out of our billions of dollars. It’s your job was to make X number of dollars and you fell short by X number of dollars. That means you aren’t doing your job. Well, maybe we need to put somebody else in that position. So when you are in that position, in your job, like my job, when we do the series is to put a guarantee that we’re going to hit. So when it doesn’t happen, I haven’t done my job. You do that enough times. You don’t have that job anymore. Just it’s how it works, regardless of how much money they have somewhere else. Yeah. If you’re losing the money anywhere, they don’t like it very much.
Brad: Yeah. I, I could, I could certainly see that. And I wanna let’s segue to living in Texas and being on being in, uh, the whole. Texas card room scene. That is kind of it’s it’s wild Westy a little bit right now. Um, a good, good phrase for it, for sure. Yeah. Wild Westy.
Brad: Um, to my understanding and I could be wrong. I, I am not a lawyer nor did I go to school to one day, try to become one and then become a tournament director. Um, but like, it feels tenuous that with the change of a law, could the card rooms just be wiped out? Like, is that sort of the, the situation that’s going on in Texas right now? Like would they just kind of disappear overnight if specific laws got changed and, um, in which case that’s gotta be a pretty scary spot to be in like in the whole Texas card room scene.
Justin: Yeah. I mean, in theory, a version of that can happen. The only thing that isn’t, uh, It’s just not a fast process. Like you can’t change the law overnight. You can, you can change
Brad: unless it was U I G E a, because that shit got changed overnight.
Justin: yeah. Right. given that, like the law didn’t change just the enforcement or the interpretation or the like that part changed overnight. And even that it’s really tough to happen, especially the way things are going in Texas right now. So the way they operate and the way I got here, by the way, is this stuff happened at commerce. COVID shut everything down in Texas. It did shut down for a little bit for all the COVID stuff, but it opened up a lot quicker, especially since like we were talking about these rooms, aren’t they aren’t regulated the same way. So there’s you can’t, it’s a lot tougher. A lot of them were looked at like restaurants or bars because they serve food. And then the other half of their business was poker. So like when, when poker or when restaurants were. Opening back up poker room started opening up in Texas. So when I came out here, it was, it’s still going. They had a need for what I can do. I wanted to work. So it was like just a match made in heaven. I came out here and I visited for a week and I was like, oh yeah, like I could work with this. Like, this looks fun. Like, let’s do it. Uh, so the way that poker works in Texas is there’s. And the reason why people say it’s illegal or it wasn’t here for a long time. And now it is, is cuz there’s some very specific rules that are in the Texas law that you basically, that you can’t do. And some would say that the spirit of the law is that you can’t play. And that’s why people say that it’s illegal because these rules exist saying that you can’t play, but they have rules that were made specifically. So that like. You could say they didn’t want there to be poker, but what they really didn’t want is casinos or card room, or like people that were just building these conglomerates to make money off of them or whatever, what they did want was for you and I, to be able to sit in my living room, play cards with each other and like not have the police come in and raid and take it down or whatever. So between those two different things you are allowed to, if you are a member of a private club, you could pretty much do things that you want. If you are not profiting off of the outcome of a hand. So like blackjack, whoever is closest to 21, they win. So it’s based off the outcome of the hand. If everyone involved has an equal chance of winning. So people are looking at this under a microscope and saying, okay, so if we don’t do a, B, C, D, then it’s good. So places, uh, social clubs in Texas, they aren’t. Profiting off the outcome of a hand. They’re not taking anything out of a pot. They don’t have a financial benefit to the fact that the game is going. They have a financial benefit because you’re renting your seat and you’re paying to be in there and you pay to be a member of our private clubs. So there are, but there’s a bunch of lawyers and a bunch of people smarter than me who looked at this and said, okay, you said, I can’t do a, B, C, D. So I’m not gonna do any of that. I’m gonna do E and I’m gonna do F and I’m gonna do G and yeah, I get it. If somebody says that’s against the spirit of the rule, maybe they’re right. And maybe someday, somewhere down the road, somebody will say, okay, this is what we meant. So now we’re gonna add these to the laws. The things that you can’t do, I hope, and a very well may happen. I hope not too. What I hope is that they see the financial impact that it has on these cities to have card rooms and how much safer they are to have them the way that we’re doing. ’em now. Instead of some of the dangers that are involved with running underground games, which are going to run
Brad: 1000%. I mean, it’s just.
Justin: Of course guaranteed. And it’s, I don’t even have anything against underground games, like people that do them, I’ve played in some of ’em since I’ve been out here. Like I am, I am all for it in four people’s right. To play poker pretty much any way that they can generally. But like, I think it should be an option. And especially for what I do, it’s really tough to have a million dollar tournament in an underground situation. So having a place where you can do it, like, I think it provides a benefit to the city. It gets people in, we had people traveling from, I counted at least 20 different states that were in our main event, five different countries. And that was just barely going over the list of the people that had played. Like people came into Houston to play these tournaments at prime social. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t just sit down and play poker and leave. But even if they did. We pay our taxes. When we make money, we pay taxes back to the city. But I just know I saw pictures. People are going to ball games, they’re going to restaurants. They’re going, they’re staying in hotels. They’re renting cars, they’re shopping. They’re going to the Galleria. They’re doing all kinds of things. The economic impact to the cities when we do these tournaments is huge. And obviously in my opinion, it’s worthwhile for it to be for it to be legal, organized, regulated part of the Texas community. And I it’s possible, like, I, I don’t want to, what I don’t think is possible is, and what I think most people are worried about. It’s not really possible that somebody comes in and arrests you for playing poker in one of these clubs, because you, you are participating in a service that we’re providing. And if something happened where. They said it was illegal for us to provide that service. The club would get shut down. The club would get in trouble. The club would get whatever. But at this point you can’t really do that. You can’t find any individual club and say you’re breaking the law. And then just some of ’em are doing things obviously that you could get in trouble for anywhere. If you’re laundering money, if you’re selling drugs, if you’re doing illegal activity that is black and white, it’s not in this gray area that we like to live in. Yeah. Obviously you’re gonna get in trouble. And what I think happens is some places run into that and then kind of throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s like, oh, well, if that club got shut down, then all of them are illegal, but we don’t really do that anywhere. Something bad happens in Vegas at a casino. It’s like, oh, there was a bad actor in that casino. It’s not all the casinos must be doing this.
Brad: It was restaurant or just any, any, uh, any other place of business as well. Right.
Justin: Right. But when you’re doing it, the way that we’re doing it, it’s easy to. Lump everybody in with what’s happening. And what I tell people is, yeah, it is, it is unregulated there. I don’t think all social clubs are created equal. If you’re coming to Texas, there are places that I would play and there are places that I would not play. There’s uhch there are brand, they have a reputation. I would play in pretty much any one of those prime social. Obviously that’s where I work. I wouldn’t put my name on it. If I didn’t trust the organization and the people running it just 100%, which I do, uh, I haven’t been to the lodge, but I’ve heard nothing good, nothing but good things about what they’re doing over there. And I imagine, uh, Doug Polk and Andrew Nemi and, uh, Brad Owen probably wouldn’t put their name on it if they didn’t believe in it too. Uh, but it’s just, I would talk to somebody that you trust before going there. Read poker, Atlas reviews, uh, follow Twitter, just see, but if you’ve never heard of it, There’s probably one that’s safer down the street that I would check out first.
Brad: Yeah, for sure. And yeah, it’s just, it’s a weird environment where basically you just start a business. Right. And then you can run a poker room and that’s kind of all there is to it, which obviously opens the door for some malfeasance, um, or just inexperience that leads to malfeasance. Right. Just somebody that kind of gets in over their head, not understanding the market and yeah. Then just things kind of unravel from there. One thing that I’ve wondered about because I haven’t been to Texas yet. Um, how, how does the atmosphere compare to, uh, you know, the atmosphere of like this newer poker environment compared to like Los Angeles where they’ve had card rooms since the Dawn of time? Um, is it a different atmosphere than card rooms? Like on the west coast or on the east coast or anything like that, that you’ve seen.
Justin: I can tell you that it’s not one size fits all for all the rooms, but generally speaking, uh, they’re called social clubs. Right? And like, that’s, that’s part of why that I told you about, like, it has to be a private club and you have to be a member. So like, part of it is that, and that’s why they call ’em all social clubs. But like most of the time they live up to that, it is a social club. Like it’s a social environment. There’s a lot more people that are there because they enjoy being around other people. They enjoy playing this game with other people. And so it’s, there is a lot more, there’s a lot more drinking, laughing, talking. There’s a lot more interacting with people and a lot less headphones, sunglasses, hoodies. Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. There’s a lot less of that. And there’s a lot more, uh, interaction. I mean, they really are social and it’s. It’s an environment that you can just hear when you walk in there’s you hear lots of noise, you hear laughing, you hear people yelling. Sometimes we’re playing music at the bar. It’s there’s. People are just there really enjoying the game. And I’ve realized during my time here that it’s just, there’s not a whole lot of gambling outlets in Texas. There’s not casinos. You can’t go play blackjack. You can’t go play relet. You can’t do some things that even if you’re in a place that doesn’t have legal casinos, there’s usually some version of it somewhere. And so poker, if you want to get a little bit of your gamble on that’s the place where you go, and a lot of these people, they’re not there trying to make a living. They’re not there. Hopefully they win a few bucks, but if they lose, they lose it’s their entertainment. And those type of people are the ones that are having a good time. And it makes it a more enjoyable experience generally. And that’s something that I’ve found to be true. And pretty much every Texas card room that I’ve been to is it is actually a lot more social than most places.
Brad: Yeah. That’s really reassuring and good to hear because that’s the best environment in which the play poker, right? The camaraderie, um, the conversations, meeting people, the fun, the sweat, the, the collective sweat, by the way, I was gonna gonna mention before how you said that Savage loves the sweat and you don’t love the sweat. And yet you wish that you would miss all your guarantees by a hundred dollars. And both of those are like diametrically opposed to one another. Right?
Justin: because it wouldn’t be a sweat. If I knew I was gonna miss by a hundred dollars, like, I, I would take that right now. If I could miss every guarantee you by a hundred, I would sign me up right now. Some people like they take pride in smashing it, right? Like, oh, we did a million and it got 5 million and I’m like, All right. Then you weren’t gambling, like congratulations. But there, there was, yeah, you weren’t really gambling. I want there to be, I mean, I want there to be both, right? Like,
Brad: you like the sweat, you’re just like, you you’re, you just don’t wanna admit it on the podcast, but you’re de DJ and, and you like the sweat just like Savage does?
Justin: No. Okay. Here’s here’s the, here’s the God’s honest. True. I like the sweat after it’s over, like, after I know that I’m gonna get there or after
Brad: that’s not the sweat,
Justin: like the, in the moment, like, it’s the same. Like we just went to six flags, me and my kids. And they were like horrified to go on Superman. You know, it goes up 26 stories or whatever, and they like the whole time they’re up there. Like, oh my God, it’s terrible. And then when they get off, one of ’em was. Okay. Yeah, it’s still terrible. I didn’t like it. And the other one was like, oh, it was horrible before, but once you do it, it was awesome. Like I’m more like my older son, like it’s yeah. Once it’s over, then it was awesome. and Savage is more like, oh no, I want it the whole time. I want, I wanna feel the pain the entire time.
Brad: Yeah. Well, congratulations. Uh, Mr. Hammer, you’ve put yourself in a position to ride that ride, uh, a billion more times. Um,
Justin: bring it on .
Brad: Um, so yeah, before we, you know, we wrap up here, uh, I wanna go through some, some lightning round questions really fast. Uh, I think, um, by the way, for the podcast sister, there may be another mic issue O on Justin’s side where there’s some like crackle, um, that I can hear where we’re falling apart, honestly. We’re
Justin: yeah, no, and this, I appreciate it earlier when you said there were technical difficulties, but it’s definitely all on my side. Like I am just, I am having a rough day.
Brad: Well, you know, can’t, can’t win, ’em all. Um, but these things happen, right? It’s just a part of life. And that’s to, to be honest, like the little quirks, little unexpected things that happen, um, keep it exciting. And I think it’s been, you know, a great conversation and I’ve really learned a lot about both you and Texas poker, which I’m sure the listeners are quite, uh, excited and happy to, to learn about. And also just the sweat. Being a tournament director and having the responsibility of like hitting these guarantees. And especially when so many people downstream are affected by said guarantees or in the case of, you know, this 5 million guarantee, the owner of prime social is directly affected. If you miss the guarantee, which it seems to be like a whole nother beast altogether from, you know, the, the conglomeration. Um, what would you say is the most unexpected thing that’s come from your journey through the world of cards?
Justin: Uh, I, I have a lot of players that now are some of my best friends that kind of started as like people screaming in my face or people threatening to beat me up or people saying it’s the worst ruling they’ve ever seen in their entire lives. I’ve had a lot of interactions where, uh, I’ve learned and very much credit due to my friend, Matt Savage, that holding grudges or taking things personally, even personal things personally, like me think , you are a piece of shit, like that’s personal, but you still don’t need to take that personally because there’s circumstances involved with it. Right. So learning that you can take things like that and then just move on from them. Like all I ever want is to make sure that it’s going to be a safe, friendly poker environment. There isn’t a whole lot that can, I know where that’s true, but I’m gonna be, I’m gonna have a grudge against you anyway. Like I, I will protect myself in my room from dangerous situations, but there is not a whole lot that I can’t get past if me and whoever’s involved, both agree that that’s for the betterment. And so there’s a lot of people that I’ve started out with just. I know people that would never talk to that person again for the rest of their lives. And now not only are they, some of my closest friends and best players, but they travel to where I am to come play my tournament. So it’s you told me that I was going to have that type of experience, even when I was in the business, when I was, you know, 7, 8, 9 years involved in running tournaments, I would’ve said there’s no chance. Like I don’t have that in me. I have, I have grudges. I want revenge. I want like,
Brad: your last name is hammer for God’s sake.
Justin: Right, right. But it is, it was entirely unexpected that you can just move on from these sort of things and everyone will be better off because of it. And it’s, it was very unexpected and in a very good way.
Brad: Awesome. That, that that’s great to hear. And, you know, poker. Can bring out the worst in us, in those moments. It’s very high pressure. There’s a lot on the line, especially deep in tournament poker, specifically where yeah, some, some people will do things that are maybe out of character that they otherwise wouldn’t do and probably have regret and feel shame for, you know, a, a week later or maybe even a day later. Um, but yeah, it’s, I, I guess that would be a pretty important trait to have as a tournament director, just being able to kind of move on and recognize that, okay, this is a thing that happens and doesn’t have to be the end of the world. And I don’t have to hate this human being for the rest of my life. Um, when you think of joy in your career, in the world of poker, what’s the first memory that comes to your mind?
Justin: Uh, honestly the first one when I was. When I worked downtown at Binion’s, they had a 10 table room that they built and it was like, uh, it was kind of in this pit and had a glass surrounding and there was never 10 tables going. There was one, two on the weekends, there was three, and there was a deal that my boss made with us. Uh, when you were running the room, when you were the floor supervisor for the room, if you could ever get all 10 tables going, then he would come and work your next shift for you. And you would get, you would get your entire salary. You would make whatever you were going to make. But like, that was the, if anyone can ever pull this off, you have 10 tables running. And I learned working downtown how to manufacture games. Like there was no circumstance where you could tell me, I couldn’t start a table. Like you have zero players. It’s okay. We’ll figure out a way. Sometimes not gonna lie. I would write fake names down on the list. Sometimes I would find somebody walking by and say, have you ever played poker before? Do you wanna try? I would walk out on Fremont street and look for people, whatever it took to get a game going. So we had a night where it took a lot of work, but we got up to eight games naturally. And then what I learned to keep games going when I worked graveyard, if the room went dark, I went home and I didn’t get paid anymore. So like, if there was no games going, I can either find a way to get a game going and get paid or call it quits and end the night. So I learned how to do that and having that skill when I got to eight tables. Now I’m two away from this magical dream that nobody’s done before. Since we built this room, I found a way to manufacture those two tables and we had 10 and took a picture of it, called my boss, like, Hey, we’ve got 10 tables going right now. My next shift is tomorrow
Brad: fun, buddy.
Justin: Have a good one. Yeah. And that was just. That was kind of what gave it, gave me the understanding of there’s there’s something you could do. You’re not just there managing the people that are there. Like you, you can make things happen. You can create, you can it’s you’re not just looking over people and telling them where to go. Like you’re making it an experience that makes them want to come back and you’re providing an experience that people can come enjoy and be a part of. And it was like one of the first parts that gave me that drive to, I want to keep filling tables. I want to keep, give me, it’s like a blank canvas. Give me 50 extra tables. I will find a way to fill those 50 extra tables. And it’s, that’s part of the fun for me now.
Justin: I like some people, the fun is like playing the game for me. It’s playing this game. How do we get people into the feeds?
Brad: Yeah, it’s just a different game. And I can see the allure. Right. I, I can see why that would be, I mean, maybe the best trait that a tournament director could have. Right. Like building the games, uh, getting people to show up the marketing side, the growth side, uh, the selling side. Right. Which is exceptionally valuable, um, to your employer, which is the poker room itself. Right. And I mean,
Brad: It’s kind of shocking to me hearing you talk about it in this way. You know, very passionately that every tournament director doesn’t feel exactly the same. Right. Um, or doesn’t make that a priority, but I guess dims, dims the breaks. Maybe , that’s just how it feels.
Justin: You know, I, I’ve been very blessed for the path that my career went. Right. Like I, I learned under Paul Campbell and then after that, I went to aria, which was one of the biggest rooms on the. At the time. And then I go to commerce and I work with Matt Savage. So like literally every person who has ever won tournament director of the year was my mentor in this business. Okay. And I went, yeah, I went from, uh, downtown Las Vegas to right in the middle of the strip Las Vegas to the biggest card room in the world and was tasked with doing something in every single one of those in a different environment. And what that does is just forces you to adapt and learn the skills involved in every day. Whether you have zero games going and you need two, or you have 20 games going and you need 30, or you have a 70 table tournament, just, you could do whatever you want, fill it up. And there’s not a whole lot of people, not through any, anything other than circumstance who have had the ability to learn through all of those situations. And I’ve been very fortunate enough to do it to where now, when I come to a place like Texas, like I just have. Plethora of experience to kind of show other people how to do it and kind of make it work in an environment that they didn’t really have anything like this. So like, it’s, I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have all the circumstances kind of line up where I’ve been trained by the best. And I’ve been in every situation you can imagine. And now I’m kind of tasked with using that information to build a room in a city where poker is kind of new.
Brad: Yeah. It’s, it’s fortunate that you had all of those mentors to lean on. And, and I, I also believe that it’s fortunate that, you know, Texas and prime social has you to kind of help them grow and learn and yeah. Move, uh, to the next step, um, in their progression as a state that has lots of poker. Right. And is really trying to do something big in the poker space, which I think Texas genuinely is, um, If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about poker, what would you change?
Justin: Oh man, I there’s it’s, it’s tough. Part of what I just told you about was like, uh, it’s experience. Right? A lot of what I know is from experience, it’s just from the grind of being on this side of it. If I could wave a magic wand, I would kind of give that experience to everybody like the understanding of the operation side of what it takes. And it’s not because I want it to be. Oh, now, you know, or like, I want to, part of my job is customer experience, right? Customer service. You want to come play the tournament, have a good time and go home. It doesn’t, you don’t want to learn about everything that’s happening because it’s why would you you’re there? Like, I don’t wanna know how every ride operates at the theme park that I just went to. Right. I wanna get on and I wanna get off or,
Brad: or how every single movie is made, you know, before a theater.
Justin: And so the struggle is people, people tend to respond with what they know. And a lot of them what they know isn’t very much. So I’m stuck in a spot where I want you to come. I want you to have a good time. I also want to explain why I’m doing some of these, but I don’t wanna come across as I’m lecturing you or I’m better than you or I’m smarter than you. That’s why you’re doing this. I don’t want to do that. I want to give you the experience that you want to have. I want you to come in play, have a good time and then go home. Now sometimes, you know, you go on a podcast or you talk to somebody or they want to know, Hey, what’s it like on the other side, what is happening? And then, you know, more than happy to sit down and explain it or talk to it or give my understanding of how things work. If I can wave the magic wand, I would just give it to everybody. I would give it to them. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m lecturing you. I don’t want to teach you information that you have no interest in learning. I just want you to know it. I just want you to know it. So when it, there are poker players that no matter the circumstance, no matter what they will say, a sentence like, oh, with the amount of rape they take, you should be doing fill in the blank. And sometimes it’s like with the amount of R you’re taking, you should buy a $800 million yacht. And it’s like, you, it’s not BA it’s not like I’m taking 50 and my competitor’s taking 30. And you’re saying to yourself, put that extra $20 you take it should be. My competitors could be taking a hundred and I’m taking 50. And they will say with that extra rake, you take, you should do fill in the blank. And it’s like, no, some of these, I am finding the ways to take as little as possible and still keep this as a functioning, like worthwhile venture. And so I just think sometimes people just don’t know.
Justin: Or it’s how much are we taking based on how long this term’s going to last, how much are we taking based on what we’re providing with this, this like the last, the last series we did at prime social, we wanted everyone to know they were safe. We spent $50,000 on security alone, just on security, having off duty police, having multiple people there, having it. So. Not only will you, Brad, after you win 200,000, not only will I have an escort for you to your car, but if you get off the one, two table and you won 300 bucks and you want an escort to your car, I have that for you too. Cause it’s not about how much you have, or it’s not your safety. Isn’t important to me, based off of how much you’re carrying based off of you, the person I want you to feel safe when you’re here. And so we spent a lot of money on that and you look at the end and you say, oh, they made X number of dollars and that’s never true. You can’t just take the juice, the admin fee, multiply it by the number of players and then say, that’s how much you made because it’s just never true. I bring in the best staff from around the country for our tournament. I bring in the best security. I provide the best environment for poker that you will find. At least I strive to, and that stuff, all costs money. You all, you have to spend to do it. So when you bring in all this money, I always hope that when you go, you bring it in and then you start giving it out. I always hope that that number is black and not red. And sometimes it is. And sometimes it isn’t, but it’s, I wish I could just give that information to people like here’s oh, have a look of what all the numbers look like.
Brad: Yeah. And, and by the way, the, the owner of prime social also would like to turn a profit as well after . Um, yeah. That’s selfish, pastor selfish. He’s taking all the risk. Yeah. Taking all the risk and gonna make a profit. Wow.
Justin: That’s right.
Brad: Terrible. How, how can he do such a thing?
Justin: Right. Which the stuff we talked about earlier, like that’s, I’m not an owner, right? Like that’s not my business. So when I say like, oh, I want to put on these big guarantees or I want to do this. Like, it is. The ownership at prime puts a lot of faith in me. They put a lot of trust in me to do this and as much as much credit or whatever recognition that I’ve ever gotten in my life, it is a hundred percent because of people like that, even at commerce where we didn’t end on the best of terms, those guys put all their faith in me. They, they said, here you go. What’s the number, how many zeros are gonna go in that guarantee? And if you’re wrong, we’re gonna pay it. So like, that’s, it’s just another fortunate part of my career that I’ve had. But especially here at prime social, where it’s like, it’s a couple of guys who own this place that are like, okay, you sell us what we’re going to do and then sell it to us. And then we’re gonna just kind of give you the green light to do what you want. And it’s, it’s worked out for both of us, I think over this last couple years that I’ve been in Texas, but a huge shout out and praised belongs to the people that give me the opportunity to do these things. Like it’s. I’m not risking my own money when I do this, I’m risking somebody else’s money. And that takes a lot of faith.
Brad: Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, so if you could put up a billboard where every poker player who’s driving to the card room, they gotta drive past it. What does your billboard say?
Justin: Uh, more rake is better. no, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I definitely not say that
Brad: it’s over prime, prime social in the tank.
Justin: No, I definitely, I definitely wouldn’t say that. I just, I remember when Doug did that and, uh, a billboard, I, man, I don’t know. We had, we actually had one of those, uh, trucks that says prime social, like Texas poker championship that we had driving loops around the airport. During this last series. I am all about marketing. Like I want as many people. A lot of tournaments fail because nobody knows about ’em like that’s the most underrated difficult part about what people like me do is I could have the best structure, the best environment, the best poker I could have the best room. I could have the best, everything. And guess what, if nobody knows about it, it means nothing. You still miss guarantees. You still have.
Brad: And if the incentives are aren’t right either, right? Like you mentioned, the incentives of, um, Reducing RA at for people to just show up on time, right? It’s like you’re incentivizing them to buy in and show up. And a lot of times human beings need these incentives to get their as and gear and take action. And without them, they just kind of wander around. Um, but when they have direction and incentive, like when the thing that they plan to do is good for them, they’re going to do it. And like, I mean, as a, a business owner, myself who sells courses and runs a community and all of these things, I can say 1000000000% that like incentivize people and they will get shit done way faster and smooth, more smoothly than if you don’t incentivize them.
Justin: Absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. My billboard would say keep poker legal. It would be in Texas. Keep poker legal.
Brad: There you go. Keep poker legal. Um, you working on any projects right now that are near and dear to your heart, besides the prime social.
Justin: Uh, I, I have a tournament series that we’re working on that might be in Vegas. It’s, uh, there’s not a whole lot out yet, but if people, if you follow me on Twitter, the adjustment hammer, I talk about everything that I’m doing as it comes up. But, uh, there, there is some stuff that we’re working on. I also interact with DJ over at commerce quite a bit, and he’s putting together a series in September that the whole goal is to do just things that haven’t been done before. So like we wanna do fun tournaments. We wanna do mystery bounty type of stuff, but like a new version of that. And it’s, I am always all for new creative things that kind of mix it up a little bit. Maybe just maybe things that like, you don’t have to be the best player in order to win. I think those kinds, I think that’s why mystery Boies have done so well. You can win a hundred thousand dollars and you don’t have to win the entire tournament. Like you just kind of have to make day two and make the money, which feel part of the reason money maker did so well is because it made all of us think that we could do it. So whole con the whole concept of you have to make the money and then eliminate a player and need can win. That’s something we can all do. I think that’s why people enjoy doing it so much. So, uh, most of my stuff, honestly, I am taking everything we learn from Texas poker championship, and I am getting it ready for Texas poker championship too. So these projects are more, uh, we get sponsorships, we get people that help support us outside of just playing the tournament or, uh, doing whatever poker bros was a huge help to this last one. I, I understand that they have a site where you can like make money on the side or whatever, but like the play money app, the free version, those are the people that I work with. Those are who support us, uh, I have big plans for them in the future. Uh, we have exquisite time pieces. They sell watches. They were a huge sponsor for us, mescal. Uh, Recardo mescal the tequila. They were a huge sponsor as we go, as we go forward, I like to do things like that. How, how can I help businesses outside of the poker community so that they are incentivized, we were talking about to help out the poker community. And so those are, those are the kinds of things that happen outside of writing structures and building schedules and doing marketing and promotion. These are the kinds of things that happen that are all little projects in and of themselves that starting right now for close to a year from now, when we do the next one, I’m gonna be spending a lot of my time.
Brad: Yeah. Let’s uh, just figure out how to, how to make CPG podcast, um, part of, part of the operations there. let you got raise, raise my numbers. How do we make something that’s mutually beneficial for both of us? Um,
Justin: absolutely. We’ll talk. We’ll talk.
Brad: Yeah, let’s talk. Um, yeah, so you, you answered it a little bit before, but final question on the show is, uh, where can the chasing poker greatness listener, if they wanna learn more about you find you on the worldwide web?
Justin: Uh, I, the Justin hammer on pretty much everything, just Justin hammer on Facebook, but, uh, I do have a TikTok.
Brad: I knew it. You look like a talker.
Justin: I make some videos, uh, with my kids. I don’t post a whole lot, but I do spend way too much time on there. Uh, but I do, I wanna get prime social at TikTok actually. Uh, you could follow prime, all that stuff. Prime, social, TX. Dot com and at prime social, TXs all of their socials. But, uh, we, a lot of what we do there is kind of breaking the mold on how you do tournament stuff. So you wanna follow our tournaments, provide chip count updates every two hours or less for a hundred percent of the players in the tournament. I don’t care if it’s a 300 player tournament, or if it’s a 12 player tournament, you get accurate ship counts every two hours or less on our site. And it’s something that I put a lot of time and effort and energy into, and it’s been a huge success. It works. It does really great. And you could follow anybody if you have Joe Schmo in the tournament who nobody knows I’m gonna let you know how they’re doing because they’re in a tournament at prime social. Uh, it’s, it’s something. I think that everybody should be doing. And so I’m kind of coming up with the format for how to do it. I’m happy to share that information with anybody who wants it. Like not keeping it to myself, I’m not making it so that you have to pay me for it. Like, it’s just, it’s something that we should be doing because the more information you could give about what’s happening in the tournament, the more people are interested in that tournament. And that just helps kind of all of us. But the only reason I say that is prime, social, tx.com. Follow that every time you see a series that I’m doing, even if you can’t come play, just check out that site. And that helps our numbers. That helps what we’re doing and that, uh, I’m always involved with that site somehow. So you can see what I’m doing there.
Brad: And yeah, we, we kind of skipped past this, uh, feel a little sheepish, but where is prime social in Texas? Because I’ve heard Texas is kind of, it has a lot of, uh, space there, a big it’s a big place.
Justin: Yeah. Let’s make sure we do that. It’s in Houston, Texas. Uh, 7, 8 0 1 west time to be more specific, but it’s in Houston, uh, just right down the street from the gallery. It is the best social club in Houston. It’s the best social club in Texas, as far as I’m concerned. And yes, some of that is because they, uh, pay my bill and support me, very
Brad: shots, hire to Doug Polk and, and all those guys let’s get it.
Justin: I, they, I, I plan on giving them a run for their money, but that’s why I specifically said earlier, like there are places outside of where I work, where I would say, yeah, you should go check that out and go play. I’m a player too. The reason I know what to put in tournaments, or at least the information I use is because I just do what I would like to play myself.
Brad: And I think you must be Schedules, put together schedules that I would like to play myself. Yeah. And so like, that’s
Brad: that’s the biggest gripe that I’ve had for any. Bad experience or any experience that I’ve had playing on poker platforms online or in live when people are running the ship that don’t, that are not poker players that don’t understand sort of how things work right. And commerce forever, um, you know, for better or worse, they ran, they were just the model place of how they did business back when I was traveling and playing carts, right? The high stakes room, you could order food and you could order whatever you wanted. Um, and you just tipped and like they took care of their, their high limit players, um, in a way that, you know, places in other parts of the country like Florida, for instance, just didn’t, um, you know, they had enough staff to like, get you cocktails, get you drinks, get you food. You didn’t have to wait, uh, five hours for some crappy food, um, that you had ordered. And that was always, those were always big perks. And you could just tell that that specific room was ran. Poker players. People had a who had experience in the arena. And, and I think that it’s just so critical for all of these rooms. Like if you’re listening right now in Texas and planning on starting a room and don’t know much about poker, find somebody who is an expert that can help you do things the right way, because there is a right way and there is a wrong way. Trust me and the players can feel it. And they know, um, at least, yeah, that I’ll end my little, my little rant here where we can close down shop. But I think it is, it’s just very important that people who understand what’s going on, um, run these things, or they at least outsource it. Cons consult, get experience, ask questions to people with more knowledge than they have, because we all want our poker rooms across the country to have the best experience and to provide the best experience because ultimately that’s good for the game. And what’s good for the game is good for everybody who’s in the industry.
Justin: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s I would. No success at all. If I didn’t take feedback from players, coworkers, supporters, haters, everybody. I take every, I, I feel like I, like I said earlier, I have a lot of experience. I’ve learned a lot. I still don’t think I know everything. And I’m always happy to hear what anybody has to say, good or bad about anything I’ve done or I’m going to do. And I think I can attribute a lot of what I’ve had in this business to having that aspect of my, just how I do things. And so, yeah, I think it’s very important to create a experience that people want to keep coming back to and do it by getting the feedback from those people that you want doing it. For sure.
Brad: Absolutely. Man, it’s been great having you go on the show. We’ll roll this back in the near future with fewer technical difficulties.
Justin: Yeah, you got it. I’m I’m gonna be there half hour early and everything’s charged and the best wifi, everything will be good to go. I promise. Awesome man.
Brad: Ha have a good rest of your day. Good talking to you. Thank you for your time and energy and yeah. Best of luck. Getting all your guarantees at prime. Social. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks for having me, Brad. It was a real pleasure. Appreciate it. Thanks for listening to chasing poker greatness, you can subscribe on apple podcasts or on your favorite podcast app.
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