Letter from America

Building a huge pot has taken on a whole new meaning for American poker pros, but now the fatties are fighting back.

You get a bad run of cards and you take it out on your stomach

Playing poker is a great way to make a living, but if you’re not careful it can be hard to stomach. While earning a handsome income at the tables, top professional Russ Hamilton saw his weight balloon to 345 pounds. ‘You get a bad run of cards and start taking it out on your stomach at the Bellagio’s buffet,’ says the six-foot former WSOP champ.

Hamilton and a handful of others in the high-stakes biz have plumped for a radical solution: gastric bypass surgery, better known as stomach stapling. Hamilton, Chip Reese, Howard Lederer and Linda Johnson, former publisher of Card Player magazine, have all opted for the laproscopic procedure that involves making a tiny pouch out of the upper stomach and attaching the small intestine there, allowing fatties to fill up by eating less.

Poker heavyweights

So far, the players’ results have been nothing short of spectacular. Hamilton and Lederer have lost 100 pounds each. Linda Johnson is down 110. And the formerly hefty Chip Reese, quite literally a shadow of his former self, now looks like a model of svelteness.

While Russ Hamilton admits he experienced soreness for a couple of weeks afterwards he reckons the trade-off was well worth it. ‘I don’t take up two spots at the poker table any more,’ he says. ‘I feel more alert. I think better. I play golf better. Everything is better. I’m paying more attention to what’s going on in the games and playing for longer stretches at a time.’

Insisting that the operation will add 10 years to his life, Hamilton speaks for a whole school of Vegas sharks as he adds: ‘It’s going to put a lot of tourist dollars in our pockets by keeping us at the poker tables longer than we would have been able to before.’

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