When poker players aren’t picking up bullets at the table, they’re shooting them in the Las Vegas desert. Michael Kaplan grabs his flak jacket to find out why…
Dan Bilzerian is blowing up. I don’t mean this in the clichéd sense of a person becoming hugely popular or successful. I mean it literally. Among poker lovers, Bilzerian made a little bit of a name for himself during the 2009 Main Event. He and his brother Adam both went fairly deep, inspiring Norman Chad to dub them the ‘Flying Bilzerian Brothers’. But that’s not the most interesting thing about Dan.
The steroid-loving son of a multi-millionaire corporate raider, Bilzerian moved to Las Vegas just a couple of months ago and brought an arsenal of heavy-duty weapons with him: one of his hallway closets is dominated by enough high-calibre pistols, machine guns and incendiary bullets to equip the cast of a Tarantino movie.
By all indications Bilzerian, who learned to handle firearms during his stint as a US Navy SEAL, is not only happy to use his guns but he’s got some of poker’s more adventurous young players in on the act as well. Inside his bedroom, he shows me a nastily pocked bulletproof vest. I ask how it got that way. ‘I shot a bullet at it to show that it would stop a shot,’ Bilzerian explains. ‘Then Antonio Esfandiari wanted to try out the vest. He put it on and I shot at him. Everything worked out okay, but it was a negative freeroll for Antonio. I’d say there was a 0.5% chance that he could have got shot for real.’
Amping things up a bit, Bilzerian (whose game of choice is $100/$200 no-limit with a $50 ante to punish the nits) responded to a craigslist ad from a man looking to sell an automobile. Bilzerian said he was interested in buying it as long as the seller could deliver the vehicle to the desert. The seller agreed.
Bilzerian and two Vegas thrill-seekers (‘A buddy of mine and the stripper I was banging’) showed up, armed to the teeth. ‘I brought bullets with incendiary tips that burn at temperatures up to 5,000 degrees,’ he tells me while we both stare at a slide show playing on the flat-screen TV in his living room, which is composed largely of Bilzerian’s female conquests in compromising positions (gentleman that he is, he quickly flicks past the shots that show him nude). ‘These bullets have C4 explosives for blasts, and they can penetrate armour.’
With little further ado, Bilzerian and his friends opened fire on the vehicle. ‘The sick thing is that I stood like 15 or 20 feet away and shot from the hip,’ Bilzerian tells me. ‘One of the bullets hit the gas tank and that thing really blew. There were giant flames and a plume of smoke in the sky.’ Police choppers and a battalion of cop cars quickly arrived on the scene. No stranger to this sort of thing, Bilzerian befriended the law enforcers and somehow eluded even the slightest punishment.
The success of that first trip inspired a second jaunt to the desert, this one with a clutch of professional poker players in tow and an RV as the target. The pros happen to be involved in putting together an online site called victorypoker.com. So they spray-painted the RV with the site’s name.
Then the group – it included Esfandiari, Phil Laak and Andrew Robl (he had been invited to the first demo but begged off, citing a low percentage chance of getting killed) – got to work with the weapons. ‘The scariest experience I ever had with firearms was shooting alongside those baboons,’ says Bilzerian, griping good-naturedly. ‘Phil Laak was hopping around like a chimpanzee, shooting his gun as if he was in a Halo video. Then he started doing wind sprints. This chick, dressed like she was going to a strip club, popped off rounds from a .45. I wouldn’t have minded her getting naked, but she was Robl’s chick. So it wasn’t going to happen. Then we had Antonio’s dad with us, and he was shooting down the road, not even aiming at the RV. Finally the thing blew so big it was like the f***ing bat signal. You could see it for miles around.’
Bilzerian shakes his head at the insanity of it all, and says, ‘It wound up being a good time.’
And, as Bilzerian points out, this is just the beginning. ‘I’ve only been living here with my guns for two months,’ he says. ‘So far we’re averaging one car per month. That isn’t too bad.’
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