Hollywood high stakes regular Russ Hamilton talks to us about his poker background: “I said to myself, ‘What? I made $40,000 last night playing poker. What the f♣♥♠ am I doing here?’”

The guy loves to find an edge – and he’s definitely got that in the high stakes Hollywood home games

Russ Hamilton is the consummate hustler. Over the years he’s managed to win money at bowling, golf, blackjack, drag racing, sports betting and, of course, poker. A master at finding advantages, he moved to Las Vegas after a successful career as a bookie and line-maker where his prime client was the Detroit mafia.

Unlike most bookmakers that relocate to Vegas, he went with no intention of gambling. But, like most gamblers, he found it impossible to walk away from an edge…

Do you remember your first exposure to poker?

Yeah, it was through my dad. He loved to gamble but he wasn’t any good. He would take me with him when he went to play Stud and Draw poker. The deal was that he’d give me a quarter for every hand that he won. At the end of the night he’d be broke and I’d end up with a pocket full of quarters because he played every hand.

When did you realise that you were good?

Probably when I was able to put myself through college by playing poker.

You don’t strike me as the go-to-college kind of guy.

I went for two years and majored in engineering. But one day a professor came up to me and said, ‘You know, you’ll soon be out of here, making $50,000, $60,000 a year.’ I said to myself, ‘What? I made $40,000 last night playing poker. What the f am I doing here?’ I left the school, got into my Hemi GTX, and never went back.

You moved to Vegas after getting a visit from law enforcers who wanted you to testify against some local mob figures. How did the poker treat you when you first got there?

Not too well. I learned that I wasn’t as good as I thought. Against top players I had a weakness of not knowing the numbers as well as I should have. Luckily I met a guy named Fred Davis. He taught me the maths of poker, and I taught him some things that I knew.

As a guy who specialises in finding advantages, I’m surprised you even wanted to go up against the top players…

Well, I paid attention to the game that tourists played badly. It was pot-limit Omaha. So I made it my business to get good at Omaha. They liked it because [with four cards instead of two] they could justify playing a lot of hands but it made them play worse. “I show hands, I bluff, I make side bets, I give a lot of action. And I get invited back”

You never managed to win an Omaha bracelet, did you?

In 1994, we got down to four- handed in the pot-limit Omaha event. That’s when I went in the back room to make a deal with Huck Seed, An Tran and some other guy. I told them that the money meant everything to me. I got the biggest cut of the cash and went all-in on the next hand without even looking at my cards.

You didn’t care about winning a World Series bracelet?

I didn’t care about winning an Omaha bracelet. It was the Main Event three days later and that was all I cared about. The World Championship is the only event that means anything. It’s the only one that gets your picture on the wall. I won it that year.

Do you play cash these days?

Occasionally I’ll get involved in the $1,000/$2,000 at the Bellagio. Everybody thinks the guys in that game, and in the $2,000/$4,000, are the best players in the world, whereas I think they’re the best at winning money off rich guys. But when [the high stakes pros] start to run bad, they go on tilt and don’t play so good.

You’ve been involved in producing the TV show Ultimate Blackjack Tour. Have you got into any of the sweet Hollywood games?

I’ve played in a game that the director Nick Cassavetes hosts. Tobey Maguire plays in it and he’s good. There’s also Leonardo DiCaprio, the kid who was in the Paris Hilton video, the owner of Light (a Bellagio nightclub), and some guy whose father gives him $250,000 allowance each month. Most of the people in this game have a lot of money, like to gamble, and can’t play a lick.

But if you want to keep playing in it, I’m guessing that you can’t kill the game every week…

I do. But I make it look like I’m gambling, like I’m one of them. I show hands, I bluff, I make side bets, I give a lot of action. And I get invited back.

Get yourself a digital copy of PokerPlayer magazine HERE for more great interviews like this one

Pin It

Comments are closed.