There are two good reasons for a professional poker player to live in Las Vegas: cash games and tournaments. Sin City has them both in abundance, from dozens of daily tourneys at all levels of blinds to the high stakes private sessions in the back rooms of the Bellagio and the annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) events that last for more than month.
Las Vegas also has over three million visitors coming to town every month—many of them interested in playing poker with famous names. And as every angler knows, the best place to fish is in a pond that’s restocked frequently.
That pretty much explains why ten-time WSOP bracelet winner Doyle Brunson moved to Las Vegas with his family in the 1960s. It wasn’t the illegality of poker in Texas that drove him west so much as that Brunson became too well known as a shark and invitations to games were increasingly hard to come by.
The Biggest Names in the Game
With so many title events held along the Las Vegas Strip and downtown, it should be no surprise that dozens of tournament champions have planted their roots in the desert city. Seven-bracelet winner Billy Baxter moved there from Georgia, eight-time champ Erik Seidel relocated from New York and six-time bracelet winner Layne Flack, a South Dakota native who once dealt cards at casinos in Montana, settled in the Las Vegas Valley in 1998.
Phil Ivey, an eight-time bracelet winner, was once known as “No Home Jerome.” When he lived in New Jersey as a teen, he used a fake ID (“Jerome Graham”) to play at the poker tables in Atlantic City, where he spent so much time that the staff gave him the homeless moniker. He certainly has a home now, of course, in Las Vegas, where he lives alone in a 6,727-square-foot, three-bedroom house worth $1.995 million.
Lots of top players prefer to live in neighboring California, close to the coast and its dedicated card rooms. But many Golden State natives have found the appeal of Vegas neon irresistible, such as five-bracelet winner Allen Cunningham from Riverside and four-time winner Huck Seed from Santa Clara.
From All over the Country
Players from the other coast have also found reason to leave for Las Vegas. Among them are five-bracelet winner Ted Forrest of Syracuse, four-time champ Artie Cobb from Brooklyn and “The Mathematician,” David Sklansky, who made it out from Hackensack via a census-related job in Los Angeles. Others to make the move from the Garden State include Scotty Fishman from South Jersey and “Miami” John Cernuto of Jersey City via Florida.
The holder of three WSOP bracelets, David “Chip” Reese left Dayton, Ohio to be close to the Las Vegas action. Triple winner Paul “Eskimo” Clark and two-time champ Matt Graham made the trek from New Orleans. And leading the famous ladies who’ve made a home in Las Vegas is Kathy Liebert of Nashville, Tennessee.
Quite a few winners of two WSOP bracelets are at home in the capital of Clark County, Nevada. Howard Lederer came from Concord, New Hampshire; cattleman Hoyt Corkins moseyed on in from Glenwood, Alabama; Dutch Boyd hails from Columbia, Missouri; and Barry Shulman is originally from Seattle, Washington. Jennifer Harman Traniello is one of the few that did not have far to move; she grew up in Reno.
From Far, Far Away
The 1998 World Champion, Scotty Nguyen, was born in Vietnam but he now lives in the Las Vegas Valley, just a 30-minute drive from the Strip in Henderson. Three-bracelet winner Chau Giang, two-time champ Thang Luu and one-time winner An Tran also made the journey from Vietnam. And five-bracelet winner John Juanda is an Asian transplant, too, from North Sumatra, Indonesia; he chose the Southern Nevada city as his home after time as a student in Oklahoma and Seattle.
Adding to the international flavor of Las Vegas are two-time bracelet winners Freddy Deeb from Beirut, Lebanon; Matt Pescatori of Milan, Italy; Greece-born Vasili Lazarou; and Carlos Mortenson, a native of Ambat, Ecuador who arrived in the Entertainment Capital of the World after a long residence in Madrid, Spain.
Those who are looking for celebrities at the poker tables of Las Vegas might also keep an eye out for WSOP bracelet winners Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, O’Neil Longson, Dick Carson, John Hennigan, Burt Boutin and Doyle Brunson’s son, Todd—all local residents. And even stars that live elsewhere, like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth, are often easier to find in Las Vegas than in their own hometowns. After all, the two good reasons to live in Vegas are the same good reasons to visit often.