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The Scoop -- Jack McClelland

by The Scoop |  Published: Jan 08, 2010


Jack McClelland
Jack McClelland is a legendary tournament director who has overseen some of the biggest and most prestigious tournaments in the world, including the World Series of Poker. In his long and successful career, he’s become known for his fair rulings and well-run events. He is currently the director of tournament poker operations at Bellagio, where he manages all of its World Poker Tour events.

Diego Cordovez: We’ve talked a bunch of times about how, at the World Series, Phil Hellmuth’s poor behavior stands out in this era. There are people who celebrate a lot, but as far as how he treats other players or even the tournament staff, it’s poor. When you were working the World Series in the ’80s, there were characters like Stu Ungar, Johnny Moss, and Puggy Pearson. Is it accurate to say that overall, player behavior has improved dramatically, or is that just my perception?

Jack McClelland: Player behavior has improved dramatically since we started the penalty system. Phil [Hellmuth] has gotten penalties, “Devilfish” has gotten penalties, and Men “The Master” has gotten a penalty when heads up in a tournament.

Adam Schoenfeld: That could be costly.

JM: It was. He came in second. “Syracuse Chris” used to just explode like a volcano. In a tournament where first place was like half a million, they were down to three or four tables, and my assistant was there, and he [Syracuse Chris] went off, so we gave him a 20-minute penalty, and he wouldn’t give up, so we gave him another 40-minute penalty. After an hour, he came back and had no chips. Since then, Chris has been an absolute gentleman. It was like, “This is going to cost me a lot of money if I keep acting stupid.”

DC: So, for Stu Ungar, Johnny Moss, or some of these guys who played before the penalties came in, do you think that would have rectified their behavior?

JM: The two people who probably caused me the most sleepless nights and were the reason that I put penalties in were John Bonetti and Sam Grizzle. Sam just knew how to push the envelope. He could get them right to the edge and mumble in their ear. Bonetti would just be loud, and I loved John. John was a great guy. I remember one time at a championship at the Four Queens, I gave him a penalty. I knew that I was going to be hearing about it for days. John stomps out of the room, and 20 minutes later, he’s sitting there like this [crossing his arms and grimacing], staring at me. He says, “You know, you’ve given me a lot of penalties.” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “You know, I’ve deserved every one of them.” And the whole table cracked up. The tension was diffused. I feel that one of the most important things to being a successful tournament director is that you don’t pour gasoline on a problem. You try to diffuse it.

AS: That’s always been a hallmark of your style.

JM: Yeah. You slap them on the wrist, and give them a little sugar.

AS: If you can get a laugh out of the table, usually the problem stops.

JM: Yeah. A couple of years ago, Scotty [Nguyen] was playing in my $15,000 championship at Bellagio, and right before the end of the night, he gets a penalty. He gets up and walks off. I didn’t know that Scotty had acted really badly at the H.O.R.S.E. tournament [the World Series of Poker $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. championship], because I didn’t see it until later. I said to him, “Scotty, just come in 20 minutes late tomorrow, because you got a penalty.” He didn’t say a word, but if I had let him get away with it like other places did, he’d just push and push and push. One of my favorite sayings is, “If you let the inmates run the asylum, there’s no need for you.” You have to have control.

DC: They’re just like children. They are going to push to see what they can get away with, and to see where the line is. Spade Suit

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