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Poker Tournament Trail -- Jack McClelland

McClelland Discusses the Changes That Have Taken Place in Tournament Poker During His Career


Jack McClellandJack McClelland (pictured left) has been one of the best in the business for decades. He started out at the World Series of Poker in 1984. After that, he ran the Grand Prix of Poker at the Golden Nugget Casino. He was the first tournament director to host events at Commerce Casino in Southern California, and he has also helped spread tournament poker across the United States.

His international poker tournament résumé includes the first tournaments hosted in the Isle of Man, St. Petersburg, Russia, and the first heads-up event in Vienna. He worked for the Aruba Poker Classic for six years, hosted a World Poker Tour event at Turks and Caicos, and a new event he hosted this year was the WPT event in Cyprus. That is in addition to his role as tournament director at Bellagio, a position he has held since the property opened in 1998.

Card Player caught up with McClelland at Bellagio, and he spoke about his career and the ways that tournament poker has changed since he got started.

Ryan Lucchesi: You have helped take tournament poker into a lot of new markets. What precedent do you look to set in a new location?

Jack McClelland: You’re looking to be successful. You want to have as big a tournament as the place can hold. You don’t want to price out the local customers, but you don’t want to make it so cheap that nobody will attend. If you’re expecting someone to travel 10,000 miles for a tournament, they want to be able to win big.

RL: What has been your guiding principle since day one here at Bellagio in terms of the tournament poker experience you wanted to provide?

JM: Bellagio is a very upscale property. We want to provide games for everybody, which is why we have tournaments that range from $300-$25,000. But right now the economy is very scary, and if you’re not scared, you should be; so, I will make adjustments. That’s the main thing I do in my job is I make adjustments. If something works, you push it, and if it doesn’t, work you adjust.

RL: How much of the players’ feedback do you take into consideration when you adjust tournament schedules and buy-ins?

JM: I listen to everything they say, but what I have to do is think about what is best for the casino, what is best for the players, and what is best for the employees, and then blend that all together to where it makes sense. If I have a tournament that is no good for the casino, we are going to have it one time and then it will be over with. If I have a tournament that isn’t good for the players, then they aren’t going to come back. If I have a tournament that isn’t good for the employees, then I don’t have anybody to work. So, there are a lot of different things that go into it.

RL: What are the largest changes you have seen in tournament poker since your early days at the World Series?

JM: The thing that changed poker the most was the Internet and the World Poker Tour showing the holecards. As I was growing up, the players just kept getting older. In the mid-80s, poker was really stuck in a funk. Then they opened up hold’em and stud in California, and that gave things a shot in the arm for 10 years. Then things started going down again. By the time the WPT and the Internet came along, the average age of a poker player might have been 45-50. After the Internet made it easy to play at home, where you weren’t intimidated to learn, and then Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million off of $40, it was like hitting the lottery. The average age after that shot down to 25.

At some point, it will average out in between. I really hope at some point that they get [the UIGEA reversed so that] casinos can then accept qualifiers from the Internet, because it really puts us on an uneven playing field right now. All of the money is going to Europe and all the players are going to Europe; if I were a player, that’s what I would be doing. It’s really frustrating on our end, because we are trying to provide maximum service. We’re giving away a new Rolex every event. We are trying to do the right thing for the customers, but it is just a big struggle right now.

RL: Is the reason that players come back to Bellagio the high level of service?

JM: I think I have the best tournament staff in the world. They have my back all of the time. The last tournament we had, I caught pneumonia and missed the last week. I was basically unavailable, but nobody noticed that I was gone because they did so well. I was very proud of them.

RL: Do you feel that as the players get younger you need to adjust tournament offerings for them?

JM: Before I came to Bellagio, every tournament was chip for chip. When I came to Bellagio, I wanted to cut down on the rebuys since they have caused the most headaches, so I just gave everybody double chips to start with, and everybody liked that. Two or three years later, the people across the street went to double chips, so I then went to triple chips, and so they went to triple chips. Then, the people down the street went nuts and started giving out 40 times your chips, which is insane. I tried to find the happy medium in between where people get plenty of play but you’re not sitting there for days for nothing. It’s a continuous work of art, that’s for sure.

RL: What do you think the future of tournament poker holds?

JM: Well, I think the future of tournament poker is very promising. We have to keep the interest with TV, and we really need to get the Internet back, because otherwise we will just be watching our customers go abroad. I hope our politicians get their acts together and things work out.