It was 1983 when I met Jim Albrecht. He was working as a shift manager at the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas and I was a dealer. Our paths crossed numerous times as coworkers and then again many times during the next decade and a half. Wherever there was big poker, there was Jim. Always working by his side was his charming wife, Susan. During the recent World Poker Open (WPO) in Tunica, Mississippi, at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe and the Gold Strike, I managed to spend some time with Jim Albrecht.
Jan Fisher: I can tell by your accent that you aren’t from around here. Tell us about your background and family.
Jim Albrecht: I was born and raised in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States. I can think of no better place to grow up. I attended Florida State University and majored in math and engineering. I am happily married and have two children and three grandchildren. My hobbies are boating and fishing and learning anything that I can about computers.
JF: How and when did you get into the poker industry?
JA: Back in the mid ’70s, I was dealing blackjack at the Jackpot ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล Casino in Las Vegas. It was a small family-owned business with a five-table cardroom. Poker had always been more interesting to me than the pit games, and when an opening became available in the cardroom, I jumped at the chance to deal the game.
JF: And from there?
JA: In 1977 I went to work as a poker dealer for the legendary Bill Boyd at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. In 1983, I was promoted to shift supervisor. It was in 1984 that I began working tournaments when the inaugural Grand Prix debuted. I also became involved with the World Series of Poker (WSOP). In 1987, I moved to California to spread the first legal stud and hold’em games at what was then the Bell Club, then moved back to Vegas in 1988 and managed a five-table cardroom at the Mint Hotel and Casino. A month later, Jack Binion bought the Mint, expanded the cardroom to 15 tables at the Horseshoe property, and kept me on as the manager.
JF: Sounds like, along with being highly qualified and experienced, you were in the right place at the right time.
JA: Very true. For the next ten years I was the poker room manager and the director of both the WSOP and the Hall of Fame Poker Classic. In 1996 and 1998, along with my other duties, I directed the United States Poker Championship at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
JF: And now?
JA: Well, I am semi-retired now due to some health issues. I still am able to manage and direct the (WPO) in Tunica, which now is in its second year and going strong. It is a very unique project as it is the first joint venture between two casinos.
JF: With the vast background and wealth of experience that you possess, what are your thoughts regarding things that can be done to help the poker industry?
JA: Image is everything, and nowhere is this more important than in politics and poker. The growth of poker in modern times is a direct result of the improving image of the game. If you looked at a graph of poker respectability versus the number of games, I believe that you would see a direct and linear correspondence. The World Series of Poker, more than any other event, has helped to move poker from the back room to the living room of America. This is largely due to the enormous press coverage it receives from magazines, radio, television, and even major motion pictures (such as Rounders). In the 10 years that I directed the event, obtaining positive press was my number one duty, as the rewards of such coverage would be incalculable. In 1998, my final year as director, we reached an audience of more than 120,000,000! Imagine the cost of an advertising campaign that would do the same.
JF: I heard that you were instrumental in the spread of super-satellites.
JA: Yes, I introduced the first on-site super-satellites, buy-in chips, and negotiable value chips for single-table satellites. This gave players the flexibility to sell their win or enter any event and more than doubled satellite participation. It now is a universal practice at major tournaments.
JF: What are some of the more unusual deeds you have achieved in the poker arena?
JA: I was able to negotiate a deal with the IRS, saving the Horseshoe an expensive court battle where as much as $10,000,000 was at stake. I was a technical consultant for two major motion pictures involving poker (Maverick, starring James Gardner and Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck). As manager of the Horseshoe poker room, our team was awarded the Best Poker Room in the Review Journal’s annual “best of” poll. We took that honor eight out of 10 years! We also earned a spot in Ripley’s Believe it or Not for the largest pot in poker history.
JF: Wow, those are some impressive accomplishments. I heard that you were connected with the Hall of Fame in some way and had also won other awards. Please tell us about it.
JA: There is a Hall of Fame of Hall of Fames in a museum in San Francisco and I was able to get the Poker Hall of Fame included in this worthy project. The Silver Anniversary WSOP brochure earned me the Bronze Quill (third prize) in an international contest for the best business publication. I introduced the concept of retaining a small percentage of the total prize money for the tournament staff, a procedure that is now copied at several major events and is certain to become the industry standard.
JF: I am exhausted just listening to this! Do you or Susan still have time to play poker?
JA: Susan prefers low-limit seven-card stud, but plays infrequently. I enjoy Texas hold’em at the $10-$20 to $20-$40 level. When playing with weak opponents, I prefer pot-limit Omaha or hold’em. Heads-up, I like either Chinese poker or no-limit hold’em.
JF: Which industry leaders do you most admire?
JA: Tom Bowling (GM for Hollywood Park and Crystal Park casinos) for his unquestioned integrity and superior knowledge of the industry; Leo Chu (president of the management group for those two properties) for his incredible feel for the industry, especially considering that he is relatively new to poker; Jack McClelland for his unique tournament talents and his efforts to standardize poker tournament procedures; and Doug Dalton for his people skills. Then of course, all of the owners and writers for the industry publications (Card Player and Poker Digest) are to be commended for their contributions to the growth of poker. And how could this list be complete without noting Jack Binion, who along with his father Benny, invented poker tournaments and who is most responsible for the current good image of the poker industry.
JF: Have you any quotes with regards to the poker world?
JA: I have several favorites: “A poker room can only be as good as the person in charge” has always struck me as being totally on the mark. Another is, “When a man with money meets a man with experience, the man with experience leaves with money and the man with money leaves with experience.
JF: So true. Any others?
JA: “They said that poker would never catch on, but they were bluffing”.
JF: I love it! Are there any rules that you would like to see changed or adopted to make the poker room a better place?
JA: The rules are of less consequence than the policies in a poker room. The rule that would have the most profound effect on poker would be zero-tolerance for dealer abuse. We were the first to institute a penalty policy for abuse during tournament play and it has had a very positive effect. Managers should continue to address this issue knowing that in the end it will create a better atmosphere for all.
JF: I couldn’t agree more. The penalties have helped, but unfortunately there still is a long way to go. I am glad that at least the first step has been taken. How do you feel about the smoking issue and how will that affect next year’s WPO?
JA: Poker has always been about addressing the desires of the players. It is obvious that the majority of players prefer a non-smoking environment, and therefore, I am all for it. Speaking with regards to the cardroom alone, there still is some reluctance on the part of the top brass to go non-smoking. I believe that the success of non-smoking tournaments and poker rooms eventually will win the argument and non-smoking rooms will become the norm. The Tunica properties hosting the WPO have agreed to seriously consider this issue for 2002.
JF: I know that you mentioned the penalty system for abuse problems at the table, but other than the “time-outs,” what can and should be done?
JA: First and foremost, the house needs to make players aware that abuse will not be tolerated. Poker players generally are pretty good about playing by the rules, once that they know what the rules are. We believe in a policy of progressive disciplinary action. Many times, a warning is sufficient to insure that the behavior will not continue. If not, the offending player should be given that “time-out”. Often, once removed from the table for a time, the offending player will regain his composure. If more severe discipline is needed, the player should be given the rest of the day off. Something like, ” You are welcome to play again tomorrow, but I cannot allow you to continue play under these circumstances,” would be an appropriate indication of the casino’s position. Finally, for those who cannot maintain control under any circumstances, a formal “86” may be required. Poker rooms in close proximity to each other should inform one another of these problem players and then help to enforce restrictions. The late Johnny Moss once said, “You don’t lose players when you bar an abusive player, you gain players.” I believe he was right on target.
JF: Well said! How are you able to keep your employees motivated?
JA: The enemy of poker rooms, and especially poker dealers, is boredom. I found it particularly helpful to have special events that they could look forward to. This could be a tournament of any size, promotions that create excitement in the poker room, or even player appreciation nights. Anything that helps to break the monotony will suffice. In addition, most poker rooms have a strict policy of promoting from within. This is incentive for dealers who would otherwise see their jobs as a dead end. Finally, I have always favored a strong extra board. This gives dealers the opportunity to take extra time off when they are feeling burned out. The last thing that I want in my poker room is a dealer who really didn’t want to be there.
JF: Sounds like a room where even I could work! What was it like to have been the director of the WSOP for so long?
JA: I would not trade my time at the helm of the WSOP for anything. It was a great learning experience. I reflected for hours on end about ways to expand the possibilities, improve the product, and attract the media in ever-growing numbers. It was an intellectual exercise like none I had ever experienced. There was, however, a dark side. The event was so totally consuming and stressful that one could hardly do it forever. I believe that 10 years was the perfect number. Now that I am trying to slow down a bit, I find that the World Poker Open is the right place for me, Due to health and other issues, I am restricting myself to less taxing endeavors. The WPO is the perfect place to wind down my career.
JF: What are your goals?
JA: My current goals are simple. I want to spend more time with my family, while still staying reasonably active. The past 10 years have been wonderful, but the demands of the job have left little time for my family. As I get older, I realize that it is time for that to change. I hold two gaming-related patents; one has been sold and the other is in negotiation. I look forward to pursuing other patents and have considered authoring a book
JF: It sounds like you have had a full and wonderful career and have earned time to be with your family. I don’t know that coordinating the WPO is really winding things down, but I am glad for your sake, that it is the direction you are heading. The poker industry owes Susan and you its gratitude.