When Charlie Prince’s invitation popped up in my E-mailbox, I assumed, at first, that it was another under-capitalized, disorganized filmmaker, anxious to cash in on the current poker craze.
Would I care to participate (with scores of others) in the definitive made-for-television documentary that would chronicle the ever colorful sometimes tempestuous, and never snuffed-out poker scene in the Big Apple, he asked.
A second look at Charlie Prince’s name, along with his contact information sent me scurrying to the phone. He holds down a day job as an attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates, one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. And when it turns out that he is related to another lawyer I know of the same name, I can be sure that he hails from irrepressibly successful stock.
On the telephone, Charlie Prince was instantly persuasive, telling me right off the bat that his film company, Royal Flush Entertainment, LLC, a partnership with friends Andrew Wang and Jor Law, has made contact with the likes of high profile poker stars such as Erik Seidel and Howard Lederer. The company expects both of them to take part in recorded discussions about the good old days when they were regulars at the Mayfair Cub.
Originally dedicated to bridge and backgammon, the Mayfair Club put its big toe in the poker waters under Alvin Roth, but fully converted into a poker emporium under its second-generation owners. It grew to become the most touted card club in New York until its abrupt closing by the authorities in 2000.
The Mayfair’s Monday night poker festivities the first “big game,” was started in the mid-eighties. It was not a game for weaklings. In addition to Lederer and Seidel, a bit later, the game boasted regular appearances by World Series of Poker Champion Dan Harrington (1995), and an array of additional budding poker stars (Jason, Lester, Steven Zolotow, and Noli Francisco among them) as well as upstater, Jay Heimowitz, who had already made his mark in third place of the WSOP final event, and Yours Truly, who relied upon Heimowitz for tutoring on the finer points of the game. Heimowitz went on to claim six WSOP bracelets. He also happens to keep an apartment in the same building as Charlie Prince; so it is no wonder that the film executives were anxious to prevail upon him to step up to the plate, early. Heimowitz didn’t disappoint. If Prince has his way, he’ll interview poker players of every generation (which is four, five or six, depending upon your perspective), as he builds the story of the rise, disruptions and current chaos in New York poker circles.
The filmmakers have lined up an impressive roster of players to re-capture historical moments, the broad development of interest in the game, and extraordinary poker stories that surround the poker milieu of New York, NY.
Among the most knowledgeable participants are two of the principals of major poker clubs; a seasoned pro who bought the Mayfair Club from Roth in the early 90’s, and Jay Colombo, a one-time Mayfair employee and longtime poker player who in 2002 founded the PlayStation. The PlayStation was the single most frequented poker club in the city during the past three years until spring 2005, when it, too, was shut down…
Looking for players that toiled at the New York tables during the 90â€™s, Prince found writer/player Peter Alson, a co-writer of the Stu Ungar story One of a Kind, and Ingrid Weber, the long-time Mayfair manager and much-liked recreational player. While Weber can provide a snapshot of nearly a decade of poker right up to its last breath, Alson may compare the established Mayfair with the feisty upstart Diamond Club that opened its doors in 1996. A casino style operation, the Diamond Club collected seat rental fees every half hour (instead of nightly charges a la Mayfair), and more importantly, it introduced the concept of weekly tournament fare and cash games with bad beat jackpot prizes.
To help explain the philosophy of the Diamond Club and its raison d’etre, the documentary’s honchos tapped Robert Hanley, brother of the owners of the late Diamond Club. Brother Robert, who knows a thing or two about dealing and playing cards, so intrigued these executives that they have not only spent hours drawing from him information about how and why the Diamond Club was born, but they also contemplated sending one of their crews to get a glimpse of Robert doing stand-up comedy at a Greenwich Village club.
With interviews of Hanley rolling smoothly, the camera turns to Mike May, one of New York’s most congenial players. He first showed up at the Diamond Club, and later followed the yellow brick road, with invitations from everyone to join their new games, all over the city. Will Mike May take us back to the poker game that was in full swing just as airplanes were cracking open the World Trade Center on 9.11? Will his story shine a light on the inner workings of the Diamond and Mayfair Clubs, through his own experiences at each? Or will he talk about the hot-as-a-pistol alternative of Internet poker? For the moment the producers and director are mum about the wide-ranging interviews except to tell me that no one has tickled their funny bone better than Adam Schoenfeld. Schoenfeld is one of just a handful of New Yorkers that were elected to the Professional Poker Tour last year.
With the documentary’s portrait of the Mayfair and Diamond Club taking shape, the filmmakers sharpen their lenses on the next generation of smaller clubs that gingerly put down small stakes.
Among the more intimate rooms that dominated New York poker at the beginning of the grand twenty-first century, was a football club that featured poker and pasta with down home Italian pomodoro sauce.
And not to be left out of the mix of quietly rocking clubs was the Dandelion Den, where a porterhouse and poker party was the last celebration. May, Schoenfeld, and others help bridge the heydays of the Mayfair and Diamond Club with the lower-profile, but just as colorful, smaller clubs that soon thereafter proliferated around the city.
Knowing that poker has surrounded this reporter for the past twenty years- from the card room to the board room, and in the corridors of government, Prince also asks me to be part of his show. And most of my interview is being held under close wraps, like all of the others. But for you, my dear readers, I offer a taste of the kind of hair-raising stories that are likely to be revealed, thanks to the diligence of Prince and friends. Here is the real scoop on what happened at the Dandelion Club, one of those smaller clubs that was a brief beneficiary of the big club closures of 2000: On this particular Saturday night , New York movers and shakers of the poker world were in Dr. Dan DeLion’s egalitarian (bring your own food/serve yourself) “dining” room, where card games just had a way of breaking out.
Inspired by tasty appetizers from McDonald’s, some socialites pleaded for porterhouse. How could I refuse to be part of such a repast? The jolliness of the feast was surpassed only by the conviviality of a friendly evening of cards until the City’s “party poopers” broke up the harmless happening. When an unidentified City authority barged off the elevator and said, “Hold up”, I was silly enough to take him at his word. As ordered, I turned on my heels and stepped lively-back to the familiar dining table, where I bowed my head, quietly. At this print, I was pleased only about my choice for a last supper!
And then, upon raising my head upward toward heaven, I suddenly realized I was at a dinner party with “the finest” instead of foes who might fire. To celebrate the revelation, I held my head high and sang the Hallelujah chorus- relieved to learn that the “hold up” was merely a “sit down” with midtown enforcement agents.
The “intruders” finally made a “find”- a pound of tasty looking leftover porterhouse. The hungry looking hounds from the Mayor’s office gave the benediction to scram and emptied the place out. They were left alone- presumably to chow down in peace.
The partnership of Prince, Wang, and Law was motivated to put their company together after bearing witness to the volatile poker scene of the past couple of years. Initially they were unaware of the breadth of the poker community, but every day the filmmakers are peeling the onion- learning about the longtime old-fashioned stud houses on Madison Avenue and 72nd Street and the downtown back rooms around Chinatown and Little Italy as well as the more famous card rooms and long-running home games.
Beyond the players and workers, Prince has also reached out to legal beagles including Professor Nelson Rose of Whittier Law School, and attorney/gambling law expert Chuck Humphrey. Royal Flush Entertainment has also made a beeline to the doors of reporters, in search of their varying motives. Prince has even knocked on the doors of politicians and police, trying to cajole them into being forthcoming about the reasons for their unpredictable enforcement actions.
Along the way, Prince and his partners also hear from the managers and dealers that have served the New York community. They note that it is the workers that have often been the hardest hit in the various fracases- hauled off for a visit to the slammer and jobless when they finally get home.
Rounding out the crowd of participants that has participated thus far I should mention is Erin Ness, who recently appeared on Poker Royale’s Battle of the Ages, Chris Fargis, who has just returned as a bracelet winner at a major tournament in Tunica, MS, and a diverse group of young professionals who get together for a monthly Poker Night party. If I knew the location, I wouldn’t dare to disclose it!
By day, Ms. Eolis is CEO of EOLIS International Group. A former advisor to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor Pataki, she is also Task Force Commander of Hope’s Champion, a disaster recovery personnel counseling program. Ms. Eolis also holds nine record-setting performances for a woman in major poker competition.
She was elected to the inaugural WPT-sponsored Professional Poker Tour, has been featured on the 2004 WPT Ladies Night show, and has scored the highest individual qualifying points in the GSN televised Invitational: Battle of the Ages (2005).