Stensrud's influence in his words
November 29, 2016 3:04 AM
by Robert Turner
If anyone deserves to be in the Poker Industry Hall of Fame, it’s Jerry Stensrud. During his 25-year tenure at Commerce Casino, Stensrud helped develop Commerce Casino into the largest poker room in the world, a distinction it still holds today.
This is Jerry’s story told in his own words.
“I started playing poker at the tender age of 8. When my grandfather would clear the table at family functions, that meant the poker game was on. Once I got a taste for the game I was hooked.
“I played in family games until I joined the Coast Guard. My introduction into poker games in the service was a disaster. It kept me broke and on base for quite a while.
“I finally asked a guy who consistently won what was wrong with my game, and he said, without hesitation, ‘You play bad.’ I talked him into being my tutor for a percentage if I won. I finally had beer money!
“After the Coast Guard, I moved to Southern California and discovered the city of Gardena. They had six legal poker rooms holding 36 tables each. The only legal games at the time were draw poker low ball and 5-card draw high.
“It was deal yourself, which meant every kind of poker cheat was spread out in these rooms and many times management went along with it. Most players were just lovers of the game – amateurs mixed in with some tough pros.
“The pros hated the cheats but never had the power to stop all of it. When I became swing shift manager at the El Dorado Club in the 80s, I never had so much fun in my life playing cat and mouse with the cheats.
“One story stands out from around the time we had started to bringing in dealers. I had come on shift and surveyed the room, as I did every shift. I noticed an unfamiliar face in a 15/30 lowball game.
“This player kept his head down, trying not to make eye contact. I go to the office and sit on the guy. He’s got the shuffle, the grip, stacking as he brings in discards, but he never moves.
“I sit on him for two hours, and he’s an angel. Finally, it dawns on me that he knows I’m in the office, so I leave, order some lunch and eat at an empty table in plain sight.
While I am doing this, the cameras are rolling on him. I leave the food on the table and sneak into the office from another door, rewind the tape and look at his work.
“Oh, my God, I don’t have the typical card cheat; I have the Michael Jordan of cheating! It was beautiful to watch and nobody had a clue. He was working alone dealing bottoms and holding out at the same time.
“This was like winning an Oscar! So now I go get him. I walk in front of the table, make eye contact, take my right hand and brush my left arm. The thief will acknowledge this and get up from table without a problem almost 100% of the time. A guard and I escort him into the office where we get his I.D. and mug shot.
“He wants to tell me his problems. He started cheating at cards at the age of 12 in the Bronx, and has been doing it his whole life. He has a Cadillac in the parking lot he’s making payments on, two kids in college, a mortgage and a wife who spends big.
“He says he is 54 and too old to go legit. This guy had tears in his eyes. I spotted him years later in Laughlin, Nevada working the blackjack pit for the house. I always wondered if he went straight.
“I went back to playing. When the Bicycle Club opened, it had dealers at every table. The known cheats were told they could not play; it was paradise. I was living the good life when I got a call from the Commerce Casino. My name had come up to manage the poker section.
“After much arm twisting I took the job. Little did I know what I was getting into.
“The owners came from other businesses and had hired a bunch of the old Gardena crooks to run the place. They were pals with the cheats. The owners were honest but just didn’t know who they had hired, so I became the new sheriff in town come to clean up Dodge.
“Commerce became the largest poker room in the world, and I doubt anyone will ever be bigger. I put in 25 years at Commerce and have so many people to thank that I could fill pages. I retired four years ago but, I’m still playing.”
Jerry has done as much for poker as anyone in the industry.