Diamond Jim Brady Festival


[SS] “Do any of you know who Diamond Jim Brady was?”, Stan the Stat inquired.

[RR] “Wasn’t that the guy who was paralyzed during the Reagan assassination attempt in 1981?” Roderick the Rock.

[SS] “Right name, wrong nickname.”1

[LL] “I thought he was a writer for the New York Post“, Leroy the Lion suggested.

[SS] “Nope, not him either.”

[FF] “Was he one of the relatives on The Brady Bunch?”, Figaro the Fish guessed.

[SS] “Not that I know of.”

[FF] “How about the obvious? A poker player?”

[SS] “Sort of.”

[LL] “Yeah, he originally called himself Club Jim Brady, but he kept getting beat up.”

[RR] “Was he a turn-of-the-century baseball player?”

[SS] “Half right.”

[LL] “Then he must have be a long-dead, rich guy who loved jewelry.”

[SS] “That’s him! James Buchanan ‘Diamond Jim’ Brady was a salesman who was so good at his job selling railroad equipment and steel that he became a multimillionaire. He wore diamonds to broadcast his success, and, as you’ve already guessed, he was known to play a little poker. His New York City home featured a game room with a pool table, a roulette table, and several faro and poker tables.

The one-time bellhop became larger than life and just plain large (over 300 pounds) due to his penchant for eating, partying, and eating some more. Like the future President he was named for, Brady never married, but he was romantically involved with actress and singer Lillian Russell for four decades. A movie was made about them in 1935, and the Bicycle Club’s George Hardie named his new poker festival after him in 1985, a full 68 years after he died.”

Located in Bell Gardens in Los Angeles County, the ‘World’s Largest Card Casino’ had opened the previous year and offered the usual poker games along with several Asian games like Pan2 and Pai-Gow Poker.3

Diamond Jim Brady Festival (1985 to 1994)

Dates Events Main Event Winner Notes
October 26 to November 3, 1985 11 n/a The festival had no ‘Main Event’ per se. There was a $5,000 buyin Limit Low Ball Match Play event, but the ‘Grand Finale’ was just a $1,000 buyin Limit Lowball tournament. David Sklansky won the Best All-Around Player prize, a 10-day trip for two to London and Paris, with five final tables, including two seconds and two thirds.
November 15 to 24, 1986 11 n/a This festival also ended with a $1,000 Lowball event, won by Kathy Burkes for $53,800. Women also won the Media/Celebrity warmup event (Sally Sander) and took second in the $300 Lowball Draw (Sun Chin Braget, $18,320) and third in the Super Pan 9 (Susan Chang $1,860) and the Finale (Barbara Enright, $9,280). David Hayano captured the Best All-Around Player title when he reached the last three of the Finale.
November 7 to 22, 1987 18 Buster Jackson ($75,000) Men Nguyen won the $300 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo for $28,600, Gary Berland won the $300 Limit Hold ‘Em for $70,890, David Reese won the $2,500 Deuce-to-Seven Lowball for $37,500, and Johnny Chan won the $1,000 Half Hold ‘Em/Half Lowball for $61,340.
August 6? to 21?, 1988 18?4 Phil Hellmuth ($125,000) This was Hellmuth’s first major tournament victory, nine months before he would win the WSOP Main Event. He also made a deal to split $144,000 with Erik Seidel in the $1,000 No Limit Hold ‘Em, although Seidel won the event. Poker Player newspaper claims that this was the first big non-smoking poker tournament,5 one of George Hardie’s many accomplishments.
August 5 to 31, 1989 23 Bob Veltri ($240,000) David Reese ($150,000) was the runner-up in the Main Event, while Phil Hellmuth ($78,000) finished third. Don Williams won the $300 7-Card Stud ($61,000), the $1,000 Pot Limit Hold ‘Em ($81,000), and the $1,500 Lowball & Hold ‘Em ($81,800) events. Mike Hart won both the $300 Jacks Back ($41,160) and the $300 7-Card Stud, Hi-Lo Split ($44,100) events.
August 4 to 31, 1990 20 T.J. Cloutier ($256,000) Mansour Matloubi ($160,000) was the Main Event runner-up. John Bonetti won both the $1,000 and the $300 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo events ($39,200 and $38,160). The top 40 players received prizes in the All-Around Championship, including Seymour Leibowitz taking home a red Corvette and Humberto Brenes $10,000.
August 3 to 30, 1991 21 T.J. Cloutier ($230,000) Hans Lund ($115,000) was the Main Event runner-up. Other notable winners included Men Nguyen ($500 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo; $27,800), Howard Lederer ($1,000 Limit Hold ‘Em; $41,000), and Barbara Enright ($1,500 7-Card Stud; $45,000).
August 1 to 30, 1992 18 T.J. Cloutier ($126,000) Bobby Hoff ($78,750) was the Main Event runner-up. Other notable winners included Men Nguyen ($1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha High; $39,600) and Barbara Enright ($1,000 Limit Hold ‘Em; $49,600).
August 21 to 31, 1993 17 Todd Brunson ($198,000) Following this, his first major victory, the 24-year-old Brunson dropped out of college to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a poker pro. Peter Vilandos ($123,750) was the Main Event runner-up, while Berry Johnston ($47,025) finished third. Other notable winners included Carolyn Gardner ($300 7-Card Stud; $30,200), Men Nguyen ($500 Lowball Shootout; $22,320), Phil Hellmuth ($1,000 Omaha Hi-Lo; $50,000), and Marie Gabert ($1,000 Limit Hold ‘Em; $46,400).
August 6 to 31, 1994 18 Vince Burgio ($164,000) Thomas Chung ($102,500) was the Main Event runner-up, with Mansour Matloubi 3rd ($49,200), and T.J. Cloutier 4th ($28,700). The highest buyin event was actually the $10,000 Dr. Jerry Buss’ Celebrity ‘Go for the Gold’ Tournament Half Hold ‘Em, Half Stud, which Bab Veltri won for $166,800. Tom McEvoy, who captured the $1,000 Limit Hold ‘Em for $41,200, won the All-Around Championship for another $40,000, including a Lincoln Mark VIII. Other notable winners included Ted Forrest ($300 Omaha Hi-Lo; $26,680) and Erik Seidel ($1,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em; $75,600).

Notes:

  • The 1985 festival paid out more money in prizes than every prior festival except the World Series of Poker.
  • In 1985 and possibly other years, Hardie himself dressed up as Diamond Jim Brady, and hostess Hope North posed as Lillian Russell. Players were offered free personalized photos with the ‘famous couple’.
  • The Main Event started with a $5,000 buyin in 1987, increased to a $10,000 from 1988 to 1991, then returned to a $5,000 from 1992 to 1994.
  • Cloutier considers his three consecutive Diamond Jim Brady Championships from 1990 to 1992 to be the ‘most important’ victories of his career, since nobody has ever done anything like it.6
  • Over the decade George Hardie won three events in his own festival: the 1985 $2,500 Match Play Limit Lowball ($20,000), the 1987 $1,000 Razz ($27,000), and the 1993 $500 Hold ‘Em Shootout ($33,360).

[RR] “That was a pretty impressive ten-year run. What happened to the festival?”

[SS] “The festival was moved to the Oceanside Card Club for its final year then was replaced in 1995 by the Legends of Poker festival, which would become a part of the World Poker Tour in 2002.”

Footnotes:

  1. White House Press Secretary Jim Brady was known as “Bear”.
  2. Pan-9 is a blackjack-like limit poker game using eight card decks from which the Eights, Nines, and Tens have been removed (310 cards). You try to draw to total of 9, with Aces worth 1, face cards worth 0, and other cards worth their number. After each player antes, the dealer gives each player two cards face down. There follows a round of betting in which you can check, bet, call, or fold but not raise. An optional third card is dealt to each remaining player face down followed by a double-stake betting round. An optional fourth card is then dealt to each remaining player followed by a quadruple-stake betting round.
  3. Pai Gow Poker is one of the games that led to Chinese Poker. Each player is dealt seven hidden cards, which they sort into a hand of two cards and a better hand of five cards. Players who can beat both of the dealer’s hands win, and those who lose both hands lose their bet. Otherwise, it’s a push.

    On June 28, 1986, the Bicycle Club opened the Dragon Room, a special area for high rollers to player Pai Gow Poker and Super Pan 9.

  4. Details on the 1988 tournament are scarce. Even the Hendon Mob database has information on only four events.
  5. Despite his other vices, Diamond Jim Brady neither smoked nor drank, so this milestone was quite apt.
  6. In a November 2005 Bluff magazine interview, Cloutier also noted that Hal Kant had finished third each time, but it was only two of the three years as Kant did not cash in 1990:
    • 1990: 2nd Mansour Matloubi ($160,000), 3rd Rene Vernhat ($76,800)
    • 1991: 2nd Hans Lund ($115,000), 3rd Hal Kant ($55,200)
    • 1992: 2nd Bobby Hoff ($78,750), 3rd Hal Kant ($37,800).

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