From All-Pro to All-In, Buss Plays it Smart
Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss (he has a Ph.D. in chemistry) is a great hold-’em player. Buss has been sparring with the best hold-’em players in the world since 1987, and he has managed to stay ahead of the game. Buss has also managed to spar with all the owners and GMs in pro basketball. Buss has been a genius both at playing hold ’em and at dealing with the rest of the NBA. He and Jerry West dealt themselves into Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and many other stars. These great deals led to eight championships! Of course, Buss has owned the Lakers since 1979. He owned them when they won five titles with Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the “Showtime Lakers.” He owned them when they had Shaq and Kobe, and they won three more titles; and he still owns them today.
On the poker side of the ledger, Buss has played hold ’em at the Bicycle Club, the Commerce Club, the Forum (in the old days) and the Staples Center for decades. In a hold-’em game, Buss can crush 99 percent of the world, but he’s not happy there. Buss constantly sits down with the top 1 percent. When Johnny Chan asked him, “Jerry, why you want to play with the best all the time?” Buss responded, “For three reasons. First, I like the challenge. Second, it is an honor to play with the best. In what other sport or profession can I sit down and play with the best players in the world? And finally, on those nights when I beat the best, now that is a great feeling.”
In 2005, when the poker world had NBC’s Heads-Up Poker Championships, Buss was invited to play. Buss then drew Daniel Negreanu in the first round. Negreanu prevailed, but the match had some great drama. Like on the final hand, where Negreanu had Qd-Jd, and Buss had Ad-6h, and they both moved all-in after the 10d-9h-7d flop. Negreanu, needing a diamond — an eight, jack, queen or king — called for the 8d, and it came. That meant that Negreanu completed his flush, but Buss was still alive and needed a diamond to win the pot. Negreanu now jokingly called for the 9d to complete his straight flush, and that card came! For a second, Buss thought that he won the pot with the diamond, but Negreanu knew that he’d won it and said, “What was that! I just called for the eight of diamonds and the nine of diamonds, and they came; that’s too spooky!” (In fact, the odds of calling for these two exact cards, back to back, are 44 (44 to 1) times 43 (43 to 1), or 1,892 to 1!)
In the next television confrontation that I watched, Buss played Layne Flack heads up for a World Poker Tour title at the Commerce Club in Los Angeles at the WPT Celebrity Invitational Tournament. Buss was unlucky to have to face champions Negreanu and Flack for titles when it could just as easily have been two lesser players.
Watching “High Stakes Poker” on GSN in early 2008, I witnessed another confrontation between Negreanu and Buss. With the blinds at $300 to $600, Johnny Chan opened for $1,600 with 6h-4h, Negreanu called on the button with Ah-Qc and Buss called in the big blind with Kh-Qh. The flop came down Qd-10h-2s, Buss checked, Chan checked and Negreanu bet out $6,000. Buss announced, “I raise,” and made it $18,000 to go. Chan folded, and Negreanu studied for a moment, trying to decide what to do. As Negreanu grabbed two $50,000 “bricks” of cash and juggled them, he said/sang, ‘It’s one of those do do do do do do do (to the tune of ‘Jeopardy’) here.” As he said “here,” Negreanu plunked the cash down into the pot. Now it was Buss’ turn to think. And he asked, “So that’s $100,000 there?” Negreanu said, “Yep, I think that $100,000 has you covered.” Buss said, “I think it does. I call.”
When Negreanu showed the A-Q, Buss said, “Ouch, that’s the one hand that I thought you might have that beats me!” Buss may have lost this pot. Buss may have lost to Negreanu in the NBC Heads-Up. Buss may have lost to Flack in the WPT Championship at the Commerce. But Buss will continue to come at the top hold-’em players in the world, and he will grab his share of victories. That’s because Buss is a champion, just like his precious Los Angeles Lakers.
When you have top pair with a big kicker:
A) It is tough to fold.
B) It will win a lot of money for you.
C) It will lose a lot of money for you.
D) All of the above.