8 Minutes with ESPN’s Norman Chad at Jamul Casino

Newish San Diego casino opens a brand new poker room with a $50K tournament

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ESPN's Norman Chad gets knocked out of the Jamul Casino grand-opening poker tournament
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Norman Chad in an early hand.

Just eight minutes into the $50,000-grand-opening poker tournament at Jamul Casino, Norman Chad is, to use a word coined by the ESPN commentator himself, “whamboozled.” Meaning, he’s lost all his chips and is knocked out of the competition.

I have a front-row seat to the whamboozling. The wry, wise-cracking Chad is the celebrity assigned to the table I’m playing at in the February 15 event. Since Chad has a “bounty” on his head, the player who takes all Chad’s chips wins $500 for the quick effort.

Naturally, we all wanted the bounty on his head, but are genuinely sorry to see him bust out. Before the tournament kickoff, Chad, who is a familiar voice and face at World Series of Poker telecasts and is also a syndicated sports columnist for the Washington Post, was gracious with fans wanting to shake his hand and take selfies.

Chad is one of 10 celebs with bounties on their head at this kickoff event for a new, 10-table, high-tech Poker Room at Jamul Casino. Others include poker pros Tiffany Michelle (also a competitor on The Amazing Race) and Erick Lindgren.

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Hoopla for the opening of the Jamul Casino Poker Room. (courtesy photo)

I hear good things all day during tournament play about the addition of a Poker Room to Jamul Casino (which had previously been branded as part of the Hollywood Casino chain). Experienced poker players like the “big-blind-ante” system incorporated into the tournament; others point to the lead-up satellite tournaments with low buy-ins—similar to the WSOP main event—that can gain you access into the bigger buy-in tourney.    

For a tournament that attracts 222 players, extra tables are set up in The Loft, a second-floor bar/restaurant area, which includes an open-air patio with a view of the verdant surroundings. The Loft is the location where I watch Chad hold court—for eight minutes, and then some.

The down-to-earth poker jokester hangs around at our table well after being knocked out. Somebody asks Chad, a Los Angeles resident, if he flew in to San Diego. “Nope, I drove here in my Subaru Legacy,” he responds matter-of-factly.

When a new dealer sits down, he accidentally deals Chad a hand. This constitutes a misdeal. Somebody asks Chad to turn over the cards he has been dealt. He flips up pocket aces. The table erupts. “I’m back in!” Chad quips.

The next day, I notice Chad has tweeted this about playing in the Jamul Casino Poker Room Grand Opening: “I play so bad my table wanted to pay for my re-entry.”

Well, not exactly. But it was a treat to play cards with the inimitable Norman Chad.

Jamul Casino’s Poker Future

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Jamul Casino Poker Room manager John Rochfort.

New Jamul Casino Poker Room manager John Rochfort hopes this will be the first of several times big names in poker come to San Diego. A UC San Diego grad, Rochfort most recently managed the Thunder Valley poker room (near Sacramento), which annually plays host to a World Poker Tour main event and is on several national poker tour schedules.

Rochfort’s vision is to gain similar standing in Jamul. “We started with eight tables in Thunder Valley and now there are 50,” he says. “We’d like to bring some big tour events to San Diego. The market here is prime for something like that.”  J&J