Anthony Chester has seen poker as a player, dealer, tournament coordinator and, now, manager of the poker room at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
The room, lined with framed photographs of poker greats, holds regular tournaments at its 25 tables. The most popular, a $350 buy-in, is held Saturdays and has a $20,000 guarantee.
Caesars, which owns Horseshoe, also owns the World Series of Poker. That gave Horseshoe Baltimore, which opened in August, the right to name its poker room for the signature event and to host a World Series circuit tournament.
Horseshoe said the recent event — actually a series of 14 tournaments over 12 days — generated a prize pool of more than $2 million and featured nearly 3,000 players from 38 states and the District of Columbia. It ended March 9 — the day Horseshoe's competitor, Maryland Live, began its largest poker event, dubbed the $1 Million Live Poker Classic.
Chester said he always has loved the game — he headed to Atlantic City, N.J., straight from high school and got a job as a dealer in 1993.
Before coming to Baltimore, he was poker room manager at Lumiere Place Casino and Hotels in St. Louis.
His wife, Michelle, is also a longtime casino dealer.
He recently agreed to answer a few questions from The Baltimore Sun.
When did you begin playing?
I remember when my dad would play five-card stud and five-card draw in the neighborhood. That's my first recollection, but I have played a lot. I also played in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in 2012. It wasn't a bracelet event. The last bracelet event was 2009. I didn't make it out of Day 1.
I've also dealt all over the country. I started in Atlantic City back in 1994 at the Tropicana. I helped open up at the Borgata, and I moved to Vegas in 1998.
Poker was so hot a decade ago. It may not be as trendy now, but has it retained some of its popularity?
We saw the boom back in 2003. There were 839 players in the World Series of Poker main event in 2003 when [Chris] Moneymaker won. In 2004, it went up to over 2,600. It quadrupled.
It still holds huge popularity right here. The Poker Players Alliance says 23 million Americans play poker.
What was it like hosting the World Series of Poker circuit tournament in Baltimore for the first time?
We had 45 tables downstairs in the Harbor Room. We had the 25 tables upstairs — 700 poker players at one given time playing. To give you the feel, it felt like being at a rock concert almost, or that great sporting event. Lots of concentration going on. But it just had that great aura of being somewhere exciting.
The poker boom created some media stars. These guys were treated as celebrities at the tournament, right?
We had Steve Dannenmann, Christian Harder, Phil Hellmuth, T.J. Cloutier. Phil was taking tons of pictures. We would walk six feet and somebody would ask for a picture. You have to be open to your fans.
With poker hours, do you ever see your wife?
She works graveyard as a craps dealer here in table games. She had been a poker dealer. We see each other on our days off, for sure. We get a couple hours a day at night on our regular workdays.
Position: Poker room manager at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore
Birthplace: Somers Point, N.J.
Education: Upper Darby (Pa.) High School
Family: Married, two daughters
Hobbies: Golf, slow-pitch softball