Poker evangelist, Lee Jones
Even before I discovered she was one of the most beautiful people I'd seen in recent memory, it was the fiddle player who drew me to the lobby of the Villa Marina theater. Less than 50 yards away, the UKIPT Main Event players had just reached the money, and somebody was pouring pints in the nearby bar, but the most intoxicating thing in the building was the sound of that fiddle.
It was the type of thing you don't expect to see at a poker tournament: six Celtic musicians jamming for the people who had come to watch the poker. It was perfect. It was happy. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for a fiddle, but I couldn't get enough of it.
Now, some people might have thought a band was out of place at a poker tournament, but PokerStars' Head of Poker Communications, Lee Jones, couldn't disagree more. See, he's on a mission.
"I want to tell the world how fun poker is," he said. "I like to think of myself as a poker evangelist."
Jones told me that a couple of days ago when he had me up to his Isle of Man Office. His walls are covered with big pictures of his family's North Carolina home and land, as well as portraits of Team PokerStars Pro. He doesn't get back there as much as he'd like, but he feels like he's got an important job these days. Summed up, it sounds like this: "Let's make poker fun again."
Tonight's band was just another way to have fun.
Anyone who has played poker with Jones knows that he's a rules nit. They know he's particular. And don't even think about asking him to see his hand if you didn't pay for it. When he plays, he plays to win. That doesn't mean, however, that he doesn't want people to have a ball at the table.
He said, "It's an extraordinary opportunity to hang out with people, have competition, and have a blast."
Jones learned poker when he was around six years old. His dad taught him math and odds with the game. He's played ever since, and he's seen the game change in dozens of ways throughout the years. Most of the last decade, Jones has been working with PokerStars in some capacity. He's been watching things closely.
"One of the things we've seen is a rise in what I would call The Grinder Mentality," he said. "All they think about is 'what is your three-betting range' and 'shouldn't he have flatted there?' They forget that it's about fun."
While Jones may consider himself an evangelist, this is not a sermon. He doesn't want to preach. He's just simply pointing out what's happened to the perception of the game in recent years. It's no secret that PokerStars has produced a lot of world champion poker players. It's one of the things the company built its reputation on. The thing is, when it comes down to it, the champions don't take up much space in under the poker tent.
"The huge majority of people who play poker don't play it professionally. They play it because it's fun," Jones said. "Maybe they'll make a little money. Maybe they'll lose a little money, but they'll have a great time doing it."
It's clear how seriously Jones takes this job. When I arrived on the island Wednesday night, he picked me up in his little car and zipped through the streets of Douglas. He took a quick dinner meeting where I first heard him talk about his mission. Then it was off to a VIP Club live party. We weren't there two minutes before he'd made his way to the crowd and started working as the MC. That job done, he grabbed his coat and we zipped to the Villa Marina where he MC'd a huge PokerStars staff tournament (before, yes, going on to finish in third place).
It was all part of his on-going and non-stop attempt to bring fun to poker and bring fun to the area that surrounds it. It's not an indictment of grinders. He loves them, too. He just wants to make sure everybody else is having fun in the process.
"Obviously, there are going to be people out there playing professionally, and that's great for them, but the majority of the people playing poker aren't playing professionally," he said.
And that brings us back to tonight, the Celtic band, and that fiddle player. Jones didn't just stand with me and watch. He ran to his car and grabbed his guitar.
Within a few minutes, he was playing along with them and leading them in "Galway Girl." There are people I know here who almost never have a smile on their face, and even they were grinning and tapping their feet.
And here's the inescapable thing. Jones may wear a stone face when he's in a hand, but once the chips get pushed, he just wants to have fun. For him, that's what it's all about. That's why he's the poker evangelist.
"It's our mission to make the poker tent big and to bring everybody in," he said.
And if you're looking for that poker tent, you can just listen for the sound of a Celtic band. I hear their fiddle player is pretty good.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging