Poker profile: Lessinger wanted more than banking

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Born in the Bronx, the son of an investment firm executive and pharmaceutical compliance auditor, Matt Lessinger has had an interesting ride on the poker bus with his final (for now) destination being Northern California.

Though he spends less time as a player at the tables these days, he’s still engaged in the industry, working as an Asian games supervisor at the Oaks Club in Emeryville.

With a degree in economics from Haverford College (near Philadelphia), Lessinger seemed to be following in his father’s footsteps. He landed a job in the investment banking industry, where he lasted six weeks. Realizing he wanted to work in the gaming industry, he moved to Atlantic City, attended dealers school and picked up a position at the Claridge. Within seven months, he showed leadership abilities and was promoted. At 22, he was the youngest floorman in all of AC. When Lessinger wasn’t patrolling the pits, he could be found at the Sands playing pot-limit and no-limit hold’em. One of his contemporaries at the time was Phil Ivey, who was known as Jerome (the name on his fake ID).

Experiencing steady, moderate wins, Lessinger moved to Vegas to become a professional player in early ’99. Within a month of moving to Sin City, he placed second in the Sam Boyd Poker Classic, then a month later took down the Carnivale of Poker pot-limit hold’em championship, and final-tabled the NLHE championship the next day.

Riding high on his success, Lessinger ventured to a tournament series in Tunica where he grinded the whole series barely breaking even. It was on his way back to Vegas when he decided he wasn’t keen on working hard for 10 days with nothing to show for his effort, so he was going to be primarily a cash-game player. He still plays some tournaments and remains successful overall, with four cashes at the World Series of Poker (including 144th in the ’08 main event), and first- and fifth-place finishes on the Heartland Poker Tour to name a few.

In 2001, the allure of California poker brought Lessinger to the Bay area, where he played as a proposition player for eight years. In 2009, he took a brief leave of the brick-and-mortar industry to play online. At first he held court in the $10-$20 stud/8 games and beyond, but working from home and making a nice living came to a screeching halt on Black Friday, when Lessinger and his wife, Mirna, were vacationing in Europe.

Before he returned to the United States to determine what his options were, he got a call from his old stomping grounds, the Oaks. A position had opened and he was the man for the job.

I’ve known Matt for about a decade and look at him as a true industry professional. From his game strategy to dealing with the ups and downs of it all, he has led by example. As with most industries, the total dynamic of poker has changed dramatically (and continues to change) and there are few people who have altered their actions to fit the game as well as he has.

Along with his steady performance and involvement in the industry, he’s also a poker columnist and has received success with The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker.

Given his experience, knowledge and track record in the industry, I asked him to sum up his success.

“Poker is great as a second job. Playing without a salary is very tough. Although it’s OK to go broke when you’re 21 years old, it’s not OK when you’re in your 30s or 40s.”

— Bret Miller is the Ante Up Ambassador for Northern California. Email him at anteupbret@gmail.com.