Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
Some people play poker and some people make sure poker is played smoothly. The latter of that statement is every bit as important for those who only play it. Of course, it helps if you’ve done both, and in the case of Jack McClelland that’s exactly what he’s been doing for nearly his entire life. From going broke against his grandma in early poker games, to traveling the world for games, McClelland is one of the few people that have truly seen it all from both sides of the table. Like many, his career started as a humbling experience, cleaning ashtrays at his first job, but his hard work and dedication to the game he loved made him one of the most recognizable faces in the game today.
Jack McClelland was born in 1952 in McConnellsville, Ohio, a tiny town with not much to do for a small boy. When he was old enough to sit at the kitchen he was old enough to sit down and play a game of poker, at least that’s how his grandmother saw it. As predicted, McClelland’s grandmother wasn’t your typical sweet lady, she was a gambler. Until he was about ten years old his grandma would beat him out of his allowance on a routine basis, but she was also doing some teaching. McClelland has credited his grandmother with teaching him math through their card playing sessions. So, while she made him a little bit poorer, as poor as a 10 year old boy can be, she also took the time to teach him some things to help him get through school.
As a young teenager McClelland began organizing poker games in the neighborhood for the local children. While he enjoyed doing this, he also did it for a different reason. Both his grandmother and mother were ill and had very little money to pay for medical bills. McClelland also had a younger sister he tried to take under his wing during these tough times. Little Jack thought he could at least help with the efforts, and by all accounts he did quite a good job.
Shortly after the death of his grandmother, his mother’s doctor said a drier climate might do her a lot of good for her illness, so the family moved west to Las Vegas. McClelland had hoped to work in a casino as a dealer or in some capacity having to do with poker, but had to start at the bottom. Sahara Casino hired him as a sort of “do it all” employee, with an emphasis on some of the jobs people don’t want to do. As mentioned he cleaned ashtrays, but he also vacuumed, cleaned bathrooms and worked as an errand boy his first few months at the casino.
The bosses at the casino saw his hard work and his willingness to do anything to help the casino. A few months in they taught him how to deal poker, and within a year he was the shift director of the casino. McClelland continued with this job until the casino was sold in 1980.
McClelland worked a few jobs here and there on the strip, usually in temporary roles, but during the early part of the 80’s he spent a lot of his time trying to make a living being a professional poker player. Despite having decent success in lower buy-in tournaments, McClelland had more complaints about the tournament circuit than things he liked about it. For the first few years of the 80’s he would go home after a tournament and complain to his wife how bad the tournaments were ran, how nobody seemed to know what they were doing, and how they seemed to make rules up on the spot. After a few years of hearing the complaints, his wife finally stopped him midsentence one day and said, “If you think you are such a genius why don’t you go and fix them?”
McClelland thought about this for a few seconds and thought, maybe I will.
In 1984 McClelland went to work with the World Series of Poker. After a year of learning the ropes, he was promoted to assistant tournament director the following year. Along with fellow tournament director Jim Albrecht, McClelland saw the WSOP have its biggest growth in years under his watch.
One of the first things he wanted to change was to improve the blind structure, which at times in the past wasn’t decided on until right before a tournament, and sometimes the structure would change during the actual tournament, leaving a mess of things. McClelland also wanted to give the WSOP a more wholesome and open feeling. He wanted it to feel like everyone is welcome, and that the WSOP wasn’t just a collection of the “good old boys” in poker. It was under his watch that the first non-American won the WSOP Main Event, Mansour Matloubi, originally from Iran in 1990. The WSOP also saw another first the following year. In 1991 they awarded their first million dollar prize to the winner of the main event, and it was also the first time the main event had over 200 entrants. After 15 years on the job McClelland decided to step down from his post when his wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
During this same time period McClelland became one of the most sought after tournament directors in the world. On top of lending his expertise to a number of tournaments around Las Vegas, he also began traveling to Atlantic City to help them revamp their tournaments, including directing the very first tournament ever held at the Taj Mahal. Transatlantic flights also became a normal experience for McClelland, traveling to as far away as Russia, Australia, the Isle of Man, and even Aruba.
After the passing of his wife, McClelland took the job of tournament director at the Bellagio shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The Bellagio was hoping that because of the economic crisis that arose out of the attacks, that Jack would be able to get them back on track. Those thoughts were made true when the newly formed World Poker Tour made the Bellagio one of their main spots for televised events. McClelland has traveled ever since with the WPT, and can be seen on their television shows calling the action.
McClelland has added his experience to UltimateBet to help them with their tournament structures and he also runs a committee “to review and make judgments on questionable member play.” McClelland also ran the annual Poker Classic in Aruba up until a few years ago, which is an UltimateBet production.
McClelland’s contributions to poker were largely done in a quiet manner, but he is without a doubt one of the reasons that poker tournaments are run so smoothly today, and in turn have the immense popularity that they do.
In an interview done about three years ago, McClelland had a great quote about poker that I would like to end his profile on; I think it’s one that anyone who loves poker can agree on. “Poker players are intense. Poker’s not life or death to them; it’s much more important than that.”