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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Jason Lester

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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.

There are many players in the world of poker that come and go.  Today’s big winner could become yesterday’s news.  It doesn’t always have to be like that though.  Sometimes yesterday’s news can once again become today’s news, and that certainly stands true for Jason Lester.  There are many adjectives that can accurately define a poker player, and perseverance is definitely one of them, especially for players who had been so agonizingly close to winning a big tournament, only to find themselves second fiddle time and time again.  For many this would perhaps be enough to drive them away from the game, but for Lester it made him try that much harder.  Lester had many strong showings before his most recent success, but as he has said in a number of interviews “it’s a lot nicer to be the bride as opposed to the bridesmaid sometimes.”

Jason Lester has followed a path that many poker players have.  Before embarking on a successful professional poker career Lester earned quite a reputation as a backgammon player.  Through the late 80’s and early 90’s Lester was routinely listed in the top 20 backgammon players in the yearly rankings.  He would often square off against noted backgammon turned poker player Dan Harrington.  Other great poker players who have had a backgammon background are Gus Hansen and the late great Chip Reese.

Lester seemed to make the transition to poker the same way many of his poker playing peers did.  While living and playing in such cities as New York City and Los Angeles there was usually a poker game going on in the same clubs he was playing backgammon.  More often than not the money on the poker tables had more in one hand than what each game of backgammon would have on the line.  Naturally many of these backgammon players began migrating over to the poker table, and as noted, many made the full transition.

Although Lester began playing poker in the early 90’s, he still maintained his status as a full time, professional backgammon player.  While he was continuing to make a good showings in backgammon tournaments, he also began participating in a number of poker tournaments when time allowed.  Lester both played and made a final table at the World Series of Poker in 1990.  The event was the $5,000 Seven Card Stud Event, and it earned him $29,400.  Little did Lester know at the time, but this would just be the beginning of a series of “close but no cigar” moments for him at the WSOP.   It would be a while before Lester started pressing on that issue though, because he was still making good showings.

In 1991 Lester finished 21st in the World Series of Poker Main Event.   In 1992 he made another final table, finishing 9th at the $2,500 Pot Limit Hold’em event.   For the next three years Lester didn’t have any cashes in the WSOP, but he made up for it in 1995 when he cashed in five events.   Lester again came close to getting his first bracelet, finishing 4th $1,500 Pot Limit Hold’em event and 6th in the $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha event.  Between 1995 and 2003, in which times he was still playing a lot of backgammon, he still found a way to cash in 10 events, including four final tables, including one that changed the face of poker forever.

In 2003 Lester was part of the final table that included Chris Moneymaker, and in turn help sparked the “Poker Boom.”  While many can agree that by Moneymaker winning it, it is a large reason many people came to the game that wouldn’t have normally played it, and in return bringing untold amounts of money to the game, Lester still felt like he had a chance to win this event.  Lester would end up finishing 4th at the historic final table, where a few hands didn’t go his way, including a hand in which if he would have won, he would have been the chip leader four handed.
With so many close finishes, it began to seem that Lester may be best remembered for finishing fourth to Chris Moneymaker.  Lester was well known by his peers in Las Vegas, and his fellow pros felt like if anyone deserved a bracelet it was Lester.  At this point Lester had retired from the backgammon tour, and was now focused exclusively on poker.  Many felt it was only a matter of time, but in 2005 he narrowly missed it yet again, finishing 5th in the $5,000 Shorthanded event.  Admittedly by this time the pressure of winning a bracelet was starting to get to Lester, and he was wondering if his moment would ever come.

The moment did come, and in a big way.  In the same tournament legends Chip Reese and Mike Sexton had won, including other well known players as David Williams and Sammy Farha, Lester finally broke through.  Lester took down the $5,000 Pot Limit Tournament, winning $550,764 dollars, and more importantly shaking the monkey off his back that had been weighing him down for years.  The celebration that followed is apparently stuff of legend.  After winning the event, Lester took his half million dollars that was given to him in a wooden box, and left the Rio and headed straight to The Strip.
Since then Lester has made two more final tables at the WSOP, which brought his total to 21 total cashes in the WSOP.  It’s a bit hard to feel sorry for some who had won over two million dollars in purses on the professional poker circuit, but to those in the game, it was great to see him finally take down the big one.

For the most part Lester has stayed under the radar as it comes to the big poker scene, but among his peers he was one of the more respected of the bunch.  Jason Lester is sponsored by the online poker room HollywoodPoker.  That’s fitting, as he had a cameo in the poker movie “Lucky You.”  One thing is for sure, there was nothing lucky about his first WSOP bracelet.  He earned it.

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

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