Poker Team Targets New MGM National Harbor Casino

Poker pro Chad Power has been making between $400,000 and $800,000 per year playing poker and staking fellow pros at Baltimore’s Maryland Live.

But when the MGM National Harbor casino opened in suburban Washington D.C., Power saw an opportunity to make even more money from his poker skills.

“I’ve got nothing bad to say about Maryland Live,” said Power, who finished 26th in the 2015 WSOP Main Event. “Some very good people there. But this is going to be much nicer, and it’s going to attract a lot of whales.”

Whales, or wealthy amateur poker players, are why the 28 year old initially moved to the Baltimore area. He also recruited and staked players so that he could form a team that works in factory-style shifts. Playing anywhere from 10-20 hours, the team members worked Maryland Live for three years.

But Power saw something in MGM National Harbor that made it worth moving over an hour away to be closer to the $1.4 billion casino.

“People Are Going to Stay and Play”

Prior to playing in the new DC-area casino, Power got a VIP tour of the place before it opened. He walked through the luxurious lobby, filled with chandeliers, sculptures, and fine dining. While none of this impressed him, he was considering what amateur poker players would think.

“None of this is a big deal for me personally, but I know it attracts a lot of people willing to spend money on nice things.”

He was especially impressed by the restaurants, including eateries by José Andrés, the Voltaggio, and Shake Shack.

“The question is, when do they close?” he asked. “You want options at 3am. People who stay that late are usually losing.”

Power was even more excited when he saw the actual poker room, which featured three dozen tables, comfortable chairs, and plenty of light.

“Nice lighting and no windows,” he said. “People are going to stay and play.”

Whale Sightings

Aside from the aesthetics and amenities, Power got early confirmation of whales at MGM National Harbor.

According to the Washington Post, he spotted a man with $25,000 in chips who looked like a complete fish. Power texted his poker contacts to find out more about the guy, and another pro confirmed that the player was indeed a whale.

“That stuff usually lasts about a year,” said Power, motioning to the player in the distance. “Eventually, he’ll do his taxes and say ‘Oh my gosh. I blew $400,000 gambling.”

Power was only there to play a few hands and get a feel for the poker room during the VIP tour. But seeing the whale filled him with more confidence about the move.

“I have a very good feeling about this place,” he said.

Finding the Poker House

Deciding to move from Baltimore to Washington D.C. was only part of setting up shop near MGM National Harbor. The poker team also had to find a house.

They’d previously lived in a townhouse in Hanover, which was within walking distance of Maryland Live. And given that each member of the team works shifts lasting 10, 15, or even 20 hours, being close to MGM was a priority.

En lieu of the Dec. 8 opening date, Power began looking for houses near the suburb of Oxen Hill, Maryland. This wasn’t an easy task, given that he needed six bedrooms to accommodate the players, close proximity to MGM, and a landlord willing to deal with poker pros.

“The hardest thing has been the landlords who don’t want to rent to a professional poker player,” said Power.

Eventually, the team found a two-story colonial house in Fort Washington, where the real estate agent, Gabriela Nitescu, just so happened to be a former pit boss at Maryland Live. The house was just a 7-minute drive from the casino, and the owner didn’t mind that they were poker players.

By the middle of December, the team had already moved into the home. A poker table sat in the dining room, a 70-inch TV was in the living room, and three mismatched coaches were strewn throughout the home.

Players bid on their bedrooms, with Mike Rutkowski offering $630 a month for the largest room.

Aaron Mendelsohn, a former union welder who’s been on Power’s team since 2013, will pay $530 per month for his bedroom.

Managing the Poker Team

Rutkowski, Mendelsohn, and the others review their poker sessions with Power, with the latter offering tips afterward. Each player that Power trains and stakes gives him a percentage of their profits.

For Mendelsohn, he sees MGM National Harbor as a chance to play more hours and make more money after giving Power his share.

“All that new blood, it’s going to be a highly profitable room,” Mendelsohn said.

This has already been confirmed by Power, who, in his first overnight shift at MGM, made $8,000 in eight hours of play. Given the $1k-per-hour rate, a weary Power was up for playing more poker.

“I should sleep. But I just want to go play,” he said.

From $5 Games to $800,000 per Year

The $400k to $800k that Power earns annually comes from both his personal winnings, and the cut that each player gives him.

He’s begun investing some of the winnings into natural gas and oil ventures. This is quite a climb for somebody who once didn’t even have enough money to play low-stakes online poker.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Power got into poker in middle school after watching the WSOP on ESPN. His single mom couldn’t afford to give him money to play internet poker, so he improved through $5 games with high school friends.

While a university student, Power began playing at the local casino. He eventually became so good at poker that he dropped out and pursued the game full-time. Power also staked and trained a couple of his friends, who, in 2012, moved to Atlantic City.

The team played for a year at the Borgata, then decided to move to Maryland Live when it opened in April 2013.

Settling In at MGM National Harbor

Power arranged a quick meeting with MGM poker room manager Johnny Grooms to ask about the rules.

Grooms said that he was happy to have pros like Power because they not only gamble for hours, but also attract amateurs who want to compete against top pros.

“Basically, if he can provide two or three people from his team for games at [the higher-stakes] level,” Grooms explained, “it makes it that much easier for us to get those games started.”

Power and the manager continued to discuss various things like the schedule of the 5 poker cashiers and accessing the safe-deposit boxes. The poker pro also asked if he’d be allowed to play with his teammates occasionally.

“I’ll be up front with you,” said Grooms. “If I know you are staking someone else at the table, my guys are going to watch that.”

Power was totally fine with this and understood. But he also wanted to know if it would be possible to wall off the two high-stakes tables when celebrities played with them.

“When Michael Phelps plays, he can’t have his picture taken,” explained Power. “Kevin Hart plays with us some.”

Grooms said that he would certainly consider meeting special demands like this for celebrity players.

Still getting settled into MGM National Harbor, Power enjoyed some low-stakes hold’em at the end of his interview with the Washington Post. And he vowed that things would get more serious in the coming weeks.

“It’s going to be nutty for the first few days,” he said while dining in the Tap Sports Bar with his friends. “Then we’ll get in here and get serious.”

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