Lazar producing poker film
Here's the deal in Los Angeles: Every waitress at the Charthouse is an actress, every barista at Starbucks is a screenwriter and every magician is a producer.
"But I already was a producer,'' says Scott Lazar, a poker player/magician/Hollywood type who lives in the appropriately named Southern California town of Studio City.
To name drop a little, Lazar worked as a set production assistant on the Colin Farrell movie "Phone Booth,'' the Woody Allen film "Hollywood Ending,'' and the 2004 comedy "Duane Incarnate.'' He also was first assistant director for "Nail Polish'' last year and had a role in "Fading'' in 2003.
But his best-known role likely was as the sixth-place finisher in the World Series of Poker main event last year, good for $1.5 million.
"It was humbling,'' Lazar says when asked how his WSOP experience affected him. "Understanding the importance of friends and family. The money is just a tool. I got so much attention from the experience that I felt bad, like, 'What about you? Stop asking about me. What about you?' So it made me understand. People were excited for me, but I didn't want all that attention. I just wanted to be the same guy.
"I did well. I made some money. But I'm just the same guy. So I didn't really like all the attention.''
The business opportunities, however, he liked. Liked a lot.
"The phone rang and it was a producer I worked with before and it was a poker film,'' Lazar says. "He said, 'I'd like you to look at the script and if you like it, I'll make you a co-executive producer and consultant on the film.'''
Lazar liked it. That's how he cut a deal to have a hand in "Deal,'' the poker movie starring Burt Reynolds, Bret Harrison of Fox's "The Loop,'' and Shannon Elizabeth, the electrifying foreign exchange student from "American Pie'' and a regular at legit poker tournaments.
The film's premise features Reynolds as an ex-gambler who teaches hot-shot Harrison how to play the game. They have a falling out, and, this being Hollywood, they meet at the final table. Think "The Color of Money'' with chips.
Timing being everything, Lazar was not only playing in the L.A. Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino last month, but also directing a film crew shooting celebrity-laden tables.
Lazar would be the right guy to direct a film crew in a poker movie. He has played for about 20 years, half of that as a full-time grinder.
"I'm a one-trick pony,'' Lazar says. "Hold'em was my best game, and I played that at the $30-$60, $40-$80 level. And played tournaments since the start of my career.''
Truth be told, I had no idea who this guy was until he made the final table, but once I saw him -- more specifically, once I saw what he was wearing -- he became my favorite.
Showing up to compete for the $7.5 million first prize, Lazar wore a T-shirt that read: "You played that crap?''
Hollywood would dress up. Lazar dressed for poker.
"I love the game of poker,'' Lazar says. "It's appropriate because I play that crap sometimes.''
Indeed, Lazar played some crap at the final table. Did it twice, as a matter of fact, following a crushing hand that he didn't play. He would go on tilt. He would leave in tears.
"What happened was,'' Lazar says of the pivotal hand, "it got raised and I looked at my hand (A-5) and made an instantaneous decision. It got raised and called. I didn't really contemplate the size of the pot and what the chances were of somebody else holding an ace in that situation because we were down to six-handed. And the moment I released the hand, I went, 'Aaahhhh, what did I do that for?'
"And sure enough, the flop came A-A-2, and I got this feeling in the pit of my stomach. I went, 'I hope one of them has an ace and I made a good laydown here.'
"On the turn, sure enough, it comes another ace. Then I was just sick to my stomach. And on the river I watched Andrew Black, who was a very aggressive player, take down over a $2 million pot that would've for sure been mine. I believe that the way I would've played it, I would've made money from it. I don't think he would've put me on the ace if I had continuously bet into him, and I would have. I would've made a lot of money.
"So I was really distressed after that hand. As soon as we got dealt the next hand, while I'm busy watching him rack up those chips and [tournament director] Johnny Grooms is announcing that $2.2 million pot he won, I picked up an above-average hand in the small blind and made a small standard raise and Joe Hachem moved all-in in the big blind. I had K-9 of spades. Joe had A-Q of spades and reraised all-in there. Again, there was no thought process that went into my decision. It was bang -- call -- 'I'm not laying down anymore hands; this is a good hand.' It was stupid. I lost half my stack.''
But wait. There's more.
"On the very next hand,'' Lazar says, "I picked up a raising hand on the button, but I didn't have to commit all my chips to it because the blind [Black] did wake up with pocket jacks and he went all-in, and without thought, I called.''
All-in, all out.
"I just went berserk,'' Lazar says.
He broke down. Just lost it.
But Lazar says he has learned from the experience and is a different player now.
"For sure,'' he says. "Every tournament I play, every hand in every tournament, I learned to stay focused and concentrate on the game at hand. If I feel myself getting tired, I'll get up, take a break, walk around, even if it means missing a few hands. Get some fresh air, think about everything I'm doing, getting everything else out of my mind.''
Interesting switch here: The behind-the-scenes Hollywood gets was on-screen in a starring role when ESPN broadcast that episode of the final table.
"I had a party the night it aired,'' Lazar says. "All my friends came over and we turned it on. Of course, I knew what was going to happen when I raised with the K-9 and Joe went all-in. I yelled out, 'Don't call, don't call!' But of course, we already know what happens.
"It was fun seeing Norman Chad commenting. He said I had a brain bubble, and of course, all my friends laughed and enjoyed that.
"I'll have to live with it for a long time.''
But with $1.5 million as a lovely parting gift, a guy can learn to live with it.
"Yeah,'' Lazar says. "For a little while. I have expensive tastes.''
Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback or ask him a question for his column, check out his mailbag.
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