COURTESY OF WSOP
Saturday, June 11, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The world’s largest-ever poker tournament inspired Christopher “C.J.” Sand to make a drastic life change.
The longtime Southern California bartender and DJ packed up his belongings a day before entering last year’s World Series of Poker Colossus event and moved to Las Vegas to more seriously pursue poker.
“It was time to take my shot and finally come out here,” Sand said.
It took a year for the risk to pay off with an achievement most poker players spend a lifetime chasing. The 45-year-old, who works as a ticket writer at the Caesars Palace sports book, won the first WSOP championship bracelet of the year last week, outlasting 730 other players in the $565 buy-in casino employees event for $75,175.
In true poker-player fashion, he plans to put the winnings back into his bankroll and keep playing WSOP tournaments all summer.
“It’s all the poker I can get my hands on now,” he said. “I love it, and winning a bracelet was such a great feeling. I’m so blessed but it’s just motivated me to work harder, study harder and win another one.”
Working and studying harder may end up as challenging of a goal as prevailing again in the WSOP. Sand came to Las Vegas to sharpen his focus on poker, and stuck to that purpose.
He accepted the job at Caesars, which he worked in addition to running a coin-collecting business, knowing it could fit with his card-playing schedule — including having the summer off during the sports-betting dog days of midseason baseball. Around his shifts and stints at poker cash-game tables, he developed an obsessive devotion to the game.
“Every day, when I wake up, the first thing I do is turn on the coffee pot, and second, while I’m drinking my coffee, I start watching poker videos,” Sand said. “I watch at least an hour or two every day and read.”
Sand relied on Evan Jarvis of gripsed.com as his primary coach, but consumed instruction from every source he could find. That included WSOP.com commentator David Tuchman, who was seated at Sand’s table during the first day of the tournament.
Sand eventually busted out Tuchman, who then called the action as his eliminator rolled to victory at the final table.
“When we played together, I told him I liked his analysis a lot and he really helped my cash game a lot,” Sand said. “We kind of built a rapport while we were playing together, so that was one of the best experiences.”
Sand’s interest in poker started well before the hordes at the Rio who were drawn to the game in the early 2000s as a result of ESPN coverage and the proliferation of online play. As a child, he would accompany his mother on trips to town where she would sit in seven-card stud games for hours.
“She played at Binion’s when poker was still in a smoke-filled backroom,” Sand said. “She would come to Vegas like once a month because she loved the game so much. She taught me as a kid, and that made me like the game.”
Sand dedicated the win to his late mother, noting moments after the feat that he felt she helped contribute “a little magic” at the right times. The biggest hand of the final table came when Sand flopped a straight flush — the odds of that are about 1-in-70,000 — against an opponent’s King-high flush.
Long before that, Sand considered sitting out the casino employees event all together and starting his 2016 WSOP at a later date.
“I was thinking about going to a party on a boat back in Newport Beach with my friends,” Sand said. “It was this big bash where I’m from, but I decided at the last minute to play, and it worked out.”