• Justin Kelly

"How did you get into that?!"

This is the question I get asked most frequently right after “What do you do for a living?” So how did I get into poker commentary you ask? Honestly, part of me still wonders that very same thing to this day. As I’ve said previously, I had a passion for the game as soon as I stumbled upon it (shout-out to Blackjack for eating my lunch one night, forcing me to learn poker). I always enjoyed the strategy, excitement, and level of competition the game had to offer. There were thousands of ways to approach it, and everyone had their own style. Every time you played, it was a unique and fun experience. When I saw the opportunity to share that feeling with the world, I leaped at the opportunity.

There I was, grinding away at my “real world” job. I was forced into an environment straight out of the movie Office Space for 9+ hours a day, 5 days per week. I could almost hear the person behind me answer the phone every 30 seconds and say the cliche line, “Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking… Just a moment!” I was taking one of my (way too short) scheduled breaks when I randomly received a phone call from a friend of mine. It was Justin Kuraitis, the poker director at Stones Gambling Hall in Sacramento, California. We chatted for a bit and had a few laughs. He then asked if I’d ever seen Stones LIVE. I told him I had caught a few glimpses here and there. Justin then proceeded to explain how normally, he would fill in for one of the original commentators (Jake Rosenstiel & Veronica Brill) when someone was unavailable. However, tonight, neither of them were available. He needed reinforcements…

Justin asked if I wanted to help him host Stones LIVE for the night. I was completely caught off guard. Why would he ask me? What do I know about hosting a live poker show?! I didn’t take any career college courses on this! As I said previously, my brother is a meteorologist in broadcasting as well. I had been to the news stations with him many times over the years so I proceeded to ask Justin, “How does this work? Do we read off a teleprompter or something?” He pauses for several seconds, laughs, and said “No. I’m going to buy you dinner, a few drinks, and we’re gonna riff about poker for 5 hours…” That was all I needed to hear. I immediately blurted out, “I’ll be there.” The second I escaped from work, I headed directly to Stones Gambling Hall.

I had a tasty dinner (the food at Stones is amazing) and several delicious cocktails. Justin and I then hopped in the production booth. The lights were very bright and there was a giant camera in your face. In front of me sat a large computer monitor. It had a view of all the players around the poker table as well as the cards they had. That was it. That was all we had at our disposal. As we were about to go live I heard the producer start counting backwards 5...4…3...2...1... all I could think was “what did I get myself into?”

The show went live, and Justin proceeded to give his usual introduction. I was extremely nervous for the camera to pan over to me for the first time when, all of a sudden, everything just “clicked.“ I was in the zone. Justin and I had a rich history that made it easy to humorously riff back and forth off each other. We quickly created a very comfortable and entertaining atmosphere on the show. In between our laughs and bad “dad jokes” there was also amazing poker happening. We saw crazy hands all night, played by even crazier players. It was magical. Hours felt like minutes, while the night of poker madness went on and on. Pot after pot there was non-stop action to chat about.Watching all the bluffs, coolers, and overall strategy live, while talking through it was enlightening. I grew my poker chops over the years while watching the greats like Lon McEachern & Norman Chad commentate the World Series of Poker. I was now on the other side of the mic, sharing my passion with the world, and it felt amazing.

Norman Chad and Lon McEachern

The producer yells “cut”. The lights turn off. The monitor goes black. It’s all over. I felt like I was just warming up. “I want more” I thought to myself. I talked with Justin and could immediately tell we had made something special that night. We looked at the viewership numbers. Suddenly it went from “Just try not to burn down the building” to being one of the highest rated episodes to date. I went home and got the best sleep of my life. I went to bed with a smile on my face and woke up the exact same way. The next day I got a text from Justin asking if I would consider making it a “regular thing.” I could not say yes fast enough. Now, 4 years later and over 200 Stones LIVE episodes under my belt, I still go to bed with that same smile on my face...

© 2019 by the Thirst Lounge.

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