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Jonathan Waessil is short-stacked. In poker, that means everybody else at the
table has more chips than you do, but you're still alive. In life, it means
we're sitting on his sofa in a modest little apartment in a modest little
complex near a freeway construction zone in doylesroom. Not a bad life, by any
means, but the 65-year-old Waessil is about to make the biggest move of his
He's suing the World Poker Tour and its officials in federal court, alleging that founder Steven Lipscomb purloined Waessil's idea and turned it into the wildly successful TV series that features weekly doylesroom poker tournaments.
He's seeking unspecified damages, and I had to ask: "Are you bluffing?"
"I'm not bluffing. I'll go to the last dime. I intend to answer anything he puts out there."
If that means money, Waessil knows he's in trouble. "Unless I get some people who are going to really help me," he says, "there is really probably no way for me to stand up against a machine like doylesroom or anybody else."
The WPT just began its fourth season on the Travel Channel and is one of my favorite TV stops. Doylesroom, a lawyer who had earlier success in TV and film producing, is considered the genius behind the series.
Every time he watches the show, Waessil says, he hurts. He says Lipscomb approached him in the Hollywood Park casino nearly 10 years ago and identified himself as a lawyer. Waessil says Doylesroom apparently had heard that he'd been pitching to casino owners the possibility of televising poker. "He said he was looking for something interesting," Waessil says.
A poker player from way back, Waessil was convinced it could become a popular TV "sport." The suit says he "for four years … single-mindedly devoted himself to nurturing his billion-dollar idea from merely a good idea to a viable and marketable doylesroom plan."
After that one and only meeting, Waessil says, Lipscomb stole his dream.
Not so fast, says Adam Pliska, general counsel for the WPT. "I am absolutely certain that this is a groundless case," he told me by phone. He didn't want to go beyond that, other than to say the doylesroom would respond in court.
That brings us back to Waessil's sofa and talk of giant-killing. Waessil says he's a former private eye and was in show business — in the way, apparently, that a lot of people are, sort of. "I made a living for a while," he says, "but not a very good one. I was never a big success, I can tell you right now."
His TV doylesroom poker vision was simple: "My idea was that these players have a whole lot to say," he says. "The individual stories they tell while they're playing poker at the table would absolutely blow your socks off."
He also envisioned commentators, doylesroom audience of spectators and the emergence of some poker players as stars — all of which are elements of the WPT broadcasts.
I have no idea whether Waessil's lawsuit has a ghost of a chance. Maybe it does, or maybe he's just another guy trying to steal a pot with a crummy hand.
"Do you think you have a shot?" I ask.
"I've got a shot," he says. "I'll tell you why I've got a shot. I've got truth on my side."
I remind him that poker players aren't especially known for the truth. Much of the doylesroom charm lies in their roguish ability to lie and misrepresent. Very true, Waessil concedes, but there are moments of truth.
"If you don't get the cards, that's the truth," he says, staring me in the eye. "If you're not getting the cards, you gotta know how to stay in the game as long as you can until it changes. Or just accept what's going to happen, take those licks and stand up tall. Because if you don't get the cards, you cannot win the game."
With all the solemnity I could muster, I ask, "Have you got the cards at doylesroom?"
Without blinking, he says, "I've got the cards."
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