Game-Changer Hustler Casino Live Celebrates One-Year Anniversary w/ All-Star Lineup
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Exactly 365 days ago, Ryan Feldman and Nick Vertucci launched a new cash game poker show in Los Angeles called Hustler Casino Live that has since completely changed the livestreamed poker landscape.
The road to building a YouTube subscriber list of over 150,000 in one year wasn't easy and certainly never was guaranteed. There were many challenges along the way, none more daunting than competing locally, and inevitably outside SoCal, against the industry's most established brand — Live at the Bike, a show Feldman helped build.
"To be honest, we didn't really set any specific goals because we didn't know what was realistic and what we could expect," Feldman said when asked what goals he set prior to the 2021 launch. "We believed in ourselves that we could put together the best show in poker and that we would crush the competition."
Hustler Casino general manager Shaun Yaple took a chance that has paid off in spades after Feldman's fallout with LATB, and not only because the show has become an industry leader. According to Yaple, poker revenue is up 15% in the booming, iconic LA card room.
On Wednesday, Hustler Casino Live will host a special All-Star episode — a $25/$50 cash game — with a lineup selected by the viewers.
The Start of Something Special
On August 3, 2021, poker fans caught the first glimpse of the new poker show. Bart Hanson and David Tuchman, the initial Live at the Bike commentators in 2004, fittingly co-hosted the $5/$5 + $50 ante game.
Feldman and Vertucci brought back some of the old LATB gang for the first episode, including Vertucci himself and Israeli Ron. During the first week, viewers began to see the foundation for what Hustler Casino Live would quickly evolve into.
Some of the first few shows included mainstream poker celebrity Antonio Esfandiari, No Jumper podcaster Adam "adam22" Grandmaison, self-proclaimed degenerate gambler Mikki Mase, and long-time LATB regulars Barry Woods and Andy "Stacks" Tsai. Soon after, Los Angeles high-stakes poker legend Garrett Adelstein, arguably the most popular player in LATB history, joined the rotation.
It was clear early on that Feldman and Vertucci were attempting to swoop in and grab the Live at the Bike viewers, attract the mainstream poker crowd, and bring in the non-poker audience all at once.
The Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan Shows
Two months into the experiment and HCL had already reached 24,000 YouTube subscribers. Adelstein was still appearing on LATB, and still does, but he was also becoming an HCL regular and it was helping the show's growth as much as anything or anyone.
In October, however, the show saw a massive spike in subscribers, likely from outside the area, thanks in large part to hosting one of the most stacked livestreamed poker lineups ever. For two nights, poker legends Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey joined Adelstein, Matt Berkey, Mikki Mase, and other entertaining characters for some super high stakes poker full of monster pots, sick coolers, and massive bluffs.
Although Ivey was more interested in his sports bets than the high-stakes poker action, having arguably the greatest poker player ever on the stream along with "durrrr" brought in thousands of new viewers. Hustler Casino Live's YouTube subscriber list nearly tripled following that memorable weekend.
Three months later, HCL hit 100,000 subscribers and was beginning to catch up to its rival show, Live at the Bike. Although LATB still to this day has more subscribers, HCL now gets more views per show, and it's not even close anymore.
The MrBeast Game
On May 2, Hustler Casino Live hit the homerun of all homeruns (think Joe Carter in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series level) when it hosted perhaps the most epic live-streamed cash game in poker history. YouTube and Twitch megastars MrBeast, Ninja, Alexandra Botez, Ludwig, and others joined 16-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth for an action-packed high-stakes game of poker that hit 100,000 concurrent viewers (more than 1 million total), an unthinkable poker livestream record.
To put things in perspective, there were more eyes on that game than will watch any episode of the 2022 World Series of Poker when it airs this fall on CBS Sports Network.
There were dozens of memorable moments from the evening (Alan Keating losing $1.1 million, Hellmuth getting owned by a table full of amateurs, for starters). But there was one moment that the night should forever be remembered by, and that was a hilarious hand played between the "Poker Brat" and gaming legend Ninja, which you can view below.
What seems to have worked for Hustler Casino Live more so than most other live-stream shows is Feldman and Vertucci have been able to identify and promote charismatic and colorful characters, some of whom play sound poker, while others are there to bring all the action.
Fans of the show always have someone to root for, and often a player to root against. Take, for example, the brief rivalry earlier this year between Adelstein and Dylan Gang, who slow-rolled "G-Man" in a huge hand only to be served a dose of karma in the form of a $390,000 pot loss.
Hustler Casino Live has introduced the poker world to a number of new personalities, including "Wes Side" Wesley Fei, a Chinese crypto millionaire who only began playing poker seven months ago, a wild story he told to PokerNews during the WSOP Main Event, the first poker tournament he'd ever played.
Fei quickly became one of the most popular players on the show because he doesn't appear to take the game too seriously and creates plenty of action at the table. He also has a great sense of humor, and loves to needle his opponents, especially his friend Chris "Luda Chris" Chen.
The show wouldn't be where it is today without the consistently entertaining lineups. Whether it's a Max Pain Monday with mid-stakes action or super high stakes Friday night and $1 million is on the table, for five nights every week, Feldman and Vertucci have been able to put together a lineup that keeps the fans coming back day after day, something no other poker show in history has been able to accomplish, at least not consistently.
On that note, if ever there was a model of consistency in televised poker, it is Adelstein. Not only does he crush these games — and, yes, he loses from time to time. He is well-respected among viewers for how he conducts himself at the table, and he does so without acting like he's just a robot, unlike many high rollers of today who don't move the needle for a poker show.
There are many other players who have played a role in the show's success (JBoogs, Mike X, Mike Nia, Krish Menon, Julie, etc.). That list also includes the show's producers, especially Vertucci, aka "Nitucci," a nickname he's been given for his nitty table image.
Hustler Casino Live has a cast of experienced and talented announcers, and they play just as much of an integral role in the show's success as the players at the table. According to Tuchman, a frequent commentator, there's some camaraderie among the group of HCL announcers.
"We all support each other," Tuchman told PokerNews.
Tuchman attributes HCL exploding so quickly to a combination of factors "similar to the poker boom in 2003."
"If you're looking for one word, it's passion. There are a lot of people who have done a lot of things to make this work. It comes down to passion. There's a team concept to it," says Tuchman, who considers HCL a game-changer that is forcing other poker shows to adapt to survive.
Longtime ESPN World Series of Poker co-host Norman Chad is another HCL commentator who is passionate about what Feldman and Vertucci have created and continuing to build.
"Hustler Casino Live is a tutorial on TV poker: interesting characters, interesting poker, lots of table talk, plus lots of money changing hands," Chad said. "It helps that they have a rotating cast of players who become familiar faces — you root for some, you root against some. And the production is great."
Tuchman and Chad are just two of the many voices of Hustler Casino Live. Fans enjoy regular commentary from Crush Live Poker's Bart Hanson and Kyle "RaverPoker" Ravreby, who is also the head of video production at Hustler Casino.
Marc Goone, Vertucci, Feldman, and others are also some of the voices in the booth many have come to love.
It's clear the recipe for success has been to hire top-notch commentators and Norman Chad (kidding, Norman), and put together lineups the viewers want to see, all with exceptional production quality. Even Feldman himself is amazed at how popular Hustler Casino Live has become.
"It was tough to predict our YouTube subscriber numbers because none of us — me, Vertucci, Patrick Curran (our technical director) and Kyle Ravreby (our video editor) — had built a 100k-plus YouTube channel from complete scratch before, especially in poker. We knew we would hit 100k, it was just a matter of time, and we were hopeful that we would do so rather quickly."
That talented group of individuals you don't always see on screen may have never previously had any experience building a YouTube channel to 100,000 subscribers from scratch, but they have now, and the sky is the limit for Hustler Casino Live going forward. Next stop, 200,000 subscribers? Don't put it past them.
Go back to the beginning of Hustler Casino Live when Feldman and Vertucci chatted w/ PokerNews back in November 2020: