Interview With Poker Pro and Survivor China Contestant Jean-Robert Bellande
Jean-Robert Bellande is the poker pro you love to hate but he’s a survivor in more ways than one. He’s lived like millionaire for years despite living on the edge of being broke and he loved playing the villain the TV show Survivor. We caught up with Jean-Robert in Vegas the day before this year’s World Series of Poker first event to see how his new found fame has changed his life, what crazy prop bets he’s gotten himself into this year and how he started his rise to poker stardom.
PokerLizard: So how is registration for the World Series going, they always seem to make a few screw ups along the way? Is it going smoothly or is there a big line of the people?
Jean-Robert: I just went over there and there was no line, I just registered now.
PokerLizard: Are you going to play in the 40K?
Jean-Robert: I am actually not going to play in the 40K now, too big a buy in.
PokerLizard: Sure, why not just play in the smaller events where it is a bunch of donkeys? Playing in the 40K, will be good for publicity if you make the final table to be on TV; but it seems like the field will be way too tough not to mention the huge buyin.
Jean-Robert: Yeah it is tough field equity wise; it is not a great value. May be it is good for people who have a lot of money and want to get a bracelet because it’s going to be a smaller field than I had imagined with somewhere between 200 and 300 people. The TV value is there, but it is only 2 hours of television time, and no real guarantee of getting on TV.
PokerLizard: What you think about the choices for the televised World Series of Poker only having four events televised. The $40k, Main Event, Ante up for Africa charity event, and the Tournament of Champions event with all the past champions.
Jean-Robert: Actually TV-wise, I can understands the decision on the part of ABC or ESPN because I mean that is what the public is interested in. The general public does not really understand games like HORSE and Pot Limit Omaha. They have been spending a lot of time educating the public which I think they could have benefited from this year. The last three years had been televising the $50k HORSE event, , they have been educating the public and I think they get more viewers each year, so this year they might have got more than last year, but the bottom line is people would rather see No Limit Hold’em. With this 40K that they are basically guaranteed that they are going to have big names at the final table because half the field is going to be all big names.
Jean-Robert: Half the field is going to be big names and really really good players for the guaranteed star studded final table. It’s the same thing with the Tournament of Champions; then you’ve got the main event. I would not be surprised if there are more big names deeper in the tournament this year because they have given us 30,000 in starting chips instead of 20k. the more starting chips you’re given it makes it more challenging deeper in the tournament.
Jean-Robert: Yeah, so for them I think it’s a good decision but for poker players of course more televised event is better. We would like that. Yeah, I can understand why they would do that.
PokerLizard: Right, just the cost to putting it all together is going to be a lot cheaper than to stick around as long to pay Norman Chad his huge salary.
Jean-Robert: I do not think that is the case. I know there are still a lot more taped days this year. I would not be surprised if the viewership on ESPN 360 goes way up. I know that they are going to be showing quite a few of the events online.
PokerLizard: That should be pretty cool. How many events are you going to play?
Jean-Robert: I am really going to see as we go. Last year I think I played like 23 events last year. I was looking at the events that I am interested in. I am actually interested in 42 different events, they overlap each other, but I would imagine that I would probably end up playing somewhere between 20 and 25 events again this year.
PokerLizard: How tough is it to play that many, I mean it has got to be brutal mental and physical grind, just to get up every morning.
Jean-Robert: There comes a time like right now; I am so excited about it, I do not see myself getting worn out at least for the first week or so, but later there comes a time when you just do not even feel like playing the next day and when that happens to me I am just not going to play that day. I will just take a day off or a couple of days off because every time I play I really want to be there so when I get knocked off I’ll leave the Rio right away, get fresh air; go hang out by the pool, hang out with friends or go to movies, so that I am ready to go back in there and be fresh for the following tournament.
PokerLizard: So do you have any specific goals for this year. finally get over that hump and win that bracelet?
Jean-Robert: Absolutely, getting a bracelet is a very high priority to me. I’ve pretty much shown consistent profits in the world series over the last few years, but bracelets are really big for me so I am going to play more smaller events than I played in the past. I think I’ve worked out some of the kinks in my game to be able to get deeper in those tournaments. They are the best value tournaments if you can get past that first dinner break, you are in pretty good shape because the field is usually so much weaker than the bigger buyins. The big name players mainly want to play the 5K events and 10K events, so you are looking at much less talent in the smaller events, so I am really going to be focusing on the small events this year.
PokerLizard: Do you have a hard time even watching the events that you have played in the past, when you came so close to a bracelet?
Jean-Robert: It is brutal; last year I had the 9 to 1 chip lead for the bracelet. Part of the reason why I have gotten there is that my style of play is going to get me rewarded with big chips, people are going to call me down and pay me off and I am pretty confident about being able to get there again and again. Do not be surprised that once I get my first bracelet I don’t end up with two or three.
PokerLizard: Someone pops up and wins two or three every year. Why not you? Why not me? Why not?
Jean-Robert: Tom Schneider a couple of years ago. Yeah, so everybody is getting in town right now. There is kind of nostalgic feeling, everyone is getting kind of excited. You can see people were ready for the series.
Jean-Robert: I may even play in a $1500 super satellite to the 40k tonight due to the excitement. I would like to try to get into the 40K but I have no problems missing it. I really do not.
PokerLizard: Yeah, it seems like they are having it awfully early to create buzz or whatever. Do you think they should have had it more in the middle of the series?
Jean-Robert: Definitely would have liked that because then I could take some winnings and enter. Otherwise I’d have to put 40K right into that and be busted for the rest of the series.
PokerLizard: Yeah, unless you qualify via the satellite.
PokerLizard: After all the bad beats, are you superstitious or anything like that?
Jean-Robert: I am not superstitious but I definitely believe in luck. I know I will get there in the long run, but being in any one tournament is just the short run. You can get all your money with the best hand and get unlucky. It happens all the time.
PokerLizard: For example, that main event hand last year where you got knocked out, you know the “bye bye” hand where that guy hits his miracle card. You gotta be sick of seeing that hand on the WSOP reruns.
Jean-Robert: Well I celebrated prematurely then he gave me the “bye bye” before his card came; that’s pretty strong. That was particularly unlucky but if I win that hand I am well above the chip average and am in good shape in that field.
PokerLizard: Plus then you get a ton more TV time, you are more marketable, make more money on the side.
Jean-Robert: Exactly. Wow…you’re right. Probably cost me maybe half a million dollars in equity.
PokerLizard: Speaking of marketability, you were on Survivor and that must have been interesting being a poker player.
Jean-Robert: Actually when they asked me initially to be on the show I turned them down; then, after I thought about it, I realized this could bring a lot of good things for me marketing-wise plus the 1 in 16 shot at a million dollars, that is pretty good equity.
PokerLizard: I know it was right in the middle of the world series of poker a couple of years ago, so It kind of had to be somewhat of a tough decision.
Jean-Robert: Yeah, that was brutal missing the world series but overall, it was worthwhile. I hated being out there, but it was great fun to watch on TV.
PokerLizard: Do they give you guys sun block and stuff out there or is it “tough shit”?
Jean-Robert: Yeah, there is some sort of a like a sun block that also has like a insect repellant on it.
PokerLizard: I mean, obviously do not want anybody to die on tv.
Jean-Robert: We were completely covered with bugs. There is actually a first aid box off camera which includes like tampons for the girls and contact stuff for people who wear contacts, but there is no tooth brushes, toilet paper or anything like that. Yeah, you go out in the woods, dig a hole; run down a lake and wash up.
PokerLizard: What is the coolest thing that has happened from you being on Survivor?
Jean-Robert: [thinks for awhile] That’s interesting. One of the coolest things is just a general recognition from the public, when I was on the show, I think most viewers probably hated me or at least more than half of them did. Yet somehow, when I run into people that are fans of the show, they all seem to love me or my character. Maybe that was like a fun character for them to watch. It’s funny how whenever I meet people who watched it, they are really appreciative. It’s funny, I know they hated my ass when I was on there.
PokerLizard: It has to do with the way they edit the show, I mean this is the same way with the WSOP broadcasts. You’ve got to have a villain on the show and you need to have a hero on the show.
PokerLizard: I mean half the time you were probably watching episodes wondering when did I say that or wow that was out of context? But since the camera is there, people believe what they see.
Jean-Robert: You are right, you are right and even in the celebrity apprentice they tried their hardest to make Annie [Duke] look like a jerk and make Joan Rivers look good. Annie still seemed like the much better choice to win.
PokerLizard: How they picked Joan, I’ll never know, that show was just ridiculous.
Jean-Robert: That was complete robbery.
PokerLizard: Lets get back to poker. So would you say your biggest step in poker was when you became friends with Jeff Lisandro. How did you become a great player?
Jean-Robert: Definitely the few months that I spent in Europe with Jeff Lisandro; that definitely would be the biggest jump in my skill level in poker. Because when I was in Prague, I was playing No Limit Hold’em everyday and just really began to understand the game really well. I was in Prague for about six months basically
managing the game over there. While doing that, I was also playing Sit N Go’s online.
Jean-Robert: Yeah, I would play 100 and 200 dollar Sit N Go’s all day long and I would just play until I had made $1,000 everyday then I’d quit. Sometimes it would take me couple of hours, sometimes it might take me 8 hours, but I would basically do that until I was up $1,000 everyday and I did that for 30 days straight, that actually was when I improved my No Limit game the most.
Jean-Robert: And the dynamics, the changes in the game from full handed to short handed play and hand values and what position they are in. When anybody asks me about how to improve their game, I recommend playing a lot, a lot of Sit N Go’s.
PokerLizard: You finish an entire tournament in an hour and you learn so much.
Jean-Robert: Right, even if you make just a little bit of money in grinding you are learning so much about the game when you play them.
PokerLizard: So why did you come home from Prague it is pretty awesome over there.
Jean-Robert: I came home when it turned to winter over there. When I was there I thought I wouldn’t never come back. I miss it, I would like to go back sometime.
PokerLizard: So on Survivor they asked you? You didn’t have to go through any of the BS to get on the show?
Jean-Robert: Well, even after they ask you to be on the show you still have to go through the audition process. Basically at first I wasn’t one of the 16, just that I made the final 40 and they were going to chose the final 16. It’s funny because there was actually discussion whether or not I would actually be on the show. Once I was on it was such a no brainer for them, they loved me being on there. It was funny, when I got knocked out the producer was bumming, they were loving my character and story line and strategy. I was trying to be the biggest jerk possible without getting knocked off – they loved it.
PokerLizard: Was there any effect on ratings when you got knocked off?
Jean-Robert: Usually the ratings go up each week as the show gets near the end but they pretty much stayed steady with 15 to 16 million people watching each week.
PokerLizard: You can’t beat that exposure, even being on the WSOP.
Jean-Robert: Yeah, versus the 2 million that watch the WSOP.
PokerLizard: So what you want to achieve through being a poker pro fame? Fortune? just the freedom to do, whatever you want to do?
Jean-Robert: Well, right now, I am really hoping that the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) gets repealed; poker is starting to dry up quite a bit, the game is getting tougher and tougher, people are getting more knowledgeable. It’s not like the old days when you knew you were going to make x-amount of money each month. It’s a grind, so I’m hoping poker opens up to the public like it was before. When that happens, some of us that have already made a little bit of a name for ourselves might end up with some huge sponsorship deals.
PokerLizard: I read online about Harrah’s setting up an online division. Which may be a good indicator that the UIGEA is going away, so there’s some hope.
Jean-Robert: Right now, I’ve been playing a lot of mixed games that seem to be getting more and more popular. ; I’ve been trying to get Bodog to add some mixed games. This is my second year with Bodog and I’m feeling a little more comfortable trying to giving them some advice.
PokerLizard: Them finally getting the bodog domain back wont’ hurt either.
Jean-Robert: When did they get the name back?
PokerLizard: Actually just recently back in April..
Jean-Robert: That is great. Good news for me, trust me.
PokerLizard: Tell me about your project “Broke and Living Like a Millionaire”
Jean-Robert: Were actually shooting the pilot during the series. It’s basically a lifestyle piece about me; It’s not so much about the poker, but the lifestyle that goes along with it. The emotional swings, the highs and lows, the struggle, the grind, the celebration. I think it will be interesting. There may also be a book in the works.
PokerLizard: Probably have some crazy prop bets?
Jean-Robert: There will be all kinds of things. Just recently Huck Seed offered me a bet. It will be a 2 mile race, me just running versus him in high heels running backward [laughs]. That sounds like a “lock” bet for me, but Huck doesn’t lose too many prop bets.
PokerLizard: All of his prop bets sound crazy. Then he wins and you think “he did that lot easier than I expected”.
Jean-Robert: I think I can run my 2 miles like in 21 minutes.
PokerLizard: Two miles backward in High Heels Just sounds impossible…
Jean-Robert: It does sound impossible, but he’s probably just going to take my money.
Jean-Robert: I have actually got a lot of people following me on twitter right now. Basically on twitter I am very open with what my bankroll actually is (you can follow Jean-Robert’s twitter at BrokeLivingJRB his bankroll is currently at $3,700). The goal is to turn my little bit of nothing into a million dollars. Right now I think I’ve got a thousand dollars that we are going to try and figure out how to get to a million. Hopefully, we will do that winning some of these tournaments this Summer.
PokerLizard: If you only have a grand, you’re obviously being backed for the series right? Or is Bodog buying you into some events?
Jean-Robert: Well, my deal with Bodog is not really something I can talk about in too much in detail, but as a member of team bodog I represent them at any tournament I play throughout the year. My bankroll determines what I am able to do so sometimes I buy myself in, sometimes someone gives me a freeroll or I may play a tournament with makeup. It’s a constant hustle. I am thrilled to be with Bodog and I am actually getting ready to go play on Bodog right now. I really anticipate some amazing results during the series this Summer and hopefully cash early so that I am bankrolled for the remainder of it.
PokerLizard: I read online that you keep getting offered all these crazy deals, for example 5 hole cards in Omaha, being on the button each hand, or cash rebates for playing? Are these people nuts it seems like you can’t lose in the long run?
Jean-Robert: Well the kid that gave me 5 cards won’t be giving me 5 cards again that’s for sure. The same kid who offered me 5 cards also offered Barry Greenstein 30% back on his losses. Barry turned him down because there is really nothing he can win there. Either he is going to win as expected or he’s going to lose and this kid gets bagging rights. It’s a lose-lose proposition.
I’ve had some other pros tell me you’ve got big balls going up against that because if I’m beaten and I’ve gotten five cards it’s pretty embarrassing. In fact, one of the magazines actually printed that the kid did beat me; which never happened by the way, but I do not mind that getting out there because then other people are going to want to spot me as well. I did have one or two other people actually offering me with same game and I will never turn down an extra card in poker. You want to give me five cards, let’s play. You want to give me six we can play that too. I don’t mind.
PokerLizard: So you like to play up the image that you are a degenerate gambler to get action?
Jean-Robert: I do not know that I necessarily play it up , I am just me and yeah sure I might have little bit of ego and all, but it is not big too to turn down getting a good spot. I used to play pool and anytime there is a match up there is usually spot that is given and If a guy gives you too much weight, you are not going to turn it down. That’s a good gamble. If he gives me too much weight and happens to beat me well okay; that means he’ll just want to play again tomorrow with the same amount of weight, so why not? It is just a good decision making and I have no problem with taking those spots in cards. No problem.
PokerLizard: So you consider yourself an action junkie? Have a little money on the line like Phil Ivey just to make things interesting.
Jean-Robert: Not so much in action junkie. I do love being in action, but I am alright not be in action. I just spent a couple of weeks in Cyprus and Istanbul and the guys were trying to get me to play poker. I told them, “We’re in Greece, why do I want to play poker? I’m loving this; This is fantastic and we play poker all the time.” I do enjoy being in action, but I do not consider myself a junkie.
PokerLizard: So you do not really have any big leaks that you want to plug? Baccarat? Dice? Strippers?
Jean-Robert: No, when I play those casino games I will do it once in a while for entertainment, but it is not really a leak. The leak in my game is that I tend to play much too high for my bankroll. The people who play in games who need to have at least 200 or 300 big bets in order to play; I can commend those people, that’s great . I wish I could that, but for me if I see a live one in a game and I have a couple times the buyin; I am going to try and play. If I think someone is going to be giving away money. That’s a bad habit I have, playing too high for my bankroll.
PokerLizard: You have a lot of friends in the poker world, is it weird trying to take their money every day? Or do you try and stay out of each other’s way and carve up the fish?
Jean-Robert: It’s interesting that you say that because probably one of my best friends in the world is Joe Cassidy and he and I bet with each other almost every single day. We do bet on everything and have a bet on the Laker game today. I actually prefer beating friends out of their money. I like that it is kept in the family. If I lose money to a good friend it’s still family money. I live at Joe Cassidy’s house in Vegas so we’re both happy when the other guy does well. Huck’s another guy, we will always gamble together. Huck is one of my closest friends but we will definitely try and get over on each other; by the way I do not recommend gambling against Huck. Not many people come out on the right side of that.
PokerLizard: Doesn’t he have some weird weight bet with Hellmuth that he has to stay under a certain weight each month for 10 years? And he hasn’t lost a single month?
Jean-Robert: Yeah, yeah I think they just settled out of that one just recently.
Jean-Robert: The boys are coming over here later, Huck and Shieky are coming over to watch the Laker game, play some pool and we’ll all be bettting. It’s not just me and Joe. Joe’s got a big bet with John Hennigan on the 40k on how many people are buying in…it’s just constant.
Jean-Robert: Any side bets I make outside of poker tend to be really small. They are more for entertainment.
PokerLizard: What do you think you will be doing if was not a poker?
Jean-Robert: I would be in the nightclub business, I used to promote clubs and then I owned my own club for awhile. I was really good at it and here in Vegas they run clubs a little bit differently but I have actually been studying what they have been doing here and I may find myself back involved. Ideally I’d like to be operating a club and playing poker. Right now I am just focusing on poker and after the World Series I will sort our possibly getting back into the club business.
PokerLizard: Maybe parlay a big score this year into your own club.
PokerLizard: What advice did you give to anybody that wants to aspire to be a pro poker player?
Jean-Robert: Well my advice to them would be to do something that I have not really done well. That is to really capitalize on all the free information out there; the books, the DVD sets, the online training sites. So many of these things that took us months and even years to learn in live games you can learn just by reading and studying and reading again just sort it out. The games have evolved so much and the reason why I think these youngsters are so good is because they have learned in a short time what took Doyle [Brunson] and Johnny Chan years and years to learn. Take advantage of the information that is available.
PokerLizard: If you were Matt Damon’s character in the movie Rounder’s, how long would it take you to get with Famke Janssen after your girlfriend kicked you to the curb?
Jean-Robert: I definitely know some people who might turn that down, Huck for instance [laughs] pretty much. For me the best way to get over somebody is get with someone new. That is my answer.
PokerLizard: Daniel Negreanu actually said Damon would be better off if he stuck with his girlfriend.
Jean-Robert: Well we all know that Daniel likes the self torture…he’ll put somebody on a better hand and then call anyway.
PokerLizard: ha. Thanks for the interview, great job.
Jean-Robert: Thanks buddy.