• Name: Jim Lester
• Current Residence: Cincinnati, Ohio
• Birth Date: 1960
• Birth Place: Richmond, Va., United States
The real Cincinnati Kid is all grown up, graduated from matchstick antes to clawing back piles of $5,000 poker chips.
The major difference between the edification of Jim Lester, actual pro, and that of Eric Stoner, the fictional rounder in the classic film The Cincinnati Kid, though;
Lester understands becoming “The Man” in poker demands a lifetime commitment to the game.
Lester was barely out of elementary school when he started playing poker.
After more than a month of playing poker, colossal high-stakes cashes and a World Series gold bracelet, he is still picking his colleagues’ brains for strategy and working to better his game.
The Cincinnati, Ohio, native started playing poker at the age of 12. A family friend hired Lester to work as a general contractor, concurrently schooling the boy in poker.
He began by sitting in on the business’s post-paycheck Friday night poker game.
Not wanting to take advantage, the game’s regulars made a rule that whatever cash Lester brought to the table he would take home at the end of the night.
After two months of pseudo-play, the preteen said he was ready to compete with the big boys. Under the tutelage of his boss and father, Lester began to flourish at the felt.
By the time he hit 15, the Cincinnati Kid rarely lost, leading some of his coworkers to stake him in $100/$200 stud games and eventually a $1,000/$2,000 game in Newport, Ky.
The games took place in the sordid backroom environment of the day, with players coming to the table strapped with weapons.
The men took a liking to the precocious boy, and Lester developed his own predilection for their easy money.
At 18, Lester was rolling in his winnings from high-stakes games and clocking in 120 hours per week at the card tables.
After staring at the same circle of faces week after week, his reads on the competition gained strength;
he put the men on edge by frequently pinpointing the exact hands they held without having seen their cards.
His game, he said, approached near flawless proportions.
To remain in action, Lester started intentionally losing pots.
Money wasn’t an issue.
(Reportedly he once took down two drug dealers for $600,000 and, after the teen offered to return the money if he couldn’t double it at the poker table the next weekend, the pushers fell victim a second time to the Cincinnati Kid.)
In addition to the capital he pulled in from cash games, a 17-year-old Lester owned his own profitable contracting business.
Always beyond his years, by the time he was 22, Lester was married, running the business, moonlighting at the card tables and getting burned out.
He tried playing poker full time for a couple of years and then, at the suggestion of his wife, Cathy, decided to return to the business world full time.
While focusing on his expanding construction company – a successful enterprise that now employs more than 70 people and specializes in high rise structures – Lester also started a family that now includes two adult sons: Chris and Adam.
He still played poker, but saved the high-stakes rounders in Cincinnati some money by only coming out for Friday and Saturday games, save the occasional trip to Las Vegas.
At the time, tournament play didn’t appeal – in fact his first big event wasn’t until 2000 at the Commerce Casino in L.A. The following year, however, would change that.
Though he’d had some tournament cashes to his credit, not to mention a respectable ninth-place finish in Pot-Limit Omaha at the 2000 World Series of Poker, Lester’s break out on the poker circuit was in 2001.
That year he took fourth in the Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica, Miss., which he followed up by final tabling four WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP) events.
His most notable success was, naturally, a first-place $233,490 finish and gold bracelet win in the $3,000 Limit Hold’em event, as well as narrowly missing a chance at a second piece of hardware after going out on the bubble in Pot-Limit Omaha.
Later events proved less fruitful, but still worth noting: an 11th place finish in Omaha Hi-Lo Split at the 2003 WORLD SERIES OF POKER (WSOP); 19th in the main event of the 2004 World Poker Open, which he bested with a 13th place finish the following year; 22nd in the World Poker Tour championship event in 2006.
Though his name might not be the best known on the tournament circuit, if any poker players’ dues are paid in full, Lester’s name is among them.
In fact, he so loves the game that one of his hobbies is backing other pros – provided he likes the player’s style.
In non-poker related interests, Lester loves his Cincinnati Reds – you won’t find him wagering on them, however, as he plugged that leak long ago – and enjoys playing golf.
Like many a gambler though, most of the Cincinnati Kid’s fun is found elbows-to-felt thumbing chips and making plans to pass on his lifetime of poker knowledge to his sons.
• Holds a gold bracelet, earned during the 2001 World Series in Limit Hold’em
• Has been playing poker since the age of 12 and high-stakes poker since age 15
• Owns a successful contracting company which he started at the age of 17