Back in 2020, when live poker was buried under the grey cloud of COVID-19 with no knowledge of exactly when it would emerge, poker players got bored. Many great ones put out poker training tips, shared their lifestyle or raised money for charity in online games. One player decided that it was time for some of the stories from his colorful past to be brought to life on Twitter.
Len Ashby has been a poker professional for many years. Almost exclusively a cash game player for the bulk of the last decade, Ashby has been in some of the craziest games on the planet. Five years ago, he might have been in the craziest.
Len was asked by many of his poker peers during the COVID-19 pandemic to tell the story of a man named only ‘Hu’, who asked to borrow money from Len and some other players in Los Angeles in 2017. For 17 days, Len came to know this oddity among the City of Angels. But was he an angel or the devil himself? Five years on, I spoke to Len and found out, and boy, what a story.
Meeting Mr. Hu
“I’d go to The Commerce every year for the LAPC and they’d have really good PLO games,” Len says. “I went 10 years in a row, although I’ve not been since COVID. We ended up loaning a Chinese guy money to play. We didn’t know his name. We had no contact information for him.”
On the face of it, this action, made not only by Len but other players in the game looked outright insane. It wasn’t small beer; the loan rose to a total amount of $160,000.
“If I’d told my parents ‘Oh yeh, we loaned this guy $160,000 and we didn’t even have his number’, for blue-collar workers who have no idea what goes on in gambling, they would have thought I was the dumbest person in the world. But the guy was pretty dead to win.”
The first amount that the man, known only as ‘Hu’ asked for from Len was $20,000. Except that’s not how he asked for it.
“He had funny mannerisms. He didn’t speak much English. He’d just look at me and say ‘Two’,” laughs Len. “Two meant $20,000. Everything was ten times the amount, like in Hong Kong. He’d point at the chips and say ‘Two’ and I’d look at everybody and agree and give him the $20,000.”
Len would need to look around after a while because it was no longer just him who was loaning the enigmatic Hu more and more money.
“It started at $20,000 but at one point, he owed $160,000… but it was a collective loan. If you were a professional in the game and he asked for money, you were on the loan. We made an agreement in a group chat and we were playing around the clock with this guy.”
The Sleepless Fortnight
While the LAPC tournament went on in the main cardroom, the cash games – especially at the PLO tables – were great. It was five years ago, so not a lifetime in poker terms.
“He was great action, he was really bad,” admits Len. “I added it up; On a 17-day stretch, we played every day and I think I slept for a total of fewer than 30 hours. They would add a chair for Hu in the Main Game. We were playing $50/$100 PLO and there would be three games going, but when he came in, he’d go straight to the Main Game.”
That meant being in that first game, which presented a physical problem to anyone trying to survive on little to no sleep.
“No-one would quit when he was in the game. People were doing drugs to stay awake. I can play forever and not take anything. I would play until he quit and when he quit, every game would break. I’d tip the floor, leave my hotel room number with them and I’d say ‘When the first game starts, call my room’. I’d go to sleep at 6 am and they’d start the game at 9 am. I’d come right down. I’d play one hand, then I’d take a shower and eat. You’d get 45 minutes. Then I’d play. It was crazy.”
Banking on Baccarat
Loaning Hu money may have been as simple as handing over the cash for a ‘two’ – or, to you and me, $20,000 – but the mysterious Chinese player’s debt was racing into six figures.
“One time he took the $20,000 – the last one where it made the total loan $160,000 – and went straight to the Baccarat table. Everybody looked at me. I said, ‘This could be the best thing possible – he could run it up!’ Sure enough, he did. He came back with $120,000. And he put it all on the table.”
At this point, having been awake for over 20 hours and having loaned Hu ‘around 30%’ of his total loan, Len may well have expected Hu to pay some of his debt back. Not a bit of it.
“I’m expecting him to throw me some money. He doesn’t toss me a dime. This is unbelievable – the guy owes $160,000 and I’m on the loan for maybe a third of it. It was tough to keep track of, but we were doing a pretty good job.”
The problem wasn’t only that Len and the table’s new friend was an inveterate gambler. The Chinese player explained that it was a problem with his bank.
“He kept saying that he couldn’t get money because the banks were bad. He said, ‘U.S. Bank bad’. He told me ‘Tuesday, your money.’ It was Sunday.
Two days later, Len was at the cage when a text came through from his friend J.C. Tran, explaining that Hu had arrived… in some style.
“J.C. Tran told me ‘He just pulled up in a brand-new Bentley’. I just replied ‘F**k you’. He was like ‘No, really’. So we snuck out to the valet, me and my friend Matt, and we got the plates on the car to see if it was a rental or not. We found out that it wasn’t, it was purchased. We figured that was good. He comes into [the casino] on Tuesday and I’m thinking ‘Thank God he showed’.”
What could go wrong? This is clearly where Hu settles his debt and everyone leaves as friends forever, right? Well, not exactly.
“He comes in and we’re adding a chair for him in the game. We were playing eight-handed and we’d add him into the game to make it nine-handed. He sits down, looks at me and says ‘Two’. I said no. I was like ‘Come on man, you gotta pay, it’s too much money’. He looked at me and smiled and said ‘OK, three hours’.
Would Mr. Hu Show?
Despite the incredibly shady behavior, Hu seemed like he was telling the truth to Len. Two decades of reading people’s ticks, trends and tones are telling him that Hu is on the level and somehow is going to find this money.
“He kept saying it was ‘small money’ and that he was able to get the money; it would just take a while. Everyone was like ‘Is this guy stiffing us?’ I said ‘I don’t think so’. His leather jacket was worth $15,000 – we Googled the brand.”
Five hours later, quite against most players expectations, Hu arrives and like an ethereal presence, seems to glide through the chaos of one of the busiest casinos in the world at that point in time.
“We couldn’t believe it; he showed back up. He walks back into The Commerce and the place is like a carnival. It’s huge and loud. Hu walks in with this big-ass orange Nike shopping bag.”
The Chinese players points at Len and another PLO cash game player, Josh Ladines, someone else who is in on the $160,000 loan. Hu simply says ‘Come’.
“They have these back rooms for bigger games,” says Len with a laugh. A pause in the tale. This is where it happens, I’m thinking, where it all goes badly and the mystery man is never seen or heard of again. But again, the story proves me wrong.
“He went in the room and just dumps this bag out. It’s full of cash. It must have had $300,000 in it, and most of it was in fifties. He starts handing us $10k bricks at a time. He knows that he’s in for $160,000 so he starts counting them out ‘One’ he says, that’s $10,000. Then he shakes our hands and says, simply, ‘Thank you’.
“I said ‘Let’s go play!’”
Len played for the rest of the week. He doesn’t tell me how much he was up by the end, but I figure that’s only due to sleep deprivation at the time making nailing down an exact figure extremely difficult. The enigmatic Hu was never seen since, but there’s no doubt that he’s out there somewhere, maybe wearing a different jacket and driving who knows what but on the ticket and walking towards a newly open seat. Maybe he’ll shuffle into his chair, turn to the man to his left and utter a single word to get the action going.