The South Point Diet: How My Weight Went Down And My Bankroll Went Up

Jessica Welman April 26, 2021
The South Point Diet: How My Weight Went Down And My Bankroll Went Up

It’s 1:30 am on Monday and I am at South Point Casino in Las Vegas. With four players left in the $130 buy-in nightly event, I have a four-figure score locked up, but all I can think is “even if you win this thing, your bank account might still be in the red.”

Every pay jump is measured not in dollars, but pounds. At the end of the night, I bink my largest score to date, winning the tournament outright for almost $4,500. Aside from the sweet windbreaker that came with the win, all I can think is, “you still are going to owe like $3,000 if you don’t drop some more weight.”

This is the story of the South Point Diet.

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Poker players love a high-stakes weight loss bet

The first time I signed up for a four-month high-stakes weight loss, the scope of the stakes, $500 for every pound over your goal weight, served as motivation. I knew I didn’t have that kind of money, so I had no choice but to lose 12 pounds.

When the crew of the first bet wanted to run the bet back with more people, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do it again. I ultimately signed up though, knowing that I managed to achieve my goals by just putting in tons of hours at the gym.

Little did I know the gym was going to have very little to do with my weight loss strategy this time around.

I started experiencing some pain in my right leg not long after the second six-month-long weight loss bet started. I put on a brace, pounded Naproxin, RICEd the crap out of it, and it just got worse.

A course of steroids did nothing. As the weeks went on, every workout started to cause pain in my leg. By three months in, I could barely work out without triggering a tremendous amount of pain.

A leg cast could cost me some serious cash

As the workouts dwindled, the pounds packed on. I gained eight pounds from my starting weight for the second bet. Then, the doctor had even worse news: I needed to wear a walking boot. What was supposed to be three weeks in a boot turned into two months as we tried to get insurance to approve my MRI. All the while, the orthopedist was stumped.

“It acts like shin splints, but it isn’t getting better,” he said after the MRI showed only a little tendonitis. “I want to put you in a cast.”

This is the part where my non-gambling friends cheered and said “surely they don’t expect you to finish the bet in this cast.”

“You’re cute,” I responded.

The author shows off her championship windbreaker at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.

The South Point Diet actually begins at Bally’s

With a cast that could bear weight to walk, but that’s it, my cardio options were limited. I bought a hand bike and spent an hour a night pedaling away. I still couldn’t seem to create a big enough calorie deficit to lose serious pounds though.

With about three weeks left in the bet, I ventured out to Bally’s poker room for a ladies event I heard about on Twitter. I must have been about the only one on Twitter who saw it, as a grand total of seven ladies turned out for the $150 event.

By the time registration closed, we were up to 10 entries with plenty of overlay to meet the $4,000 guarantee. Once we got down to three players, the overlay was calling our name, so we chopped evenly three ways and played for first.

Lucky for me, I won the ceremonial card protector in addition to a $667 payday.

Ladies event gives me an interesting idea

More importantly, though, I realized I had been playing poker for six hours, and never once did I feel even the slightest bit hungry. That has always been the case with me. Perhaps because I suffer from anxiety, the perpetual decision-making that comes with playing poker just tends to keep my stomach churning, food or no food.

I enjoy playing poker, but my body finds the endless string of higher and higher stakes decisions very stressful. So stressful that my heart rate generally sits at a little above 100 beats a minute when I play.

As I stuffed my $500 profit in my wallet, good enough to cover one pound I didn’t lose, I caught sight of my Fitbit and the wheels started to turn.

With $700 of poker money to work with, what if I were to just take it to a casino and play every day until it disappears? After taking a huge gamble on this bet, it seemed like the best way to minimize my losses was, indeed, to gamble more.

I couldn’t work out, but I could elevate my heart rate while playing. Moreover, I could spend the last two weeks trimming my caloric intake to 400 calories by staying busy with work in the morning and afternoon and staying busy with poker in the evening.

Thus, the South Point Diet was born.

It started on a poker Sunday

When it came to the boot and cast, the weekends were always the toughest because I couldn’t really go anywhere. I was just hanging out in my house near food all day.

So, I started bright and early on a Sunday morning with my boyfriend dropping me off at South Point for the 10 a.m. daily with a $60 buy-in.

The first event was a unique combination of people still drunk from Las Vegas Saturday night antics and an AARP meeting. Then there was me, coming to play poker in one of the smokiest casinos in Vegas because it was the healthiest thing I could do.

I cashed in eighth around 2 pm and just barely doubled my money. I noticed there was a 2 pm $130 tournament and told the cashier to roll my winnings into the next event. Another min-cash later, it’s almost 6 pm and I see another tournament is starting with a $60 buy-in. Why not go for a third?

I busted out around 9:30 pm before the money and got home around 10 pm. I lost $60, but for roughly 12 hours, I had no desire to eat anything.

 

Do not do this at home

Over the course of the next two weeks, it was like clockwork. Work, small meal, poker, repeat, with marathon session on the weekends.

Initially, I managed to cash often enough to turn a small profit, especially after getting fourth place for $451.

The birthplace of the South Point Diet. (photo courtesy of South Point Casino)

As a super nitty poker player, I am pretty decent at min-cashing, but then something unusual happened. I started to develop a sense of gamble. I needed a big score, not the pride of a small cash.

The turning point came in that fourth-place run when I was facing an all-in for all my chips against another player with two tables left. I knew it was a flip. Nitty little me used to avoid these spots, telling myself “be the one to push, not call.”

Then I felt my arm reach for my stack and set my chips in the middle. I heard my inner monologue say “Do you want another $80 cash or do you want a backup plan when you inevitably whiff weigh-in?” It was a flip and, guess what? I won.

Down with the pounds, up with the bankroll

As the days ticked down to weigh-in, I was dropping between half a pound and a pound per day. I chugged seven liters of water a day, limping off to the bathroom from the table every hour.

The Sunday before weigh-in, I skipped the morning event and showed up at 2 pm, where a larger than average crowd of 208 entries were in the field. As we whittled the field down to eight, I managed to chip up quite a bit during short-handed play and arrived at the final table with one of the two biggest stacks.

With six players left, we got into a huge altercation where I flopped trip jacks and he shoved all-in on a semi-bluff. Perhaps because I was such a massive chip leader after the double up, no one mentioned a chop.

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How I won a South Point daily with basically no talk of chopping

Meanwhile, the other big stack built his stack back up from nothing. Sooner or later, we were down to three people. He had about a million, I had about a million, and a woman named Janet had 125,000 (roughly two big blinds).

At this point, I committed a bit of an ICM sin when the big stack and I clashed once again and I flopped top pair with Q-J on a J-6-6-4 board. He bet out of the small blind and I called from the big. The turn was a 4, putting out a backdoor heart draw.

 

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Once again, he shoved all-in. I didn’t take long before calling and, lo and behold, he was semi-bluffing again with AQ. The river sent him to the rail, then Janet jokingly asked for an even chop.

A few hands later and there I was, the outright winner and $4,500 richer. Plus, I won a windbreaker that screamed “I am a live pro.”

Two days later, I chopped another event six ways as the massive chip leader, adding another $797 to the pile. Still, weigh-in would be close.

You win some, you lose some

Thanks to poker and a whole lot of water and willpower, I managed to drop almost 11 pounds in 10 days. The end result between the $4,500 I lost from weight loss failure and the $5,177 I won at poker was $677 profit.

It was also a two-pronged lesson about gamble though. I learned that, when it comes to health and weight loss, I am not willing to sacrifice my diet to a locals casino again and my days of weight loss bets are over.

But somewhere along the way in this ill-advised adventure, something really great happened. My poker game learned to incorporate some gamble. As my BMI went down, my poker confidence went up. Sure, my heart rate still stays elevated at the table, but it is because of excitement, not fear.

Now it is time to see if the #SouthPointDiet can continue, except the only thing I am trying to gain going forward are chips.

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