Gardens Casino Qualifier LJ Pai Goes From Kitchen to Five Diamond Felt

Dec 11, 2018

By Sean Chaffin

LJ Pai

Several players have qualified their way into the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic with a chance to win some serious money at the prestigious event. LJ Pai was one of those qualifiers and sat on around 30,000 chips at the second break in the action. Pai won his way into today’s action through a unique promotion at the Gardens Casino, which will be the first Season XVII WPT Main Tour stop in 2019.

Players accumulated points over the last few months based on how they performed in tournaments at the property, which is located in Hawaiian Gardens, CA. Those players who earned points were then entered into a tournament at the end for a shot at a buy-in to the Five Diamond as well as hotel stay. The more chips a player earned throughout the promotion, the more tournament chips that player started with.

The top four players earned a tournament package and Pai was one of the lucky winners. He’s now hoping to parlay that into much more.

A recreational player who plays pretty regularly at the Gardens, Pai is between jobs at the moment but doing some consulting. He worked in finance after college, but fell in love with the restaurant business and culinary arts after investing in an eatery a few years ago. He even spent some time working in the kitchen.

“It was a total career change type of thing,” Pai says, who is from Orange County, CA. “I was trying to do something I was more interested in. I was a chef and opened a restaurant with a couple partners a few years back. I sold my shares in that and not involved in it anymore. I worked in the kitchen a little bit. Now I’m helping open a new restaurant as a consultant.”

That new sushi bar will be opened soon in Newport Beach. Pai knows competition in Orange County is tough, but he’s hoping to beat the odds – in poker and the restaurant business world. Ownership or management seems to be a role he might be interested in pursuing.

“I’m just trying to find the right niche,” he says. “It’s a tough business. Being in the kitchen is totally different than my desk job before. But I would not want to be back in the kitchen. It takes a certain type of character.”

When not playing poker or working, the 37-year-old enjoys sports and is an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan. Married for seven years, he also enjoys spending time with his wife and the Pais love to travel.

“I really like to go places I haven’t been,” he says.

But should he make a deep run here at Bellagio and score a nice cash, one place he’s already visited comes to mind for that next vacation – Japan.

“I’ve been there once, but that was while back,” he says.

What’s the one thing Pai likes most about the country. He laughs a bit and offers a fitting response: “The food.”

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.

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