Christian Soto Evolves, Elevates Commentary at Hustler Casino Live

Christian Soto’s authenticity, humor, and deep poker knowledge has helped him find a home behind the mic calling the biggest games at Hustler Casino Live.

Jeff Walsh
Jul 2, 2024
Christian Soto at Hustler Casino Live (photo courtesty: Hustler Casino Live)

There was an unusual amount of buzz in the air at the Hustler Casino in Los Angeles. It was packed and it was loud. Not just with players at the tables but with poker fans on the rail, some of whom traveled a non-insignificant distance on a Saturday afternoon to catch a glimpse of Neymar, grab an autograph from Jimmy Butler, or snap a photo of a number of the stars who were arriving that day to put on the Hustler Casino Live ‘Legends On The Felt’ high-stakes cash game stream.

Tucked into the corner of the room, Christian Soto was standing in the background. Sure, he’s not a world-class boxer or a social media sensation, perhaps, but at that moment he was also waiting to take his seat as one of the stars of this historic game. Only his seat was not at the table but behind a mic where he would be the voice entertaining the tens of thousands of at-home viewers, calling the action of one of the biggest cash games of the year.

“It’s funny because specifically for me, I start getting a little bit anxious because there’s so much energy in the room,” Soto said. “But now I’m like, okay, well I don’t want to let all these people down. I want to put on a good show. And I think commentators make a big difference in how the show goes towards the audience.

“But then roughly around 45 minutes before air, I kind of just go dark. I just go up to the booth and just sort of envision what I think the storylines might be and talk to the chat and sort of make sure I have everything I need to have a good show. But yeah, I actually do get a little nervous in these big spots, to be honest. I think that’s a good thing.”

Of course, the hands played on the felt are the real star of the show but good, even great, coms elevate poker to new heights. And Soto gets it. That’s likely why he got the nod to be in the booth for this one-of-a-kind game and why he’s seen a rapid rise in attention and affection for his unique brand of poker commentary. He’s tapped into an authentic signature casual, but thoroughly knowledgeable, voice. One that captures the vibes in the room, and gets inside the heads of the players while giving voice to the fans.

It’s a lot to take on, and in this case, it’s a solo gig where he’s got the pressure to deliver for hours on end.

“It’s lonely in there, man. It’s just me,” he laughed. “It’s just me, two monitors, some coffee, and a couple chairs, but that’s really it. There’s no one else there. It’s just you and your thoughts. Sometimes when I think that it’s an insane asylum. It’s just me and four walls and nothing else, and then it’s like I’m just talking to myself.”

But Soto has the experience, both on and off the felt, to succeed. His current day-to-day finds him living in Las Vegas, diving into the deep end – winning and losing in his own cash games adventures. He’s spent the bulk of the World Series of Poker forgoing tournaments (which he admits he doesn’t play much of nowadays) in favor of playing in a $20/$40 semi-private game at Aria, a festive one where the Stand-Up Game is always on, hosted by his good friend MJ Gonzales.

But also notably, he spent a large part of his early public career as one of the voices and frontmen for poker training site Solve For Why. As an instructor and a podcast host with S4Y co-founder Matt Berkey, and even a member of the Only Friends crew during the first 100 episodes, Soto harvested plenty of on-air experience getting comfortable being himself with a live mic. Perhaps it’s a different skill set than calling high-stakes action, but upon reflection, Soto quickly acknowledges how valuable all of his early podcasting was.

“Certainly podcasting with Solve For Why and Only Friends definitely helps because it’s just sort of relaxed, there’s no script, kind of just off the cuff. And I think I bring that to the booth when I’m doing these big games where I’m just like, people just want to be entertained.

“And Hustler [Casino Live] is very unique in that their audience really doesn’t care about frequency and these things. They more just care about having fun. Who’s getting stacked? Is someone getting a ‘Doom Zoom?’ All these types of things. And I think the experience at Only Friends really does help because we were really off the cuff there too. There were subjects, but then it was very freeform after that. So yeah, I think that really does help. But at the same time, if I had a different assignment, if I had to cover a WPT or one of those things, which I have done before, it’s a much different tone.”

For years Soto was a vital part of Solve For Why, as an instructor, content creator, and front-facing personality alongside Berkey. But, according to Soto, once the podcast evolved into Only Friends moving to five days a week he found it hard to keep that pace, so he slowed down. At the same time, his desire to create strategy videos lessened, and in general, Soto was feeling that without being a part of some of those things, he wasn’t sure where he fit in at S4Y.

“Berkey and I are cool. I don’t have any hard feelings towards him. He could always hit me up. I could always hit him up and we are fine.”

Then, “Jack-Four” happened.

A public disagreement over how Hustler Casino Live should have handled the aftermath of the notorious Garrett Adelstein/Robbie Jade Lew hand became a sticking point between Soto and Berkey and soon thereafter, Soto stepped away from Only Friends and Solve For Why.

“First of all, I want to give them credit for everything that I’ve accomplished. Certainly, [Matt] Berkey has had a hand in that and he’s helped me out tremendously throughout my career. I hold zero hard feelings about any of that.”

“People tried to say that [Jack-Four] was the cause, but it really wasn’t. Berkey and I are cool. I don’t have any hard feelings towards him. He could always hit me up. I could always hit him up and we are fine. I even had a piece of him winning some of the money from [Nik] Airball. But yeah, it was really more just the fact that I ended up not having a substantial role there. And that sort of caused me to step back a bit.”

The divide over the high-stakes hand wasn’t what had him step away from S4Y and it wasn’t necessarily what brought Soto to HCL. Soto had a relationship with Hustler Casino Live’s co-founder Ryan Feldman long before that. Looking back, Soto credits Feldman with giving him the push to believe he could be good at commentating in the first place.

“Ryan Feldman gave me the first Million Dollar game he did on Live at the Bike. And I had zero experience. I had no idea. And I was just like, okay…I’ll do it. And it was very strategy-heavy and stuff like that, but the fact that he was just like, ‘Alright, yeah, do it!’ This is the biggest game [Ryan] ever had. And he just believed that I could somehow pull it off.

“Now looking back at it, I’m like, yeah, I guess I should take this more seriously. And I started thinking of how to make myself somewhat unique because there are so many talented commentators. Nick Schulman’s obviously universally considered the best. And then Ali [Nejad] I think is absolutely just the best as well. And then there’s Jeff Platt who studied this at a university. So I’m just like, okay, how am I different from these guys? And I think I sound a little niche and I just want to run with that little niche and live that way.”

Developing that niche is working in his favor. This year alone, Soto has been tapped to be a part of two of the biggest cash game events, not just of the year, but in Hustler Casino Live’s history – The 2024 Million Dollar Game and Legends On The Felt. More and more he’s being singled out as standing out in a sea of very talented poker commentators. When asked if he feels as if he’s part of the Hustler Casino Live family, the truth is he’s not entirely sure. But he had certainly felt the love from the fans and the staff.

“I guess what I’ll say is it feels as if I’m part of it. It feels as if when I go there. I’m very welcome. They take care of me really well, and I get to play when I want to play,” he said. “My goal is eventually to just consistently be able to play Friday, which is their biggest game. And it’s just right now, that would be so big for me where if I take a couple of big lumps, you won’t see me on Friday anymore. But hopefully, eventually, that’s the goal, to just be sort of a player that can play on Friday and commentate as well as some of the other days. Yeah, I mean they really do make me feel like I’m very sort of part of the team, part of that family.”

Looking ahead Soto’s seemingly taking it day by day, not trying to get ahead of himself with a focus on his current relationship, his family and he says, “I hope to make good decisions. I hope I’m proud of the decisions I make.” One thing is for certain, Soto seems to be at an inflection point of his on-air career, one that may see him getting more opportunities in the not-too-distant future.

“End of the day, the way I approach commentary is I am an extension of the chat, and I say that all the time. I am a fan of what’s happening as well, and I try to bring that energy. It’s not about me, and I’m just a fly on the wall and I’m trying to bring the best show for everyone, and that’s really it. Honestly, I tell the chat all the time, I’m just one of y’all. That’s it.

“I’m not elitist at all. No matter how much success I may or may not have, I’m always going to be that dude that was watching Poker After Dark at 1:00 AM as a 19-year-old fan, and I try to bring that to them.”