(With Jason Somerville’s long-awaited re-emergence onto the poker scene, it seemed like a good time to celebrate one important aspect of his contribution to the game: t-shirts.)
Before Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen
A time when all we had was Twitch, and even that was new. There are, of course, the Twitch poker heavyweights these days, such as Kevin Martin and Spraggy. But even KMart and Spraggy stand on the shoulders of the godfather of online poker content:
Jason “JCarver” Somerville.
Beginning in 2014, Jason started streaming real money poker on the Twitch platform. Thousands of people tuned in to watch him play online, as he streamed sometimes for weeks without taking a day off. His brand, Run It Up, became a sensation among his followers, who dubbed themselves, “The Run It Up Legion.”
Jason’s Run It Up movement spread to the live world, with “Run It Up Reno” at the Peppermill Hotel/Casino. Twice a year, RIU veterans and n00bs took over an otherwise normal casino, and filled it with hijinx such as karaoke parties and turkey-burger feasts. The Peppermill poker room, a model of propriety and order, turned chaotic, and was filled with whack-a-doodle cash games that were the poker equivalent of Calvinball. Which was fine, because the players explained to the dealer who got how many cards, and who won the pot. They tipped well, too.
Perhaps one day I’ll write about my RIU Reno experiences, but I am here to praise another aspect of the Run It Up empire: the merch.
The merchandise is the message
I don’t know why Jason put such emphasis on RIU merchandise, but it was a brilliant move. For a while there, Run It Up was the largest poker-themed merchandise line in the world. For my money, it was also the best, because of their attention to detail. For instance, all RIU hoodies have zippered pockets. Why?
I have worn Run It Up hoodies all over the world – not just for the pride of flying the RIU flag, but because, while sitting on a trans-oceanic flight, I can slip my phone and passport into my hoodie pocket, zip it up, and go to sleep, knowing they will still be there when I wake up.
But while the RIU hoodie is a model of efficiency and good design, some of the t-shirts carried subtle, deep cut messages, that were inside jokes among the Run It Up community. One such design is the infamous “cupcake in a bear trap.” It developed as a meme among Somerville’s community after his use of the term “cupcake” to mean a small bet put out to tempt an opponent into calling, or perhaps unwisely raising. Cupcake in a bear trap.
I don’t remember when I got my cupcake t-shirt, but it’s been a favorite of mine for years. Any Run It Up veteran will stop me in a poker room to admire it, and we always exchange RIU Reno stories. Some poker players will ask me about it, and even the occasional civilian will wonder about the meaning of a bakery item balanced inside a torture device.
Which brings me to the story…
Don’t touch the cupcake
It was in the wee hours of the morning, somewhere in a Las Vegas parking garage. I was headed back to my hotel after a successful poker session. The group in the elevator with me – I don’t know if their evening was ending or just getting started. It was two Black couples, early 20’s I suppose, dressed to the nines and looking absurdly sharp. Standing there in my jeans and RIU cupcake t-shirt, I felt ill-attired for our ad hoc gathering.
We reached their floor of the garage and they exited the elevator. But one of the young ladies hung back, pointed to my shirt, and spoke shyly…
“I want to touch your cupcake, but I am afraid.“
“My dear, you understand this shirt perfectly. Have a fine evening.”
She said good night, and disappeared into the florescent heat.
I smiled, silently thanking Jason Somerville for enabling yet another beautiful human interaction.