Jean-Robert Bellande is hard to miss. At 6 ft. 6 in. tall, the poker pro is physically imposing and has a character to match. Thanks to his honest, brash and cunning personality, his poker antics have garnered him a significant amount of attention in the poker world, and even attracted recruiters from the TV series Survivor.
Known affectionately as "Action Bob" or "Bobby," Jean-Robert is a fierce gambler with an aggressive style and an in-your-face attitude. His abilities as a player combined with his merciless chattering at the table have sent countless fish to the rail and unnerved many high-profile pros, and his reputation as a bad boy has helped him become a recognizable pro with a sizable following.
But Bobby is relatively new to the poker circuit. He entered the scene fresh from a successful career as a Hollywood club promoter and restaurateur who dabbled in - and won - high-stakes pool games for many years. In fact, it was after one of these wins that he found himself at the casino.
It was the year 2000 and Bobby had just taken $5k in a pool game in L.A. On his way home, the blackjack sign at the Bicycle Casino caught his eye and lured him in. He went straight for the tables and eventually won $25k. As he was leaving, he walked by the poker room and decided to give it a go.
He was seated at a low-limit table and lost all of his money almost immediately. Bored to tears, he was looking for action and soon found it at a higher-stakes table where he was quickly pegged as a fish. His opponents upped the limit from $60/$120 to $80/$160 and before he knew it, Bobby was down $13k. But he was hooked.
He began hosting poker events at L.A. casinos to work on his game. He had several losing years - $200k gone in his first year alone - and it wasn't until he went up against Jeff "Iceman" Lisandro at the end of year two that he was really schooled in poker.
After losing $20k to Lisandro one night, the two Omaha Hi-Lo specialists struck up a friendship. Eventually Jeff became Bobby's mentor, inviting him to Prague to help run one of his poker outfits there. Bobby was dealing with a lot at the time. He had decided to shut down his nightclub, had broken up with his girlfriend and had been grieving the recent death of his father from cancer.
Bobby was close to his family and had a particularly difficult time coping with his father's death. The family had spent many years living abroad together in Taiwan after his father was awarded a contract there by the U.S. government. Bobby's parents considered Taiwan an ideal environment to raise Bobby and his brothers, so, after moving there when Bobby was five, they decided to stay.
An active and competitive child, Bobby was a member of a tight-knit youth group and played tennis, soccer and baseball. His parents were involved in organizing the group, which brought Bobby and his brothers closer to the action and was an all-around good thing for the boys.
Jean-Robert Bellande: Competitive from a young age
Despite the idyllic environment, though, Bobby returned to the United States to attend Azusa Pacific University, a small college in California, after graduating from high school. There, he earned a degree in marketing and became interested in the L.A. club scene after reading an article about the notorious Roxbury nightclub in a magazine.
Six months later, after turning 21, Bobby went to L.A. and lined up outside the Roxbury. Once inside he made a couple of good connections, and just weeks later was working with the club's promoters and spending long nights with his friends at the venue. He slowly built up a network of contacts and became a bonafide promoter at several different clubs in Hollywood, including the Roxbury, Tatou of Beverly Hills and the Gate.
In the meantime, Bobby had started playing pool and was working consistently on his game. Eventually, he improved and became a winning player, raking in thousands each month in addition to the money he made as a promoter.
After he discovered poker, though, it slowly replaced pool as his vice of choice. He worked hard to learn the game but had a bad habit of playing at limits he couldn't afford. So, while he was making a lot of money as a club promoter, he was going broke at the tables.
Unconcerned by his poker losses, Bobby continued promoting and began organizing private parties for Hollywood celebrities. He eventually opened up his own club, Sky Sushi, and ran it for five years - until he met Jeff Lisandro.
After accepting Lisandro's offer to go to Prague and journeying to the historic city, Bobby settled in to his role managing the poker room and continued to glean poker advice from his mentor. At the time, No-Limit Hold'em was the most-played poker variation in Prague and Jeff and Bobby's poker room boasted the best games.
Not surprisingly, Bobby's No-Limit game improved dramatically while in Europe as he practiced both live and online at Party Poker. Despite his original plans to spend just one month abroad, Bobby only returned to North America half a year later after killing the No-Limit competition in Prague. His game was better and his confidence was up: he was eager for action and was determined to make a name for himself on the tournament circuit in the States.
He began playing tournaments and hasn't looked back. He has cashed in and won several major events, including a third-place finish in the WSOP Circuit Championship at the Rio in Las Vegas in 2005. It was his first televised final table and Bobby was up against Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey and Gabe Thaler, among others. He was awarded more than $210k for his efforts and a new nickname, "Broken Record Bobby," on account of his non-stop chatter.
A week later, Bobby took first in L.A.'s Winnin' o' the Green for $148k and the next month cashed second in the Five Star World Poker Classic, receiving $123,385 for his efforts. Since then, he has cashed in four WPT events and six WSOP events and has ranked in several top European poker events as well. He also placed fourth in WPT Bad Boys II in February 2006, where he competed against Tony G, Mike Matusow, Phil Hellmuth, Men "The Master" Nguyen and Gus Hansen.
In 2007, Bobby was contacted by recruiters from the hit reality TV show Survivor: China. His reputation around L.A. and his successes and antics at the poker table made Bobby a highly attractive candidate for the producers. Not convinced that this was the right move for him at first, Bobby soon realized that his poker skills would come in handy in a competition like Survivor and that the odds were in his favor.
He was eventually told to pack his bags and sent a preparation package by producers. He also began planning what he hoped would be his winning strategy: to be the bad boy you couldn't help but love. Unfortunately for Bobby, only half of his strategy worked. He was definitely viewed as a bad boy but not enough people loved him, and he was voted off halfway through the show.
Filming occurred in China and was scheduled to take place during the WSOP. Confronted with many boring hours on location in Asia, Bobby was forced to practice a level of patience he had never before thought possible. He was curious about the fate of his friends at the WSOP tables, and was craving action: slinging chips at the WSOP and taking down an event had never sounded so good.
After filming wrapped, Bobby headed back to Vegas and got back in the game. Determined not to go broke, he has been working to improve his bankroll management skills and is interested in acquiring an endorsement deal from a poker room. He's also been working on a book, Broke and Living Like a Millionaire, which discusses how he's managed to maintain a luxurious lifestyle despite often going broke.
Bobby's appearance on Survivor: China boosted his reputation on the poker scene and added to his persona. Already viewed as a bad boy, Bobby's place in the poker bad boy hall of fame is now cemented, and he can look forward to a future filled with taunts from the rail and a lot more bashing in the forums.
No matter though; he can take it. In fact, he welcomes it. As far as he's concerned, no press is bad press, and you can bet you'll see him baiting his opponents with ceaseless trash talk for years to come.