Henry Orenstein was born on October 13, 1923.
I met Henry in the late 80’s when he came out to play at the Bicycle Club card room from the East Coast. While playing stud during the day, he invited Mori Eskandani and I out to dinner at his favorite restaurant in Century City to which we both accepted. I’ve been friends with Mori and his family since we both attended Portland State in the 70’s and he played in my game in my apartment.
His limo picked us up at the Bike and we met his lovely wife, Susie who had ridden out. He was a conversationalist. It’s been over 30 years ago so I don’t recall much of the details. He did tell us he was a Holocaust survivor and had written “I Shall Live”. I still have his signed book. Finding out that I was from Okinawa, he told us that he used to go to Japan in the 60’s to buy panties for his dolls. “Really?” I asked surprised. He explained that he used to have a toy factory. In fact, his nickname was Henry the Toymaker. Doll panties in America was 3 cents each and in Japan he could get them for a penny. I remember thinking he must have needed a lot of panties.
The posh restaurant was located in same spot as Tom Colicchio’s Craft LA restaurant is now. The contrast in décor is quite a transformation. The entry was a large ornate chandelier. The restaurant was carpeted and there were embellished light grey velvet drapes. The lighting was subdued but each table had a small, elegant lamp. Henry was a very gracious host.
I later found out that Henry had patented Transformers and had made his fortune licensing it to Hasbro in 1982. The 1st year, Hasbro sold $2 billion, and Henry had 2%. I remembered playing with “Transformers” and watching cartoons when I was a kid in the 60’s. It wasn’t just car but even buildings would “transform” into flying robots. I don’t think that’s what they were called in Japan but “Magin Gazet” is what comes to mind although I’m sure it was more likely something like that. Henry must have discovered them during his business trips to Japan and had the ingenuity and vision to obtain a patent and sell the concept to Hasbro.
When Atlantic City legalized poker in the early 90’s, Henry rarely came to LA. When the Hustler opened in July 2000, Henry and Mori came by. The Main Event at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was being broadcast on ESPN but without showing the hole cards. Larry Flynt only played stud and the only high limit 7 card stud game was at the Hustler. As stud was also Henry’s game of choice, they polled all the high-limit stud players and asked if they would play on tv showing their hole cards. Henry had been developing a camera under the table so that the hole cards could be televised. It may be the same technology used by “Live at the Bike” and now on “Live at the Hustler”. Every player to a man including me said that no, they would never show their hole cards. A visionary is undaunted by popular opinion and Henry moved forward with developing and patenting his concept. When the World Poker Tour (WPT) launched in 2002, their technology was a lipstick camera. Regardless, they paid Henry a royalty not to face any potential litigation.
Henry and Mori started with Poker Superstars. Every business needs creative and execution. This was Henry and Mori respectively although Mori could be both. I played in their 1st NBC National Poker Heads-up Championship in 2005. In 2007, I was knocked out in the 1st round by Chad Brown when I got him all-in with KK against his Kc2c. The board was 992 with no club. Just before the river, Vanessa Rousso screamed out deuce of hearts from the audience. She came over to him very ecstatic while my friend Tammy Turner and I were in shock. Chad went on to come in 2nd for $500,000. My late friend was truly a gentleman and a scholar, and I couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy.
In 2006, they created the CBS Intercontinental Poker Championship, sponsored by Party Poker, the largest online poker site at the time dropping $3 million daily. They invited me to play in the event and I said I was from Okinawa. I was called back from CBS, and they informed me that Okinawa was not a country. CBS called me back to inform me that Okinawa was not a country. I consented to represent Japan. When I won the final hand against Tony Guoga, Henry was jumping up and down in glee smiling from ear to ear.
A member of the Poker Hall of Fame, the poker world owes a debt of gratitude to this elderly gentleman for his vision and perseverance.