Poker face! Community board district manager has double life as a card shark

Poker face! Community board district manager has double life as a card shark
Photo by Tom Callan

Call him Cool Hand Craig.

By day, Craig Hammerman is district manager at Community Board 6 — a desk jockey who acts as an intermediary between city government and residents of Brownstone Brooklyn.

But when night falls (on nights without board meetings, of course), Hammerman sheds his civic cloak to become a five-card stud known in some circles as “Morpheus Waits” — a cold-blooded poker assassin.

“I am not a high roller under any circumstance, and as a public servant I don’t expect to become one,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t just participate in the tournaments — he wins.

He recently placed 12th out of 120 challengers at the Borgata Spring Poker Open — taking home a respectable $698.

And he’s now preparing to play in regional tournaments that could lead to a seat at the World Series of Poker this summer, where top players from around the globe compete for millions of dollars in prize money.

For now, Hammerman’s winnings — his biggest take was $2,800, at another tournament at the Borgata — are helping to bolster his annual $100,000 salary.

“I absolutely think this is a good way to supplement my salary,” he said. “I am playing for my next career.”

The Midwood-native, who now lives in Park Slope, has been district manager for the past 18 years, earning a reputation for being mild-mannered, and somewhat quirky — he’s a huge Star Trek fan.

But just because you know him doesn’t mean you know him.

“You can’t read him, which I think is good,” said Tom Miskel, a longtime board member. “He’s good at reading cards around the table — which he’s had to do around the negotiating table with politicians and city officials to get things done. He has to play things close to the vest.”

Hammerman caught the poker bug at a young age, watching both sets of grandparents play pinochle or canasta.

“They used to take me to the Brighton Beach Baths and sometimes they would never see any sun — they’d be sitting under an umbrella all day playing cards,” he recalled.

He’s been playing a house game “for literally nickels and dimes” since 1994, but only began to play seriously over the last decade, encouraged by the meteoric rise of Internet poker and coverage of the World Series of Poker on national television.

“Craig has a really good sense of the cards,” said Phil Leshinsky, a retired transportation consultant who has been playing poker with Hammerman for 10 years. “He has a really good poker demeanor — very steady.”

Modern poker evolved over 10 centuries from a variety of games — all involving the basic principals of ranked card or domino combinations and “bluffing” to snooker opponents, according to poker.com. To excel at any of the game’s variations, experts say players must synthesize strong mathematical skills, discipline, psychology, and a sense of risk vs. reward.

Hammerman, who has failed in two bids for the City Council, thinks he has what it takes.

“It involves all the things I like: math, statistics and human behavior,” he said.

And his vanquished opponents attest to his skills.

“He cleaned my clock at a charity poker event for the Cobble Hill Health Center last year,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who recalled Hammerman’s stoic “poker face,” and “dedication to the task at hand.”

As a player, he’s controlled — just like “The Matrix” character played by Laurence Fishburne referenced in his nickname.

“A dealer once said that the way I was sitting looked ‘just like Morpheus,’ ” said Hammerman, who uses the name as an identity on online poker sites.

City rules don’t prohibit Hammerman’s participation in tournaments, provided he does so on his own time.

And he certainly doesn’t hide his passion.

Keen-eyed visitors to his office on Baltic Street near Court Street will notice stacks of poker chips from casinos he’s visited — from Las Vegas (where his favorite casino is the Bellagio) to the Caribbean.

And he always keeps a deck of cards at the ready inside his trademark backpack.

“You never know when a game will break out,” he said.