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RankingHero Interview: Argentina's Number One, Nacho Barbero

Two-time LAPT champion @Jose Ignacio Barbero is one of Latin America's most popular and successful pros - both online and live. The former PokerStars Team Pro and now ambassador of Aconcagua Poker is Argentina's Number One by live poker earnings but was a national champion already in 2003, though in a different card game: Magic:The Gathering! 

In what ways have the competitive years in Magic:The Gathering been valuable to you to this day?

Well, this is pretty simple in my opinion. When I was playing mtg I was facing and training with the best, the competition was super tough, many said it was the toughest years, everyone was sharp and motivated, it’s kinda the same in poker when you are playing against the best all the time and you gotta be on top of your game to beat them. There is no free money anymore, you gotta be competitive with yourself as I was when I was playing Magic. I also got used to the traveling and the heads up competition - most of the situations in poker are heads up, in mtg you are only playing heads up so your skills get better.

Photo: http://archive.wizards.com/

Last year you didn’t play the WSOP Main Event because you were watching and supporting Argentina in the FIFA World Cup. Do you play football yourself? How do you keep in shape?

Yes I do, not too much these days but in every poker tournament in South America we get together to play some soccer. I also play in Argentina but rarely. I love crossfit, it is the only thing that doesn’t bore me and keeps me fit. It’s very demanding and sometimes it’s hard to be in shape with all the traveling because if you miss even one week, you lose almost all your training. I also play golf, tennis, and I snowboard.

What about ‘mental fitness’ - do you use any special techniques before and after tournaments?

I try to meditate a little and I do a lot of talking to myself before a tourney. I think about my goals. I sometimes also do yoga to keep my mental balance.

Can you offer any tips about coping with downswings and the inevitable disappointments in poker?

Well that is the toughest part, I am suffering a small downswing now and it sucks, but it has been only like 40 days downswing, overall I am up good this year. So, you know, I try to smile, and think that eventually I’ll get them; I try doing other things - I watch more movies, I train harder, I study more, and just try not to think much about how poker is going. Instead I think of the great life I have, I get to do what I love when I want and I am good at it!

During a big festival like the WSOP or an EPT, do you find time to analyze your own game before moving on to the next event? Would you share some of your ‘self-analysis’ about Event 32 - you were chip leader at possibly one of the toughest unofficial final tables we saw this summer and finished 7th after a quick succession of coolers?

I try to analyze with my friends all the time during the events, then come home and shut all my devices and think about what I’ve done, where I failed, and where I can get better.

That was a bummer, let me tell you that I was really on top of my game. I lost 2 flips and after qq vs kk also in the middle lost 2 big hands vs jason mercier. I do have some regrets, I made a bad call vs jason (@Jason Mercier) that cost me 4 bbs on the river, it was bad and maybe I shouldn’t have taken a flip with @Dario SammartinoI opened with 2 bbs he jammed 12; I had pocket 88s, it’s pretty standard the call but my stack was healthy and I could have just folded; he had AK and I lost the race; after that I got short and 3 hands later got QQ vs KK, so nothing I could do.


@Bruno Politano’s deep run in the 2014 Main Event set all Brazil on ‘poker’ fire. Did it have a similar effect all over Latin America?

Yeah, it did, everyone was going crazy. It was a very big thing for all of us and he is a super nice guy so everyone was so happy for him!

How is poker doing in Latin America and how do you assess its prospects? Are there any legislative/regulation issues that stand in the way of future growth? Is it gaining in popularity among women as well?

Well, South America goes a couple of years slower than other countries, so right now they are just talking, but nothing yet! The only more advanced place is  Mexico where they are trying to regulate it. About the women - even though we’d all love there to be more women in the game, they are not that many yet.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new sponsor Aconcagua Poker-ArgenLive?

Aconcagua is a new network that is growing really fast. They have an amazing system with focus entirely on recreational players. They try to restrict the pros so  you’ll play against a lot of recreational players all the time. I think it’s a great idea.

Does success in poker come with a responsibility in your opinion (even for non-sponsored pros)?

Yes, it does, I have been sponsored for so many years that I don’t even know how it is, I kinda always had the responsibilities of being someone that is inspirational so I have to behave.

RankingHero recently launched an innovative ranking that aims to measure popularity and contribution in addition to online&live poker results. Have you had time to explore it?

No I haven’t explored it but I will now. I really like it, people should use it more. 

Are you happy with your own HeroScore :)

I am very happy, to be honest!

Who are some of your own heroes in poker?

My heros... mmm, good question - Vanessa Selbst, Phil Ivey, Negreanu are up there; Fabrizio Gonzales is there too as online player.

As a football fan and former PokerStars Team Pro,what do you think about the signing of Neymar Jr and Cristiano Ronaldo with PokerStars?

It’s great to gather new players, it’s gonna bust the industry for sure. I’d prefer Messi though, rather than Ronaldo, I don’t like that dude!

You were one of several very popular Team Pros whose contracts with PokerStars were not renewed last year. Were you prepared for the split? Would you have continued your professional poker career without the Aconcagua Poker sponsorship?

Nobody is prepared for such a big cut, but I was not planning on playing much poker. Yes, I will play poker forever, I love the game, but I don’t know if I’d still be on the circuit.

You started a restaurant in Buenos Aires a few years ago. How has it been - combining poker and private business?  Do you have any other business projects?

It’s been tougher, I had to split time between them. I do have other projects but I focus mainly on my restaurant. We are killing it so I am really happy with it, you guys should visit it if you are in Argentina sometime - www.theargentineexperience.com

The Argentine Experiencewww.theargentineexperience.com

Do you like the November Nine format? Do you have a favorite to win the Main Event?

I love it, it’s soooo good for the game. It creates a great expectation. I think the chip leader is gonna win, Joe [@Joseph McKeehen], he has a lot of ships and he’s very good. Also my friends have pieces of him so gonna be rooting for him.

You’ve said in interviews that EPT Barcelona is one of your favorite stops on the live circuit. Will we see you there?

Claro I will be there! It’s definitely my favorite one!

 Thank you and best of luck!!!

[published by @Annie RKH August 19, 2015]


RankingHero Interview: Poker Host and Ambassador Kara Scott

From the challenges and rewards of ambasadorship, to sexism and romance in poker. Interview with one of poker's best-recognized and best-loved hosts and ambasadors, newly joined RankingHero member Kara Scott!
You grew up in a tiny community in Northern Alberta, Canada. Did you ever play poker as a child? Does anyone in your family play?
We played a lot of card games in my family growing up. We spent a lot of time traveling or camping during the summers and our parents certainly preferred it if we kids were playing cards rather than arguing and scrapping! Poker wasn’t often our game of choice but we did play 5 card draw from time to time. We played a lot of canasta and gin with the adults as well. 
My favorite part of your bio are your linguistics studies and teaching degree, combined with martial arts training :) Can you tell us a little about what attracted you to each and what they have given you? 
I was always a fan of martial arts movies when I was a kid. Give me a good training montage and I'm hooked! I was very clumsy but still threw myself into sports at school and I was terrible at all of them! 
Once I'd moved to the city for University, I would pass a Muay Thai gym on my way to class. With a good push from someone who loved me, I started training there and found that I actually wasn’t terrible! I loved the sense of extreme physicality and being completely exhausted at the end of a session. I trained hard and ended up doing sparring competitions. I won 4 out of my 6 fights. Being in the ring was terrifying but I learned that I was a whole lot stronger that I had thought, in so many ways. 
At the same time, I was doing an education degree. I’d never felt strongly about any career but I knew that I would be a good teacher and it was a job that would let me travel the world. The linguistics degree was done out of pure love for the subject. I had taken a linguistics intro class for my B’ed and fell head over heels for it. One side of the disciple is very mathematical and full of equations while another side is all about people and culture and communication - all things I'm fascinated by. It didn’t hurt that Noam Chomsky is known as the father of modern linguistics! 
It was your career as a television host and producer that eventually led you to the live tournament tables as a player and you’ve been adding cashes from various events every year since 2007, but you never seem to have gotten ‘hooked’. Do you consider poker playing part of your job as poker host, producer, and event organizer? Or is it a passion you would indulge in more if it weren’t for your professional obligations?
Although I’ve been lucky to play at a professional level, I’ve never considered myself a professional poker player as it’s never been the only (or main) way that I make a living. I call myself an enthusiast rather than a pro. I enjoy this game and my life would not be the same without it however, I love my broadcasting work more so that will always be the priority for me when it comes to deciding where I spend my time improving. The fact that I can do both in my career and that they inform each other so well, that’s a huge bonus. 
I’d say playing poker is part of my job, absolutely. When I have had sponsorships as an ambassador because of my TV work, part of my contracts usually included buy ins as part of my compensation. I have huge respect for the many successful pros I know, because the amount of time and work it requires to do that as a career is substantial. 
Do you ever play online? How would you compare the two (live/online poker) in terms of your own enjoyment and motivation to play?
Playing online got tricky for me as I seemed to keep moving to territories where it was restricted! I played a lot online and loved it when I was living in the UK. Then I moved to California after getting the job on High Stakes Poker, and I quickly had to give it up after Black Friday. After that, I moved to Italy where I did play a bit online but as a restricted territory, you can only play on .it sites there. The market in Italy has seen a huge contraction so there wasn’t much for me to get involved in. I’ve recently moved to Slovenia so I’ll be able to get back online. 
Because I’ve spent years not being able to play online, it’s a hard thing to quantify. I remember loving playing back in the UK and I hope I can regain that, because it was a really fun pastime for me. Also, without being able to play online, it’s very difficult to be a better player. 
Who are your own heroes in poker and whose praise and respect would mean most to you?
That’s a tough one! Praise from any good player is always welcome as they don’t tend to dish it out too easily. On the broadcasting side, the voices that mean the most to me are from those people who do the same kind of jobs or who are in TV production because they really get the challenges of the work. When Lon or Norm from WSOP tell me they think I’m doing good work, that’s a great feeling.
Does success in poker come with a responsibility in your opinion? 
I think poker is no different from any other career in this regard. In my mind, success always comes with responsibility, but I know that’s not everybody’s understanding of it.
What is the most challenging and difficult part of a poker ambassador’s obligations?
I’ve spent an enormous amount of time on the road in the past 10 years and that can put a lot of strain on your private life. I’ve missed so many weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and just the general day to day stuff that friends do together. I have lost friendships because we've grown apart or perhaps they've just gotten fed up with me missing all of their important moments. I have a lot of friends around the world but I don’t get to see any of them very much. Carrying on and deepening friendships can be difficult but it’s worth the extra effort it takes. 
The travel can also be pretty exhausting at times. I’m writing this right now after 5 months on the road, having slept in 6 different hotel beds and eating almost no home cooked food whatsoever. I’m allergic to the detergent this hotel uses for it’s sheets apparently, so I feel pretty lousy and have one heck of a migraine. Plus, I miss my husband although thankfully I’m on my way home tomorrow. I don’t say this to complain about it because I have a fantastic life and a wonderful job and I love them both, but it’s important to know that there is a trade off to all the glamorous stuff.
As former year-long partypoker ambassador, how do you feel about the recent bwin.party acquisition by 888 Holdings and how do you think it will affect the industry in general?
I’m as curious as anyone to see how this all shakes out. One thing I’ve learned about the poker industry is that it’s hard to predict. 
Soon after you left partypoker in 2014, you announced that you and your husband, Italian pro @Giovanni Rizzo are joining the Italian company Tilt Events. What exactly is your involvement?
I’m really excited about this project. Giovanni and I have always loved Venice and the @Casino di Venezia is one of the most incredible places to play poker in the world. The company who organises and runs all of the poker tournaments in Venice (and now San Remo as well) is Tilt Events and after years of playing in and loving their events, we’re both representing them as well as doing some consulting for them. 
There is a ‘Tilt Cup’ event coming up very soon at the end of August and the schedule is great. Giovanni has a knack for scheduling and as a poker pro, he knows how important the side events are to a successful festival. We’ll both be there playing and hosting, plus we each have a special side event. Mine is the ‘Kara’s Knock Out’ which is a bounty tournament where I have an even bigger bounty on me. I wasn’t that easy to knock out in the first one we held, I managed to come 3rd!
What does Tilt Events have in store for poker players and fans in 2015?
First up is the Tilt Cup in Venice at the end of August which is a €450+50 Main Event with lots of great side events. Tilt Cup also run very regular smaller stakes tournaments in Venice and San Remo, called the Venetian Game and the Riviera Game. They get loads of runners and so the payouts are pretty juicy. 
We also have a bigger event in the planning stages but that will have to stay under wraps for now! 
You’ve been busy as usual during the World Series as the ESPN host. As an interviewer, who were you most impressed with? Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes story you can share with us - from this year or last? Do you have a favorite to win the Main Event?  
It’s hard to pick a favourite because I get so invested in the players that EVERY year becomes my favourite! In general, I’m always amazed by the non-pros when they get so far. The Main becomes a much more difficult event as you go through it. There is a higher concentration of pros in the later days and fatigue can play a big part. These players are at the tables 12 hours or so a day and even the big pros say it can be almost impossible to sleep and eat well while you’re in the thick of it. 
It’s also really interesting to watch the faces of family members and friends who never really understood what being a poker player means. Now all of the sudden, their loved one is in this room playing for millions of dollars under the ESPN cameras… it can be overwhelming! 

Image: Ed Scimia/CardsChat.com

And one more thing **spoiler alert** seeing Daniel Negreanu bust out so close to the final table was heartbreaking. You could see how important this was to him. It's something he'd been dreaming about for his whole career and to get that close but fall short. Oof. You see him drop to the floor in devastation but what you don't see is how he shakes it off and then goes and does maybe an hour of interviews with various organisations. A lot of people refuse to give interviews after far easier exits but he was gracious and professional. I have so much respect for that.  
2014 was a big year for you on both a personal and professional level - new country and language, new husband, new business project. Which of these is proving most stressful :)
That's so true and then in 2015 I went and moved to yet ANOTHER new country, took on another language and a new business project in the Aria Super High Roller TV series! It’s been incredibly busy and stressful but all of it good stuff. 
Giovanni is definitely my favourite part of 2014, and any year. Apparently all of the massive changes happening should have made our first year of marriage super hard but it did the opposite. I’m constantly amazed by this awesome human who I get to hang out with forever. I’m a very, very lucky person. 
What are some of the best and worst aspects of a romantic relationship between two poker players? 
The poker industry is a very particular place. Our jobs mean we live unconventional lives and for anybody outside of poker, that can be hard to understand. Both of us being in poker means that we just ‘get’ it. 
I’ve spoken to pros who have a hard time explaining to their partner that life on the road isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Or they have to try to explain why they’re not available to talk on the phone or didn't return to their hotel room at night because the cash games are really good. Or a million other things which poker players will just automatically get. It helps a lot to have that commonality. 
As for the downsides, I suppose it’s the same as dating people you work with in any industry. You want to be careful before you jump in because if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be bumping into that person at ‘work’ until one of you quits playing! 
You feel strongly about racism, sexism and any kind of ‘bullying’ and minority discrimination - online or in real life. How would you ‘rate’ the poker industry and the poker community in this respect? Any issues that you would like to see addressed?
A big discussion is actually happening right now about sexism in poker. There are some very interesting voices out there talking about it on twitter and I’m glad it’s getting attention. Poker is a microcosm of general society so anything you see out there, you’ll see in here too, plus as with any field dominated by one gender, there’s going to be a need to talk about equality. 
For the most part, the people I know in poker are fantastic, smart and analytical people. There are some very loud and ugly voices too but that’s true of anywhere. 

published by @Annie RKH July 31, 2015 #RKHinterview 


Find out more about Kara in the special welcome post:
4 Comments Display all

Great inteview! 

Great interview with someone that's a true ambassador for poker.

RankingHero Interview: Magic-the-Gathering and Poker Hero Gabriel Nassif

The Magic:The Gathering champion is also France's WSOP number one by final tables and ITM finishes, though he has yet to get a winner's photo in the gallery of bracelet holders. Gabriel Nassif first cashed in the World Series in 2005 and this summer he marked the ten-year anniversary by scoring his biggest WSOP cash to date, with a runner-up finish in the $3,000 buy-in NLHE Event 19!  And though the title eluded him once again, Nassif remained as immune to tilting as ever: 

"..I wish the run good would have lasted just a few more hands but I was fairly happy with my play, which doesn’t happen very often, so I wasnt too disappointed. That's really what it comes down to for me: if I feel like I've played good, I'm not going to be upset."

Photos: WSOP Event 19 stream http://www.wsop.com/videos/?vid=312


Have you had time to explore the new RKH feature - HeroScore, wich is essentially a ranking that measures not just results, but also contribution and popularity? Anything that you found surprising, interesting, disappointing?..

I've explored it a bit but haven’t completely updated mine yet. I find the idea pretty cool and fun even though I don't really like the "brag" side of it.

Does success in poker come with a responsibility in your opinion? (Or is the whole point of a poker career the freedom from all kinds of obligations & responsibilities :)

To some extent yes, but I feel it's true for anything in life. If you care about the game and it's growth, you should try and contribute obivously but if you've worked very hard to become good and make a lot of money and don't feel like you owe anything to anyone in the poker world, I think that's fine too. I'm sure a lot of players feel that way (Daniel Colman comes to mind) but they still want to have a positive impact in others aspects of life.

In what ways (if at all) are sport stars and Hollywood celebrities better ambassadors for the game than pros? In what ways (if at all) are women better ambassadors than men?

Sport stars and Hollywood celebrities can bring new players to the game and the same goes for women since still very few women play poker or give tournaments a shot. Pros can be useful to attract people who already play to an online site. You see someone like @Jason Mercier winning a bunch of SCOOP events on Stars and you might want to do like him but someone like Neymar can bring soccer fans, people who've never played poker online or even with friends, to the game.

Right now you are on top of several French poker rankings with your overall WSOP performance (by final tables and by ITM finishes, for example). Which achievement / record would you rather have in your own resume - Hellmuth’s 14 bracelets, Sklansky’s best-selling books, or Negreanu’s all-time live earnings?

I think it's pretty close between Negreanu's and Hellmuth's records but I'd probably pick Daniel's. Sklansky's is a very distant third even though I am grateful for the books he's written since they were probably the best learning tool available when I started playing.

Last year you had our French members on fire with your 7 WSOP cashes and several final tables but the title still eluded you. You then said in an interview for @Pedro Canali:  “I think I have trouble in live tournaments because I don't take enough risks and play too tight so I always get at the final table as one of the short stacks. I'm still sometimes scared to bust whereas online I'd be willing to gamble in the same spot.
Any important lessons learned for this year?

I still feel like I don't bluff enough in the NL tournaments. A lot of players play too loose and you can really put a lot of pressure when you know they have a weak range but it's something I have trouble doing. I usually know what I'm supposed to do but I just can't pull the trigger when I need to. I'm also a bit sad cause I feel like I've fallen behind in the mixed games. There's still a lot of dead money but the best players, who get to play all the games on stars.com or in live cash games, are so much better then the rest of the field that it's hard to have an edge. I was planning on playing the 10k 10-game mix event but I think I might stick to Limit Hold'Em and PLO because I'm too rusty in the Stud and Triple Draw games.

How do you explain the appeal and ‘magic’ of the WSOP and how important do you think Vegas is to the experience?

I think it's the people that show up that make it special. The fields and the prizepools are huge, and almost all the best players come to try and win a bracelet every year. Even players who might make more money playing live or online cash games want to win a bracelet, someone like @Alexandre Luneau last year or @Douglas Polk this year. Those guys have won millions and they're battling in $1500 events in which their ROI is way less then what they can win in a good cash game session. I don't think that Vegas and what it offers has much to do with the WSOP's magic, it just happens to be the place where it all started and it became a tradition.

How do you feel when the WSOP ends? Any tricks or ‘ritual’ you’ve developed to help you ‘go back to normal’?

Well it usually ends when I bust the Main Event so it's never very fun but even though I love the WSOP, I'm happy to be back home after being away for two months. Sometimes, I take a short vacation and if not I'll take a few days off poker before getting back on the grind.

You are a hero of two games and their respective communities - poker and MTG. Have you ever been tempted to take up competitively another game or sport? 

I sometimes wish I had given basketball a better shot but I doubt I could have made it at a high level. Besides that, I've never really been tempted to take up anything else competitively. I think most people who become very good at a sport or game have done so by spending most of their childhood/teenage years doing that thing. That's when your brain is still developing and it's much easier to learn things. You also have all the time in the world :)

How has Team MTG been doing in the 2015 WSOP so far?

I don't think any mtg'ers have won a bracelet yet. I have a second, so does @Brock Parker and @Bryn Kenney but people like Efro [@Eric Froehlich] , Williams [@David Williams] , Ike [@Isaac Haxton]  or @Scott Seiver haven’t played a ton of events.

You scored your first WSOP cash in the 36th World Series in 2005. Last week , exactly ten years later, you scored your biggest cash to date. Are you happy to mark this anniversary in this way or is nothing short of a bracelet enough :)

I hadn’t thought about that. All things considered, I was happy with my second place finish. I wish the run good would have lasted just a few more hands but I was fairly happy with my play, which doesn’t happen very often, so I wasnt too disappointed. That's really what it comes down to for me: if I feel like I've played good, I'm not going to be upset.

[published by @Annie RKH, June 25, 2015]

#RKHinterview #MTGpoker  


An Interview with Gabriel Nassif by Pedro Canali - Ranking Hero www.rankinghero.com

Players of Magic:The Gathering Who have Discovered the Magic of Poker - Ranking HeroHere at RankingHero we are particularly fond of Magic:The Gathering. And not simply because we love all strategic, community-building, subculture-generating addictive games (though these would all be valid reasons in themselves). We have an additional very special reason for this affinity with MTG - our own founder and RankingHero ambassador, @Pedro Canali, is a champion of the game. Back in 2004, in his very first professional tournament, Canali won the Pro Tour-Columbus with a deck called “Affinity” :)www.rankinghero.com


Thank you for the interview, Gabriel, and GL in the 10K!!!


Tournament Chipcounts | Official World Series of Poker Onlinewww.wsop.com

RankingHero Interview: Maria Ho about Battle of Malta, the WSOP, and more!

While a very successful live tournament player (three-time Last Woman Standing in WSOP ME!), Maria Ho's career in poker is by no means confined to the tables. Coaching, writing and commentating, poker host and brand ambassador - she's done it all! Her latest high-profile professional commitment is with PokerListings Battle of Malta and in November 2015, she will be welcoming BoM players as official host for the second consecutive year.And if her poker resume is not impressive enough, Maria Ho is fluent in Mandarin, has competed in the World Mahjong Tour, and is a singer/musician who loves performing at music venues!


Maria Ho: "I think the ultimate recognition is to be remembered not just as a good poker player but a good person."

You started playing poker in college like many others and unlike many others, you did graduate from University of California with a major in Communications and minor in Law. Were you ever tempted to abandon/interrupt your studies? Any advice to college kids thinking about dropping out to take up poker full time?

First of all, advice to college kids wanting to drop out: DON’T DO IT! Poker isn’t going anywhere and take it from me, it's a lot harder to make a living at it then it looks!

And if poker doesn’t work out, you will be happy to have a Plan B to fall back on... so STAY IN SCHOOL, kids, and play poker on the side.

No, I wasn’t ever tempted to drop out because poker was something I did on the side for fun and to make some extra cash. But I never found that it had to be “poker” or “college”. I was able to go to school and still hone my poker skills in my spare time.

You were in American Idol in 2004 and in Amazing Race, together with @Tiffany Michelle, a few years later. Is there another reality show you can see yourself in? 

I had always wanted to be on The Amazing Race since Season 1. I loved that it was competitive but also relationship building and physically, mentally and emotionally the most challenging thing you could embark on. It has also won a ton of Emmys and garners so much respect from the industry. Between American Idol and The Amazing Race, I think those are as respectable as you can get for a competitive reality television show. I have my sights set on Survivor now. I think that the skill set I use for poker naturally lends itself to a show like that and I would love to see the similarities in action!

If you and a poker friend of yours could star together in any TV series or movie, which one would you pick (which friend and which show :)?

Uhh…. The Amazing Race…. again?



You love music and you are a singer yourself. Do you ever listen to music while playing a live tournament? 

I do love music, but when I’m at the poker tables I’m focused. I think that music can be a distraction when playing poker. I want to be engaged and fully involved and aware of everything happening around me.

There is so much information that you can pick up, if you listen and observe, when playing whether it is just generic table talk or people giving information about what they do in their lives away from the tables that might give you an indication of their playing style. So, I don’t generally listen to music at the tables but when I do I listen to a lot of hip hop to get my energy going.

You played in the World Mahjong Tour in 2008. Any other games or sports you are passionate about?

Nothing else that I’m passionate about playing. But I’m a big sports fan and absolutely love the NBA. GO LAKERS!

Which would you pick if you had the power to instantly enact it in the United States: full tax exemption for poker winnings or online poker regulation?

I’d definitely want online poker to be an option in the U.S. I don’t think U.S. players even care if their winnings are taxed… just allow us the opportunity to play online! We didn’t realize how good we had it until the luxury of making money playing online poker in the comfort of your own home in your pajamas was taken away from us!

Who are your big influences in poker - the theorists and/or players from whom you’ve learned most? 

Most of my education came from practical application. I started playing in college and worked my way up through the limits. It was a lot of trial and error. I think there are great resources online and in book format. At this point in my career I feel lucky to have friends who are excellent players, and of course I have conversations with all my poker playing friends, to try and get their thoughts and alternative opinions on poker theories and hands. I can't really say that I've had one significant influence. I embrace every change to learn and grow from the poker players around me whom I admire. With that said, @Daniel Negreanu has always been someone whose career I aspire to and whose class in this game and ambassadorship I greatly admire. 

RankingHero has been in the news lately with its just released HeroScore feature. It’s a ranking that tries to incorporate more difficult to gauge aspects such as popularity and contribution, in addition to poker results. Have you had the chance to explore it? 

I’ve definitely checked out the site and it looks like a really fun and interactive way to rank poker players. I love that it combines both a ranking system and social elements as well.

As a successful poker professional, how do you yourself ‘give back’ to the industry? Do you think success in poker comes with a responsibility?

I definitely feel a sense of responsibility. Poker can be a very self-serving game, so I take it upon myself to do good.

I donate a good portion of my winnings to charity and volunteer my time in Los Angeles as a member of L.A. Works - a volunteer organization that contributes to a variety of charitable organizations. I also try to be an active member and voice in the poker community. I’m passionate about advancing the causes of the poker industry and try to contribute as much as I can.

Is there a particular poker record or special achievement you would like to outdo some day?

I’m very proud of the records I’ve broken so far: being the first to be the Last Woman Standing three times over in a WSOP Main Event - breaking the record for the largest cash a female has ever had at the WSOP (in 2011 with my $500k+ score), and being the first female ever hired to a poker television broadcast as the strategic commentator…. but I think any and every poker player aspires to winning a WSOP bracelet… so lets just say that for now. 

What would be the ‘ultimate recognition’ for you as a poker pro?

I think the ultimate recognition is to be remembered not just as a good poker player but a good person.

There are some aspects of our industry that have drawn some shady characters but I strongly feel that the only way to grow poker in the mainstream is to present it in the best light possible, A part of that is being a good ambassador for the game and making sure that poker doesn’t stay stigmatized.

What was the most rewarding aspect of being an ambassador and official host of PokerListings Battle of Malta last year?

I so enjoyed chatting to all of the players because of what BOM stands for. It is a very affordable buy-in but it gives you the feel of a high buy-in, elite poker festival. I love that so many of the people that come out to play are recreational players who are looking not just to play poker but for the full experience. Everyone was so excited and were having such a good time, win or lose.

Which of your obligations as official host proved most challenging?

I would have to say that playing in the BOM Main Event and going deep while still making sure that I fulfilled my hosting duties was the most challenging. Sometimes on my breaks from the tournament I would be interviewing a player so I didn’t get a whole lot of down time but I love being challenged! And I wouldn’t have it any other way because I not only got to host an awesome event but I cashed in the Main Event and made some extra money!

Battle of Malta has been setting and improving all kinds of records each year. What would make you particularly proud in the upcoming 4th edition?

Well, year after year they keep shattering the record for the single largest poker event in Maltese history so I would love to see us do that again this year. I think the turnout keeps increasing because players realize what a great value this tournament is and most importantly they are having fun! The parties and events during BOM are first class all the way.

How would you ‘pitch’ the event to an experienced poker pro and a recreational player?

I would pitch it to them the same way quite honestly. I think this event appeals to everyone whether pro or recreational player because not only is there tremendous value in the tournament but it’s basically like a poker vacation! Malta is a beautiful place and BOM makes sure to pack in a ton of action both on and off the felt!

While women are a tiny minority in live poker, they seem better represented among sponsored players. In what ways do you think women are better ambassadors for the game?

I think getting more women into the game would help boost poker’s popularity ten-fold. If seeing women pros and ambassadors inspires more women to get into the game then that would be ideal for everyone in the poker community.

The WSOP stands out in your resume and you really seem to be in your element during the World Series. How important is Vegas to the whole experience? Do WSOP Asia and WSOP Europe bracelets shine just as bright?

The WSOP is the Olympics of poker. From its earliest inception, it is what every poker player aspires to.

Based on the sheer numbers I don’t think that WSOP Asia or Europe can quite compete, just yet. The payouts, television views and overall clout that the WSOP provides its bracelet winners is bar none. Granted, any tournament that I can outright WIN, I think is an amazing accomplishment. But so far, I think that a WSOP bracelet is the highest achievement in the minds of most poker players.

Do you have any special plans for your first WSOP bracelet? Who will be the first people to share your joy & celebration?

I don’t think you will see me wearing it around on a regular basis but I am sure I will find a nice place on my mantle to display it. I will definitely be celebrating with my family and closest friends. I’ll be sure to let you know when I get there… err…. get it.

[published by @Annie RKH June 16, 2015]



 great interview :)))

RKH Interview: TD Ivonne Montealegre Promises Fantastic Poker Holiday with Battle of Malta!


In 2011 Ivonne Montealegre took the concept of a ‘poker holiday’ in Malta to PokerListings and together they have since been writing the record-smashing success story of The Battle of Malta. Ivonne herself comes from Costa Rica and features in the RKH database with a cash in 2014 LAPT Chile. Though she is not a pro player herself, she does ‘play professionally’ in another sense - to collect experience and ideas, to analyze, and take the best of what’s on offer in the live circuit in order to incorporate it in the events she creates herself as tournament director.

Tell us a little about your own poker history? Do you still find time to play?

Basically, I’m a leisure, casual player, what is known as a complete donk. Twenty years ago, back in Costa Rica, a friend of mine suggested we go play some poker. And since then I’ve been fascinated with the sport, with poker tournaments. However, I’m a complete leisure player. I’m really passionate about the social aspect and I’m a very social player. But it’s a fun thing for me, I don’t play it professionally.

I came to be part of a group of friends travelling together to play poker and that has been really great. Being with friends who share a common interest and topic of conversation, going to all these fantastic places to play… That’s how the ‘poker holiday’ idea was born.

Poker is a really big part of my life - my partner plays poker, we have poker-playing friends, we travel to play poker… I still try to remain active and play as much as possible to analyze tournaments and implement the best features in my own events.

How did the PokerListings Battle of Malta come about?

I was working for another company when I first came to Malta. And once here I realized what a great location this was for poker. And the community is fantastic.The Maltese community has a lot to do with the RankingHero motto and the way RKH tries to make poker social. Because it’s a very beautiful community. Very fun, supportive and loyal.

So when I started getting involved in the poker community here, as a player, this idea came to mind - that this was the perfect location to make a yearly tournament that would unite the local poker community and people from abroad who could discover and enjoy the beauty of this jewel in the middle of the Mediterranean.

And then I took the idea to PokerListings - and they were so receptive, they’ve been fantastic with the idea. It has been thanks to them that I have been able to explore and enjoy this beautiful ride ‘The Battle of Malta’.

In the first Battle of Malta, you had 349 entrants playing for €150,000. Last year you had 1,447 Main Event entries and broke all kinds of records. Which of these do you hope to better this year?

The first edition was successful but the second one was really unbelievable. I mean, Malta is an island, after all, and it’s not so easy getting people to come. And now this year we are making a lot of improvements because we’re being recognized by the governmental authorities here, and Battle of Malta is starting to become something to be proud of to the Maltese.

We hope to improve attendance and the number of players in the Main Event, and therefore to have a bigger prize pool, so more than 1,500. But we’re not really here to break the records. That’s something that happens parallel. For me, what really matters is that each player has a great playing experience. That, for me, is more rewarding than breaking a record. And if we focus too much on volume we might lose sight of the fact that we want to create a fantastic poker holiday experience for the players and their guests.

How does the poker holiday concept translate into the tournament structure, what adjustments have you made?

We want the Main Event to have a good playing structure. We are trying to stay away from a fast blind structure that increases the luck factor. We want to give players the opportunity to enjoy some play, some post-flop poker. Skill plays a larger role in this kind of slower-paced structures. We are also fighting all the time for the rake to be lower than in most tournaments.

And that’s also why the professionals come to play the Battle of Malta and normally do really well. Typically, after the bubble, the field is quite tough. But because of the low buy-in we also have a lot of success stories with casual players for whom this was the very first live tournament and who cashed.

The structure is conceived to ensure a very professional atmosphere but still have that fun element. We’re fighting all the time to keep the buy in as low as 550. For a main event, that’s pretty good, especially one that requires so much handling as the Battle of Malta ME.
And that’s one great thing you see in Battle of Malta - you have the setup of a big tour, there’s a big tour feel, but since the cost is low, the players can really relax and enjoy the tournament.

As a TD, did you have to deal with any particularly challenging situations in Battle of Malta 2014? And which is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Last year we faced a very difficult situation which we knew was likely to arise as we had few starting days - we had only two. This resulted in a super-packed calendar. At some point on Saturday, on Day 1b, we had to make an adjustment to the tournament structure and we had to turbo at some levels. Also, the casino needed to close on Sunday at 4 am, and at this stage we had to ask the players if they wanted to keep playing till the end, or take it to the next day. This creates a lot of hassle, and players need to make adjustments...
I prefer to keep the structures as they are published, and this is one adjustment we’ve made this year, with an additional Day 1C. That will give us a very playable and enjoyable tournament, parallel with all the activities that we are planning for the players.

And one of the aspects of my job that gives me great satisfaction is listening and responding to players’ concerns; trying to give them the fairest resolution to any conflict and to keep up the integrity of poker as a sport that we all love.

So I find it most rewarding when players notice the amount of effort you’ve put and come and give us a warm comment, about how great the experience has been, and how much they have enjoyed it. It’s great when you can make the players happy, at least for a weekend.

Tell us about these side activities you mentioned?

We’re always trying to give and add value to the players and it’s difficult because we have expenses like everyone else. This is where you see the good faith and support of all our sponsors. Battle of Malta is sponsored by PokerListings and its online poker partners: 888, Betsson, Betsafe, NordicBet, RedBet, Turbo, NetBet and PAF. Also joining us this year will be the Betting Connections Viewing Gallery, which is a very novel concept on a poker tournament.

This year, in addition to the free buffet, the package includes three parties. And the highlight will be a jaw-dropping Saturday Player Party for everyone to enjoy, it’s going to be very special. We’re putting a lot of work into it, and we’re very excited to deliver a top-notch nightclub experience where we all can unwind after a good session of poker.

We will have a booth powered by the Malta Tourism Authority. It’s very cool because it’s an independent, impartial entity and will be informing the players about their options, about what to do and where to go.

What is your own favorite hangout in Malta?

My own favorite spot is anywhere in the sea. Swimming in this beautiful Mediterranean salty water, that’s what I love best! You can do that all over the Hilton area, there are a lot of beautiful hang-out places near the hotel, and that’s free for everyone to enjoy.

In general, how important is it for poker players to gain recognition? Is it something you’ve taken into account with Battle of Malta?

Yes, definitely, as in any sport, poker players need and seek recognition.
There’s been a very interesting drift in the past five years, by the way. Now players are really focused, a lot of them do their meditation exercises, eat healthy. You see a fitter, younger, health-conscious type of player.

Even though Battle of Malta is a recreational and fun tournament, we’re also a bit ambitious in the sense that we want to make it a titled event. We want the Battle of Malta champion title to be an important thing in the poker world. Funnily enough, our trophies are highly appreciated and very cherished. They are medieval knights we get from a local artisan company, and people love them. It has become not only about the money, but also about having one of those BoM trophies on your shelf.

Which is your own favorite live poker event worldwide? Which live event was Battle of Malta modelled after or inspired by?

We’ve taken a little bit from many different ones. I like the professionalism of an EPT, the way it’s run so flawlessly, I think that’s fantastic. And I like the fun of RedBet Live, they have these really fun elements outside the poker arena.

So I’d say the seriousness and professionalism of an EPT, and also of the LAPT of which I am a big fan, with elements of some other smaller tours that have a lot of personality like the RedBet Live or the BetSafe Super Weekend, for example.

And if I have to single out just one personal favorite, I’m very fond of LAPT Chile, in which I cashed. It’s such a beautiful and romantic location. It holds a very special place in my heart.

What is the best thing that could happen to the poker industry in the near future and how do you see the role of projects like RankingHero, with our mission to bring back the fun in poker?

There are a lot of improvements that could help us all but a US online poker market that enters a regulated era is something that will have an impact in the whole poker industry worldwide. The launch of regulated real-money online poker in gray-area markets would have great benefits for the customers, the casual players, as well as for us organizers and companies. It’s something that should happen to provide the players with a better experience, to keep their bankroll safe, and basically to boost the sport we all love.

I think RankingHero is making a great effort that benefits everyone in the poker industry. By making poker more accessible, and providing a platform for social interaction but also recognition and prestige for players at all levels.

published by @Annie RKH, May 25 2015 #RKHinterview #BOMpreflop 


Battle of Malta 4 is set for November 4-9, 2015 at the @Casino at Portomaso  Stay tuned as we are about to announce a special mission and the coveted medieval knight may well turn up on a Ranking Hero's shelf! 


UK Poker Hero Jack Salter Profile & Interview

It was not that long ago that the 28 year-old Londoner scored his very first tournament cash on record (2010). Today he’s a fixture on the live circuit with his trademark all-in triangle sign, a favorite with fans, and a feared opponent at final tables in major tournaments across the world. @Jack Salter  finished 2014 second only to @Paul Newey by earnings in the UK, was distinguished as Breakout Player of the Year in the European Poker Awards, and topped the Bluff European Rankings for 2014!

Current HeroScore: 223,545

2015 is looking good so far: with no less than 6 final tables and $455,805, Jack Salter is 2nd in the UK 2015 earnings ranking! He has been lining up more runner-up finishes ever since the memorable heads-up with @Antonio Buonanno at the EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, most notably in the WSOP-AP and the latest one from the WPT Amsterdam high roller.

Which makes us all the more happy to see his RankingHero profile validated and we also hope to soon welcome his successful younger brother @Louis Salter! Jack recently answered a few questions especially for RankingHero:

You and your brother Louis have raised the family flag high in the poker arena. Are there any other games or sports you both like and play?

Used to play a lot of sport ins school but got injured at 16 and never got back into it. Louis and I go skiing together with friends every year, we are trying to get into squash and golf at the moment. I played a 5-a-side football tournament with other poker players at UKIPT Nottingham recently

Have you and Louis discussed your strategy if you ever find yourselves at the same final table in a major tournament?

Nope, we would just plan to play normally, we always swap with each other before any tournament so any win is a win for the team! We were once on the same table with 18 left in a 900? person field 1k. He cold 4-bet me on his first hand at the table and showed a 7!

If you could be Tournament Director for one major event, what would you change?

Abolish 10-handed poker forever

What is the main attraction of live poker to you - money, competition, interaction?..


What matters more to you at this stage - respect from within the poker community or acceptance and recognition in the ‘outside world’?

Respect from the best players is most important to me.

Would you agree that every successful pro is an ambassador for the game in a certain sense, even if not officially sponsored? How do you ‘promote’ poker yourself?

To some extent yes. I think my main contribution would be being friendly and chatting to people at the tables, particularly the recreational players. It is not a big effort for me as I am usually in a good mood at the poker table and lots of the older people have a lot of interesting things to talk about. I think the way some other young pros behave puts people off playing sometimes.

Would you make your UK fans happy and validate your profile on RankingHero.com?... :)

Yep will get on it!

published by @Annie RKH May 25, 2015 #RKHinterview 

5 Comments Display all

Bring on the Triangle of death !

'Casinos always considered poker like a doorstep child' Part II, Jack McClelland Interview

In Part I of the interview long-time tournament director, @Bellagio legend, and 2014 Poker Hall of Fame inductee @Jack McClelland talked about the 'perfect storm', the rise of televised poker and the 'lottery mentality', and the subsequent down cycle.

Poker was traditionally a gambling game, where an amateur could beat any pro on a given day. Then there was a stage when the focus was on poker as a competitive sport, or mind game. And now it feels that it has become too exclusive and less fun, and that it should perhaps go back to being a game again, a fun activity with social interaction. You played professionally yourself for a little while. Was money the main aspect, were you looking for something else?

Poker is a great game to judge a person’s character and their heart. And their competitiveness.

I’ve always loved the competitiveness about tournament poker. Tournament poker is a lot like chess in the sense that you have to think not just one or two steps ahead, but sometimes as many as 5 or 10 steps ahead. While cash games would be like checkers, and if you lose your chips you can always reach in your pocket for more. You can't do that in tournament poker. That;s why there are very few players who can successfully switch back and forth from cash games to tournament poker and do both.

But poker is also the only game where money is how you keep score. I’m not a super technological guy that can play three games and type and chat at the same time. So I’d rather sit in a poker game talking abut whatever we want to talk about - football, or politics, the world... I definitely like the social interaction also. But in the end, the way you keep score in poker is by the money. It’s the only game that’s not played for fun.

Affordable buy-in tournaments are on the rise everywhere. Same for high-rollers. Meanwhile the 5/10k range is in trouble, despite re-entries and other format innovations. Are reentries good for poker in the long run? 

I dont like reentries myself but I understand why. Basically, here in Las Vegas, and pretty much everywhere, you’ve got two types of players now. The $300-500 buy-in, or smaller players, on the one hand, and then you’ve got the guys who are looking for TV and the high-rollers and super high-rollers, and all that stuff. Outside of the World Series, all those events with $1,5000-2,000 or $5,000 buy-ins are gone. People are either playing lower stakes or they are following the TV.

Do you think that the players themselves have a role to play in supporting the industry, is there something they can do? 

It’s very hard because the casinos have complete control over what happens in their casino. And in Las Vegas, for instance, the casinos always considered poker like a doorstep child, because they don’t make good money out of it.

I mean, when we had a really good year at the Bellagio, we still couldn't make as much as they made from the minibars of the hotel…

And that’s when we were booming. It’s just insane, there I am, running tournaments with hundreds and hundreds of players paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, and I can’t compare with the minibars!..And that was in my good years. In the bad years, I couldn’t compare with the vending machines..

When I first went to work at the Bellagio, everybody treated the poker employees like they were third-class citizens. Then we began with the tournaments and the TV, and they got their shoulders up and felt proud. There were no slot tournaments or crap tournaments or anything like that, it was all poker. So, publicity-wise, it did a lot for the hotel.

Likewise with the World Series. Who wants to be in Vegas in July?.. Yet they're all here because of the World Series of Poker. 

And the people who sign up in tournaments, if you ask how many of them played in the casino, not one in a hundred would say they play. But at midnight, if you take a look at the crap tables, there’s nothing there but poker players. They just don’t want to admit they have a weakness.

Is there anything else you'd like to add in conclusion, any thoughts about the game and the industry?

I’d like to congratulate @Bruno Fitoussi on his Hall of Fame nomination. I know he should be in the Hall of Fame, hopefully he’ll make it next year. As for myself, before I was first nominated in 2011, it had never once crossed my mind that I would ever be selected for something like that.

I wanted to be the best and outside of my family, I’ve devoted my whole life to poker. If that made it even a little bit better over the years, then I feel like I’ve had a successful career.

Poker is just like lfe, you’ve got good guys, yu’ve got bad guys...you’ve got everything. And you have to do the best you can, and move on...

Right now, in Las Vegas, the accounts are running the casinos. And accounts don't want to hear about you making 1 million dollars last month, they want to know why you didn't make two million, or why you gave away a steak dinner to this person, or that person... And it's like that everywhere.

They've taken personal service out of poker and personal service is really what poker is all about.

Someone would come in after 5 years and I’d greet them by their name and people would be so surprised and feel so good I’d remembered their name. It was hard and took a lot of practice but it was one of the things I learned - if you don’t know your customers, you can’t take care of them.

And those people have more value, they should be treated better. And if they want a lobster dinner, they should get it. Because they're not going to just play poker, they will play other games, too. And they will bring in other regular customers. But now, the way the casinos are run, everyone is equal. And it doesn't work out that way. Not if you want to be successful.

The way I see it and what made me successful is, I looked after the casino first;  I looked after the customers second; I looked after the employees third; and I myself came fourth.

And everyone who changes that rotation - after a couple of years they're gone. Because if you don't take care of the casino, they don't need poker anymore; if you don't take care of the customers, they're not going to come back anymore; and if you don't keep your employees happy, they're going to moan to the customers and drive them out. As long as you stick to that order, you're going to be ok. Everybody that's come along and has tried to change that order have been failures. Kind of like Obama :)

From Perfect Storm to Down Cycle and a Whole Different Ball Game. Poker Interview with Jack McClelland - Ranking HeroOur #WeeklyHero @Jack McClelland is a man who has seen it all in his 37 years in poker and who has helped shape the industry as we know it. He talked to @Nicolas Levi about the 'perfect storm', the rise of televised poker and the 'lottery mentality', and the subsequent down cycle.www.rankinghero.com

2014 Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland Bio and Poker Profile - Ranking Herowww.rankinghero.com
#RKHinterview #WeeklyHero 

I wanted to be the best and outside of my family, I’ve devoted my whole life to poker. If that made it even a little bit better over the years, then I feel like I’ve had a successful career.

That's strong !!!

A proper interview, Nico!!!

you are right , like this post

From Perfect Storm to Down Cycle and a Whole Different Ball Game. Poker Interview with Jack McClelland

Our #WeeklyHero @Jack McClelland is a man who has seen it all in his 37 years in poker and who has helped shape the industry as we know it. He talked to @Nicolas Levi about the 'perfect storm', the rise of televised poker and the 'lottery mentality', and the subsequent down cycle.

Stay tuned for Part II of the interview with Jack McClelland and his thoughts on poker as the casinos' 'doorstep child', on the importance of personal service in poker, and his own top 3 professional priorities!

After a huge poker boom, the industry is now contracting, and some are seriously worried as to its future. Professional poker is suffering, while amateur poker seems as strong as ever. Could poker as we know be about to die? How is the industry going to adapt?

Well, in a way, we had the perfect storm. The Internet came along and suddenly people could play at home and learn poker - for free or for a small amount of money. Because if you just go to a casino, poker is a very intimidating game.

Television and the 'lottery mentality'

Before 1998, when I used to run the World Series, it would take months before the ESPN had it on TV, And you never knew when it would be on, it might be a one-hour show at 3 am, or 4 pm, you had to be a really dedicated poker person to find it.  

I was fortunate enough to do the first major televised live tournament in the Isle of Man. You could simply feel the electricity hundreds of yards away. A few months later, I was in Vienna, and I did a televised heads-up tournament where two teenage guys from Finland had these little lipstick cameras and four nights later it’s on TV in the United States! And I’m thinking, why did it take ESPN nine months?!!..

So I could see the potential. About that time I went to work for the Bellagio and the World Poker Tour came along with the idea to do this tour where they would show the hole cards, And my partner @Douglas Dalton  asked me what I thought, and I said it would work. Because I’d seen the Isle of Man, I’d seen Vienna, I’d seen the excitement it creates.

So we got the OK from  @Bobby Baldwin to run the World Poker Tour and I called my friends, Doug called his friends, and next thing, they got the whole tour going. And then a year later, when they did TV, it just exploded.

A little bit later, @Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million on 40 dollars, and you got the lottery mentality in there, 'Wow, with 40 dollars I can win millions!'

That’s what the people want. They can sit in England, or Canada, or France, or Florida, and for 20-40-100 dollars, they can win a seat to the World Series, win a seat to the Bellagio, or anywhere else. And that was what was really enticing about the whole situation.

The Down Cycle

Then, in the United States, when the government got involved, and with Black Friday a little later, it really, really hurt. You know, I’ve been in the business for 5 decades. There are not many tricks to tournament poker that I don’t know and I was at the end of my wits at the Bellagio.

We used to be inundated with Europeans, we used to have a huge Asian following at the tournaments, and it all just disappeared. Asian players would go to Hong Kong and the Europeans would stay home and play in the EPT because of the PokerStars. And I don’t blame them. When I go to Poland, I visit the different sites and PokerStars have all the action. Like Jack Binion used to say, ‘action begets action’. So that’s where people go. 

If I was European and I had to come to the United States to pay 30% tax and maybe not get it back, when I could stay home and play big events where I could win a quarter of a million or half a million, why would I come?...

So I don’t blame the players, it’s not the players’ fault at all. Basically, we had non-gaming people get involved and that’s what really did the damage.

When we had the Internet really going, with all the sponsorship deals and so on, there was a lot of loose money around. Once the Internet more or less went away, the loose money went away with it. And then there was the slowdown of the economy, People that had money remained cautious with it. It used to be, if you had $100,000 and you blew it, it was not a big deal, you’d get it back in a month or two. Now, it’s simply not there. Now you go back and start grinding, trying to make a living. It’s just very difficult. I mean, on the operators’ side it’s difficult and on the players’ side it’s 20 times harder. 

We were on a run for about five years, when it was just up-up-up all the time. And now we’re in a down cycle. Hopefully, there will be an up-cycle again.

A Completely Different Ball Game

Before 1985, which is when they opened up stud and hold’em poker in California, the average age of the players was probably about 60. The older people were playing and young people were looking for something else. Over the next decade, it dropped to 40 then as we got closer to 2000, it went back up to 50. But then the World Poker Tour came along, and ESPN got connected to the World Series, and they started showing Poker After Dark, and all the other television shows. The next year at the World Series, all of a sudden, the average age was around 23 years! It just made a completely different dynamic.

I’m 63 years old and I started palying when I was 6. But the way you learned was by playing. You play, you go broke, you learn, start over again, go broke again... Nowadays, by the time they’re 18-19 years old, kids have played 3 million hands, and they’ve got the computer to anayze what they should have done in this or that situation. It’s a completely different ball game. 

Part II is up! Read on:

'Casinos always considered poker like a doorstep child' Part II, Jack McClelland Interview - Ranking HeroIn Part I of the interview long-time tournament director, @Bellagio legend, and 2014 Poker Hall of Fame inductee @Jack McClelland talked about the 'perfect storm', the rise of televised poker and the 'lottery mentality', and the subsequent down cycle.www.rankinghero.com

2014 Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland Bio and Poker Profile - Ranking Herowww.rankinghero.com

I love the articles you post Annie, they are really keeping me up to date!

"I play poker to live, I don't live to play poker" Antonio Esfandiari Interview

Has the game become too elitist and off-putting to regular fans and amateurs? Is the industry in for a major change? Nicolas Levi continues the Rankinghero interview series about the poker industry with two-time @World Poker Tour champion and winner of 3 @WSOP bracelets, our #WeeklyHero @Antonio Esfandiari

After a huge poker boom, the industry is now contracting, and some are seriously worried as to its future. Professional poker is suffering, while amateur poker seem as strong as ever. Could poker as we know it be about to die? How is the industry going to adapt?

Well, I don't think poker is ever going to die just because everybody loves the game, I don't know anybody that learned to play poker and said, "oh, I don't want to play anymore." Some professionals might get hurt. That is probably true, but what can you do? With people getting better, especially with the internet age, we just have to adapt to the times.

Poker is not going anywhere, it's just that maybe professional poker players have to start thinking doing something else in addition to just poker. Some of the elite players will make it. I think a lot of them will probably start teetering off a little bit.

Do you think that the professionals are less needed and the industry is going to do well without them if they become rarer and rarer?

Well, the thing is that they are not going to become rare. I mean, poker players are willing to do anything basically, they are willing to work for free. They are willing to do anything to get their name out there and get any kind of publicity they can. There is never going to be a lack of poker players willing to do whatever people need. If there is an event, a poker tournament, you need a poker host. They're never not going to have an option to find somebody.

Is money your sole purpose for playing poker? Has your motivation changed over time?

I really can’t say the sole purpose, but obviously it's different between ten years ago and now. So, there's never one answer. Back then, it was a great way to make money. Today, it’s obviously more challenging, everyone’s better now and it’s much tougher.

As for me, my sole purpose is not money. No! I like the challenge.

I think I’m relatively established in the poker universe and so I’m kind of riding that wave. It's just that this is what my life has come to. I’m a professional poker player. In the beginning I didn’t think that I would be a professional poker player forever, and I still don’t. But when something is working, I just go with it.

Poker is traditionally a gambling game, where an amateur could beat any pro on a given day. The Moneymaker effect is now fading. With the focus on the competitive aspect of poker, amateurs now feel inadequate and quit. Today the game feels elitist and less fun. Is that a huge problem? Do you think it can be fixed?

I almost feel like it passed a point of no return. I mean, these kids have come along. And it’s no longer fun to play. I hate to say it. But they don't understand the long term effect that they are delivering to the fish. For instance, they open a pot. Just a simple open. And the kid wants to start studying the guy. Seriously, it's so standard what you're going to do and you want to study the guy when it's been just an open?!..  It's like a joke. 

I hate when I see that. I've actually written an article about it and I think that they are completely ruining the game and it’s not fun anymore. It really isn't. I mean, even when I'm at a table and playing a wizard, they are just taking everything so seriously and every decision is so crucial when it’s really so standard. It’s not fun anymore. There are still those fun games but it’s rare to find one.

Today social media makes everyone the star of their online community. Players can spread ideas and change the reputation of a brand in hours. As an ambassador of the game, what tools do you use? Is the industry using them to their potential?

I don't really follow poker on social media. I do my thing when I'm called upon, but I don't really follow poker.

I like to live my life. I play poker to live, I don't live to play poker.

Read on:

"I Am Blessed, Plain and Simple": Antonio Esfandiari Bio & Poker Profile - Ranking HeroTwo WPT titles, three WSOP bracelets, and the biggest live tournament cash in poker history - our #WeeklyHero @Antonio Esfandiari certainly has a lot of blessings to count! Yet this public statement from February 2015 was not poker related. It was inspired by fatherhood - by a man's great love and admiration for his father and the birth of his own son:www.rankinghero.com


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One of my favorite players along with Laak and Tilly

So I guess you watched their TV show with the prob bets? DId you see the one with the pole dancing? 

Antonio ...The Magician  is one of the best in poker world.

Greg Raymer Interview: 'Have fun yourself, make it fun for everyone else, and it'll be a better game'

The RankingHero interview series continues with one of the most experienced and committed ambassadors of the game, 2004 WSOP Champion and our #WeeklyHero - @Greg Raymer.  He talked to Nicolas Levi about the past, present, and future of the industry and the role of professional poker players.

Hi, Greg. You played a big role in the poker boom yourself. Since then, the industry seems to be contracting. A lot of people are worried about its future. On the one hand you've got professional poker that's suffering hard, and on the other side, all the amateur world and the smaller poker leagues seem to be as strong as ever. Is poker as we know it about to die, or is the industry going to adapt?

Well, poker as we know it is going to die but that's true of every single thing in the world, everything changes. It's always different, but that doesn't mean that what comes next isn't better.

So having said that, I think there are going to be some big changes in poker and it is largely, I think, because players are so much better; you could make a living as a poker pro before the boom ten years ago and you didn't have to have advanced knowledge, you could do quite well beating live games with what we would now consider pretty weak poker skills. You can't come in as a novice anymore and become a winning player easily. It's kind of like other games that are more advanced in their knowledge, like chess...

In chess you have to work really hard for a long time. No matter how smart you are and no matter how much natural talent you might have for the game, you're going to work hard for many years before you are even close to being really competitive with the better players, and poker didn't use to be that way. It used to be that someone could come along and maybe just work hard for a few months and become a winning player.

The past decade has focused on the competitive aspect of poker and it has created, like you said, this generation of players that have worked really hard to become good. Many poker players have started to feel inadequate and quit. As a result, the game feels elitist. Do you think that's the root of the problem and can it be fixed?

No, I don't think that's really the problem, it just means that there's going to be a relatively small fraction of the players that can play and expect to beat the game in the long run, and to some extent, that's a lot more true online that it is live.

Live settings, live games still tend to be a lot more social, a lot more about people having fun and getting their entertainment and you don't see a high percentage of players in a live poker room who are there with the intention of making a living. Iin fact most of them, if they were honest with themselves, don't even really expect to win.

Before I won the Main Event I was a part-time pro and before that I was a serious amateur, and I was doing my best to win and I was working to improve my game and all those things, but I wasn't making a living. I was making my living as an attorney and I was trying to make more money as a poker player, not so much because I needed the money, but because it served to fulfill my competitive outlets.

And then I made the transition to full-time professional player after winning the Main Event, but of course you have a big advantage over the majority of players that you can make money without having to win it. I can get appearance fees, I can get endorsement deals...I can do these things that will allow me to make income without having to be a winner at the table for every dollar that I'm going to put towards my livelihood. And there's obviously only a handful of us that are lucky enough to be in that situation.

For everyone else, if you're going to make a living, you have to win that money at the table, and that's just harder and harder to do. It's not that much harder in a live game setting than it was before the poker boom, but it's harder, people are definitely a lot better. And it's harder to get in the kind of volume you need to make significant income.

Because now for every one pro who's going to play 30 tables he needs a hundred losing players to fill all the other seats and he has to share some of those with other pros like himself. It was kind of a commonly accepted wisdom before the poker boom that 10% of the players in the poker world were long-term winning players, and I think we've found with online we can measure it more exactly. I'm pretty sure the number would be a lot less than 10%.

Is there any trend that looks good from your insider perspective?

Well, I think it's going to get better primarily for a lot of the same reasons that around the world everything's getting better to a pretty significant extent.

I'm not saying that there isn't more improvement necessary, I'm just saying that things have been trending toward the better in most areas. Certainly if I'm dark-skinned in America today I'm a lot better off than I was even 50 years ago, when I was born. Life is a lot easier in terms of racial discrimination in this country than it was 50 years ago, and hopefully it'll be much better again in another 50 years, and the same for everything else...

I think attitudes and opinions are better despite us fighting for online poker against conservative Christian groups and stuff like that. In the US, I still think things are a lot more liberal in that regard, people don't seem to want the government to be imposing morality on society as much as they used to. So things will improve, it's just a question of how much, how soon.

What has been your main drive to play poker - beating your competitor or making money?

Well, it's the competition and then whether you win the game is measured by winning money, so it is certainly a big part of it for me. But I understand completely that for the vast majority of poker players that's not really it because if they're being honest with themselves they would know that they're not winning money, they would know that they're losing money. It is essentially entertainment.

And even though they lose, poker remains comparable to, or even less expensive than some other hobbies. If you're a guy who instead of playing poker once or twice a week, you buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and ride it around the countryside and that's your entertainment, I suspect buying the motorcycle, gasoline, maintenance, insurance etc, ends up costing you a lot more money than the average poker player loses when he plays poker.

Speaking of motivation to play, do you think social aspects and every sort of innovation around social can play a big part in making a positive experience for the players and making poker fun again?

It's obviously impossible for me to know but my guess would be that those things have a relatively high likelihood of being beneficial.

Simple things like volume, how many hands you have played or how many tournaments you have entered - awarding points or some distinction like a digital ribbon. I can see that being something that people would be happy about, and would like to brag about to their friends. And certainly, since it doesn't cost you anything as a site or a live room to warrant such things, you’ve got no downside really.

The big hurdle standing in our way everywhere, not just in the US, but in Europe and other parts of the world, are the problems with governments either wanting to segregate their country when it comes to online poker or outlaw it, or tax it at ridiculous rates.

I think our biggest issue is just dealing with politicians, whether it's the US, Europe or anywhere else in the world, make them want to stay out of our way or promote our business just like they would want to promote some other industry.

Maybe a good analogy is the guy who's making the Harley Davidsons and the sailboats - you don't need those… You don't have to have a Harley or any kind of touring bike, those are not bikes that are really used for transportation in the sense of getting to and from work or anything like that. They don't really have any value in a utilitarian sense. They are for fun.There's no difference between that industry and live or online poker, it's there for fun. So if you're going to promote one, why not the other?

What positive role could/should professionals play in supporting the industry? Are they doing it?

You know, Wil Wheaton is an American actor and author, you might remember him from Star Trek The Next Generation. He postulated a simple and universal rule which is now referred to as “Wheaton’s Law” in gaming culture: “Don’t be a dick!”

In other words, yeah, the game itself might be violent, you're shooting zombies and so on, but don't be a dick towards the other players. Don't say nasty stuff to them in the chatbox, don’t be abusive.

And I think poker players should follow that rule as well - ‘don't be a dick’. I mean, be a nice guy, whether it's online or live, treat people with respect. Don't be a dick, don't be a douchebag, don't be an angle shooter, make the game fun.

If you're playing for fun, then try to make it fun for everybody. If you're a professional trying to make money - well, you're making money because other people are coming to play for fun. Make it fun so they want to come play.

People who are deliberately trash-talking and being abusive to other players thinking they will put everyone on tilt so they'll lose their money quicker, are probably wrong. And even if they're right, they're being short-sighted because they will chase away the players that are going to lose to them. And so these guys make the game worse for themselves and for everybody else in the long run.

That would be my main advice to players: make it fun, have fun yourself and make it fun for everyone else, and it'll be a better game, whether you're a pro or not.

Greg, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for your insights and good luck at the tables!

Read on:

2004 WSOP Champion Greg Raymer Bio & Poker Profile

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