The Full Tilt Hearing - Wow, that was dull

The Full Tilt Hearing this week was the first of its kind in poker, and also the first for me as not only was it the first legal hearing I have attended, it was one of the first ‘tweet updates’ I have done. After an entire day of the press being shut out, the hearing was adjourned, much to the annoyance if the poker community.

For me personally, it was one of the most rewarding things I have done as a journalist, and, in equal measure, one of the biggest wastes of time.

It took an entire day, behind closed doors, and the end result was nothing had changed and nothing was going to happen for a couple of months. It was not what the poker community wanted to hear, it was not the story I wanted to write, and a dozen or so of us poker journalists were left to twiddle our thumbs, and try to find something, anything, worth writing about.

It was very much like waiting for a delayed plane, mind numbing but with a degree of hope keeping you awake. I actually can sympathise with anyone who participated in the phone hacking scandal, because if that is what more traditional journalism looks like, there is no wonder they would do anything for a scoop – they must be so bored all the time, waiting for news to happen.

(Only joking of course)

But on the plus side, I learned a lot about the legal process, mainly from talking to the rest of the press and staff that were shut out of the hearing. I will be much better prepared next time (I have already downloaded Tetris for my phone), and in a sick way I will be happy to do it again.

I also received an additional 300 twitter followers in one day (who are yet to unfollow me). That in itself was worth losing the day in the foyer of the Plaza hotel. Amazing that, on the day I said the least, I got the most followers.

And I also managed to tick one off my poker journalist bucket list, as on the train on the way back I wrote a small write up of the hearing for a newspaper. OK, it was only the local newspaper of Guernsey and not quite the Racing Post like I had hoped, but its newsprint nonetheless.

I am live on Sky Poker channel 865 tonight from 8pm, where I will be talking about the hearing. 

Looking Ahead to the Full Tilt Hearing

On Tuesday I will be in London attending the Full Tilt Hearing, held by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC). This is the first time I have ever been to any sort of hearing, and journalistically one of the most important things I am likely to be a part of. I am really excited to be involved, and in equal measure I am very anxious.

Anxious, because there are so many unknowns going into it. Both for the industry as a whole, and for me as a reporter. I have never reported on something of this scale and importance before, and also figure it to be potentially quite mentally taxing; it is after all a legal hearing.

I have spoken to some people at the AGCC and the hearing is not going to be particularly reporter friendly. Phones will not be allowed, recording equipment will not be allowed, press cannot ask questions, and wifi access will possibly not be allowed either. So my initial hopes of tweeting the whole thing word for word turned out to be a bit lofty.

One of the really difficult things on the day will be managing the expectations of poker players. Just about everyone I have spoken to about this event have some real misconceptions about the hearing, most of which are around the  idea  that the hearing will bring about some resolution to the story. They think that Howard is going to be there, exact monetary figures will be discussed, that Full Tilt will make a statement, and that a final decision will be made.

I would say, lower your expectations. I can’t see many, or any, of those things happening. I would say that the likelihood is we will see a lot of red tape, a few nuggets of new information that shine some light of the gravity of the situation, and a better idea of what the next steps look like. It’s unlikely that anyone from Full Tilt other than lawyers will be present, or that any decision made can’t be disputed in court.

Of course I am going down for that 1 in 10 (my crude EV calc) chance that I will witness one of the most historic moments in the history of online poker, featuring a cast including Howard Lederer and Phil Ivey, and perhaps a custard pie thrown in for good measure. That could happen too, nobody knows, and that is all I know for certain – that nobody really seems to know other than the AGCC.   Everyone is desperate for answers right now and putting a lot of stock in the AGCC hearing. Unfortunately that means people are listening to anyone who will talk loud enough about the future of Full Tilt.

I for one will be going in to the hearing knowing what I know best – nothing. It’s such an unprecedented moment in the history of online poker, all I can do is go and try and report back from it as transparently as possible.Hopefully also, I will be reporting some good news (again lower your expectations) - I would much rather report on something positive for the industry than get a big scoop on more turmoil. 

I’ll be reporting for PokerNews.com and hopefully tweeting from @barry_carter on the day. 

Poker Twitter Top Trumps

I celebrated a milestone yesterday, which was pretty important to me, largely because it’s amazing how much of a social media geek I have become in recent years.  I passed the 1000 twitter followers mark yesterday (And also managed to increase my ‘Klout’ by 2 places to 59, whatever that means). I am not sure quite why it is that was so important to me about getting there, other than perhaps most of the people I admire in twitter terms are into quadruple digits.

I have purposely avoided trying to get autofollows from spam accounts. The thing I love about twitter is that it is a listening tool, and certainly not a spamming tool. I like to think that anyone who follows you actually wants to see what you have to say. It is much better to have 20 people who like what you tweet, than have 20,000 people who have followed you for the sake of it.

I also see it as the future of journalism. I am going to the Full Tilt Hearing next week and I am hoping to tweet some updates live as they happen. People want to consume their media much faster these days, and twitter is often the anchor for this new form of consumption (A prime example being yesterday, as millions of us watched a live stream of someone trying to custard pie Rupert Murdoch, speaking of which, that guy got an extra 10,000 twitter followers or something immediately after).

I tried also little stunt to get me over the line; basically anyone who followed or retweeted me that day got put in a draw to win a copy of The Mental Game of Poker. Yes, it was a bit bribey, but I figured that it was at least only going to be poker players who will have participated, and thus exactly the sort of folks I want following me.

I have been playing a little game in my head lately called ‘Twitter Trumps’, where basically I have been trying to assess the relative value of a retweet from a well-known poker player. Thus far @tony_guoga got me around new followers when he retweeted something I posted, @senseichanning got me about 9 new followers, but the big dog of poker social media, @KevMath, on average has got me about 19 new followers every time he has retweeted something I tweeted. (This is all pretty anecdotal evidence btw, please don’t take as gospel).

Makes me wonder who would get me more followers from a retweet - Daniel Negreanu or Hellmuth. I would say Phil, and I reckon the over/under would be 50 followers. 

Of course the best way to get more followers in poker is probably to make the WSOP final table; I’ve just seen Samuel Holden (@SamDMND) get 300 overnight.

I guess 2000 is the next milestone. It seems like some of the guys I consider very influential poker journalists (Dr Pauly, Gary Wise, BJ Nemeth, Kara Scott etc) have about 4000ish, and in my opinion the biggest grassroots social media influencer KevMath has nearly 8000, so I guess if I could come close to 4000 before Twitter becomes the next MySpace, I will be happy enough.  

All I can really do is actually tweet stuff that is worth reading, the next thing of which will be next week when I will be live at the Full Tilt Hearing in London.

Its @barry_carter btw ;)

The Poker Journalist Bucket List

I hear a lot of authors refer to their books as their ‘business cards’, to demonstrate the number of opportunities that come their way as a result. Jared and I are both experiencing that phenomenon significantly at the moment, now that The Mental Game of Poker has been out for a few months. He is out in Vegas right now and networking with everyone, we expect to see him on a PokerNews Podcast next week and we are trying our hardest to get him on ESPN before it ends (Don’t quote me on this, but I believe he has several clients still deep the in main event).

I may be stuck in Blighty but my phone has also never stopped ringing, for both book stuff and non-book stuff. I have some really interesting stuff on the horizon, I will be a judge at another poker awards, I am going on Sky Poker again, and hopefully I will have an interesting feature in trade magazine Inside Poker Business (as long as they like it).
I also will be scratching not one, but three things off my ‘poker journalist bucket list’ – a list of things I have wanted to do as a journalist at some point. I have already ticked off loads of things including being on TV, live reporting, publishing a book, judged at the European Poker Awards, interviewed pretty much everyone but Phil Ivey etc.

Now I can also claim ‘wrote for every magazine’, kind of. Thanks to the book and some very generous editors, we have got samples of the book in just about every magazine in the UK. The last one being the first one I ever bought, PokerPlayer Magazine.

Two more will soon be ticked off the list. This month I will be in London reporting on the Full Tilt hearing in London, where I will be reporting for PokerNews and ticking off another thing I have always wanted to do, which is the rather new trend of live twitter reporting, where I hope I will break a major news story and get thousands of followers as a result (Though I feel it will be nowhere near as exciting as that).

And soon I will be ticking off one I have always wanted, which is live commentary of a televised poker tournament. I am not 100% certain I can mention which one, simply as I haven’t seen anywhere that it has been advertised as televised (On the interwebs, not actually telly as far as I know). I’m not sure why, but I have always fancied myself doing that co commentator role, probably a mix of liking attention but not wanting to force my mug on the TV audience.

All of which makes me wonder what is next on the poker journalist bucket list left to do. Obviously the nicest thing would be to ‘do a Roland’ and win a WPT event, but assuming that doesn’t happen, this is what I have got so far:

  • Get a Massive Twitter Following: I am a twitter nut, and I am closing in on my 1000th follower, but I believe the future of all journalism lies there and I think I need to be aiming for 5000 or 10,000 if I want to claim poker klout. (Its @barry_carter btw)

  • Write Something for a Paper: Any paper will do, even gutter press, but I reckon the most realistic aim would be the Racing Post.

  • Work on a TV Production: I have lots of chums who work on poker shows, and I have been around the guys at Sky Poker and Matchroom quite a lot, and all I know is I like being around a TV production. What could I do? No idea, I’d guess some sort of script writey, consultancy kind of work (Although I am getting more comfortable in front of screen, I could never see myself even attempting to present). No doubt Tikay will read this and tell me to fetching him cups of tea would count).

  • Get Poker on Sky Sports News: This is no doubt the loftiest of all the aims, having spoken to several people at Sky and Matchroom, this is very unlikely. Poker is so incredibly down their pecking order that most would tell me not to bother, especially because no doubt the significantly more influential Sky Poker & Matchroom must have tried along the way. But every time I watch Sky Sports News (every day) I just feel the audience would love to know that the UK are dominating at least one sport – poker. All the other goals on my list are realistic, but I think it’s not such a bad thing to have an ambitious one too.  

Will the Real Phil Hellmuth Please Stand Up?

I must admit, I was one of the doubters. 

I must also admit that I am one of the many who have done a complete U-turn this year and cheered on Phil Hellmuth Jnr at the World Series of Poker.

He has answered most of his critics this year. Three non hold’em runner up places, including the most prestigious non hold’em event of the year, over $1.6 million in winnings, including his first seven figure score ever (Yeah, I was surprised at that too), and the player of the year award almost nailed on.

He has impressed me as a player, but more as a person. His attitude has been great this year, and his post-match interview with Kara Scott was a breath of fresh air. He was very complementary of his opponent, admitted he had made some errors along the way, acknowledged he had been too cocky in the past, couldn’t bring himself to say he was the greatest when asked, admitted the criticism has gotten to him at times, and generally conducted himself like a gent.

I think most people would be crushed to come second three times in one series, and amazingly, I think he took it much better than many of us would have. He was upbeat and jocular.

In The Mental Game of Poker we categorise different forms of tilt, one of them being what we call ‘Entitlement Tilt’, which we preface as ‘Classic Phil Hellmuth Tilt’. It is the tilt that comes when you believe you deserved to win more than someone else – because you think you are better than them, because you think you work harder than them, because you think you have been unluckier than them, because they are French etc. Entitlement tilt happens when you do not truly understand the role of variance in poker and/or are unable to make a proper assessment of yours and your opponent’s relative ability.

Hellmuth obviously has demonstrated entitlement tilt throughout his career, telling anyone who will listen how he deserves to win more than the rest of us mere mortals simply because he has 11 bracelets. If anything was going to spark off ‘classic Hellmuth tilt’ it would be coming runner up three times in a row, but not today. Yes he still moaned a bit, but who wouldn’t? He took it like a champ and I think we are seeing a new Phil Hellmuth, or perhaps, the real Phil Hellmuth?

It is no surprise to me that that Phil 2.0 comes after he parts ways with UB. Whether it has relieved him of some pressure, or more likely, he doesn’t feel the need to act like the Poker Brat. Let’s face it, if Phil endorsed your products, the next best thing to winning the main event would be him flying off the handle and acting like a prick on ESPN, giving your brand lots of TV time. Were most of his temper tantrums fuelled by loyalty to UB?

Perhaps as well, not being sponsored and the new vulnerability of the poker industry has forced him to work harder on his game? Pre Black Friday you would expect him to have his pick of seven figure sponsorship deals, and while I still think he has lots of potential to earn a living just for the name branded on his baseball cap, perhaps he is playing off his own dime a bit more, thus taking it a lot more seriously?

It could be one of many things. Whatever the reason, I love the fact that the new and improved Hellmuth the player has emerged at the same time as the new and improved Hellmuth the gent (And I presume one is causal of the other, rather than just a coincidence). I still think we will see  the Brat emerge from time to time, an ego and temperament like that don’t vanish off the face of the earth, but if he keeps this up, he will certainly have a fan in me. 

Full Tilts Downfall Was Their Customer Service?

Ok, maybe it didn't directly lead to their downfall, but it certainly was a telling sign of things to come.

It sounds like an easy, and shitty, thing to say, but I always imagined Full Tilt could have gone the way they have. I am shocked on some of the minutia involved, but not surprised they are in the situation they are in.

When Black Friday happened, I had money in Stars & Tilt, I left the money in Stars and panic withdrew from Full Tilt. It was a gut reaction from years and years of experience with them, which was it seems a good move on my part. I had no previous evidence to suggest they were in financial straits, no rumours anything dodgy was happening, no inkling they were doing anything illegal - it was purely down to their customer service.

I actually was offered a job at Full Tilt a few days before Black Friday, I didn’t apply for it, I was approached by them. I probably wouldn’t have took it anyway, but my gut told me no to taking it for the same reasons (That would have sucked, leaving PokerNews for Full Tilt AND releasing my book, both on Black Friday).

Head of Customer Service at Full Tilt
In my opinion, FTP were as big as they were because of their software, and nothing else, I had money in there because of the software. I loved the software, they had some really interesting games, most notably Rush Poker, but beyond that they were awful. Getting a reply to an email was a rarity, and when you did, it was usually a cut & paste job that didn’t come close to answering your question.

This is not just their customer service team either, as a journalist and working for an affiliate they have been appalling to deal with. Even some of their sponsored pros struggled to get basic responses from them pre Black Friday.

Contrast that with Pokerstars, who not only have the best customer service in poker, they are up there with some of the best customer service I have seen full stop. At the heart of this was clarity, they kept us in the loop, even during Black Friday, questions are rarely left unanswered. You didn’t get that with FTP before Black Friday, you certainly don’t get that now.

So I withdrew my money from Full Tilt Poker on a hunch based purely on customer service, which I think is a decent barometer for these things. If you cannot show an ounce of respect to the people who are paying for you to exist, if you are not doing everything in your power to keep them happy and playing on your site, then what other crucial elements of your business are you neglecting?

We live in a world of extremely savvy consumers, the internet and social media has levelled the playing field and you can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes any more. Going forward I don’t think I am ever going to invest a significant amount of my time or money in any entity that doesn’t hold transparency and customer service in the highest of regards. 

Update: For clarity, I am referring to the people in charge at Full Tilt, not customer service reps. 

Generic Book Going OK Post

Wow, been a few weeks since a blog update. I hate these ‘quick round up of the last two weeks’ type blog posts, so let’s just get it out of the way.

Book is starting to go very well indeed, we just celebrated a big sales milestone this morning (I’m too coy to say what it is) and general interest, positive discussions on forums, and positive reviews, are all on the up and up. I’m actually yet to see a bad review if I am honest, I am sure it will happen, so I’m not getting too cocky, but it’s nice to know with a degree of certainty that we have produced a quality product.

I was aways going with this picture.
Jennifer Tilly bought a copy, which we were both pretty excited about. It’s not every day a bracelet winner, Oscar winner, and most importantly regular on Family Guy, buys your book. Jared missed out on seeing her buy the book at the Rio so he went looking for her to sign it. It made me wonder whether the owners of the book store might have just been playing a little joke on him to watch him wander round the WSOP with a pen in his hand asking if anyone had seen Jennifer Tilly.

I also have it on good authority that Brian Townsend has a copy, and he had ‘heard good things about it’ prior to getting it.

The book is also now available on amazon.co.uk (and correct me if I am wrong, but that should make it available to anyone else in the EU on their respective amazon sites).

Anyway, I haven’t been blogging so much because I have been busy with a project at PokerNews that is nearing completion. Nothing exciting, well it is kinda exciting, but not a ‘watch this space for big news exciting’, just quite interesting, kind of.

Oh well, the blog is now up to date, got an actual interesting one on its way about Hellmuth in the not too distant future. 
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