Poker Awards and Bluff Power 20

No this blog is not dead, I'll explain why I've been AWOL for a few months shortly.

2013 is going to start very hectically for yours truly. I'm proud to say I have been selected (once again) to judge the European Poker Awards. This year alongside me are two of my genuine poker heroes, Jesse May and Joe Beevers, so I am really looking forward to it.

I have also been selected (for the first time) to be on the panel of 50 to select the Bluff Power 20 next year. I don't consider this to be an awards system, I genuinely think its a fascinating snapshot of our industry. You only have to look at how much it has evolved in the last three years, from being quite player centric to very industry and regulatory focussed. I'm a tad nervous for the simple reason I am not as versed on the US politician side of things, but I do feel I have a few suggestions for people who have been quite overlooked in recent years - I'll share my personal 20 when I've done it.

Still mega busy with PokerStrategy.com, still love the place, they really are the best company I've worked for in poker.

But most of all, this has been keeping me busy, you can see what the fuss about is in April:

Poker Marketing on a Budget

On the flipside of getting asked a lot about how to get into poker writing, I also find myself being asked for advice from poker rooms, players, and businesses on how to promote their brand. Editorial and marketing have always been closely linked and I would say more than average in poker, what with affiliates playing such a big part in both and the community being so small. 

I've also done a lot of marketing first hand: Occasionally in my roles at PokerNews/PokerStrategy, for my own book and Jared Tendler's services, on occasions as favours to friends and on a paid consultancy basis. Usually I'm giving advice to people on a budget, since the big boys tend to have their own teams and outside consultants doing it. 
This is generally what I say to people who ask me for help marketing something within poker:

Don't pay for advertising: If you are on a budget, I really think it is the kiss of death to pay for the bog-standard forms of advertising like print adverts or online banner ads. The human mind is now so used to seeing adverts on a minute to minute basis that it does a very good job of filtering adverts out unless they are really eye catching. This is not to say they do not work, simply that if the resources are tight then there are much more affordable and engaging ways to promote your brand. 

2+2 Commercial Marketplace: One paid exception I would make for a lot of poker related products is the commercial marketplace on 2+2. This is because not only is 2+2 the biggest English speaking poker community in the world, it also let's you discuss your product on the forum. As you can imagine the moderators have to fend off a lot of spam and poker entrepreneurs who start threads about their product are likely get their posts taken down quickly. 

While a commercial marketplace listing does not give you free reign to spam the rest of the forum, it does allow you to discuss it much more freely. The commercial marketplace is not in the most visited part of the forum, but if a discussion starts about your product elsewhere A) You are much less likely to have it removed and B) You can post in the thread saying "Hi, if you have any questions check out our thread in the commercial marketplace"

We have a commerical marketplace thread for The Mental Game of Poker and we think it has been worth every penny. The cost starts at $100 a month to $1,000 for a year.  

$1,000 for a year really is a steal. It stays on there for a year, you can update and moderate it, and most importantly you can engage with potential customers on the biggest English forum in poker. Compare that to a print magazine ad where it will cost more than $1,000 for a single page advert, and there is no comparison. 

Free content: I've mentioned I'm several other blog posts before but media budgets are not what they used to be. Magazines and websites are always on the lookout for free content and most will be happy to let you promote your product I'm exchange it (as long as it does not present a conflict of interest with an advertiser).

The content has to be genuine content and not just a straightforward advert. Therefore it should usually be on a related topic rather than a direct "buy this" call to action. For example in this Hendon Mob article, tournament organiser Mike Lacey promoted his recent six max event by writing a series of columns about organising poker events. The articles were about poker events in general and only made passing references to his own event until the final signoff. It is quite clear he had an event to promote but it is also quite clearly informative series of features which the readers will find interesting. 

This is what we did with the Mental Game of Poker, we wrote a number of poker psychology articles and gave free excerpts to mags and websites in the early stages of the book. This was where our potential audience was already looking for this sort of content and in exchange for a hyperlink to our book, everyone involved was happy - we were happy with the exposure, the media sites and (hopefully) the audience were happy with the content. 

The trick is to really ease off the spam. You have to first give the reader something they can appreciate on its own merit. That way they will like and trust you and hopefully want to find out more, and they will have the web address in front of them to do just that. 

Guest on shows/podcasts: In much the same vain, there are tons of podcasts in poker trying to get guests to fill a show so just volunteer yourself to go on. Once again, don't just advertise your stuff and leave, talk about the issues of the day, be fun and informative, and as a courtesy the presenters will also ask you about your product. If you are ever in the London area, try and get on Sky Poker as a guest, as that is a huge opportunity and as long as you are fun and respectful of the very close community they nurture they have, it could be a win-win. 

Press release: I have already written about putting together and planning a poker press release, so I'll direct you to that instead. 

Plant a story: A funny thing I have observed about poker media sites (and I'm sure it's the same in other industries) is that sometimes they will ignore a press release, but run the story after someone else has done it first. Poker media sites look towards each other first before they look to information being offered to them. So if you are finding your press release has not gained momentum, the next step I would suggest is taking a personal approach and trying to get a contact at a poker media site to run the story as a favour, or get (or even set up) some poker blogs to run the story, or get some friends to post the a story about it on a popular poker forum. 

It is probably because poker media sites are much more likely to trust their peers and the poker community than someone trying to sell something that this happens. Once a story is on a major like PokerNews, PokerStrategy, Bluff, 2+2, PocketFives or CardPlayer, it is much more likely to get picked up by the rest. Not only is this because of the added legitimacy given by the site, but also because there is now more of a sense that "the poker community is talking about this" and the sense of urgency grows. 

Sponsorships: I've mentioned not paying for forms of advertising and the same largely goes for sponsoring people or things. I see no value in paying to put a patch on somebody, even if they make a major final table (In fact you may find if it is a televised final table they may have strict T&Cs meaning they have to remove the patch anyway). However, if you do have a budget and really want to, learn the lesson from the 2+2 commercial marketplace and sponsor something engaging. 

Sponsor something where you know poker players congregate and wont just ignore your branding. Forums are a great example because this is where poker players meet up and engage with each other. They don't do it anymore but Blondepoker used to have people sponsor individual sub-forums and I think this was quite good value for the sponsors. It allowed them to talk directly with community members and also put them in a positive light as most poker forums are non-profit, meaning the sponsors were viewed as helping the forum stay alive.

If not forums then Podcasts could be a decent alternative, the blogs of very popular poker people or community based poker events. By this I don't mean sponsor a £1,000 buy-in tournament at the EPT, I mean sponsor a £30 'meetup' tournament at DTD for a popular poker community. Something where the people involved have something personally invested in the brand, rather than a standard big money tournament with no personal involvement whatsoever. 

UPDATE 11/10 - PokerFuse Sponsored Posts: This was brought to my attention after I posted this blog initially, but I loved it so much I've updated my post. I have been one of the biggest cheerleaders for PokerFuse since they got going and it is for stuff like this. They have some space on their site which most people use for banner adds/affiliate links, but instead they have sponsored blog posts.

They allow an advertiser to put a featured post about their product on the homepage, and (depending on the package) change it as often as they want. This means they can share much more information than a traditional ad, it appears very much like a regular blog post so it is more likely people will look at it, and the fact that advertisers can change it regularly gives them a greater feeling of control and engagement. I mentioned at the top of this blog that we all are preconditioned to filter out advertisements and the fact I didn't notice these sooner possibly suggests I had still filtered them out, but either way it is still clearly a much more engaging way of advertising. I love the idea. The packages are also reasonably priced, and PokerFuse have such a great reputation in the industry (Because they proudly refuse to be an affiliate site) that aligning your brand with them will be well received.

Social media: I can't even begin to state the importance of social media, there is simply too much twitter advice out there for me to summarise here (There might be a blog or two coming however). You either need to get someone in your team to spend a lot of researching and becoming a social media expert for you brand, or pay someone to do it for you. Ideally the first one. Social media is both a marketing AND a customer service tool, and ideally the voice of your social media should be someone who represents the core values of your company rather than a paid outsider. But if you don't have time or can't get your head around it, make sure you hire someone who is both an expert in social media and an expert in poker, it needs to be a mix of both otherwise it will look disingenuous (Case in point, check out Phil Ivey's joke of a twitter feed, which is clearly ran by a social media expert with little knowledge of poker). 

And forgodsake ask @kevmath for a retweet. 

Poker Media Tools of the Trade (What I use every day)

Recently I have found myself explaining the benefits of a number of apps, software and hardware to other writers, so here they are for the world to see. I'm sure if I look back on this post in a couple of years time it will appear horribly out of date, but right now these are the tools I use as a poker news editor, most of which are on a daily basis. 

A computer, a smartphone: LDO

Skype: This one also seems obvious but I know enough people who don't use it to mention it. Most poker players use Skype in some way or other and it is the perfect tool for interviewing people. Jared and I wrote our entire book over Skype so obviously I am a big fan.

Pamela for Skype: Speaking of interviews on Skype, this is the best Skype recording software I know of.  The sound quality is almost exactly how it sounded at the time and it is good enough for prerecorded podcast interviews. It runs quite seamlessly in the background and when you start a new Skype call a small pop-up will ask you if you want this call recorded. There are loads of other features including video recording, but I only use it for audio interviews. The Professional version is well worth the £25 I paid for it (The free version only records up to 15 minutes)

Recorder app: For in-person interviews, there are tons of good dictaphone apps for smartphones. The differences between each one are marginal, but make sure you get one which records for long periods as some have 15 min max durations - usually because they have a paid app with the longer record periods. Get one with good reviews and costs less than a quid or is free, I use one called iProRecorder for the iPhone which does the job fine. 

With regards to the above two recording tools - it really is imperative that you record your interviews. Not only does it remove any ambiguity when you write them up, it also covers your back if the subject later claims to be misquoted. 

Evernote: A free application which is really a must for anyone, not just writers. Evernote stores written documents on a cloud basis, meaning you can log into it anywhere (Someone else's PC, your phone, tablets, a web browser) and you will instantly have all your work at your finger tips. You can also store files, images, video files etc on it.

It is an incredibly useful tool for organising your work and your life in general. It is not as pretty as OneNote and it is not as fluid to write on as Word, but overall it is the best thing out there. I write all my drafts on Evernote and I can pick them up anywhere. Jared and I also write all our drafts for our upcoming book on a shared Evernote account. Which means when I have finished writing a section it is there waiting for him, and vice versa. 

It doesn't look easy to use when you first start, but I insist you power through that first couple of days, because it is a life saver. 

Tablet: This is quite specifically for those guys that report live for poker tournaments. I just cannot see how an iPad or equivalent is not the best way report in tournaments in real-time, especially a you can stand with it from the rail. 

I haven't done live reporting in a long time, but when I did, you had to stand at the sidelines of a table with a pad and pen (I know, how 2007) and then run across a card room floor, usually up a flight of stairs and round two corners to the media room, to find someone is sat in your seat, you have to log back on to your PC and by then you have forgotten the hand and your notes make no sense. 

Having a tablet to hand will surely eliminate all that, allow you update very quickly, and also means you will not miss any key action while you are legging it back to the media room. 

Tweetdeck: Twitter is the first place for breaking news these days and this handy programme is a great way of filtering the information that comes through. I have bespoke lists for news sites, players, industry experts and even keywords (Like black friday, mental game of poker etc).

There are lots of tools for viewing Twitter out there, Hootsuite is another one which is great if you are sending a lot of tweets for example, but I find Tweetdeck is the easiest, prettiest and most robust version available for those of us who want to consume social media in an efficient way.  

GingerIt: The spellcheckers that come with Word/Chrome etc are not that good for grammar, they generally just correct spelling. GingerIt is a free grammar checking tool that is good for finding the less obvious grammatical errors, repeated words etc. I have tried lots of different proofreading tools and none of them are perfect, they all miss the more subtle errors so they will never replace you doing the proof reading entirely, but the thing I like about GingerIt is that it sits in the background of your PC and you can set it to work by pressing F2 while you are in the document you need checking. 

Clippings: If you find yourself regularly copying and pasting the same text or HTML code, clippings is a browser based way of saving lots of them so that they are available every time. I find this invaluable because working with web content I need to have a lot of complex HTML code to hand and this way I have it at the click of a mouse. 

For example, at PokerStrategy.com I have a signoff for my columns, which is my name, in Italics, which is linked to a profile page with examples of my previous work. It would be a pain in the arse to have to find that page, link to it, and put my name in italics every time, so with clippings I can just right click, and it is waiting there for me to press with two clicks. 

You can get clippings installed with Chrome and Firefox. 

Camera: I've actually put this mainly because people would ask why I hadn't put this if didn't. It's great if you can get yourself a badass SLR camera that also does HD film recording etc, and in some instances (If you specifically produce video for example) you might need it. But I find that that owning a great camera these days is not mandatory. The people who require good images (Live tournament updates and magazines for example) tend to have that covered and 9 times out of 10 a solid camera phone is usually fine for everything else. The one thing I would say is that always make sure your camera, be it phone or proper one, is set to the largest picture size setting, as that way it is easy for print magazines to use your images as they need very high resolution pictures. 

Camtasia: This is another one that is not mandatory at all but I get guys asking me what it is. Ever wondered what software poker coaches use in training videos to film their desktop while they play? That's Camtasia. It is not cheap and I understand the Mac has a good free equivalent built in. 

Quoted in the Daily Mail Phil Ivey Story

For those of you currently following the Phil Ivey/Crockfords' Casino story you may have noticed I get quoted in today's feature by the Daily Mail. I got a call yesterday from them while I was having Sunday lunch and they wanted an 'expert' to help them understand how Ivey could have possibly cheated at Punto Banco. It was a mix of vanity and boredom that led me to allow them to quote me and answer their questions. 

After I did the interview I started to wish I hadn't, just because you hear horror stories of being misquoted, especially from the Daily Mail. It's not my favourite paper by any stretch of the imagination. For the recorded, they didn't misquote me at all, some of the words are out here and there, but the crux of what I said is there. 
But even though they didn't misquote me, I have this weird inclination to back up what I said and didn't say. This is partially because I've had a couple of other mainstream media outlets asking me to speak about this story and I can see the potential for it to spiral a bit.

I started the interview by making sure they knew I knew very little about the game Punto Banco. My comments about probability, skill, edge etc were entirely in the context of house games vs poker, not specifically Punto Banco. Initially they rang me to see if Ivey could have in any way influenced the odds of a house game, which I told them he could not, based on what they reported about no evidence of tampering. I think initially they may have wanted to explore the possibility of him cheating more, but I quickly scuppered that.  

The article did the usual thing of misinterpreting Ivey's results, as all mainstream media do with poker players, claiming he won £10 million in one tournament. Clearly I didn't say that as I know the Hendon Mob database very well. 

I'd love to know where they got their information about Ivey taking the casino to court, because I didn't mention anything and at the time of the interview they seemed under the impression that he didn't have any legal recourse. I did, however, inform them about the 2005 gambling act which now states that gambling winnings are now enforceable. Makes me wonder if they received some information about Ivey pursuing this in court, or if they just made that bit up (Cynical ain't I?).

I must say as much as I am not a fan of the Daily Mail, it was nice for them to actually defend a poker player. Most mainstream poker stories tend to paint poker in a negative light, but this time around it seems the casino was painted as the thing villain. 

Later on today I got a few other requests to do interviews, including one with CNN, I turned them down. I can talk all day about poker and would have happily done it if it were more poker related, but as it really was a discussion about bricks and mortar casinos and the 2005 gambling act, I decided I was on a hiding to nothing if I did them. I know plenty about both subjects, but nowhere near the same level as I do poker. 

I also didn't want to get overly linked with Phil Ivey, considering I don't even know him. I was worried I would come across as an Ivey fanboy, which I'm not (As this recent column I did on him shows), I just don't think he cheated. 
Oh well, I think I got away with not looking like a berk, and I got a book plug in there too.

Lessons in Poker Book Self Publishing: What I Would Have Done Differentely

Jared and myself are now well under way with The Mental Game of Poker 2, the sequel to our well received first book. It may have a similar name, but it is completely new material and I think it has the potential to be better than the original.

The first book concentrated on mental game leaks - tilt, fear, motivation and confidence problems. This new book is all about playing your absolute best - the zone, A game, focus, learning etc. 

The book was the most gratifying thing I've ever done and we have both been blown away by the reviews, the response, and the sales. As this blog is now very focussed on the poker media side of things, I thought I might look back in hindsight at what publishing mistakes we made and how we will do things differently this time around. 

Amazon from the start
The biggest error we both made as fledgling authors was waiting a long time before we put the book on Amazon. We had our own standalone site with a shopping cart to take orders, and we both thought it would be a mistake to pay a cut to Amazon to do what we were doing ourselves. 

This time the book will be on there from day 1. Amazon want you to succeed and they have so many in-built algorithms to get your book out there to the right people, whether it is their top ten search listings or the "people who bought this also bought this" prompts, it really is the only place you really need to sell your book.

Amazon is to books what google is to every other business. It is where people wanting to buy books go, and you have to be there from day one. 

Kindle from the start too
We really dragged our heels with Kindle for a number of reasons, but mainly because I (Not Jared, me) was scared to death of piracy. The reality is that digital sales are reinvigorating, rather than cannabalising, the book industry. 

Yes we might get some people finding illegal copies of it, but we have found that figure is dwarfed by the number of people buying it who probably would never have done pre-kindle, especially as you can also buy it for iPads, mobile phones, and your PC too. 

Our kindle sales outnumber softcover sales by about 2-1 at the moment, I only expect that gap to widen by the time we release the new book. 

I alluded to this in my previous blog about the poker book industry. In the early stages we would get quite anxious about why our book wasn't seeing big spikes in sales when it would get mentioned on big poker sites. We assumed that a sheer mention on a site like PokerNews should = x sales. 

What we found was that by putting some hard work in early, the book started to market itself later. Around 7 or 8 months in we saw a massive spike in sales which never decreased, all of which has to be put down to word of mouth. 

This time we are hoping that because we have built up a ready made audience for the first book, we should expect to see some strong early sales, but if we don't we will not fret too much about it. 

All books ready for shipping on day 1
We were in such a rush to get the books out last time we didn't have all our softcover books ready for the day people were supposed to get them (Not entirely our fault, as there was an error at the printers end). This led us to have to send a grovelling apology to many of them, which hurt double as they were the guys who took the time out to pre-order the book. 

This time we have planned much farther ahead to make sure we have the book ready hopefully a full three months before our projected publication date. This is particularly important to me, as an avid book worm myself I know how quickly your enthusiasm for a book cane wane if you have to wait a long time for it. 
Hire a good editor
We actually did hire an editor, but unfortunately the document seemed to have more errors after than before, so we had to get another who did a great job, but it really delayed things. 
No matter how great you are at proof reading, I think it is near impossible to proof read an entire book you wrote yourself. You have too much involvement and your mind automatically fills in gaps and overlooks spelling mistakes because you are reading it on a different level to your audience. 
One big criticism self published authors get is that they are poorly edited, and this is a mistake we wont make again. 

The Lederer Files from a Poker Media Perspective

The PokerNews interview of Howard Lederer is understandably the only thing anyone is talking about right now. I don't think I can add anything of extra substance to the unraveling story of Full Tilt's demise, but the manner in which it was reported does fall under my niche.

PokerNews and interviewer Matt Parvis have come in for some criticism for how the interview was conducted. In particular some of the feedback includes not asking some important follow up questions, not asking questions such as why Howard Lederer did not return some of his own FTP distributions when the company needed them and generally letting Howard control the pace of the interview.

I think industry expert Bill Rini explains why this happened perfectly:

First off, I’ve mentioned Ray and the board being in over their heads so I should mention that Matthew Parvis is also in way over his head in this interview. I don’t mean that as an insult to Parvis but what this interview needed was someone who had more intimate knowledge of the people and the business.

There were just too many opportunities for him to ask follow up questions that he missed because he just didn’t know Howard was making a factually incorrect statement. For instance, as I mentioned in the previous comments on the interview, everyone in the industry did a spit-take when they heard Howard say that player money segregation was not something anybody was thinking about.

If you were in the business on the operator side or had a solid knowledge of how online poker rooms work, you would have really nailed him down on that.

In the end, it became just a fluff, PR piece for Howard and his allies. Howard outplayed Parvis and was able to avoid lines of questioning that would have forced him to admit wrongdoings.

There are so many moments where I’m shouting at the computer for Parvis to hit him with this or that fact or to force Lederer to address a logical inconsistency but it just flies right by with Parvis moving right on to the next question.

Like I said, I don’t blame Parvis per se. This is the biggest interview in the entire poker world. I don’t know if any current poker media journalist would have been better prepared for it. It’s a tough gig and you have to know going in that nobody is going to be 100% satisfied with what you end up getting out of Howard.

Would a 60 Minutes reporter be better prepared? I think so. A lot of investigative journalists would have had the money and resources to do all of the background checking before they sat down. But, our industry hasn’t matured to that point yet so Howard had a bit of an edge since he already knew what he was going to say and Parvis had to try and keep up. Howard had a year and a half to anticipate the most burning questions while Parvis had no idea what Howard’s responses would be.

Lederer is a smart guy. It was never going to be easy to pin him down. 
I mean, what color would Howard have turned if Parvis had known Howard had intended on throwing Juanda, Perry, and Ivey under the bus and interviewed them first so he could counter Howard’s one-sided view of events? 

What’s that one rule they teach to trial lawyers, “don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.” That seems like a pretty good rule of thumb for journalists as well.

I'd like to expand on what Bill said here. Plenty was missing from the Lederer Files but I'm not sure many of Matt's peers could have done much a better job (Other than asking the distributions question, which I'll get to),  I know I couldn't have. The poker media is too immature to do a job this big justice. Back when Matt and I started the only thing we reported on was "man wins poker tournament" and "wow look at that PartyPoker bonus". All of us were suddenly thrust into grown-up news reporting when Black Friday happened. 

This is the first time a 60 minutes style interview has happened in poker. It was never going to please everyone. I'm glad PokerNews did not go too far down the other road of going in all guns blazing, calling Lederer a prick, and screaming at him asking for our money back. At least the way it was reported this way around allowed Lederer to be himself (Or at least the Lederer he wanted to portray).

Earlier this month I blogged about how poker media sites make money, and this is also a telling factor into how something like the Lederer Files was reported. There is no budget for investigative journalism and little opportunity to make much money from such a big exclusive. PokerNews probably made a loss on the interview as a whole, the traffic it brought in was unlikely to have compensated the expenses and man hours needed to produce it, so it was unlikely they had much time or resource to research ahead of time. 

Back to the subject of missing out one of the most important questions; why didn't Howard give back some of his personal FTP distributions to help the site? I actually assumed that Howard had some editorial control over part of the interview and what was asked (In exchange for giving the interview in the first place). I was surprised to hear in a blog post just released by Matt Parvis that this was not the case, they had full control and it was just a sheer oversight by him. 

If I had been charged with the task of interviewing Howard the first thing I would have done is give the job to someone else and helped out behind the scenes instead. Matt is one of the bosses at PokerNews, he doesn't actually produce the content day to day, and this is perhaps the reason why he should have delegated it elsewhere. But hats off to him for taking on the toughest job in poker journalism and no doubt protecting his own staff in the process.

I personally would have invited a real expert in this story to do this job, possibly bringing in a partner from outside the company. A Diamond Flush, a Noah SD, the guys at PokerFuse, or my PokerStrategy colleague Matt Kaufman. If that wasn't possible I would have at least crowd sourced my questions and research with industry experts outside of my company (which I am sure is what happened to some extent). 

If Howard does do his proposed follow up interview with 2+2 we might get the interview we wanted (I have a feeling that won't happen, hope I'm wrong). Even though it was flawed we still got something from PokerNews here. We know a lot more about Howard and the FTP story than we did a week ago and other than the one key question (at least for me) that was missing, I'm not sure many of my peers would have done a significantly better job. 

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