PokerStrategy.com Column - Is Daniel Negreanu The Saviour Of Poker?

This is a column from earlier this month, origially published at PokerStrategy.com.

negreanu robes
Negreanu in his video blog
Last week, I wrote a feature on my Top 5 Poker Troublemakers and put Daniel Negreanu in at number one. It appeared there was something of a language issue with the term "troublemaker", as it was taken by some readers to mean "criminal" or "scumbaggy".

That was completely the opposite of my intention; I actually used the word "troublemaker" to simply mean that the guys on the list start and get involved in a lot of public feuds. In particular, I referenced Negreanu as usually being on the right side of the feud, as he tends to take it upon himself to stand up for what he believes are in the best interests of poker.

He is always involved in these feuds, but recently he has taken it to another level; his outspoken video blogs on the Full Tilt story have really defined him as something of a saviour for poker.

I, for one, have loved the blogs. Not only have they been pretty entertaining, but he has also used his massive following to keep things like the FTP story firmly in the front of people's minds.

Selective criticism?

Kid Poker has a huge following
However, he has also come under some criticism for being somewhat selective with who he chooses to take shots at. Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Annie Duke have never exactly been on his Christmas card list, after all.

Some people in the poker community have asked why he isn't also speaking out in regards to some other figures who have come under scrutiny of late; players he also considers friends, such as Phil Ivey and Erik Lindgren.

The recent controversy around the second name, Erick Lindgren, has forced Negreanu's hand a little. Pressure on a lengthy 2+2 forum thread has led Negreanu to speak in more detail about the debts owed by his friend, and he has promised to make a video blog about it this month.

We all have friends who do things we are not proud of, and it cannot be easy for Daniel to have to speak publicly about this. But should he be expected to voice his opinion on his friends in the same way that he does on people like Howard Lederer and Annie Duke?

It is refreshing to see such a high profile figure candidly airing his views, particularly in an industry that is often heavily influenced by sponsors. With so many former FTP ambassadors having seemingly taken a vow of silence after the site went down, it is nice to see someone who cannot stop himself from sharing his opinions (and let's not forget, this is a man who boycotted an event run by his own sponsor).

In particular, this really is a time that we need some of the good guys to show poker in a positive light. It is becoming an all-too-regular occurrence that a once highly thought of figure in the game is exposed for having bad debt, cheating, or in some way bringing the game into disrepute. By his own admission in a video blog, Negreanu says he is "casting these stones because he is without sin", and in doing so has established himself as the 'white knight of poker'.

As a result he has created a real rock for his back, as he is inevitably going to be asked to comment on each and every scandal that transpires in poker. Because he is good friends with a lot of people on the circuit, that often means he will be asked to comment on things that could damage his personal and professional relationships.

Great power, great responsibility?

Should Negreanu fight all our battles?
It's a cliché, but with great power comes great responsibility and if Daniel is going to continue calling out culprits in the shadier side of the game, he can't expect to be able to pick and choose his battles. That is one of the prices of 150,000+ Twitter followers, 9th place ranking in the Bluff Power 20, a weekly rant video blog, a lucrative sponsorship deal, and a small army of loyal fans. 

I don't envy him this responsibility and I admire the fact that he is starting to address some subjects he probably would prefer not to. As much I believe he has made it his responsibility to fight our battles for us, I also think the poker community needs to ease up on him, not expect so much from him, and not give him too much power. He is only one man after all, and although I believe he genuinely does what he believes is in the best interests of the game; it doesn't always mean he will be right.

I think the best thing Negreanu can do in his new role as the "people's champion" of poker is to encourage people in similar positions of influence as him to speak up when they think it is appropriate. Most professional players would kill to have the following Kid Poker does, so hopefully by following his lead, and by learning from the mistakes of some of the recent poker heroes to have fallen from grace, we will see more ambassadors for the game who speak out rather than sit back and watch bad things happen.

Is Daniel Negreanu poker's only hope? Its last saviour? Is it his responsibility to rescue us from all the bad things that happen in this game? I don't think so. But I do know that Daniel Negreanu is one of the last of the "old school" generation with an untainted reputation, and poker would be in a very dark place if that ever changed.

by Barry Carter

Let's get Annie Duke's book off the top spot on Kindle

Being as everyone is back bashing Annie Duke, I thought I would wade in and point out she has the number one ranked poker book on kindle. Look at which book is number 2: 

This pretty much seems like the only shot I have at getting Daniel Negreanu to start a campaign to get The Mental Game of Poker to the top spot.

Ok its a piss weak attempt to spam our book, but I have been pretty good about not spamming this week, so allow me this indulgence.

Gavin Griffin on the Jared Tendler Mental Game Radio Show

I mentioned to Jared recently that he should get triple crown winner Gavin Griffin on his Mental Game Radio Show. Jared has had some stellar guests on already, and Gavin has recently blogged about how he is rebuilding his bankroll after suffering some heavy losses, and generally seems to be handling it emotionally very well.

So Gavin went on the show, and it became an impromptu client session, which I think went tremendously well and well worth a listen:

PokerStrategy.com Column - Why Pro-Only Poker Tours Will Never Work

This is a column written for PokerStrategy.com earlier this month. 

Epic League files for bankruptcy
This week, the company behind the Epic Poker League filed for bankruptcy after just three events. Twitter and poker forums have been engulfed with messages of "I told you so" ever since.

I myself have been very vocal on why I thought such a tour would not work, but today I do not want to take a shot at them while they are down, especially because there are people with jobs at risk. But I do want to talk about one element of the league that we see attempted time and time again, but rarely see it work.

Ever since poker went mainstream, there has been a fascination with classifying it as a sport. If we discard the fact that some of our greatest "athletes" are obese, or the fact you can win world titles while drunk (thank you, Scotty), then the sport parallel actually serves a good purpose.

Mainly, in the "cleaning up" of the image of poker. Until the boom, poker was very much a backroom game, and the perception of the players was that of second-class citizens. Taking the cowboys, gangsters, and degenerate gamblers out of the spotlight was very important for the poker industry, and treating it like a sport was the perfect way to do that.

Most poker is broadcast on sports channels, we see lots of former athletes (and celebrities) endorsing it, and the biggest players are treated like celebrities and patched up like NASCAR drivers. Poker is much more accepted by the mainstream these days, and I think the sport thing really helped that.

So thank you sport, for letting us piggy back on your good name. Unfortunately, we stayed on too long.

The PGA model

poker gold
Can poker follow the PGA model?
For years, those at the top of the game have tried to create a PGA model tour for poker. This is an invite only format, where the best of the best are invited to prove who really is the best of the best of the best...

The Epic Poker League is the best example of this, but there have been other attempts to try similar things. The Onyx Cup (which obviously never happened) and WPT spin-off, the Professional Poker Tour. Elsewhere several poker rankings systems - Bluff, Cardplayer, Global Poker Index - have been set up in an attempt to showcase who the best is.

Of course, the cynics amongst us believe that these attempts to create a PGA-style tour are largely about excluding unknown players from winning the events, and guaranteeing a "made for TV" final table. It is true that most poker viewers want to see Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Hellmuth at the same table, and this is without doubt the best reason to argue for a PGA-style tour - a marketable final table.

But we could already reach that without the hassle of creating a league; that's what shows like Poker After Dark, the NBC Heads-up Championships, High Stakes Poker, and super high roller events are for. More so, are league tables really what we want the audience want to see in poker? I would argue that the casual spectator wants to see big money and the drama of the moment, they are not coming to poker to see if their favourite player win league points.

Then of course there is the luck factor: how can anyone take a league format seriously when luck plays such a major role? Yes, the more events you play, the more it evens out, but it would take hundreds (maybe thousands) of events to truly get a realistic handle of who the best players are. A league based on a handful of events is as much a "run good" league as it is anything else.

In particular, I struggle to take such a format seriously when the participants are by no means the icons their inclusion would suggest. When many of the participants have bad debt, need a loan to play the event, or are just plain broke, it seems ridiculous they are included when money is the way we keep score in this game. The Epic Poker League's first champion, Chino Rheem, was the perfect example of this, as stories of his bad debt overshadowed his victory last year.

Removing the luck factor

It is not just the PGA-style tours that are trying to repackage poker in sporting terms. There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to over emphasise the skill factor of the game, and deny the luck all together. I have seen many attempts to create new versions of poker which promise there will be no bad beats, where the variance is somehow taken out of the equation (Usually by either stopping drawing cards when all the money goes in the middle, or by awarding prizes based on equity, not showdown) or reduced, like in duplicate poker.

Never heard of any of these formats? That's because they never work, and rarely survive long enough to be seen to fail.

Poker is inclusive

Cinderella stories are what poker thrives on
The biggest problem I have with PGA-style tours in poker is that they seem to deny the very thing which makes poker the marketable, profitable, and enjoyable game that it is.

Poker is special because it bridges the gap between the PGA tour level players and the amateur watching at home. The greatest thing that ever happened to poker was when amateur Chris Moneymaker beat the pros in the main event, and inspired millions of players to try and do the same.

The fact that a brand new player could beat a world champion is what makes poker marketable. The fact that good variance makes a bad player believe they can beat games they are a complete dog in, is what makes poker profitable. The fact that anyone can buy into a WSOP/WPT/EPT event tomorrow and get sat next to Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu, is precisely what makes poker different (and in a way, better) to any other "sport".

Yet ever since Moneymaker taught us these things in 2003, event organisers and players at the top have seemingly tried to bite the hand that feeds them, by attempting to exclude the 99.9% of players who pay their bills.

The only people who really benefit from PGA model poker events are the players who are invited to play in them. Can we please stop kissing the asses of this minority of players by giving them ridiculous sponsorship deals and added money masonic tours, and start remembering the majority that keeps the poker economy afloat?

Yes, we want to see the best players in the world on TV, but what we really want to do is play with them. That's what makes poker successful, that's why the WSOP/EPT/WPT work, that's why an online partner is vital to the success of any major event or TV show, and that is how you capture the imagination of new players. The fact that it is possible to fast-track your way to the very top, if only for a moment, is what makes poker so enticing.

The moment you close the doors in poker, you shut out everything that make it special.

by Barry Carter

@KevMath Interview

Last month I interviewed one of my heroes, Kevin @KevMath Mathers, for PokerStrategy.com. It is all about a subject very dear to me - twitter.


PokerStrategy.com Column - Phil Ivey - Hero or Villain?

Ivey last week at the LA Poker Classic
This is a column previously published on PokerStrategy.com last month. 

Last week, Phil Ivey ended his self-imposed exile of the US tournament circuit by playing (and bubbling) the LA Poker Classic. We all wondered what sort of reception he would get in the US after his eight month hiatus, given that his name has been dragged through the mud during that time.

Although the tournament itself went without much fuss for Ivey, there was something of a backlash against him on the poker forums. This is largely due to rumours that he owes Full Tilt Poker $4 million, which he has not confirmed or denied, but it is said to be one of the factors holding up a takeover by Groupe Bernard Tapie.

It is remarkable how Ivey was once the universally most admired player in the game, but is now being demonised by some sections of his former fan base. He appears to have lost his enigma status much in the same way that the man he is most often compared to, Tiger Woods, has in golf (for completely different reasons, of course).

So is this backlash warranted, or should we still let Ivey do what he does best, play poker, and stand back and admire him like we did before?

Just an employee?

The poster boy for FTP
Ivey was not one of the names indicted back in September when the DOJ first revealed the full extent of FTP's financial woes, and I don't think anyone particularly thinks he had any major role in how the company was run.

One of the biggest arguments made by people who are still his fans is that ultimately he was just an employee of the site, and should not be held responsible for its downfall.

I, for one, happen to agree with that stance. Just because someone has been considerably well paid, does not mean they should feel guilty about it. If Ivey knew nothing of what was going on in the back office at FTP, and carried out his duties in good faith, then he was just unlucky it was for a company like FTP. This is why it was particularly admirable for someone like durrrr to pledge to give the money he made at FTP back to the players.

He has probably been advised to keep quiet by his lawyers for his own good, and for the proposed takeover by GBT. Nobody wants this deal to fall through, and we certainly don't want any former pro with a profile as big as Iveys to start disrupting the takeover. Indeed, Matt Glantz and Doyle Brunson both blogged last week saying that former FTP shareholders are afraid to make public statements and then be perceived as negatively influencing the outcome of the takeover.

$4 million influence

Winning $2m last month at the Aussie Millions
But here is the problem, Ivey has already influenced the takeover. He is rumoured to owe $4 million to FTP, which according to GBT is one of the factors holding up the deal. It does seem inconceivable that $4 million is going to massively influence a takeover worth hundreds of millions, but he will still be perceived by the poker community as one of the main culprits holding up the deal until he clears the rumours of this debt up.

This is made much worse by the fact that we know he has money to burn. He started the year with a $2 million win, in a $250,000 buy-in event, at the Aussie Millions. He has also been seen playing in Macau, this week in LA, and is heavily rumoured to be RaiseOnce on PokerStars, who is involved in all the biggest cash games on the site.

The $4m he is rumoured to owe may be a drop in the ocean compared to his personal bankroll, and he may indeed have good reason not to have paid that money back yet (Like Barry Greenstein, who has said he is holding out to make sure the money goes back to the players) - but when millions of dollars of player's money is stuck on FTP and the takeover with the DOJ is in limbo; it is very difficult for any of us to be able to separate this from the fact Ivey appears to be living the high life at our expense.

Let us also not forget that it was Ivey who supposedly had the player's interests at heart when, back in June 2011, he boycotted the WSOP and filed a lawsuit against Tiltware. The reasons he claimed he did this was because he was embarrassed that FTP had not paid back the players the money they owed and wanted to force them into action. He stated:

"I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible."

That statement does seem laughable right now. Ivey is now competing in the biggest games around, winning seven-figure sums and pictured wearing a $90k watch, while FTP players have made no progress since. Not only has he not found a solution; he is potentially holding one up by not paying back money he is said to owe.

There are of course other FTP shareholders who are remaining quiet, as well as players who are said to owe money to FTP who have not confirmed or denied their debt, but continue to play. Ivey has the focus on him because he is the highest profile, is rumoured to owe one of the largest amounts, has publicly won the most money since rumours of his debt, and most importantly has previously claimed to be acting in the best interest of FTP players.

Hero or villain?

Hero or villain?
Phil Ivey was the poster boy for Full Tilt Poker, he was without doubt their biggest ambassador, brought in thousands of new players, and was clearly one of the shareholders who profited the most from the site.

Although he currently has no legal obligation to address the speculation surrounding him, he really should. The poker players he claimed to be defending when he filed the Tiltware lawsuit are not only still wondering if they will ever see their money again, they are also wondering if Phil is part of the reason why the GBT deal still has not happened. And all this while Phil is making headlines for living it up with money which appears to have been made at our expense.

No, he has no obligations at all, but if he ever wants to return to being the hero of poker we all once knew and loved, the hero he purported to be when he boycotted the WSOP for our benefit, he needs to address some of the speculation and uncertainty around him, instead of pretending that Full Tilt never happened.

Tell us your opinion. Is Phil Ivey still a poker hero? Do you think he owes the poker community some of the money he made at FTP? Tell us your thoughts in the comments box.

by Barry Carter

Bluff Power 20

I am surprised with myself for not disagreeing with the Bluff Power 20 too much this year. I really expected to hate the list for being too US-centric, as it traditionally has been, when I firmly believe that the European poker industry is much stronger than our buddies over the pond. 

However a quick chat with Lance Bradley of Bluff turned me around on the subject. He rightly pointed out that the European names voted for were all over the place, whereas all the US names were unanimous. That makes sense, the US poker industry is obviously very centralised - whereas in Europe it is widespread and numerous.
Each country in Europe has their own market, many of which are very strong - UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Scandinavia, Holland etc. Although European poker is in a much healthier state overall, a big name in the UK is not likely to be a big name in the Germany, a big name in Germany not likely to be big in Italy etc. 

I was delighted to see Dominik Kofert included, and think he should have been higher up. He is a very influential guy in person, and has already made me change a few long held beliefs about the industry since I have been working for him. From a personal perspective, I was equally as pleased to see PokerStrategy.com recognised for its news content in 2011, given that is what I left PokerNews to do last year: 

"In 2011 the site became one of the leaders in not only poker strategy articles and videos but poker news and continues to be the world’s most popular poker content site – even more popular than PokerNews.com."

But I still have love for PokerNews and happy to see Tony G just above Dominik in the rankings. I think it makes sense that Tony was above Dominik, although I would say PokerStrategy is the dominant website, Tony is also a big name at PartyPoker, on TV all the time, and a very influential figure on the circuit. Both guys should have been higher. 

LOL at Annie Duke being in there at all. I don't think she deserved a place even if the Epic League was still liquid. I don't want to join in the 'Annie bashing' that is a staple part of poker culture at the moment, but she does have a really bad reputation at the moment and I do not see how she has a positive influence on poker at the moment. 

I would also have maybe put Negreanu a few places higher. I hate to say it, I really do......but I am starting to become a bit of a fanboy of his. Always loved to watch him play, but he tended to annoy me with his outspokenness. However, I have really enjoyed it of late, his video blogs are quite funny, and while every former FTP pro has not said shit for 9 months, its nice that someone in a position of power is putting his neck on the line and saying what he thinks. 

I am sure he will start annoying me again soon enough. 

PokerStrategy.com Column - The Future is Mobile

The way we consume media is changing
Below is one of my most recent columns for PokerStrategy.com from last month. 

Last year, you may recall me getting excited at the possibility of Facebook Poker. Today, I am excited at the reality of mobile poker.

Yesterday, I conducted an interview with the man behind the PokerStars mobile app, Jeffrey Haas. He made a very strong case for the future of mobile poker, but I was sold anyway. As soon as I got that app in my hands, I knew it was a game changer.

Onto the app itself for a moment: it is simply a brilliantly designed and very usable poker client. It looks good, runs smoothly and for the overall experience, you don't really feel like you are missing anything major that someone on the main PokerStars client has. You can even multi-table quite seamlessly, which is a surprise for such an early model.

I am yet to meet anyone from the UK who has tried this app and did not automatically fall in love with it, and that is what is really exciting me. Anyone who has tried it is raving about it, and already pondering the different scenarios in which they can play it - at live tournaments when they bust, on the bus, on the toilet....

The response reminds me of when another exciting change came onto the online poker landscape - Rush Poker. It was similarly positive and instantly addictive. So, when you factor in that we are weeks away from PokerStars launching Zoom, their own version of a fast-moving ring game, there appears to be some fun times ahead for mobile players.

PokerStars were not the first to launch a real money mobile poker app, but being the biggest poker room in the world, and boasting such a well designed product; they are clearly the room that has lit the fuse for the mobile poker boom.

50% mobile traffic by 2014?

pokerstars mobile
PokerStars Mobile
In his interview, Jeffrey Haas speculated that 25% of PokerStars's traffic could come from this mobile app by the end of the year, and nearly 50% by the end of 2013. I tweeted this prior to the interview going live, and was widely met with derision - nobody could believe it was even close to possible.

It might be because he did such a solid job convincing me in our interview, but I happen to believe Haas's prediction, or at least think it will come very close. There are some important things to consider here:

First of all, he said traffic, not revenue. We are a long way off any app enabling players to 20-table effectively, which means the high raking professional players will still be relying on big monitors and software for the foreseeable future. I doubt we will ever see a Supernova Elite achieving their status on a phone or tablet, but I do envision the majority of Star's players coming from this app in the future.

This is mainly because the PC is no longer the hardware of choice for most internet consumers. Since the launch of the iPad and similar tablet devices (and the increasing sophistication of smartphones), PC and laptop sales have been in dramatic decline. They will never disappear, but most people do not need a computer for anything other than surfing the web, checking email, and playing games. A light tablet device is a much better option for most consumers than a big bulky computer.

The ease of use of tablet devices also means that they are being bought by people who would never have otherwise bought a computer. Tablets are becoming very fashionable, especially among demographics like women and older people - demographics that would never otherwise have even considered the thought of online poker.

And this really is the vision of PokerStrategy.com CEO Dominik {communitylink=Korn+level} Kofert in his latest column, The Future of Poker. In it, he urges operators to market poker more as a fun video game to new demographics, and I think mobile poker does just that.

Who will be next for mobile poker?

Is this what multi-tabling will look like?
I think Haas's prediction of 50% app-based traffic by the end of 2013 is accurate, because I think that most internet traffic will be phone and tablet based by then.

Not only do I think that PokerStars will see this trend in their liquidity, most of the other operators are going to have to hurry up their own efforts to launch a mobile platform, so it might be the same across the board. 

PartyPoker confirmed to us that they would be mobile in 2012, Bwin already is, and should Full Tilt ever relaunch, they already had an existing app. Elsewhere, it is looking more and more likely that Zynga is going to enter the real-money arena sooner rather than later.

Of course there are some concerns about mobile poker. For example, I have a horrible feeling they will make live poker games a lot slower and less sociable, as combined with tweeting chip counts and playing mobile between hands, live players will struggle to look up from their mobile phones.

Another big concern with mobile is addictive behaviour. Not only is gambling a potential addiction, so is using your mobile phone. Email, internet, and mobile addiction are all becoming very real, very serious problems. Someone with a gambling problem who all of a sudden has the ability to play poker during their lunch break at work is going to be in a very vulnerable position.

But I must point out very quickly that we cannot possibly put the blame on PokerStars, or any other mobile poker operator, should this become an issue. People have always been able to gamble, and the same would no doubt have been said when online gambling first surfaced over a decade ago. Mobile devices might allow an addiction to surface sooner, but removing mobile devices will not stop problem gambling; it will simply change where it takes place.

Whether you believe that 50% of online poker will be played on a mobile app by the end of the year or not, it is pretty clear that mobile poker is going to have a significant impact on the game, and it is hard to see it being anything but the positive impact poker has been looking for.

Find out more about the PokerStars Mobile app

by Barry Carter

Luckboxed Shares In A Good Greyhound

I know nothing about Greyhounds, but I love dogs, so I was delighted to get shares in a puppy as a Christmas present in 2010.

It seems I might have luckboxed myself a good one. Bubbly Romeo is his name, and after he has just won three races in a row where he was an underdog. He has only been running about a month, and has so far come 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st.

The Daily Star seem to think he has potential too. By all accounts he is a slow starter, but very fast, and the handlers think that if he starts running in longer distance races, he could do very well.

I doubt I will be quitting work any time soon, I have a modest 'fun' share in him, but its certainly nice having someone to cheer on - especially after Sheffield Wednesday decided to throw the season away yesterday.

Copyright © Barry Carter Poker