Why are you leaving Poker behind and abandoning all your friends in the poker media?
No one in the "poker media" would ask that question. It's the economy stupid. Along with the U.S. governments assault on internet freedom. With poker magazines down more than 50% in pages printed and online sites getting 90% less poker ad spots, there simply is no money left to pay for ongoing quality poker journalism. Besides that... aren't we all tired of hearing 'a queen and a queen only'?
How did you get started in the poker biz?
My poker buddy and co-author Amy Calistri called me up back in 2005 and asked me to cover a WSOP circuit event in Indiana for PokerPages. I told her I really wasn't interested and she told me that I really was but I just didn't know it yet. She was right, as she is about 50% of the time, and I started covering events for PokerPages.
Who else have you worked for in the biz?
I worked for PokerPages and then at the '06 WSOP, I wrote a Series for PokerNews, where I followed Liz Lieu, Gavin Smith and Tony G. for the entire WSOP. At the '07 Series, I started with PokerNews and then after some creative differences, I switched to CardPlayer doing their Pro Blogs. I was also writing on PokerBlog at this time for PartyPoker and covered the '08 Series on PokerBlog, while Amy and I were finishing our book with Mike Matusow. For the '09 WSOP, this past summer, I did a series with Negreanu, Hellmuth and Matusow on this little blog here. I have also written some magazine pieces and I have worked with ChiliPoker and MadeInPoker on their French language sites.
Who is the best poker player in the world?
Impossible question to answer. Day to day, year to year the success of professional poker players is dependent on table draws, suck-outs, cold weather and bad ju-ju. Johnny Moss or Stu Ungar might have been the best at one time, but today the fields are just too big to have someone dominate the game. I do have some favorites.
I learned the most about poker from Mike Matusow. Working on the book with Mike for nearly two years, I got to see him play a lot of poker and I spent a lot of time on the rail sweating him. He would often tell me his reads on the other players, so I got to watch a lot of high level poker and see the game through the eyes of a real professional.
OK, who is the best person in poker or are there any?
Well I am sure there are lots of good folks who I never met. It's actually easier to tell you about all of the idiots, jerks and fools who populate the poker rooms but on this one I do have an answer. The best person I met in five years of covering professional poker is Bill Edler. No one else even comes close. I won't go into detail, no need to embarrass Bill, but he calls everyone he likes "my friend" and he means it. I am proud to be Bill Edler's friend.
Well I gotta ask, who then are the top bad guys?
During the WSOP this past summer, I asked the senior staff a question like: "Who were the players that give you the most trouble at the tables." The list was surprisingly uniform.
Alan Kessler and Steve Zolotow were on the top of nearly every list. This is unfortunate because both Alan and Steve have some good insights about the game but they both will bitch about anything and everything, all day every day. The boys who cry wolf, as it were.
Next, came Brandon Cantu and David Singer. Again a lot of complaining about any and every aspect of the game but in this case seldom with any legitimate points. Just noize for the sake of noize.
Men Nguyen made every list for his nasty tirades against dealers and junior floor staff. The Master never takes on senior floor staff, he instead goes for the soft spots and makes a fuss about nothing. By the way if you are playing at a table with Men when he does this; his intention is to keep you from playing back at him. It's all an angle to intimidate other players. Don't fall for it.
Todd Brunson, Michael Binger and Andy Black got a lot of votes. Todd would be at the very top of my personal list because he is simply a mean, unhappy person and he often takes it out on dealers or new poker media. One would think that there was an award for random assholery.
Annie Duke would get everyone's award as Queen Bitch. Annie is much better than she used to be, but when she is in one of her moods. Well everyone, even Joe, gives her a wide berth. About as wide as what you have to give the Queen Mary under a full head of Bikram steam.
Special status goes to: Barry Greenstein, Andy Bloch and Howard Lederer. They do complain too often but most of the time they have valid points. Not always points of great import but they are generally right and therefore the staff has to take the time to listen.
Finally, most agreed that a special emeritus award has to be given to Sam Grisle for years of mean spirited nastiness.
Are the professionals really that much better than the rest of us?
Yes, so much better than ordinary players are just not able to comprehend how good they are.
Want to tell us why they are better?
For the same reason that Gretsky or Pele or Tiger Woods were just that much better than everyone else. I firmly believe you can learn a lot about poker but there is also an innate skill set that makes the really great just much better than the rest of us. I have heard the pros discuss thousands of hands and they are just taking in more information than we are and they have more options to react to that information than we do.
What's the best and the worse thing to happen to poker while you were covering it?
The takeover of poker by big corporations is my answer to both questions. Despite what the PR talking heads say, poker tournaments are run for the benefit of the sponsors and the owners not the players. On the other hand, the poker boom would never have been so big without corporate sponsorship. The main issue is, of course, money. Unless and until some of the profits from poker go back to the players, it will continue to be a game with unpaid actors making profits for the corporations.
By way of naming names, Harrah's is guilty in the sheer greed category. But the WPT wins the booby prize for complete business incompetence. The jury is still out on PokerStars and the EPT, APT, CCP and LSMFT.
Who are the best writers still covering poker?
Not that I was one of the best. I just wrote from a different perspective. A lot of very good writers have come and gone, just as I am going now. Those have to include Andy Glazer, Jay Greenspan and Amy Calistri. The best pure writer in poker now is Brad Willis. As an insider, no one finds more entertaining stories than Michael Craig. Dr Pauly is a force unto himself and I still do a complete read of the Tao once a week.
There are four or five more writers who are still doing the actual day-to-day around the felt reporting gig. Rather than insult those I leave off the list, let me just say I respect what you are doing, particularly in these times of shortened copy and small payment. Hang in there and try to enjoy the ride. Oh and one piece of advice: When the time comes, get out before you burn out.
Do you still play poker?
Not so much. I am going back to the midwest next month and will play an annual home game in Minnesota that one of my poker buddies runs. Maybe I will play one tournament at the Canterbury Park Fall Classic while I am there. But I really am done with poker. I don't have an addictive personality and given the choice between sitting through a day of Texas Hold'em or reading a good book. Well, no drunk with a baseball cap and sunglasses ever throws a Hellmuthian tantrum while I'm reading.
Any final words for the poker fans?
Read my next book, I promise to mention poker at least twice.
photo credit: archives