Daniel Negreanu

Interview date: November, 2018

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(Credit: Neil Stoddart/Rational Intellectual Holdings Ltd.)

What prompted your tweet [of September 2017] when you said you weren’t “as good as these guys”?
In the last two years we’ve seen an advancement in technology across many domains, and poker is no different. Some of the new software programs and artificial intelligence have expedited learning curves for a lot of young players to the point that they’re playing a whole lot better. I wasn’t using any of these added tools to improve my game, so I found that the people who were using these tools…it’s like being a player who’s always played a certain way and all of a sudden is playing against robots who play very, very well. It was very difficult without having an understanding of what they were doing.

Was it just the software?
At the highest level, in the high roller events, it’s 100,000 percent related to the software. Obviously skill levels have gotten better with time, which is to be expected, but the exponential rate in which, at the highest levels, the learning curve just jumped was 100 percent based on computer solvers.

Piosolver?
Sure, that’s one of them. Different people use different solvers but Pio is probably the one that is the most well known.

What characterises an elite player — maybe the top 40 in the world?
I don’t know…40 is a wide number to say that there are characteristics that they all share, but there’s going to be some common themes. One is an underestimation from guys like Phil Hellmuth that they’re actually quite good at reading physical tells and picking up on live reads: posture, eyes, breathing patterns, all these types of things. But most importantly, what the top 40 would share would be a much deeper, fundamental understanding of game theory and how to apply it. Adaptation of it. The best 40 players will use game theory and what’s called explotative play, which is when you deviate from game theory and combine those two. And that’s when you have a really deadly poker player.

How has poker moved into a mechanical direction?
Obviously with software and computer learning, most of the younger players came up that way. That’s not to say the old romantic Hollywood, physical tells or Oreo cookies from Rounders are not a thing. It’s actually much more sophisticated and scientific now. There’s so much more footage you can find online of various players that you can put them in a database. I know that these exist, where, say, if I want to watch Stephen Chidwick, I can watch all the hands he’s played in the last year: the bluffs, when he had the good hands, and I can cross-reference them and look for any kind of tendencies. Even with that, the old school romantic side of poker, that’s become sophisticated as well.

What does a new player do off the table that’s new?
Study. Study with the solvers. But in addition to that, we’ve seen a definite trend among the higher end players towards some kind of meditative, emotional intelligence, taking care of your physical being, taking care of your mind. When I started playing poker, most people were smoking cigars, cigarettes and drinking whisky while they played. Today people are ordering specific meals that they find healthy, going to the gym, and taking care of themselves. Taking it far more seriously than when I started.

What about bankroll management?
The old school gambler, who would put all his money on the table and just hope it worked out, they’re kind of a dying breed. The younger generation diversify. So, for example, you may see a player win $5 million and think, “Wow, that’s a lot of money.” Actually, he’s probably only won $200,000, which is crazy. You might think how could he win $5 million and only get $200,000. It’s because a lot of these players are playing where they’re selling percentages of themselves, all the way down to where they may be playing for as little as 1% of the prize pool, on a freeroll of some sort. Much more cautious, and intelligent, and realising that if you’re not careful with your bankroll then you will go broke. The younger generation doesn’t do that, like mine did.

How do you feel about playing against someone with 1% of themselves?
It doesn’t matter much to me, because I’m so accustomed to it. If anything, it does free them up a little bit to feel comfortable playing high pressure situations. If a decision actually made the difference between them actually getting $3 million, or $1.5 million, they may play vastly differently under financial pressure. But if they’re only playing for 1% and the numbers are much smaller and much more comfortable, then they’ll feel a lot more freed up to play whatever they think is the best move.

How do you move through the ranks these days?
It’s easier now, to not only learn how to play but to become a professional poker player than it ever was. That’s not to say the game is easier — it’s much more difficult — but there are so many more resources. Today you can spend all your days not even spending a penny, watching Twitch streams: Lex Veldhuis or Jason Somerville or professionals who will show you what they’re doing in real time. So you can actually learn from there. I created a masterclass for $90 where you can learn to navigate different aspects of poker. The difference from my time is that people kind of learnt through losing. You’d lose money and be like, “OK, this strategy doesn’t work so maybe I’ll change.” And there were books. Books are somewhat outdated in 2018. Not a lot of people read books on how to get better. There’s just so many better advanced ways in which to do that. Others may hire a coach to sort of help them through it.

Has this development been sudden?
Development was somewhat stagnant and then there was a huge spike from two years ago when this software was released and a lot more players that wouldn’t normally be playing in the higher circuits were entering and were prepared for them because they were able to study hard. It’s almost like…someone now, if you’re a good student, if you got a college degree and you learned how to study well, you can do the same thing with these solvers and be quite good at poker. You don’t need any intrinsic talent, you don’t need to be a card player or have a card sense, *if* you’re good at studying. And that’s what we saw, mainly with a lot of the German contingent, who I wouldn’t call “naturals”. They were not talented, per se. They were just, some of them, were just good at study.

Have there been different waves of players moving into and out of the game?
Yes and no. Obviously you’re always going to have different players doing well, but the ones who are relevant today, they’re all relevant because they’re using added tools. Even if a player did come up ten years ago and was successful — one of those old-age internet players — if they were to be successful today they would have to evolve and use the solvers to take their game to the next level and compete at the highest levels. I really do think what happened approximately two years ago is very different than anything we’ve seen before.

How have people like you and Erik [Seidel] endured? Are you anomalies?
Anomalies to say the least. Erik has not had as much success in the last couple of years, since this has changed. He’s being more selective with the events he’s playing. As for me, I don’t feel like I have the time and energy to do what it takes to be at the top level, and I’m OK with that. I’m satisfied with my life and my career and I don’t really necessarily want to do that. But I acknowledge the fact that if I don’t do that, I’m not going to be better than these guys. I have definitely looked into it, I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn to be confident and better than 99.9% of poker players. But there’s going to be that top echelon that’s always going to be better because they have the answers in certain situations that were always feel based for players like myself and Erik Seidel.

Is this splintering the poker world?
The good news is that this is a very small group of people. Where it’s most prevalent is literally just in the super high roller circuit. If you play a regular main event, with a buy-in of $5,000 or your local $100 event, that’s still fun poker, that’s still accessible to people who have never heard of a solver. They can still succeed and do quite well. Just as it’s the case with anything, if you were a baseball player and you play in the minor leagues, and you’re facing a fastball that is manageable. But now you get to the big leagues and you can’t hit that ball anymore because they’re faster and more accurate and with more spin and all those types of things. As with anything, at the highest, highest level it requires an extra amount of dedication that most casual players will never be able to thrive under.

Are we facing the end of the David v Goliath era?
Depending on what they’re doing. If you are entering these super high roller events, you will still have opportunities to win occasionally, but you won’t be a long-term winner. You’re not going to be positive equity in this thing, it’s not going to be a profitable endeavour for you. So if money matters to you, it’s going to be a bad investment. Now those same players can stay in the minor leagues, if you will, the smaller circuits and avoid the big, heavy hitters and do quite well. But if you want to test yourself against the absolute best, you’re going to lose. You might win occasionally, because that’s the way poker works — there’s luck — but you’re not going to be better than them. You’re going to lose.

Where is the money coming from if the events are getting bigger?
I wouldn’t agree necessarily that they’re getting bigger. There are certain parts of the world where you see numbers are up, but if you look at Las Vegas, and the Aria, the numbers are down. They don’t draw very well. In Barcelona, Monte Carlo, where they’re a little bit more rare, it draws a different crowd of people. And there are certain Asian countries, where you have a contingent there, some wealthy businessmen. Really it comes down to the more wealthy businessmen that are willing to play, then the more pros that will find a way to play. So as long as they’re still around, doing it for the fun of it, or challenging themselves, the circuit remains. If they stop playing, it’s over.

Is it fair to characterise this so bluntly?
Without them [the businessmen]…they are the most important part of the ecosystem. In the Asian countries they call these players VIPs because everyone there understands that without these players you have no game. They are the central crux. They are the ones that feed the system. To the mid-tier pros, that maybe that break even, to the high end pros, to the people that are making investments in these professionals, if you eliminate those wealthy businessmen from the equation, then the investors are no longer going to buy in these pros and then the events cease to exist.

Are Cary Katz/Bill Perkins the same as the Asians?
Depends. It’s a case by case situation. Just because somebody is a wealthy businessman, doesn’t mean they’re rubbish at poker. Some are going to be pretty good, tough to play against, and others are just going to be horrendous. There’s a varying scale. You mentioned Cary and Bill Perkins. Well, Cary Katz has had more success than Bill and he’s probably better than Bill. And you’re going to see, that’s just the way poker tournaments work. If you get 40 players together, luck plays a role, and you run well, you’re going to win some times, you’re going to be in first place or top five or top three. The question is at the end of the year when you tally up how much your buy-ins were and what your payouts were you’re probably not going to come out ahead unless you’re one of the top players.

It sounds fragile
It is. That’s the case. It’s true. And depending on what part of the world you are, there are more or less VIPs. In Las Vegas, what we’ve seen now, is that there’s just not a lot of them. That’s why the events haven’t been drawing quite so well. In other parts of the world, sometimes you see some big numbers. At the EPT we had in Barcelona, we had 80 or 90 people for a €50,000 event, which is pretty incredible.

How do the poker crews operate?
A lot of people create study groups together, so they can learn together. They also realise — if we look at Barcelona — they see a lucrative event, they say we all want to play in that event but we don’t want to risk all of our money. So there’s chat groups, WhatsApps, where they all discuss: “OK, I’ll have 5% of you, 5% of you” trading in pieces, just to make sure everybody has a chance to get in on what is essentially an investment opportunity. There’s that plus outside investors who will often stake an entire stable. There’s a German guy, who’s well off and he sees good value and he knows it’s positive equity to put seven or eight of his German friends in, who are good poker players. He’ll do that and they’ll play for very small percentages, and by the end they expect to both profit from it.

Has this turned poker into a team game?
I don’t think so. At the highest levels, where it’s going on, these people are too smart not to notice. And most people within that small circle, they know who’s friends with who. They know who has a piece of who. When I’m sitting at a table with Stefan Schillhabel and Koray Aldemir, I know that these guys are friends, I know they work together, I know they talk together and they probably have pieces of each other. Most people are pretty clear, so if it’s Justin Bonomo and Jason Koon and I’m three handed with them, there’s a chance that they have a swap. And sometimes I’ll just flat out ask. They’re not obligated to tell me, but I think it’s fair for people who are playing the event to have an idea of what’s going on in a more transparent fashion.

Is it all above board?
For the most part. There’s always exceptions to the rule. When you talk about situations like this, you don’t have a crib sheet when the event starts and I know exactly who has pieces of who, and who staked who. I just assume that for the most part everybody’s going to play pretty straight. I wouldn’t say unequivocally that nothing could possibly happen in that regard that would tarnish the integrity of poker. The problem is that you’ll never get rid of it. You’ll never be able to get rid of people swapping in a tournament. It’s just part of the culture of what poker tournaments have always been.

Is poker still fun at the elite level?
For the most part, no. If you want to have fun playing poker, and really have an enjoyable experience, then mid-stakes events, lower stakes events, are the place to go. At the higher stakes it’s very serious, quite boring, despite the shot-clock. We have a 30-second shot clock across the board but often players will take the full 30 seconds for every decision. It slows the games down. Sometimes you’ll find interesting table banter, but that’s in between hands. It’s not like people are talking to each other, there’s not a lot of the stuff that makes poker cool on TV that you’re going to see in those events. Outside of like the competitive element, they’re a bit of a bore.

Has the SHR world progressed at a similar rate to the lower buy-in world?
No, I think it’s very unique and different. It doesn’t look anything like the mid stakes or low stakes events. It’s all such a small clique of people, and it’s all people that have learned how to convince people to stake them. It’s a little bit about fundraising. Most of these guys…none of them can play $200,000 $300,000 buy-in events all year and spend five or six million with their own money. Nobody’s doing that. Hardly any of them, except me. It’s a little bit more about networking and fundraising. Obviously learning, but getting within a group, finding backers and investors. That’s just not the way that it was, certainly when I grew up playing smaller events. It’s certainly just not the way it is in any ecosystem outside the super high roller world. It just doesn’t work that way.

Where do they look for investors? Who are they?
It’s friends of friends, and you ask other people. You get into chat groups, you get into WhatsApp groups with other people that are studying. Then you become part of a study group with those people that you’re with. They know someone who’s an investor, they start to see your results. If you’re an online player they’ll look at your graph and see what you’re doing, and it’s much more easy to find people willing to do that. If it’s live events, you show results or you’re within a study group of people who have respect for your game. Even if you don’t have the results, they’ll be willing to put up money for you. It’s very difficult for someone to do that on their own, to be a nomad, and kind of like find it on their own. It’s essentially about plugging into some sort of network or group.

Do you stake anybody?
I don’t get involved in that world at all. I am a fish out of water. I stake people but not in those events ever. In smaller events, the World Series of Poker, different things, I’ve always had a stable of friends who I help out. But the events I play, I don’t have percentages of anyone. I’m not swapping. I’m not really selling pieces. I’m just not a part of that world. I’m a lone wolf, if you will, who plays on his own dime.

Is this something that is sustainable?
I would have thought that honestly, by now, they would have been completely dead. I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did. It all comes down to the interest of the people that matter. Cary Katz is a guy who loves to put on events, he loves to play. As long as Cary wants to play, there’s going to be people lined up who want to play with him. In the Asian tournaments, in Triton and what not, if there’s a group of guys that want to run an event, they’re going to find professionals who will fly over there to play with them. If they cease to be having fun, if we start to see a dip in the number of wealthy businessmen that want to play, if it’s no longer lucrative for professionals or investors, they’re just going to stop playing. They’re not going to just play among themselves.

Are innovations like short deck important?
Yeah, I think so. And I think Super High Roller Bowl, for example, it’s a capped event and there’s 48 people and it’s guaranteed to keep a substantial number of professionals out. If you want to keep the equilibrium a little more friendly for the people who are going to put up big money. There are plenty of businesspeople who want to play the Super High Roller Bowl, but they don’t want to play if it’s all pros. They just don’t want to. So there are ways in which you can create an event where you reserve some spots for a select number of recreationals, and then only so many pros will get in. So that it’s a little bit more…it gives them a little bit better of a chance. No recreational wants to sit down with 80 players and 79 of them be pros and just you. That’s not fun. It’s really not. So you can set up something where there’s 48 players and 18 are going to be non pros. Well that’s a little more interesting, because now they have a little bit more of an opportunity to succeed. Nobody wants to feel like a sucker.

Do the recs say that?
I’ve known ever since Guy [Laliberte] put on the One Drop event, which had a cap, part of the reason for the cap was these people said: “Listen, we’ll put up a million dollars to play this thing, but I don’t want to play against 80 professionals. I want to play against people with a similar skill set.” Of course, there’ll be some pros in there, there’ll be some big names, but they don’t want to be just like taken advantage of. Nobody wants to feel that way. And that’s certainly spilled over to a lot of the people who used to play, the businessmen who used to play and don’t anymore because they don’t feel like it’s fun, and a lot of them are opposed to the re-entry style format, some of them are opposed to the fact that the good players are too good and there’s not enough recreationals, so they don’t play.

What about people who just want to test their mettle and pay for the lesson?
That’s true, but for how long? You get in a ring with a boxer, you just want to test your mettle, you get in there and you get punched in the head a bunch of times. And you get kicked, you get beat to the ground, you’ve got blood coming out of your nose, you’re convulsing and you’re shaking, you might not want to go there anymore. There’s only so many punches you’ll want to take. I think there’s certainly an element to that, where people want to test themselves, and see how well they do, but losing takes a toll on anyone and if you’re tracking at the end of the year and see how much money you’re giving up, you might say, “You know what, I’m done with that. I don’t want to do that anymore. I just feel stupid.”

Rory McIlroy won $17 million playing golf. Justin Bonomo won $25 million playing poker. What’s the difference there?
What Rory did was he won $17m. What Justin did was NOT win $25m. He did not win anything near $25m. He won, 10 percent of that, maybe 15 to 20, maximum. When you have lots of high buy in events, and you have the same group of regulars in those events, you’re going to see every year some player is going to win 10–15 million dollars on a run. This was Justin’s year. You had Fedor with his year. You had Dan Colman. It’s just inevitable when you have small fields, 30 to 40 of the same faces. If you look at 40 bingo balls, and you have 50 events. Or you throw out five numbers, you’re going to notice patterns. You’ll be like, “Oh my god, number three is amazing. Number three came up so much more often than everything else.” That’s not to say there’s not skill, because there is. Luck plays a major factor in anyone having a run like that. With Rory, he wins because he’s the most skilled golfer. He didn’t need lucky bounces, if you will, whereas the player who’s on the biggest heater in the high rollers, they’re not even necessarily the best player. When they get their chips all in, they’re winning more than their fair share. If you win 70 percent of your coin flips, you’re going to do quite well. If you win 30 percent, you’re not going to do quite so well.

Could 10 people have done what Justin did?
I would say the number is probably closer to 35 or 40. Poker tournaments are luck. If you have one-day events, where blinds go up quickly, you’re going all in a lot, the cards can make you look like a genius and they can make you look like a fool. We overestimate the skill level required in these events to separate the player who’s hot of late versus the other ones who are possibly playing even better, but not having the luck in the right situations.

Jake Schindler, he’s a superstar, he doesn’t travel to play EPTs and what not. There’s a Canadian contingent: the Greenwoods, Daniel Dvoress. The list goes on and on. There’s not that much that’s unique in this top 40. Sure, there are five or six or seven who are better than the other 35 or 40, but put a guy whose maybe No 25 and let him go on what’s called a heater, where he starts winning a lot of those coin-flips and starts gaining a lot of confidence, building an element of fear and psychological advantage and all of a sudden he reels off three, four wins in a row. It’s just inevitable. When I grew up there were no events that had 40 people in them. Every event you won, you had to beat 300, 500, 1,000 people, so you couldn’t see these types of years. I had one in 2004 that I would argue was more impressive than what we’re seeing in these high rollers. I was beating 300, 400, 500-player fields and I was winning. First place. That’s a lot different than 40 guys getting together and playing a crapshoot event. Someone is going to have a lot of wins in that environment. It’s inevitable. It’s how standard deviation works. Someone’s going to have a year where everyone looks and says, “Wow, that’s amazing.” Similar to the bingo ball thing. If you try that as an exercise. Put 40 bingo balls in there and run out tournaments, say 40 or 50 events a year, and you’ll find every time: “Look at this, number two is the best. Number 17 is amazing.” It’s just natural, it’s going to happen. It’s not like every number is going to come out an equal number over a short sample size.

Does this mean that No 39 and 40 are Asian businessmen, and they don’t get pulled out?
Sure. Basically you have 40 balls and six of them just never come out, and then other 34 — or maybe 24 to 34 — don’t come out nearly as often. But the top 20 or so, they’re pretty much interchangeable a lot of the time, it’s what you’ll see. You’ll see streaks that look like, “Wow, this means something.” Actually, it’s mostly just bullshit. It doesn’t mean anything, other than this guy was luckier than the other compatriots from this small stretch of time.

And do people spread their interest a bit more too?
Yeah, sure. These guys are not stupid. They don’t think…well, maybe some of them do, but they realise that part of the way to get the big money is that variance is going to play a role. So they don’t put all their bankroll up, they’re diversifying. If you have faith, and if you’re friends with 10 of the other top players, and you diversify with them, your chances of making a profit are pretty darn good. It also lowers your variance, so you can sustain playing in these events for a longer period of time without going broke.

Why do streak players end up withdrawing?
Natural regression, I guess. Bryn Kenney’s another one. For some people, you just get bored of it. It’s very difficult to play at the highest level for a very long period of time. You don’t see people like me that have been doing this for 20 years still playing at the highest levels. It just doesn’t exist really, because there’s a lot of dedication required to be at that level. Fedor, he put in a lot of work to get as good as he was. He was always in the lab. He was always studying and studying and playing and playing, non-stop. You do that for two years, you get burned out if you overdo it. That’s just naturally what you’ll see anytime someone goes on a big run like that. They build up a bunch of money and the drive can wane. The striving to stay on top, it’s more difficult. It’s easier to climb towards the top than it is to stay there.

What are the secrets to your longevity?
Self-awareness. I’ve always had a deep understanding of how people perceive me, how to manipulate that perception, and how to have a really honest good look at where I stand in terms of my skill level versus my opponents. And if I feel like it’s not where it needs to be, then I will go put in the work by learning from the younger generation. Self awareness is a lot about humility as well, where it’s “OK, instead of just pooh-poohing what these people are doing, and saying they’re just a bunch of lucky kids” learn it, study it, for myself. If you factor that in with some wisdom, and learning how to incorporate this stuff and using some old-school tricks, and it allows me to still stay relevant amongst these players. That’s not to say that I think I’m better than them, because I don’t. I still feel the drive and motivation occasionally, not always, to jump in the ring and test myself against them.

What did you actually do to get back to an elite level?
I don’t know anything about computers in terms of how to use solvers. I didn’t know anything about the process. I basically hired a couple of guys, call them coaches if you will, one of them is a computer nerd that has a deep understanding of how to use all that stuff. The other was his partner, and I worked with them essentially learning game theory, something that I’d never learned before. It was like speaking a different language for me. I’d been learning how to play poker a certain way for 20 years and now completely flipping that on its butt and learning a new baseline in terms of how I think about a poker hand. I spend three months, four to six hour days, working with these guys. I get it pretty quickly because I have a good foundation. It was pretty effective. I put it into play. The very first event was the toughest event I’d ever played, it was the $100K at the Bellagio, only professionals, there was not a single non-pro, and I was heads up for the title. I won a million dollars in that one. Course, I came second in the Super High Roller Bowl and I’d had some successes throughout. I haven’t really studied since then. I’m kind of at a comfortable place in my life, and I’ve realised that it’s not the life I want to lead. If I feel like I’ve fallen too far behind the 8-ball, I’m sure I’ll go back to the lab.

Did it feel like a new world?
Honestly, it felt annoying that it was required, because it’s not as fun, it’s not nearly as fun. Poker was always fun for me because you’re always thinking about what they’re doing, how to exploit them and take advantage. So to learn, OK, how to randomise your frequencies by essentially flipping a coin mentally. That’s taking decisions out. It makes poker so much easier to play for me, because as long as I know…and this is what I said, a 22-year-old kid who knows how to study can study: “What is your betting frequency?” OK, and now you just randomise. If you do that, you become unexploitable. That’s a very boring form of poker for me to play. I don’t enjoy it. But I realise that it was important for me to add that aspect to my game so that I wasn’t so easily taken advantage of by the top players.

Can players get too good and ruin the game?
I wouldn’t say that players are ever going to get too good because as much as everyone thinks they’re playing game theory optimal, you can’t. A human being can’t do it. So there’s always going to be things that some people do better than others, especially when you’re talking about tournament poker. You can be fooled by randomness and fooled by variance and thinking you’re better or worse than you are. I don’t think we’ll ever see a player that plays perfectly. It’s just never going to happen.

Imagine a game speed, with 30-second shot clock. A computer can compartmentalise different flops, and different scenarios, into 570 different compartments, different textures. We can’t do 570. The human brain can’t do what a computer can do when it comes to compartmentalising information. We can throw darts at it, we can try to use the software, use the artificial intelligence to improve upon the decisions we make, but never beat it. Ever. It’s only a matter of time before a computer or an AI can beat any human at almost any game.

Has poker lost something as a result of all this?
For me, I wouldn’t call it better, but in the old days I liked the romantic idea that someone had to have some skill and talent and really have a good knack for card sense. Now it’s essentially if you’re a good school nerd, and you know how to study, the computer will give you all the answers. It gives you all the answers. If you study what it tells you, you have the answers, whereas before you sort of had to figure that stuff out on your own, through trial and error, and gun-slinging and what not. In some sense, I think that at the highest levels it’s certainly, in the super high rollers circuit, I would say it’s been a detriment for sure, over all.

Some people are reluctant to talk about the specifics of the Super High Roller world. Why?
It’s actually quite obvious. When you really break it down, if I make my money from playing a game against you, and then you’re more educated as to why it is you can never beat me, you may stop playing and then that hurts my bottom line. The people that don’t want to talk about it, it’s out of a fear of tapping the glass and waking people up to how much of a fish out of water you really are. How dead you’re drawing. How impossible it is for you to ever beat us. It’s like anything. If you were playing a game for money, would you tell them that you could never beat you and show you why. No. You wouldn’t

Do you regret the prevalence of Super High Rollers?
I would actually think poker would be in a better place if they never existed, ever. If $25,000 was the highest buy-in ever, and you had a really prestigious event. Because what it’s done, these high rollers have taken away so much attention from the bigger field main events, the $10,000 buy-ins, the $5,000s, the ones that are more reachable for the average Joe. It’s elevated the small group of players into the centre of the poker sphere, where it’s all kind of an illusion, it’s all kind of bullshit, they’re actually not playing higher stakes. It seems that way, but they’re not, not really. They’re not playing much higher stakes than the people playing in the regular events. It’s created this fabricated, disingenuous environment.

Is it Harlem Globetrotters-like?
I don’t know if I’d make that analogy specifically, I just think just that poker was at it best when a festival event had a main event and everyone cared about that. Now you go to an event and there’s [INDISTINCT] the super high roller and the main event, and it just dwarfs it. Part of the allure was that anyone could win. And that’s what we see at a main event, you see a final table with a guy who’s a truck driver, a construction worker. You don’t have to be a GTO wizard to make one of these final tables in the Main Event. But this small group of people, who essentially learned how to fundraise, learned how to network, learned how to get in a group, to get investors, and study from a computer that taught them how to do it, are creating this world where it’s shitty, it just kind of sucks overall.

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SELECTED OTHER INTERVIEWS: Adrian Mateos, Charlie Carrel, Dominik Nitsche, Erik Seidel, Fedor Holz, Jason Koon, Justin Bonomo, Stephen Chidwick and Winfred Yu.

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