On this special edition of the pod, Nick and Mike sit down with Alex Scott, Managing Director of Poker for Microgaming. With the network preparing to close down, Alex and the guys get into the reasons why behind the decision and a bunch of other interesting topics including why online poker operators run live poker events, what it’s like to lead the development of a next-gen online poker platform, the truth about hand histories and anonymous tables, what it was like to work at Full Tilt Poker pre and post Black Friday, and much more.
Michael Gentile: Hello, and welcome everyone to a special edition of the Pokerfuse podcast. I’m your host Mike Gentile along with my cohost Nick Jones, and today we have a special conversation with Alex Scott, managing director of poker from Microgaming.
Alex Scott: Thanks for having me on guys.
Mike: Glad to have you. Just to give listeners a little bit of background on who they’re about to hear, why don’t you tell us a bit about your personal background. How did you get to become such an important person for the Microgaming Poker Network?
Alex: Such an important person, you’re ridiculously kind. Thank you for that. I’ve been involved in poker for quite a long time. I got interested in it at an early age. When I left university, I had made the assumption that I would move into the IT field in some way because that’s what I studied, but I developed this big passion for poker and I was lucky enough to find a job promoting the world poker tour to students at my university and other universities in Edinburgh.
That was like my first foot in the door of the poker industry. I’ve basically worked my way up since then, over the past 15 years or so. I worked at PokerStars for four and a half years. I was at Full Tilt for 18 months during some pretty interesting times as it happens. When I left Full Tilt, I moved back to the Isle of Man and I was lucky enough to get a job with Microgaming a few months later.
Mike: You have PokerStars, Full Tilt, and MPN or Microgaming.
Alex: That’s right.
Mike: That gives us some perspective.
Alex: Interesting times.
Mike: Tell us a bit, I saw that you had an article published on Cardplayer Lifestyle with Robbie Strazynski that talked a bit about the differences in leadership style between Ray Bitar and Isai Scheinberg both heads of Full Tilt and PokerStars respectively. Tell us a bit about how it was working with those guys.
Alex: I’m probably one of the few people in the world who’s worked for both. There’s probably about, I don’t know, I would say no more than 10 people who have worked directly for both Isai and Ray. Which is why Robbie thought it would be an interesting article to talk about the differences between them and how that might have impacted what happened when Black Friday hit the poker market in 2011.
I actually started at Full Tilt two months, exactly two months before Black Friday happened. I had two months of good times and then, well, it was very different thereafter. It was a very challenging time, don’t get me wrong, but it was also a really interesting time from the perspective of my growth in this industry because I joined Full Till to lead the design of the software and I ended up getting involved in all sorts of other things that I never would have had the opportunities to get involved in were it not for what happened.
I remember precisely where I was when Black Friday’s news came out and I remember precisely where I was when the license got revoked in June. I remember precisely where I was when PokerStars bought the company. It was one of those things, like people remember where they were when 9/11 happened and so on. I remember those three days very vividly.
Nick Jones: Just talking about Full Tilt and it’s closure and it’s this topic, obviously we’ll talk a bit later about MPN and it’s a premium platform, but are you surprised at all or were you surprised that the Full Till software never returned to market in any form after obviously Black Friday Full Tilt’s closure?
Alex: Well, it did relaunch very briefly in 2012 and then eventually PokerStars migrated the players from the Full Tilt platform to the PokerStars platform, made some cosmetic changes to the PokerStars to make that more palatable for the players. I’m not really surprised though. It just didn’t really make sense for a company like PokerStars to maintain two very, very different software platforms and PokerStars was the platform that had proven itself at scale. Full Tilt couldn’t really achieve the same player numbers that PokerStars had achieved, and therefore, it was the logical choice. Also, if you think about the egos involved for a minute, there’s no way that PokerStars was ever going to allow Full Tilt to be the new software platform, it just wasn’t going to happen.
Nick: I think at the time, it was always considered the best software out there for an online poker platform, for a lot of different ways. Do you think today it’s been surpassed either with MPN’s offer or another offer, or do you still think Full Tilt perhaps holds that price?
Alex: I think the Full Tilt of today is Winamax and has been for some time. Winamax has slowed down a little bit lately. You can make arguments for someone like GG network, for example, who’s doing a lot of interesting things with their software to be the innovator of the times. For many years, it was Winamax, I would say, they almost immediately replaced Full Tilt as the innovative leader. They did lots of interesting things with promos. They had a really nice polished poker client, a really great mobile software and tablet software as well. They brought things like Expresso to market, which everybody copied pretty quickly thereafter. Yes, it’s difficult to say, I don’t have a strong view necessarily on who’s ahead at the moment. For some time, it was Winamax definitely. If you think about who PokerStars was worried about, it was definitely them.
Mike: You were at Full Tilt for a couple of months before Black Friday, there was a lot of stories that came out about that time. One particular that sticks out to me is the lobster stories. Were you around to experience lobster for lunch at Full Tilt?
Alex: Yes. Actually, there’s two stories here which are quite funny, I think. The first story is the pre-Black Friday photo had a reputation for ridiculously extravagant lunches at their staff canteen, like fillet steak topped with foie gras for lunch, that sort of stuff. In-house chefs preparing fine dining type food. After Black Friday happened, there was obviously a need for the company to reduce its expenditure pretty significantly actually. The food very quickly became lasagna and macaroni and cheese and that sort of thing. The stuff that you can cook in big batches.
That was designed to reduce the cost that the company was paying. What actually happened is, well, the office was in Dublin, Ireland. I’m sorry to the entire country of Ireland for what I’m about to say, but Irish people are not really known for their extravagant taste in food, and so what actually happened is there was a massive increase in the number of people taking up that lunch option. The cost increased pretty substantially. They were paying more for lasagna and macaroni cheese than they were for fillet steak. Anyway, that does lead me into the next story, which is one day I stood in the lunch queue.
I remember very vividly as we queued up for our gruel, that the chefs walked past with their silver cloches for the boardroom where Ray and the exec were entertaining some potential investors. This is where the lobster thing comes from. For a long time, the company was inviting investors into the office, trying to encourage them to invest significantly in Full Tilt so that it could relaunch and be properly funded to do so and so on. Previously the night before, they’d ordered in from some seafood restaurant. The following morning, we get into work and in the kitchen there is this pile of crab claws and discarded lobster and all sorts of stuff like that. That’s where the lobster story comes from.
Mike: All right. It wasn’t actually-
Alex: It’s not quite as exciting as people might say.
Mike: It wasn’t actually served to the masses then?
Alex: No, I don’t think so. By that point, the masses were getting lasagna. This was ordered in Uber Eats or something.
Mike: Got it. All right. Well, tell us about some of your work that you’ve done over at MPN, Alex. MPN, for those that may not know, is scheduled to sunset closed down in 2020 and is still one of the remaining online poker networks, which is a bit different per se than somebody like PokerStars, which runs for the most part a single brand, tell us a bit about what you did over at MPN.
Alex: I had a variety of different roles over the years. I came in to consult in game integrity for the company. That was way back in 2013. I run a six-month project to review the company’s current game integrity capability. As a result of that, we made a number of changes. We started a new in-house game integrity function and we built some new tools and refined processes and procedures and that kind of thing. We actually built a game integrity function that I’m very proud of.
I’d think we are one of the safest places to play online poker at the moment. We have an exceptional team. Anecdotally based on what I know about other providers out there, our capabilities are up there with the best. I’m very proud of that. Once I’d completed that project, I got offered a full-time role here and became head of poker shortly after that. Where I was ultimately responsible for the poker product here. I then did a stint on the product side.
I was leading the product teams, mostly software developers and project managers and so on for both poker and Bingo for a couple of years. Then the company had a little restructure and I was made MD of the poker division, and MD of Bingo was brought in at that point. I spent a fair amount of time here responsible for the poker products or working with it in various capacities.
Mike: Beyond game integrity, what would you say has been something, one of your accomplishments or some of your accomplishments that you’ve had over at MPN that you’re most proud of?
Alex: I’m really proud of what we did with the MPN Poker Tour. That was something that we started from scratch. Our very first event had 83 players and we sent one member of staff to run it. I had no guarantee. It was a very small start to something, but we’ve grown it from that over the years and it’s now attracting hundreds of players. Our final event, in the best part of 500 players, we’ll probably have over 200,000 in the prize pool. We’ve had stints at the battle of Malta, which is an incredibly successful event in Europe where we’ve been the lead sponsor and we’ve definitely made the most noise at the events and so on.
It has become really highly thought of among the player community and I’m very proud of that and I’m proud of the response that we’ve had to that. I’m also proud of what we achieve with the product towards the end. What I’m hoping is— we never got the chance to really finish and to show what we had planned with that product, but I hope that the latest release, in particular, so show is the direction that we’re going. We were really, really focused on the player and how could we do new things to help the player experience? How could we make the software more usable for inexperienced players, recreational players? I’m hoping that people have seen the direction that we might have gone in had we not made the decision to close.
Nick: Just one question before we talk a bit more about premium. I’m sure we’ve got a lot of questions there we’d like to explore, but I’d be fascinated to get your take a bit more on the live poker tour and where you see it fits in with an operator’s overall strategy because we’ve seen some fascinating things happen. PokerStars are definitely consolidated, step back a bit on some of the PT type events that they did years back. Whereas we’ve seen party poker perhaps pretty aggressively expand what they do on the live scene.
I just wondered what MPN goals were for running a live tour. Is this a conduit for online players to be able to experience live? Is it ever for bringing live players online? Where does it fit into an overall strategy for a network like MPN?
Alex: The truth is, is a bit of everything. It’s a great way to build your brand. Trust in your brand is one of the most important things that exists when it comes to acquiring players. If you have brand familiarity, you have trust. If you have trust, you can sign up a player, but we also know that it goes the other way as well. Online players who engage with a live event are worth a lot more than twice as much than the average player.
By providing a series of live events, you give those players an outlet and you can maximize the value of those players. It goes both ways. We’ve seen a massive, massive increase in the live tournament scene. It’s grown substantially over the past few years. I think if you look at the World Series of Poker, for example, the stats are quite widely published on that. There’s been very, very clear substantial growth and that’s in the US market, which is obviously very challenging for lots of reasons. We definitely see the same thing in Europe, although in Europe, it’s much more fragmented. You’ve got this growth in a live market, and you can use that to drive players online. You can also use it to maximize the value of the online players that you have. It’s absolutely very valuable.
Nick: How do you see a smaller operation like Microgaming, how do you carve out a niche on the live tour? What do you do to get players to an MPN stop rather than perhaps a bigger WPT PokerStars, partypoker-type event?
Alex: At the time we launched, we sort of distinguished ourselves on a couple of factors. The first one was, at the time, there wasn’t really anybody offering events at that price point, most events started around the €1,000 mark or higher. We went a little bit lower and this was before stars came along and did some really low-priced events and so on. They had sort of taken the focus off the UK IPC and events of a similar buy-in at the time. They’d raised the buy-in and placed less focus on them.
We went in with a different motivation to most I think, most people nowadays approach live events wanting to make profit. We just wanted to break even, that was our first goal and that was one of the reasons why we could operate at the 500 level. If we were going for a profit, 500-level was a very difficult level to make much profit from. Anyway, that was one of the ways that we distinguished ourselves and that helped us to attract players, I think. It was the right price point for a lot of people. The second thing that we did is we focused on customer service.
We wanted to make it a really special event which was easy for players in every respect and enjoyable for players in every respect. Look, it means simple things like, if they show up at the hotel and they have an issue checking in, there’s someone there to help them but it also means giving them things to do away from the felt as well. One of the things that we we’ve made a big deal of at our events is putting on great player parties and putting on tours of the cities that we visit.
We’ve done go-karting, we’ve done paintballing, we’ve done bowling, all sorts of things to bring the community of players that comes to the events together because if you bust out of the event after a couple of hours. Look, you could sit in the casino and sit at the blackjack table or the roulette table, but a lot of people don’t want to do that. They came to Madrid or they came to Talen or something and they want the opportunity to go see the city and we gave them that opportunity.
Mike: Alex, getting back to the online product Prima, what was the driving force behind releasing a new software platform? Obviously, there’s updates and innovations that operators want to incorporate into their new product to take advantage of. What were some of the things that you were trying to achieve with the release of Prima?
Alex: Prior to the release of Prima, we had— If you go back far enough, we had six different pieces of poker software. We had a couple of different pieces of poker software for mobile, a couple of different browser-based platforms. We had one for download Windows and one for download Mac. We had a lot of fragmentation in our platform and that was one of the things that we were working to change over the years. Prima was the final step in that convergence of software which was very important to us when it came to being as efficient as possible with the Dev Resources that we had.
Me especially, I was uncomfortable with the quality of the software that we were releasing, in terms of its user friendliness. I felt it was over complex, I felt it got some of the little details wrong. This is one thing that Full Tilt was exceptional at and that Winamax is also very good at, is that it builds credibility because it gets the little details right. When you’re playing heads up, the button is in the right place. When you’re playing a tournament, it uses the rules that you would expect today in tournaments, rather than the rules that might have been expected 15 years ago in tournaments.
Those little details add up and they matter and I was a bit uncomfortable with the way that those things were handled in our old software. Another issue that we had though, was our old software was written in C++ and it was becoming very, very difficult to hire capable C++ developers because it’s a very old language. It’s very powerful language and it could do a lot and it’s often the underlying language used when you need something to be exceptionally fast or exceptionally lightweight, but it’s also very difficult language to use and particularly older versions of C++ are very difficult to use and they make it easy for developers to make mistakes.
Most people these days are not taught C++. They’re sort taught C-Sharp or Java. If you want to hire people out of university and grow them to be good developers for you, you need to be working in C-Sharp really or one of the more modern languages of the very least.
Mike: So getting back to Prima and the Online Poker Software that was developed under your lead over at MPN, what would you say some of the highlights are of that particular upgrade?
Alex: It was very player focused and if you looked at some of the little details that we included in there they come from my experience playing online poker over the years and they come from the team and the things that bugged them over the years. Like for example, it always used to bother me when I moved to a new computer and had trouble taking my notes with me from one computer to another. We made the notes store server-side. We introduced new things to the tournament lobby and we greatly simplified the tournament lobby as well.
The tournament lobby, by the way, is something that I don’t think anyone does that well. They’re all too complicated, they all contain way more information than you actually need at the time. We tried to simplify it and we’re trying to focus on what information do you actually need at different stages in the tournament and we try to make it visually appealing as well so you could see at a glance the information that you needed. I think the thing that I’m proud of about Prima is that it was so player focused. Now it was focused on novice players and recreational players. It wasn’t really ready yet for the most serious player. That was going to come with time especially after we decommissioned our old poker software, but obviously with the closure of MPN, that’s now no longer going to happen.
Mike: Is there any future for Prima? Is it going to end up anywhere or is it just going to be put on the shelf and collect dust?
Alex: Well, look we’re open to it. If there’s someone out there that sees potential in it and wants to explore working together then I’m very much open to that discussion. At the moment there are no plans for it though.
Nick: Yes. One thing that I know was one of your goals when you launched Prima was to be able to do much faster iterative development, push out product updates, zero downtime was one thing that you really strived for. It definitely seemed from my perspective that you managed to achieve that. In your nine months through a year that it’s been live, you have- that the platform is being upgraded substantially. I think your release 40 something, but there’s been a lot of iteration there. Would you say that that was a success for what you wanted to achieve you were able to kind of execute on that?
Alex: Yes. Certainly from a development best practices side of things, we achieved a lot. We didn’t get quite as far as we wanted to, we didn’t have zero downtime yet that was still some way to come and we still had a lot of work to do on the platform side, the backend side, but from the front end perspective, we were probably 75% of the way there. We were eventually going to be releasing much more often. Probably, every two to three weeks. That was the goal.
That’s what you see if you look at the high performing dev companies out there people like Spotify. Spotify releases every week now and they release on a Friday which is ballsy. You never release on a Friday because then you got to fix the bugs at the weekend. They do. They must have that stuff sorted.
Nick: Your team developed Prima, obviously or presumably, and correct me if I’m wrong because you wanted to see metrics style going in a different direction. You wanted to see your network grow in player numbers. Is it fair to say that— did you see those numbers move in the right direction, but it wasn’t sufficient enough for the network to survive or was it— Well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Did you see the response that you hoped for from the software?
Alex: Yes basically. Prima grew very quickly and what we call the modern software which is Prima and our mobile client and our new instant play clients. That was growing exceptionally quickly. However, it wasn’t growing fast enough to make up for the downturn we saw in the old software over the years. What I can say about my time at Microgaming is that while I was in charge, we lost less money but that’s unfortunately, the situation that it’s in. The product was a loss leader for the company and was explicitly positioned as that. It had never made money. Not a significant amount of money anyway. One of the things I did during my time as managing director was an end to end strategic review of poker and we found out lots of lots of interesting things from that which we can talk about I suppose if you want to.
Mike: If it was explicitly positioned as a loss leader, then what was the driving factor behind closing it?
Alex: Well, Microgaming had made a lot of assumptions about poker. For example, one of the assumptions was Microgaming is a full-service provider and we need to be able to provide casino sports, poker, and bingo to our customers. If we don’t, we’re going to lose business from people out there who want all of those at the same time from the same provider. Now, that was probably true 15 years ago, but now it’s absolutely not true.
There is almost nobody out there who wants to take all of the different verticals from the same provider. It’s just— it doesn’t happen. What you want is you want to take the best products from the best provider and that’s never going to be one company. It’s always going to be a mixture of companies. The egaming business generally has shifted from this traditional model where everybody took software from just one partner on an exclusive basis to a non-exclusive model where everybody has games from 20+ providers.
They’ll have poker software from us.
They’ll have casino games from NetEnt. They’ll have sports from SBTech. There’s not that exclusivity loyalty anymore. That turned out not to be true. Microgaming had made other assumptions about poker as well, which turned out not to be true also. For example, another argument that was made to support poker was, well, poker is always the first part to be regulated when you enter a regulated market. It gives you first-mover advantage. You can go in and you can build relationships with poker customers and then when sports and casino is regulated later, you’ve got those relationships in place. Now, that also turned out not to be true.
Now, I believed this. I fully believed it until we did this review because I remember entering Italy when I was at PokerStars, and I remember entering France and Spain. In all of those instances, I remembered poker being a first-mover. Now, in reality, it wasn’t. In Italy, sports was years before poker and in France, sports came along at the same time as poker. Casino still isn’t regulated in France, but sports and poker are. In Spain, everything came along at the same time if I remember correctly. The truth is that poker is one of the first products to be regulated, but sports has always been at the same time or earlier in almost all cases, I think Nevada is the exception but that turned out not to be true.
The review basically, all of the reasoning that underpinned Microgaming’s operating poker as a loss leader turned out not to be true.
All of a sudden, we had to ask the big question, well, does it make sense to continue operating poker using this business model anymore? The reality was, no, it doesn’t make sense. We should do something very different. We did consider a variety of other options, other things that we could do with poker. One of which was to launch our own brand and run as a B2C operator instead of B2B. I would have loved to have done that, but unfortunately we did that, ruled that out, it was far, far too expensive to say the least.
Mike: I could imagine that would be quite an ambitious undertaking for sure.
Alex: Here we are. We are doing something with poker but it’s something very, very different to what we’re doing now. It doesn’t require anywhere near as many resources. I can’t really talk about it too much yet because we’re not close enough to market but you’ll hear more about this .
Nick: Presumably as part of that review, you have 16 skins on your network who, many or most of them will be finding new homes. Presumably, part of your review is that even if we facilitate that move, you will still retain those customers for your casino business. Even if they move over to Playtech’s iPoker you concluded that there wouldn’t be the loss of custom there for the other more important verticals of Microgaming.
Alex: Yes, absolutely. Actually, one of my big focuses at the moment is just making that migration as easy as possible for those customers. They will remain our casino customers and we have a very important relationship with every one of them. I’m trying to make that migration as smooth and as simple as possible for them so they don’t have to worry about poker.
Mike: We talked a bit about some of the assumptions that had gone into offering poker. What are some of the lessons that you learned after offering poker?
Alex: I think one of the interesting things we’ve learned from the review, we challenged a lot of assumptions, not only our own and one of the assumptions about poker that’s very, very commonplace in the market is that poker is in decline now, it is currently declining. Now, our review, we source data from all sorts of different places. We source data from external consultants. We bought in data from GameIntel, we used our own internal data. We used data from regulators, everything that we could get our hands on really, and what we actually [cross talk] we did use Poker Industry PRO extensively actually.
Mike: Excellent. Good to hear.
Alex: A lot of screenshots of graphs from Poker Industry PRO and our report actually [chuckles] , I’m sure I had a point [chuckles] .
Nick: The assumption was poker was in decline.
Alex: Yes. The assumption which is very widespread in the industry is that poker is in decline now. What we actually found is there was a decline in poker from 2011 to 2012 after Black Friday happened. Absolutely there was a decline. Of course there was, we lost the entire US market in that time. There was a massive knock on effect. Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet— I’m sorry, Cereus Network closed, there was a major, major decline at that time. What’s happened since then though is a bit different. It’s not as simple as saying it’s just declined.
What has happened very, very clearly since then is that there has been a massive shift from cash game play or cash game activity to tournament activity and that’s particularly been driven by Winamax’s Expresso concept and all of the copies of that.
What we saw in 2012 was that cash games represented about one third of revenue just over— sorry, two thirds of revenue, just over two thirds of revenue and what’s happened in the six, seven years since is that it’s completely flip flopped. Tournaments are now in excess of two thirds of revenue globally. If you know the proportion of revenue that the tournaments represent and cash games represent, if you know the typical value of cash game players and tournament players and if you know what the trend is in terms of number of active cash game players, which is the one thing that’s tracked out there publicly and independently, then you can figure out what the total market size is and that’s what we’ve done.
We made a number of different assumptions in this and we had three different models, a most likely case, a positive case and a negative case, but what we found is that even in the negative case, poker’s only declined very slightly. In the other two cases, poker’s either stayed about level, stayed stable or has actually grown and you can particularly see the trending growth from 2016 to 2018. What’s really happened is the players have stopped playing cash games and started playing tournaments, and you can definitely see this live and you can definitely see it online.
Mike: Alex, can you share with us the breakdown of tournaments? How many, how much of that tournament activity is devoted to MTTs, to spins, to Sit & Gos?
Alex: No, unfortunately not, what we have is an aggregate. We have everything other than cash games basically. There’s MTTs, there’s Sit & Gos and Expresso, but we know that a lot of this has been driven by Expresso.
Nick: I’ve got loads of questions, it’s a fascinating thing to discuss. First question, in the reports that you did, how did you draw the boundaries of what you considered the market that you wanted to assess? Did you look at all real money online poker place? That includes what kind of I would consider basically untracked black market operations, like the kind of private poker club stuff that we’re seeing really surge in the Asian markets to networks like IDN, which really fly under a lot of people’s radars, GG network starting to be more prevalent in Europe. I think when we do these assessments we see maybe in the established regulated markets you might see some decline to maybe flatlining. Once you start adding in some of these less well-understood markets it changes the numbers pretty substantially.
Alex: Yes, because we’ve got our cash game data from GameIntel which used to be called PokerScout, we stuck to the same markets for this analysis. We didn’t include sites like PPPoker or Pokerrrr which are a little bit newer and more private and a little bit of the— what’s the word? You know what I mean?
Nick: Yes. Exactly the same difficulty finding the right words to describe. Not on the same landscape perhaps.
Alex: Yes. Absolutely. Actually, if you were to include those types of sites, the private game sites and the less regulated sites then the case for poker having grown is even stronger.
Nick: Second question I had just from what you were saying before. When you’re talking about this obvious migration over to tournaments in particular due to the growing expresso spin and go type games, how much would you say it is a desire of players preferring this type of game? Maybe it’s better for mobile playing, better for casual play, less predatory and operators providing that product to the flip side of that being operators want to move people over to that game format and that’s by providing more tournaments.
People are not forcibly moving over to those games but if you put them all front-and-center people are going to play those games more. How do you see the breakdown between the players’ wishes and the operators’ wishes ultimately in the preferred type of poker product?
Alex: I think both are aligned in this respect. I think it’s a little from column A and a little from column B. Definitely cash games have got harder as in more challenging for players much more quickly than tournaments have got more challenging for players. I’ve hold that view quite strongly. Some of that is because of the effective third-party software on cash games and the ability to target the weakest players relatively easily and so on.
Cash games have that ecology problem or they have those ecology challenges which lots of people have tried to address over the years, players have naturally shifted their activity to tournaments because they have a better experience playing tournaments. There is lots of other advantages of the tournaments as well particularly things like Expresso, very, very quick how much you’re in for.
It’s relatively easy to control your level of expenditure that sort of thing and you can potentially win some very, very big prizes for a very small investment as well. The marketing appeal of tournaments is very, very high. From an operator perspective, it does make sense to move players from cash games to tournaments if you know that people are having a bad experience in cash games and are likely to be worth more to you in the long term by moving them to tournaments, it absolutely makes sense to do that.
Nick: Yes. One more question before we move on. Would love to get your take on briefly. We’ve seen one operator upstart online poker room launched this year Run it Once that weren’t cash game only initially presumably just because it’s easier to launch cash games first because tournaments added complexity on top of that. If you were to start a new online poker room from scratch, you were put in charge of that would you consider going tournaments only?
Alex: That’s a really interesting question because I think what RIO has done is fascinating. I really like Run it Once. I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing. They were in a position like we bring with Prima in that they knew they couldn’t do everything and they had to get something to market and start making money relatively quickly. They’ve made the decision not to have tournaments. Tournaments are two-thirds of revenue. They’ve also made the decision not to have mobile. Mobile is probably 80% to 90% of new sign-ups.
They really limited the addressable market for themselves by choosing download only and choosing cash games. Now, they’ve probably made those decisions based on the established player base that they had because they had Run it Once as an established brand offering training to players and that kind of thing so it may have made sense for them. I think Run it Once is doing absolutely brilliantly considering the size of the market that it’s targeting. Bear in mind it’s also not in many regulated markets either. It has access to a tiny fraction of online poker revenue right now, and yet it is surviving. We’ve seen in the last few weeks, it’s doing quite well with its new reward system and so on. I think there’s a lot of upside. If they’re able to launch mobile next year, if they’re able to add tournaments, particularly if they’re able to add Expresso-style tournaments, I think they’ll do very well.
Mike: Building on the Run It Once comparison, how do you see other smaller operators being able to compete with the big boys?
Alex: Actually, I had this battle many times over the years with some of our customers. There was one person in particular who wanted us to copy features from Winamax and from PokerStars and basically pick the best features and just copy them as quickly as possible so that we had all of the features that we would need. My view is that we would just end up being a smaller PokerStars, in that case. Why would you play on a smaller PokerStars, you know? Play on the big one. Play on the established one. Play on the one that everyone else plays on. Why play a smaller PokerStars? I think that the right strategy for a smaller site is to differentiate itself in some way. If you look at Unibet, for example, they’ve done that very well. They’ve got a brilliant, very graphically appealing piece of software. They’ve got some interesting— well, the USPs are less strong now than they were a few years ago, but they do still have some USPs. Run it once has differentiated itself pretty well, I think. They’ve made some really interesting choices along the way. Some very welcome set of choices, I think. My view is, that’s the way to go. We will see people start up smaller online poker sites that just have very complex software, like Stars, and I just don’t think that’s going to be successful for anyone really.
Mike: Okay. We’ve seen trends in the industry, particularly this year in 2019, that have started to maybe challenge the status quo with things like operators approaches to hand histories, for example. What are some of your thoughts on how that’s progressed?
Alex: Hand histories is probably one of our biggest mistakes at MPN. What we fail to recognize, I think, is that we have to live in the world as it actually is rather than the world that we want. This is a lesson that I think everyone has to learn at some point in their lives, and we learned it too late at MPN. We were pretending that we lived in a world where everybody wanted to get rid of hand histories, and the reality is, for a lot of people out there who don’t, they’re dependent on hand histories. They’re dependent on third-party tracking software, and if you take it away, they’ll just go play somewhere else because not everyone is going to get rid of hand histories at the same time.
We tried to make a compromise on MPN, and what we did is, we changed our hand histories so that you’d only get a full hand history if you actually contributed to the pot. The idea was to take away some of the advantage that you can gain having third-party software where you’re not really paying attention to what is happening at the table because you’ve been dealt out. Maybe you’re paying attention to a different table or something like that. We wanted to take away the ability to passively gather information on your opponents. You had to be actively participating, and that was designed to reduce the power of third-party software and the advantage that it could potentially give people.
What actually happened is, when we made that change, the third-party software developer and his one company that makes both PokerTracker and Holdem Manager, they just said, “Well, screw you guys, we’re going to stop supporting you.” They dropped support for MPN in the next version. What we saw was a very slow decline, and this is why we didn’t recognize it quickly enough because it was not an immediate pronounced decline like you might expect to see from a catastrophic change that you make. It also happened at the same time that we lost PKR as an operator on the network, so it was very difficult to distinguish between the effects of each. It took us a long time to recognize the problem that we created for ourselves by getting rid of hand histories.
I remember very clearly listening to your podcast as Perth Poker were announcing their changes to hand histories, and basically tearing my hair out thinking, “What are these guys thinking? I know exactly what’s going to happen when they do this.” I know what the next public report is going to say. They’re going to blame a decline on ecology changes, and that’s exactly what happened.
I found it a bit frustrating. Why didn’t they just look at what happened to us and learn from the mistakes that we made? If there’s anyone listening to this who’s thinking about getting rid of hand histories, think again, seriously. [laughs]
Mike: Interesting. The issue with the hand histories, is it truly the desire of the players, or is it driven by the tracking software?
Alex: It’s a little bit of both, because obviously the makers of tracking software, they’ve a lot on the line. They have strong reasons to encourage players to use tracking software. When party got rid of the hand histories, we saw the maker of PokerTracker and Holdem Manager, go out there with a PR campaign saying that hand histories were a fundamental human right. I might’ve exaggerated slightly there.
Mike: No, not at all [crosstalk] a quote from Max Value’s Head of PR, so you’ve got that exactly right, yes.
Alex: Fundamental human rights. Up there with equal rights and running water, that sort of thing. Anyway, they had a vested interest in hand histories being supported, and I guess we’ve seen poly pokers movers as very counterproductive for them. Certainly if PokerStars had followed, it would have been extremely damaging to their business. Look, there are value in hand histories, right? One of the things I’m actually very proud of in what we’ve done at micro gaming in the last couple of years, is we’ve also focused on responsible gaming, and we focused on giving players tools that they can use to control their poker play.
Hand histories are a very important part of that. As a poker player, it’s very important that you keep track of your results, that you know when you’re winning and losing, and that you don’t mislead yourself about whether you’re a winner or a loser. Hand histories are very useful way of doing that, and tracking software’s very useful way of doing that. For me, the line comes when you’re using a third-party software to gain an unfair advantage, but I don’t think it’s an unfair advantage to track your own gameplay. I think that’s a very valuable thing that all poker players should be doing.
Nick: It’s probably— There’s a line there, sorry, just to draw between hand histories and allowing HUDs. I’m right in saying, correct me here if I’m wrong, the MPN stopped hand histories and that you did reinstate them after a time and somewhat did anonymized, but you, even today, you don’t allow any HUDs on the new Prima software, is that correct?
Alex: They’re not actually prohibited, it’s just that nobody’s chosen to support the new premium software. It would have been pretty challenging to develop a HUD for our new software because of some of the security features that it has built in, but we didn’t prohibit it. We didn’t really want to prohibit something that we couldn’t properly police, and it is very difficult to properly police the use of HUDs. It’s not impossible, but at some point, you’ve got to think to yourself, is this where I want to spend my effort? Do I want to spend this much money and this much time detecting HUDs when I could be investing our efforts somewhere else?
Nick: We’ve seen, I think, Party Poker take the same path as again maybe MPN’s learning curve there, which certainly they’ve banned hand histories out. They have recently reinstated them, but still I believe prohibit HUDs, and again these hand histories come 24 hours after the fact. Do you think we’re moving to a time— You said, if anyone’s listening they’re considering banning hand histories, don’t do it, it’s a huge mistake. Would you say that still trying to discourage the use of HUDs is still a direction that the industry should be moving in? Hand histories, after the fact that your results, how you play, fine HUDs, however, is moving into a more predatory area that operators should be discouraging?
Alex: Personally, yes, I do think that, and I think that the party and Run it Once have landed is pretty good. I think that’s a good compromise between giving players the ability to track their own game and discouraging some of the unethical play and some of the predatory behavior that we see, if you allow all third-party software. Personally, my main objection to HUDs is just that they make the games so much less fun to play, so much less fun.
I remember when they first came out years ago, starting to use them and— Starting to feel like at some point now, we’re going to be a mandatory thing. If you wanted to be a winning poker player, you were going to have to use a HUD. That made me very, very sad. I felt like that really took something away from the game and made it less enjoyable. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Nick: Where do you see anonymous tables coming into this equation? I believe MPN was one of the first with anonymous tables going back to 2012 or something like that. Becoming more prevalent, we also believe PokerStars is going to have optional stealth tables in the next few months. Where do you see that fitting into this landscape in terms of games that are fun? Obviously anonymous tables, one of the main goals is you can’t use a HUD at these tables. Do you think that’s a large part in the future of the online poker industry?
Alex: To be honest, no, because I think we’ll probably end up in a space where changes to hand histories and changes to software will eliminate the need for anonymous tables. They are a useful steppingstone on the way though. We learned a lot from having anonymous tables, and we’ve published some of those findings on our blog. One of the things that we noticed, for example, is that losers actually lose more in anonymous games, which I found very counter-intuitive at the time because they’re there to protect losing players. That’s part of the reason why they exist.
They actually lose more, and that’s because good poker players are still good poker players, even at anonymous stables. Actually, one thing that the presence of HUDs does, is it allows you to play more tables, but as you add more tables, your EVA each table decreases. What we found is that because players without HUDs were concentrating on fewer tables, their win rate at those tables increased. Therefore losing players who tend to only play one table anyway were actually losing more. That was very counter-intuitive for me. At first, I did not expect that result.
I suspect the PokerStars, when they introduce their stealth tables, will find something pretty similar. I’m interested to see which way they go after they’ve introduced them, whether they continue with those experiments or not.
Nick: Are we saying that hand histories and HUDs are good for recreational players?
Alex: [laughs] No. I think the full picture of third-party software is negative for recreational players, and then experienced players. It’s just that when you compare an environment which is HUD rich versus an environment which is HUD free, you see these differences. I think you can learn something from those differences.
One of the things we found, for example, is that we make more rake at anonymous tables, and that the grinder players pay more rake at non-anonymous tables, but we earn more rake per table at anonymous stables. That’s because there’s way more action at anonymous tables than there is in non-anonymous. People are just much tighter when they’re using a HUD. I think partially because they’re playing more tables generally.
Nick: My concerns with anonymous tables, to just talk to what you’re saying about games just being more fun, from my personal perspective, I find HUDs definitely reduces the enjoyment factor, but also anonymous tables do as well because just being able to see the same faces at the games, particularly if you’re playing a niche game. I used to play very niche games and you’d see the same faces there every day, and a bit of a community feel.
You build up your own reads in your head rather than with stats in your database. This is perhaps my issue with fully anonymous sites, is that you’re losing an aspect that makes poker poker, and why it attracts people to the tables other than the casino games or something. I’m concerned about eroding that defining line. It’s the same way that I see with certain forms of short format tournament. I don’t have a problem say with casino games in general, but when there’s a large gray area between one and the other, you lose that distinction between the two.
Alex: I know what you mean, I think. This is one of the reasons actually the approach that Run It Once has taken because it is anonymous but it doesn’t feel anonymous. They’ve managed that in a way which is completely transparent as well. It’s actually exceptionally well done when you think about it. They’ve created the feel and the experience of playing an anonymous game, but with all the benefits of an anonymous game when it comes to the removal of third-party software and predatory play and that kind of thing. It’s very clever.
Mike: When we’re talking about third-party tools that leads me, I guess, to another big industry movement that we saw this year, is operators releasing information about bots. We’ve seen PartyPoker do that. We’ve seen US offshore facing WPN do that to some extent. How big of a problem are bots in online poker?
Alex: I think they’re overstated, if I’m honest. I think people believe very they’re a much a bigger problem than they actually are. This is really not helped by people like Morgan Stanley who— I didn’t even know that poker had a double A-rating or whatever it is before Morgan Stanley released that report, but they downgraded online poker based on this idea that artificial intelligence was going to come along and destroy the game.
It’s not totally unfounded because if you think back and sort of 10 years, there was a time when backgammon was starting to become popular online. That was very quickly destroyed by artificial intelligence getting better and better, and got to the point where you could run snowy on a standard home computer, and it could think three moves ahead and anyone using it had a dominating advantage over everyone else, so that Cameron quickly died out.
I’m amazed that a game like rummy is so popular throughout India, for example, because rummy is absolutely ripe for being destroyed by AI. If you got a certain set of cards, you can very easily write a computer program that can show you the very best possible move. Same with Chinese poker.
Way back when I was at Full Tilt, people in the deaf team were writing solvers for Chinese poker in the spare time. Let’s play a bit of Chinese poker. They were just trying to get better. If you were to unleash one of those playing Chinese poker online, you would destroy everyone. You’d make the best move every single time.
The poker that we know and love is so much more complicated, and there are so many more possible scenarios and things that may happen that I don’t see AI being as big a threat as some do. Now, this is not to say that AI won’t get very, very good at playing poker. It’s just that actually applying a very, very good AI to online poker and using it to win money consistently against the public, is a very different story than building the AI in the first place. It’s totally different set of skills. It’s an arms race between us, as online poker operators, and people who are trying to use bots. Now, bots have become sophisticated, more sophisticated over the years, but so of our detection abilities.
Well, there’re definitely been times when bots have taken a leap ahead and have had it a bit easier for a few months or whatever. There’s also been times when we’ve caught up and then we just catch them again. I do think that AI will get exceptionally good at playing poker, particularly simpler forms of poker; short-stacked, limit Hold’em, heads up, that sort of thing.
The more complex forms of poker will take some time. I just don’t see that being successfully applied to online poker in a big way and in a damaging way for probably 10, 20 years.
Mike: You don’t see the current state of bots being a big threat for operators at their current level of expertise?
Alex: It depends on who you’re talking about, because if you look at the industry, some people are a lot better than this than others. Generally, I think players have it roughly correct. PokerStars, definitely the safest place to play when it comes to artificial intelligence and game integrity. Generally, they have been for some time. There are a few other people who are taking it seriously. MPN is definitely one of them. We’ve taken it very seriously for a long time now. Party is starting to take it seriously, which is great.
Then we have a number of others who are making noise about taking it seriously. I think some of them do, some of them don’t. I know that Unibet has posted a few people from our game integrity team, so they probably are taking it seriously.
It depends on who you’re talking about. If I was a bot maker right now, I know where I would go, [laughs] and I know where I wouldn’t go. Generally, you can go on forums for bot users, and you can see where they tell you not to play, and they tell you not to play at PokerStars, and they tell you not to play at MPN.
Mike: How do you see the industry moving forward from here without MPN obviously, but just in terms of trends, for example, the network model? MPN operated on a network model where they had different skins, different companies would come together and MPN would offer the platform to play on. We’ve seen that diminish over the years. Do you think that there’s a future for the network model going forward?
Alex: Well, just to begin with, I think it’s important to distinguish between the business, the business model and the network model. They both have their challenges. B2B has some major challenges, in that’s what customers expect of you is getting huger and huger every day, the expectations are increasing every single day, and yet the amount that they’re willing to pay you is getting smaller and smaller every day. We found ourselves in a position where our costs were increasing quickly but our revenues weren’t. That’s very, very challenging. I think that other people in the B2B space will have the exact same challenges that we had.
The network model has, has all sorts of different challenges. I do think the network model can succeed in certain circumstances. One of the issues that we had over the years with the network model, is that many of our customers competed against each other. For example, Betsson Group competes against Gaming Innovation Group. They’re better if both Betsson brand and GIG gets brand. They’re direct competitors with each other. They’re in all the same markets, and they should be tooth and nail fighting it out. We’re asking them to come together and cooperate and actually not market to the same players, ideally, because we want to attract new players to the network, and we don’t want to just move them around from one skin to another. That makes things very challenging when you’re doing that.
Network model, however, that I think can work is when you have operators who are not going after the same players. If you had, for example, some Utopian world where all the countries share online poker liquidity, and you could have an operator in Italy, an operator in Spain, one in the UK, one in France, perhaps one in Nevada, one in New Jersey, not feasible at the moment, maybe one day, then that’s the poker network that can succeed because you don’t have people fighting each other for the same players. They’re incentivized to cooperate, and that’s what a poker network really, really needs.
I think poker networks where people directly compete each other will continue to have some very difficult challenges over the years. It doesn’t mean that they can’t work. The ones that are working right now though, they’re in some very risky markets. If we look at the poker networks that are our number one and number three right now, they’re predominantly Asia facing, and that is a very risky market indeed, and it’s not somewhere where I would particularly like to be on the police’s wanted, let’s put it that way.
Mike: What other trends do you see as that the future might hold for online poker?
Alex: One of the trends which definitely stands out to me is the increase in private games. Now, this is happening both online and live. Live, we’re seeing games being built around business people, celebrities, that sort of thing. Invitational games, where people who are fun to play with are invited, and people who will sit there with their headphones on the whole time and not saying a word are not invited. At the highest stakes of poker now, you have to have great social skills if you want to succeed, and that wasn’t always the case. It was the case in the old days, but we went through a period where it wasn’t the case. It seems like we’re regressing back to that private game model in high stakes live.
If you look at Triton, for example, you have business people who invite professional poker players, and that’s a very, very interesting series to watch. It reminds me of the old Onyx Cup idea that Full Tilt had, exceptionally high stakes tournaments. Then online, we’ve got the same thing happening now. PPPoker is the biggest example of this. Where they used the play money model and the agent system. God, we can have entire podcast episodes about those, if you want. [laughs] There’s so much to talk about there. They are growing exceptionally quickly, and it’s a very interesting business model.
Mike: Excuse me. Do you think those are growing because of regulatory restrictions, or just because of the popularity of the format?
Alex: It’s a bit of both because we know that they’re popular in markets even where there aren’t any significant regulatory restrictions. For example, Norway does have regulatory restrictions, but not that many really. Most people operate in Norway relatively simply, but yet the private game market in Norway is huge, and it’s getting bigger all the time.
I think it’s maybe a cultural thing or a psychological thing. People prefer to play poker against people, they always have really. We were talking just now about anonymous tables and then about how the experience isn’t as full in anonymous games perhaps because you don’t know who you’re up against and you’re not playing the same faces all the time, that kind of thing. In the private games, it’s the opposite. You know who you’re up against, and perhaps you know them in real life. Perhaps it’s your poker club that you go to a couple of nights a week that is organized this PPPoker Club or whatever for you to play when you’re not in the venue. That kind of thing.
Well, I do think regulatory restrictions play a part particularly in places like China, Brazil, the US and so on. I think it’s also a psychological thing, and I think that a lot of people even in places where you can freely play online poker still prefer the private game model.
Mike: Looking forward to the future of rewards, for example in promotions, we see a lot of operators trying to distinguish themselves in that area. Perhaps, we’ve even seen some innovative ideas. I would look to the PokerStars and what they’re doing with the PSPC as that type of innovation. How do you see rewards , rakeback and promotions, in general, going forward in the industry?
Alex: I think this is a really interesting area. I think there’s two things, two trends that I can pick out, if you like, over what’s happened over the last couple of years, and what I would expect to continue. The first is randomization, which is, in other words, rewards that are not directly linked to the amount of rake that you generated in a game. We’ve seen that with PokerStars’ chests. We’ve also seen it with Run it Once’s Splash the Pot, and there are various advantages to that model. It doesn’t incentivize the same behavior that paying direct Rakeback incentivizes, and it can be a really positive experience for recreational new players. I think we’ll see more of that in the future, more of a randomization element in rewards and in poker in general.
We’ve seen how successful espresso has been over the years. I think we can expect to see other new types of products along those lines. The other thing I think we’ll expect to see is personalization. Now, there are regulatory considerations to this because if you personalize too much, it can appear like you’re taking advantage of an individual. There’s a lot of talk about this at a recent conference that I attended about what level of personalization is actually appropriate? There are lots of stories in the press about VIP gamblers who are phoned up by the VIP manager and offered personalized experiences and things like that, which have been very badly received.
I do expect us to see personalization be a major feature of reward systems in the future. I don’t think that we’ll have reward systems that just pay the same to everyone.
Nick: I find it fascinating just touching on that randomization nature. If we go back 10 years or so, it seemed every online poker room had a bad big jackpot. I think MPM had one back in the day, and everyone shifted away from that entirely. The reasons given were, you are putting a lot of money into one person’s pocket, which is just going to be like withdrawal and taken out of the tables, is that random nature that nobody really likes. I was saying like it’s always coming back to the point that MPN’s Lottery SNG -type game has got a progressive jackpot in it. Could we go back to a place where an operator might have great success reintroducing a bad beat jackpot of the cash game tables?
Alex: For what it’s worth, we still have a bad beat jackpot. It’s just not like the traditional bad beat jackpots have evolved. Ours is, it wasn’t yet introduced into our premium client, which is why it’s not that well known about, but it is there in the classic client. We had addressed that issue a little bit differently. We award the bad beat jackpot to anybody who’s playing at the same stakes that the jackpot is hit, as well as people playing at the table and people who are involved in the hand that causes the bad beat jackpot to be hit. It’s distributed among a much larger number of players, which takes away the argument that you pay a million to a player and he just cashes out, so it’s not worth it.
I think I’m very proud of our Fish Party progressive jackpot, by the way. [chuckles] It’s one of my few successes, I guess, over the years. I’m amazed that nobody has copied it, because I think it’s such a good idea. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. I do think we’ll see more big jackpots like that, but perhaps not— I don’t see a widespread adoption of the really huge jackpots like we saw, I think it was towards the end of last year we had Stars and Party just— it seemed like a back and forth fight over who could have the largest spin jackpot. They went from 1 million to 2 million to 3 million and so on. I don’t see that really taking off long term, because the downside to the operator is just too large. There’s not that much difference between say, 500,000 and 3 million when it comes to attracting players. They’re both massive, massive numbers that you can’t really wrap your head around.
Mike: Given your extensive history in the industry, and your experience working with both Full Tilt and PokerStars and also MPN, you must have accumulated some interesting stories in your time, Alex.
Mike: Any come to mind that you’d care to share?
Alex: I’ve got two interesting ones, I think. The first one, I remember very vividly having a conversation with Isai about Tom Dwan. It was back when he was coming to the fore , he was quite well known. Both PokerStars and Full Tilt were trying to make him an offer to be a sponsored pro. He wanted a ridiculous amount of money, something like $100,000 a month. I was having a conversation with Isai about whether he was worth it or not. I said, “Absolutely not. Do not pay this guy. Don’t pay him anything.” I was the biggest anti-Dwan you could imagine. I just thought he’s not a guy that people should be looking to emulate. I didn’t see him as a aspirational character at all. How wrong was I. [laughs]
Full Tilt went on to sign him for a ridiculous amount of money. He was incredibly successful. People looked up to him for many, many years until he disappeared into Asia somewhere.
Mike: What did Isai say to you after a period of time?
Alex: He thought I was wrong, for all it was worth. [laughs]
Mike: From the beginning.
Alex: He thought Tom Dwan was absolutely worth it. Another funny one, which I don’t know if it’s a rumor or if it’s actually true, it also involves a sponsored pro. For a while, PokerStars was sponsoring Barry Greenstein. Barry would get paid into his PokerStars account. Barry Greenstein’s online nickname at the time was barryg1. Now, at some point, after months of him being a sponsored pro, he approached somebody in the company and said, “Hey, I have not been paid. Can you look into it please.” They looked into it and found that they had been paying his salary to barryg, not barryg1. They’ve been paying his salary to barryg for many, many months. Barryg had just been quietly logging on every month and cashing out this check and enjoying the proceeds. Just some random guy called Barry.
Mike: [laughs] Wow.
Alex: I don’t know if that one’s actually true, but it was certainly passed around a lot in the old days. Back then, just the kind of controls that exist today didn’t really exist. It’s feasible that that might have happened. Barryg, if you’re out there.
Alex: Congrats to you.
Michael: Alex, any crazy post-Black Friday stories coming out of Full Tilt offices that you’d care to reflect back on?
Alex: Do you know what? Not too many really. Post-Black Friday was a very challenging time for obvious reasons. It got to the point towards the end where all of the niceties about the office were gone. They’d been stripped back. We didn’t even have tea and coffee in the office anymore. Actually, me and my wife who had moved to work after black Friday for Full Tilt, amazingly. We used to go to Tesco a couple of times a week with the spare change that we collected from the office and just go buy milk and tea and coffee and stuff like that for everyone, the few people that were left. Now, a few interesting things happened, I suppose. With the weird freedom that we had, we developed some weird things in the Full Tilt software. There was a guy who developed, I think, 15 new games in the Full Tilt software, a few of which were released after relaunch. Five-card stud was I think the first one because it was so simple, but he developed games like Courchevel and six-card Omaha and— What else? Pineapple—
Michael: That guy is working for PokerStars now?
Alex: Yes, he is actually, as it happens.
Michael: [laughs] I was joking.
Alex: No, he is. He just basically on his own. Maybe with the help from a couple of other people, he developed loads of new games. The Full Tilt software where we had internal tournaments where we would play each other, which was a lot of fun. The home games at Full Tilt were loads and loads of fun, and some exceptionally great players played in those games. A guy called Max Silver, he now has the WSOP bracelet. He’s an excellent poker player, and I learned a lot from playing against him. Definitely, I didn’t rise to the stratospheric levels that he did, but hey. Yes, the PokerStars, some games were definitely not as tough. I used to do really well in those.
Nick: Did you have the opportunity to play with Isai in any of the home games?
Alex: No, I didn’t. No. He wasn’t that sociable, as it happens, but I do know that he played, when the company organized the tournament on the Isle of Man a few years later, a few years after I left, he did play in the UKIPT High Roller and won it.
Nick: I saw the picture on Robbie’s blog with him with the spade.
Alex: I did play with him once, actually. I played with him once at a social event which had been organized at the casino, and he took it very seriously. He was definitely a poker player through and through. He really cared about the game. He was quite tight, from what I remember, but he was a pretty solid player.
Nick: Would you invite him to your private poker game?
Alex: Well, he definitely wouldn’t accept.
Alex: So sure.
Nick: Why not?
Mike: All right. I think we’ve covered just about all the topics that we had in mind. Is there anything else that you’d like to share, Alex, before we sign off?
Alex: Not really. Thank you so much for inviting me on. I’ve been a big pokerfuse fan for many years. I’ve read the website, the news, for many years, and I’ve enjoyed the podcast since you’ve released it. I’m really honored to be invited on. Thank you.
Mike: Great. Well, it was fantastic having you, for sure.
Nick: Thanks very much for that. That was fascinating. Really, really interesting.
Mike: Well, that wraps up this episode of the pokerfuse podcast. As a reminder, please give us a like and a subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us and interact with us on Twitter. Nick is at @pokerprojones. I am @SpookyBugs. Thanks, everyone for tuning in.