Inside the Early Days of PokerStars’ Marketing and Insane Budget

December 22nd, 2014

chris-moneymaker-pokerstars-marketingThese days, PokerStars doesn’t need as much help in the branding department, given that anybody who googles “online poker” will find them on the front page. Furthermore, their reputation and player base dwarf the rest of the market. But like all companies, they were once a little-known brand looking to establish themselves against larger competitors.

However, while PokerStars was short on name recognition in the early 2000s, they were certainly not short on money. Through a very interesting blog post, marketer and poker player Dan Goldman explains his experiences with Stars. Some of the interesting topics that he covers in his blog post include how well-funded Isai Scheinberg’s company was in the beginning, Goldman’s strong belief in Chris Moneymaker and Ben Affleck’s insane demands.

First off, Goldman created a marketing budget for Stars’ first year and told Scheinberg that he’d need $600,000 for year one. Without hesitating, Scheinberg quickly said, “We have the money we need to properly launch this company.”

chris-moneymaker-billboardGoldman also convinced the PokerStars boss that they should invest $30,000 per month in six billboards around the L.A. area. The billboards (see right), featured Chris Moneymaker and read, “How he became a Moneymaker. – Where Poker Players become World Champions.” Scheinberg needed some convincing, instead thinking their money would best be spent on direct response ads, but he eventually caved. And the billboards actually became a huge success.

As for Affleck, Scheinberg wanted Goldman to get him on a cruise ship where Stars would be sponsoring a World Poker Tour event. Initially, Affleck wanted a $1 million appearance fee, which Scheinberg had no trouble with. However, his list of demands grew to the point where he needed to be flown onto the ship, which would require a special permit from Homeland Security. They couldn’t get the permit so, much to Goldman’s relief, the Affleck thing fizzled out and he didn’t have to spend $1.4 million total (or more) on the movie star.

Anyways, the entire post is quite good and there are more stories from Goldman in the blog.

Dan Bilzerian rattled by Bomb Arrest

December 20th, 2014

dani-bilzerian-partyingNot long ago, poker player Dan Bilzerian was arrested at LAX on bomb charges. The arrest was made on an out-of-state warrant from Nevada after he was accused of having bomb-making materials.

At first glance, it seems like this is just another day in the crazy life of Bilzerian. But according to People Magazine, the “King of Instagram” might be a little more rattled over the matter than meets the eye. As claimed by an unnamed friend, Bilzerian is “distressed” over the charges. The buddy added, “This is so out of character for him. He just wants to put it behind him.”

The explosives case isn’t the only legal matter that Bilzerian is dealing with. He’s also facing assault charges for kicking a woman in the face at Miami’s Liv nightclub. Gossip sites have been distributing a murky clip that shows a muscular man kicking a woman in the face. However, Bilzerian has already hired a lawyer and claims to be innocent in the matter.

Bilzerian told People, “Trashy gossip websites that don’t fact check. The allegations being made about me are absolutely false. I look forward to shedding light on what happened through proper channels.”

The unnamed friend also spoke on this matter, claiming that Bilzerian doesn’t believe in violence against women. “He has never condoned any sort of violence towards women,” the friend said. “That’s just not what he’s about. Sure, he has sexual relationships with women, but he is all about respecting women. The entire thing seems very, very suspect. I think that because of Dan’s public lifestyle, he’s a target for this type of thing.”

With over 5 million followers on both Facebook and Twitter, Bilzerian is one of the biggest social-media celebrities in the world. He’s also gained considerable fame for allegedly making $50 million in high stakes poker. But lately, all he’s been making waves for is his legal trouble.

WSOP Champ Martin Jacobson tells His Main Event Story

December 19th, 2014

martin-jacobson-wsop-main-event-champMartin Jacobson has arguably been this millennium’s most-skilled WSOP Main Event champ prior to winning the prestigious tournament. How Jacobson performs following his Main Event victory is an open book, but so far, he’s off to a great start after recently finishing runner-up in an EPT Prague side event (€60,000).

Many people have heard bits and pieces about Jacobson before and after winning the 2014 ME – i.e. he was a chef, had over $4.5 million in tournament winnings, never won a major title despite plenty of second and third-place efforts. But if you’ve been wanting an expanded take on Jacobson’s actual Main Event experience, then you’ll want to check out a new feature that PokerNews did on him.

As the Swede explains in the following piece, he had never made it past the Day 2 dinner break in previous ME’s. But the seventh time was a charm as he ran through the field and won the $10 million top prize.

Jacobson also explains how great it was to make the November Nine, although he admits that he would’ve liked to have had “more chips at that point,” starting the final table in eighth place.

So how much of that $10m did Jacobson get to keep? He didn’t get into the specifics, but did say, “I swapped out quite a bit of action.” He added, “One of the first things I did when I made the Main Event final table was to contact all my poker friends to see who had interest in helping me to prepare, and also to gather ideas on how I should prepare in the best way.”

It is this help from players that propelled Jacobson to the victory. But enough talk…check out the two parts of this interview below (about 14 minutes long).

Two charged in Danish High Stakes Poker Fraud Case

December 12th, 2014

poker-cheaterEarlier this week, reports surfaced that Danish police were investigating a 32-year-old, former EPT champion in connection with high stakes online poker fraud. The player is rumored to have made millions of euros by ripping off his opponents through Trojan horse viruses, which enabled him to see their hole cards.

Now the Danish news site,, is reporting that two people have been formally charged in the case. Police are waiting to release names of the individuals, and they have yet to formally charge the poker player.

There’s no official confirmation on the player’s name, however, some posters at TwoPlusTwo seem to have a pretty good idea on who it is. Going further, the 2p2’ers started a thread on 2007 EPT Warsaw champion Peter Jepsen long ago.

Torben Koldborg Frederiksen, commissioner of the Division of Economic Crime in Copenhagen, didn’t give many details on the accused. “I can tell you that we have charged two people in the case. Both for aiding and abetting computer fraud,” said Frederiksen.

This whole legal matter brings us back to the 2013 EPT Barcelona tournament, when Finnish high stakes player Jens Kyllonen reported an eerie incident where his computer was stolen from his hotel room, then returned right after he went to speak with security.

Kyllonen believes that at one point, those tampering with his computer may have been hiding in the room when he came back. And when he took his PC to a company called F-Secure, they discovered that somebody had physically installed a Trojan horse on his computer.

It’s been said that the perpetrator in the Danish case has been cheating high stakes players with Trojan horse viruses for almost a decade. So it wouldn’t be inconceivable to think that the EPT Barcelona incidents (Kyllonen wasn’t the only one) and the Danish case are related. We’ll provide an update when names are released in this matter.

Costa Rica lashes out at Movie “Runner Runner”

December 10th, 2014

runner-runner-costa-rica-angryIt’s now been over a year since the movie Runner Runner hit box offices, much to the poker world’s dismay. Initially there was excitement when it was revealed that Rounders writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien were penning the script. However, this excitement turned to horror when the B-movie plot was revealed and online poker was cast in a terrible light.

Apparently, the box office flop, which made just $30 million, has finally made its way to the Costa Rican government. And according to InsideCostaRica, Minister of Public Security, Celso Gamboa, is angry about how the film portrays his country’s Fuerza Publica (national police officers).

“Instead of drawing attention to our country for its flora and fauna, they tarnish the image of our civilian police,” said Gamboa. “It is a way of telling criminals and drug addicts that Costa Rica is perfect (for such behavior). We want this to be fixed because you don’t play with (mock) our country.”

One scene that Gamboa takes particular offense at is how the police officers are drinking, smoking cigars and hanging out with prostitutes. This certainly goes along with the image that the film tries to portray, in that Costa Rica is a crime-riddled, corrupt, online gambling haven.

Some inconsistencies with the movie include that it was filmed in Puerto Rico – not Costa Rica – and the Central-American nation is portrayed as an island (perhaps director Brad Furman is confused with Antigua?).

In any case, Runner Runner, or Apuesta Maxima as it’s known in Costa Rica, has been a failure on so many levels. Now we can add incensing the Costa Rican government to this list of failures. And if you haven’t seen the film before, which I’m hoping is true, check out the trailer below:

Ultimate Poker Long Gone, But Players continue giving Charity

December 3rd, 2014

ultimate-poker-players-charityIt seems like forever ago that Ultimate Poker closed their operation in Nevada…actually it was less than three weeks ago. But in any case, this failure took some wind out of the sails of US online poker proponents. After all, Ultimate was the first legal US site, opening in April 2013.

Unfortunately nothing can be done to help UP, but some of its former players are doing something to help the less fortunate. A charitable movement started a couple weeks ago when writer Marco Valerio found that he would receive a check for $0.18 upon cashing out. Seeing as how you can’t get a 12-ounce can of soda for this amount, he tweeted the following:

Looks like a lot of Nevadans are getting Ultimate Poker checks for tiny amounts. Is anyone interested in pooling them & donating to charity?

Since this tweet, Valerio has received a fairly large amount of support from Nevadans. $2,741 has been pledged to the cause from former UP players while Valerio has collected $1,666 of the pledges. He announced through his blog that donations are still being accepted for charity.

Not that the size of the donation is all that matters, however, it’s worth mentioning that former Team U member Danielle Andersen has given $500. And perhaps other players will give some sizable donations in the near future.

So where is all of this money going? Valerio plans on teaming up with Billy Vogel, who’s worked with the poker community before to drum up funds during the holidays. And Vogel donates this money to help get presents for kids in need. So all in all, it’s great to see something like this arising out of a negative event like UP closing.

French Poker Documentary features Alex Luneau, Sebastien Sabic

December 2nd, 2014

nosebleed-documentaryIf you’ve got an hour and a half to burn and you love poker, then you’ll definitely want to check out “Nosebleed.” This documentary centers on two of the best online poker players of all time, Alex “Alexonmoon” Luneau and Sebastien “Seb86″ Sabic.

The language is in French, but there are English subtitles for the large majority who will need them. And I highly encourage you to watch Nosebleed since it takes an interesting behind-the-scenes look at two elite poker players.

As Luneau explains, the two met in Las Vegas and again in Thailand – when Alex finally decided to get to know Sabic better. What spawned was a partnership where Alexonmoon learned Deuce to Seven and other mixed games from Seb86, while the latter learned NLHE and PLO from Luneau.

The partnership has definitely worked out, with both players making well over a million(s) dollars over the past few years. It’s impossible to say exactly how much because they’ve opted out of HighStakesDB’s tracking system – but it is definitely a lot!

As for the documentary, you can check it out below, and here’s the beginning synopsis if you’re hesitant about clicking play:

Alexandre Luneau and Sebastien Sabic have been playing the biggest online cash games since 2009. They’re young, French, up millions of dollars, and internationally recognized as truly elite players in every Poker variant from NLHE, to 2-7 Lowball and mixed games.

But, this past summer they tried to achieve a different dream: to win a bracelet at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. We followed them for 7 weeks of tournaments, hope, frustration and above all, passion.

Victoria Coren quits PokerStars – She loves Poker, not Casino Games

November 27th, 2014

victoria-coren-pokerstarsWhile PokerStars continues their expansion into casino gaming and sports betting, Victoria Coren won’t be sticking around to see the results. The English poker pro/writer/TV personality announced her resignation from Team PokerStars through her personal blog.

As Coren explains, the announcement that PokerStars will be doing a mass launch of online casino games came “very sudden.” While writing that she isn’t against casino games, the two-time EPT champion doesn’t like the thought of promoting a company that offers them either. Here’s one excerpt from Coren’s blog that really explains her mindset on Stars’ new direction:

But I cannot professionally and publicly endorse it, even passively by silence with my name still over the shop. Poker is the game I love, poker is what I signed up to promote. The question I’m probably asked most often in interviews is about the danger of addiction, going skint and so on. I’m always careful to explain the difference between the essentially fair nature of poker, where we all take each other on with the same basic chance, and those casino games at unfavourable odds which can be (especially online) so dangerous for the vulnerable or desperate.

Unlike many of their sponsored players, which PokerStars treats with a grain of salt these days, it seems like they truly valued what Coren brought to the table. After all, she’s a very successful writer and TV show host. And from the looks of what Coren wrote, it seems as though Stars made a pretty good pitch to keep her on Team PokerStars.

However, the Brit is pretty adamant that she doesn’t want to be associated with the promotion of online casino games. Coren didn’t rule out a possible return to Stars, citing that she will watch from the sidelines and maybe work on “something which is pure poker.” But she seems dead-set on avoiding sponsorships with any casino gambling-related companies, which is what Stars is moving closer towards becoming.

Viktor Blom stars in Unibet Golden Cash Game

November 24th, 2014

EPT8PCAOver the past week, there have been a lot of rumors regarding Viktor ‘Isildur1′ Blom signing with Unibet Poker. About five weeks ago, he was dropped by Full Tilt Poker to make way for their new marketing campaign, which apparently doesn’t include any famous sponsored pros. And the following tweet is what got the poker world talking:

“In Macau right now, but planning to play the @unibet cash game before @unibetopen at Aspers in London end of November. Looks fun!”

We emphasize the word “rumor” here because playing in a televised cash game doesn’t automatically enter you into a long-term deal with a poker site. However, it’s quite interesting that Blom played in the cash game and is playing the Unibet London Open too.

Moving along, the Unibet cash game, which you can see below, features a number of top-notch players. Nicolas Levi and Neil Channing are a couple of other notable pros who take part in this game.

Speaking of Channing, he recently signed with Sky Poker, and that’s no rumor. Channing, who closed down Black Belt Poker in February, found a sponsor at a time when most players can’t get any such deal. Perhaps the 46-year-old’s affable personality combined with his $3.4 million in tournament winnings proved to be the attractive combination that Sky was looking for. Check out both Channing and Blom grinding in the “Golden Cash Game” below:

Is Daily Fantasy Sports going through a Poker Boom?

November 21st, 2014

chris-moneymaker-andrew-luckEven today, many poker players like to discuss the Poker Boom, which, depending upon whom you ask, lasted from 2003 – 2006 (maybe until ’08). Regardless of when the Boom ended, many can agree that the downturn’s fondation was laid when the United States enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). But one activity that avoided the umbrella of this unfavorable 2006 bill against online gambling: fantasy sports.

Largely thanks to the NFL’s deep pockets and desire to keep fantasy sports alive – due to the fan interest it brings – fantasy sports don’t come with the same limitations as online poker and casino games (at least for Americans). So players can use PayPal and other handy forms of payment to fund their accounts.

This is just one reason why daily fantasy sports (DFS) have been exploding over the past 1-2 years. Now, just like online poker today, sites like DraftKings and FanDuel are offering multi-million dollar tournaments.

As we covered before, poker pro Matt Smith was a big beneficiary of one of these tournaments. Smith earned the million-dollar top prize in a $2.2 million NFL tourney on DraftKings. Other noted poker pros who did well in this tourney included Brian Hastings, Aaron Jones and Tony Dunst.

Of course, a boom isn’t built on the participation of pros, but rather the average Joes. And as this New York Post article indicates, Mr. Average Joe is setting his DFS lineup far more often these days.

The NY Post cites how FanDuel expects to pay out over $500 million in prizes this year, and over $1 billion in 2015. Their player base will also reach 1 million people this year, quadruple what it was in 2013. And while 1 million is FAR off the 50 million-plus that PokerStars boasts, it indicates that the largest DFS sites are growing by leaps and bounds.

Will DFS ever reach the lofty status that online poker did in the mid-2000s (and remains at today)? Well, there’s no Chris Moneymaker figure in the DFS world yet. But both DraftKings and FanDuel seem to be driving the game, much like PokerStars and Full Tilt did for internet poker. And with DFS tournaments growing larger and larger, it’s only a matter of time before the football-loving version of Moneymaker comes along.