After a brief departure from QuadJacks, Valerio returned to lead it through what should be a very interesting time in the poker world. Nevada and New Jersey have given the thumbs up to online poker (Nevada is already up and running while New Jersey is on the way) and casino power brokers in California are working feverishly to figure out the online poker landscape there. QuadJacks will continue to be a key information source for all as things transpire.
Valerio’s been said to ask the tough questions so ADANAI turned to tables on him. See how he handles the hot seat in this exclusive interview.
ADANAI: How did you find your way into the poker world?
MV: I had always liked poker, but I grew up in Italy, where 5 Card Draw was the standard poker game for many years. I didn’t discover Texas Hold’em until I was in college and I was invited to a poker night with some of my buddies. This was around 2009.
I immediately fell in love with the game and started consuming everything I could about it. A few months later, a buddy I used to play with asked me if I wanted to intern at a poker media company he worked for called QuadJacks. I started conducting some on-camera interviews right around the 2010 WSOP. I had no idea what I was doing, but I went along with it and that’s what led me to where I am now.
ADANAI: Do you still play poker?
MV: Not very often. Usually I’m too busy. The only poker I get to play these days is strictly recreational. Lately I’m trying to make more time for it though. I live in Las Vegas, so I have easy access to all this great action and I’m trying to take better advantage of it.
ADANAI: Outside of poker, what are your interests?
MV: I have lots of them, but the thing I love about the poker world right now is that it’s allowing me to have an outlet for so many of my other interests. For example, I’m fairly into politics and social issues, so when I get to study or report on poker legislation, it satisfies me. I also like to be creative, so whenever I get to produce multimedia on my own, like recording and then editing my own videos, I have a blast.
ADANAI: Is the QuadJacks audience the poker player, the poker fan or both?
MV: I think it’s both. A lot of pros follow us and a lot of recreational players follow us. With that said, we’re usually addressing a community that is regularly paying some amount of attention to poker affairs.
When we cover gaming, for example, we assume that our readership is already familiar with Black Friday and the Wire Act and what it all means for the future of the industry. If we didn’t, we would have to spend the majority of our time catching everyone up, something the mainstream media has to do.
ADANAI: It is well documented that post-Black Friday the advertising dollars available to poker media outlets in the U.S. declined significantly. What was the impact on QuadJacks?
MV: From that point of view, nothing changed for us. We kept starving just as we always had. The thing is, even before Black Friday, we never wanted to do business with online poker operators. It wasn’t that we foresaw Black Friday or anything, it’s that we didn’t want to be in their pockets like everybody else.
When the Wire Act was reinterpreted in December 2011 to favor the redevelopment of online gaming in this country, I visualized a future for QuadJacks in a newly regulated U.S. environment. More than ever, I continued to resist any business dealings with U.S.-facing online poker sites, or any offshore online gaming sites for that matter, and although it was hard sledding back in those days, I am happy to say that it was worth it in the end.
ADANAI: How else did Black Friday impact the poker community? Did anything positive come of it?
MV: I think one of the big positives of Black Friday is that the American poker community got pretty well educated. Not just about the nature of the gaming industry, but about U.S. politics and civics. Before Black Friday, I doubt many online players would have been able to tell you how the Senate differed from the House, or what a lame duck session was. But they understand that stuff better now because of federal online gaming bills and the attention they received in the mainstream press.
I’m not saying that everyone is Nate Silver now, but certainly the attention that has been paid to post-Black Friday developments has helped the poker community become much better informed about a variety of subjects, from politics to law to business etc.
ADANAI: So where does that leave the poker community today?
MV: To put it simplistically, I think the online poker community is split in two. You have the pros and you have the hobbyists. Most pros had to explore other options to continue making their income once online poker was outlawed in America. Some moved to other countries to keep playing online. Others switched to live poker, and this has also caused nationwide relocation.
The hobbyists, on the other hand, are passionate about the game but don’t rely on it to live. Ironically, I think they most actively push for the legalization of online poker. That’s because they have time to dedicate to the campaign, whereas pros, for better or worse, are too busy playing.
There’s sometimes a debate: why aren’t more pros speaking out on behalf of online poker? I think this division roughly explains it. If you’re an American poker pro who can still play online in a beautiful Vancouver apartment, you’re probably less likely to be indignant than a passionate recreational player without the means or desire to move to Canada.
ADANAI: Nevada is back online with New Jersey close behind. How do you think things will continue to unfold?
MV: I’m very excited and optimistic for the future of online gaming in this country. I’m probably one of the very few people in the poker community who doesn’t think that a “federal solution” is the most desirable outcome. At least, I’m not yet totally sold on the idea.
I think most poker players have a very unrealistic idea of how beneficial a federal bill would be. They believe it would create this paradise of liquidity, like they were used to before Black Friday. In practice though it wouldn’t be nearly that easy.
What’s more, a federal bill is likely to severely thwart the freedom of individual states to pursue online gaming the way they see fit. From an industrial and economic standpoint, that would be a disaster. State-by-state online gaming would create jobs, empower local economies and stimulate competition, which in the long run is what would really benefit the American poker player. Pre-empting all these benefits just so that a poor smattering of states can be more easily pooled together would be detrimental to the whole, making it an extremely egotistical thing for poker players to desire.
ADANAI: Do you think the online industry structure will resemble pre-Black Friday in the sense that a couple of major players (PokerStars and Full Tilt) will reign supreme while a bunch of smaller outfits struggle for relevance?
MV: Absolutely not. I think it’s taken way too much for granted that PokerStars would supposedly dominate the U.S. market if it were allowed to re-enter it without prejudice – a scenario that appears highly unlikely to begin with. Sure, they’d be a force to reckon with, but the principal reason PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker became so powerful in the first place is because they operated in the United States without competition since 2006, when everybody else pulled out.
It’s ridiculous to assume that a company could re-enter a highly competitive market and get by without having to do anything. Actually, if you are rooting for online poker to continuously improve, you have to hope that PokerStars doesn’t dominate, or at least doesn’t have such an easy time of it. It would mean that its competitors aren’t trying hard enough to come up with something new and innovative.
ADANAI: Recent reports claim that Jamie Gold is selling his WSOP Main Event bracelet. There have been similar rumors related to Jerry Yang’s financial difficulties. Greg Raymer has faced legal issues. Peter Eastgate seems to have pretty much given up the game.
The Main Event winner is supposed to be an ambassador for the sport – why are so many of them dealing with personal dilemmas or acting disinterested?
MV: Efforts to make “ambassadors” out of the most visible poker players are usually well intended, but you can only hold it against them so much when they don’t turn out to be role models. With poker, it’s not as if the game inherently attracts or nurtures any particular virtues.
To succeed in poker you mainly need cleverness and luck. Camaraderie is usually rewarded, as is fairness, but it doesn’t say anywhere that you have to be a gentleman and a scholar. Quite frankly, I’m fine with that continuing to be the case.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s absolutely wonderful, and important, to continue to encourage good behavior, class and dignity from those who personify the game in the eyes of the public. But “a chip and a chair” should remain the primary qualifications for success in poker. When you impose new restrictions, as many have tried to do, you harm the institution.
Various parties within the poker world look to turn poker “more into a sport.” But poker isn’t a sport, nor should it be.
ADANAI: The QuadJacks interview with poker pro Gus Hansen during the WSOP was very entertaining. He said he missed Day 1 of the Main Event because he was in a really good high stakes Open Face Chinese poker game. Is it bad that some of the most famous poker players aren’t taking the WSOP as seriously as they used to?
MV: I asked the exact same question to (poker pro) Ike Haxton later on in the summer. He explained that high stakes players like him and Gus are starting to see the WSOP as catering more to the “general” poker playing public. One way they’re notably doing this is by lowering buy-ins. If you’re a high stakes poker player, then by definition this will tend to alienate you.
Moreover, I agree with Ike that overall, the WSOP is losing a bit of its luster – an inevitable consequence after the dozens of gold bracelets awarded year after year. The perceived value of a WSOP gold bracelet diminishes as their numbers within the poker community inflate.
I still think the WSOP is a wonderful poker festival, and I feel it’s going to do a good job of diversifying and remaining relevant, especially once it rolls out its real-money online gaming platform. The poker world is changing, and it’s only fitting that entities like the WSOP change with it. You’re starting to see the WSOP in different places around the world – awarding bracelets in places like Europe, South Africa, and now even China. Ultimately, I think this kind of expansion really symbolizes the well being of poker worldwide, not the fluctuating value of a piece of metal.
ADANAI: What’s next for QuadJacks?
MV: Good question. I usually have a hard time with this one because you never know what might happen to the industry and how it may change these days. We try as much as we can to remain flexible, and it has worked out well for us. The industry is starting to solidify, and as usual, I think you will continue to see us adapt with it.
The most important thing for us is to continue to connect with our community. We came to prominence on Black Friday because we were a unique place where the informed poker community could come together. Continuing to be a place like that remains a priority for the foreseeable future.