Interview Paul and Ben Jackson

April 2012 Cover

02 April 2012

In the space of just over two months, Ben Jackson, son of Paul “Action” Jackson, steamrolled his way through the Coventry and Blackpool GUKPTs, winning two side events, finishing second in a main event and then final-tabling the Grand Final in London.

All the more impressive when you consider he’s only 18-years-old. We caught up with Genting Poker’s father and son team, two players who epitomise the old and new schools of poker.

Paul: You could argue that in my career I haven’t been aggressive enough, that I haven’t taken enough chances, but I’ve had a wife and children to support for most of my poker life.

Ben: I’ve never really spent much money. I don’t really think I have much value for money; I just don’t really go out spending it.

Paul, you must be proud of Ben’s achievements...

Paul: I am. It’s actually more enjoyable to see Ben do well than it is to do well myself. What proud father wouldn’t want to see his son be successful in anything, but to be successful at something that I’ve been involved in for so long is just great. He’s also very good at the game.

Did you encourage him to play?

Paul: I didn’t really directly encourage him at all. He just used to watch me play and he used to ask me questions, and obviously I’d answer them in the fullest way I could, because that’s what I do with anybody when they ask me poker questions. I used to do a lot of teaching of poker, and I know that the most important thing is to explain things in a way that people can understand, so I helped him in that way, but it wasn’t like I was ever intent on him following in my footsteps. I’ve got five children and I’ve always just encouraged them to do whatever they want to do; with Ben, it’s poker, and it’s great having him around at poker events, because he’s so good now he helps me.

So how did you get into the game, Ben?

Ben: I started watching it and I think I just got intrigued by it. I started off really well, and I think ever since I’ve just always wanted to play poker.

Paul, which specific qualities does Ben have that makes him a good poker player?

Paul: One is intelligence, two is patience. And possibly the most impressive talent he’s got is his general demeanour, in that he doesn’t get phased at all when he’s playing. When he won his first GUKPT tournament in Coventry, he was up against a really loud and aggressive woman, who was really trying to put him off, shouting and screaming in his face, and he literally just sat there and smiled at her. He doesn’t get annoyed, he doesn’t bite back; he just smiles at her because he knows he’s going to beat her.

Are those inherited characteristics?

Paul: Do be honest he gets them from his mum (laughs). Although I suppose I don’t get aggressive, either. I can get quite loud and can dominate a table from a personality perspective, but that’s only because I’ve been in the game so long and seen so many situations, and that also means nothing really gets to me. So I might be loud but I would never be aggressive or say anything offensive to anyone.

I’d hope the patience comes from me, although I find myself getting less patient as I get older. I’m getting old and grumpy! Certainly, online, I’m far less patient than I used to be.

Did Mum think, “Oh, God, not another poker player in the family!”?

Ben: She was like that at first, but she came round to it.

Paul: I think, with any parent, when your child (or husband) isn’t doing something you perceive as steady and reliable, you worry. And Mum was a bit like that. I could see how good he was so I was less worried. Now that his mum has actually seen him be successful, it’s a little different. When he was in the GUKPT final at Blackpool, she drove up to watch him and support him. It’s not so much a case of “Oh God, not another poker player,” but more, “Is he going to have the sort of income that every person needs when they go out in the world by themselves?”

Pre-poker boom, when Ben was growing up, poker was a bit...

Paul: Dodgy! It still is a bit dodgy. All the dodgy people who were involved before are still involved; they just make up a smaller percentage of the poker population now. Poker used to be perceived as a dingy, dodgy game played by dingy, dodgy people in smoky rooms – and to many minds it still is. And 30 years ago that probably wasn’t an inaccurate description. But we’ve moved on miles.

Would you be open about your profession at, say, parents’ evenings, or was it something to hide?

Paul: Well, to begin with, it wasn’t my main profession, but you’re right – I would have kept quiet, I would have been embarrassed to say it to a teacher at a parents’ evening, not because I was ashamed of it, but because I knew what it would immediately install in that person’s mind. Nowadays I’m quite proud when I say it, because so many people who come into poker do well for a short period of time and then disappear. But to actually say you’ve been involved in poker as long as I have and to have been able to finance my living expenses through poker for the last ten years or so – that’s something I’m proud of, because it’s not easy.

Is that something you’re concerned about with Ben – that it can be tough to survive in this game?

Paul: Well, a bit maybe, but the main reason people fail in this game is because...

Ben: They haven’t controlled themselves...

Paul: Well, A: they haven’t controlled themselves, and B: They’ve tried to fly towards the sun, so to speak, and ended up with their wings burnt – too much too soon. And a lot of them weren’t very good poker players to begin with. The most profitable way of playing poker in the short term is to play as badly as possible and get lucky. What they do is play very aggressively all of the time, regardless of the situation. You could argue that in my career I haven’t been aggressive enough, that I haven’t taken enough chances, but I’ve had a wife and children to support for most of my poker life. It’s much easier to take a chance when you’re living at home with your parents and you have no responsibilities, and if it goes wrong – who cares? But maybe it’s convenient for me to say that because it justifies why I’ve sometimes been more careful than I should have been in many situations.

But Ben is a very good player and he also has the sense to understand the pitfalls of the game, maybe because he hears me banging in about them all the time. He’s had some success, and hopefully he’ll have more success, but he’ll be sensible with it, so we won’t be playing massively outside his bankroll or anything.

How are you with money, Ben? It must be dangerous to be 18 with a few quid in the bank.

Ben: I’ve never really spent much money. I don’t really think I have much value for money; I just don’t really go out spending it. I just put it in the bank and if I want something I’ll buy it.

Paul: He’s very level-headed, and yes, he does have less value for money than he should have, but it doesn’t manifest itself as a problem because he’s not a waster. He doesn’t want to go out and look flash. He does want an Audi TT, which will have a ridiculous level of insurance, but that’s the only luxury he’s really interested in. When he won in Blackpool, he got the cheque and just gave it to his mum.

Is poker something you want to do forever, Ben?

Ben: Yeah, definitely. Or at least... hopefully! I went to college last year and did a Sports A-level, and I passed that, and then I just really wanted to play poker.

Paul: I had to force him to do that. He didn’t want to; he just wanted to play poker. He said to me if he ever ended up working in an office he would consider his life to have been a failure! (laughs).

Paul is rightly proud of you, Ben, but were you proud of your dad, growing up, particularly the now-viral YouTube footage of him rebluffing Phil Ivey heads up at the Monte Carlo Millions?

Ben: (Laughs) I didn’t really understand it at the time because I didn’t really play poker then, but looking back at it now, it’s just very impressive, from both players.

Paul: I played my hand better that he played his. He should have folded.

That’s the spirit, Paul, don’t get too results-orientated. In terms of playing styles, do you fit into those old-school / new-school stereotypes?

Ben: Sort of, yeah, but that means we can bounce ideas off each other. If we both played in the same way, we’d just be talking about the same things all the time and that would be boring. The fact that we can talk about hands and situations in different ways means that we can learn from each other.

Paul: A lot of the stuff I help Ben with is not about strategy, because he knows how to do that himself; in fact, strategy is what he’ll help me with. For example, I know that I don’t 3-bet enough, so I’ll be asking his advice as to what sort of people he looks to target, what size stack sizes – the different variables he takes into account when deciding to 3-bet with a bad hand, basically. One of the main things I help Ben with is with live tells, because I’ve been playing live for 25 years.

Is there any general advice about live tells that you can share, or are they all very player-specific?

Paul: Well, there are some general ones. The biggest one Ben and I have been talking about recently is when people smile. When someone’s feeling nervous, they try to smile naturally, and very often they’ll give what I call a false smile, where you’re trying to smile but you don’t really want to. So, if you say something funny during a hand and they smile and it looks genuine, it doesn’t tell you anything because people can fake a smile; but if they do a false smile, then it’s extremely likely that they’re uncomfortable because you can’t fake a false smile. Generally, in poker, when someone’s uncomfortable it’s a good idea to call them.

Who is the better poker player, father or son?

Paul: If we both played 100 tournaments against the same 99 players, I think I would probably cash more but he would win more outright.

Ben: That’s probably true. I think he’s better, but he thinks I’m better.

What happens if you’re drawn the same table?

Ben: We’re always drawn same table!

Are you able to be cutthroat towards each other?

Ben: No, we’re not.

Paul: We’re not cutthroat at all. We’d just rather not be there. But again, probably one of my failings as a poker player, although not as a human being, is that there are lots of people that I’ll play against that I won’t be cutthroat with. Anyone that I really like, I find it hard. Call it soft-playing or whatever you like, but I just won’t be cutthroat with someone I like. Ultimately we play poker to win money, but there are more important things to me than money.

What about someone who’s obviously out of his depth and is playing with money he shouldn’t?

Paul: Well, again, it’s about your perception of them. If they’re an unpleasant person, or aggressive or nasty, I’d quite happily take their money off them. If it’s someone I actually feel sorry for, I’d probably tell them to get up and leave. I’ve done that before.

Ben: I don’t look at it like that. Whoever’s at the table, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to play my game.

So you’ve had a lot of success in the GUKPTs, Ben. Are you looking to repeat that in the Genting Series of Poker?

Ben: I think the Genting Series is better structured than the GUKPTs, which means there’s more play involved, so hopefully I can be even more successful in them. We’re both going to be playing every single one, so who knows?

Paul: The Genting tournaments are designed to benefit poker players. The structure is designed to please as many people as possible – you get people who don’t want a tournament that’s too long, or one that’s too short, so it’s about finding the happy medium. There’s a great mix of players, too. You can get some absolute beginners who have qualified online; a lot of locals because they run a lot of live satellites in the clubs, plus people coming from all over the country because the structure’s so good and because they’re guaranteeing £100,000 which is a significant amount of money.

What’s the poker scene like in the Midlands at the moment?

Ben: It’s pretty healthy, especially in Birmingham, at Broadway. There are very good cash games there, three, four, five times a week.

It must be a lot different to when you started out, Paul...

Paul: It’s much cleaner. Everywhere’s much cleaner and safer, much better run. Sometimes I think about the old days when I’m playing now and there’s some young lad shouting his mouth off. If you acted like that when I first started, you wouldn’t actually get out of door with your ability to walk intact. There were certain people in the casinos you just couldn’t speak to like that. You couldn’t laugh at someone for losing a pot; you couldn’t slowroll; you could celebrate excessively, because you might get seriously hurt and the people who ran the casinos would turn a blind eye. The things that people still regard as etiquette now were punishable offences then, certainly in the casinos in Wolverhampton 25 years ago. You can do those things now, because casinos are safe, and ultimately that’s a good thing.