Table Talk With Tikay

Table Talk With Tikay

Friday, 16 January 2015

Tony Kendall looks back at an eventful 2014.

Before we look at the 12 months that stretch before us like a dealer fanning the deck, let’s turn our eye to a few of the most memorable changes to the poker world in 2014…

Makeovers & Takeovers

To celebrate the arrival of 2015, Bluff Europe has had a makeover, without a reality TV judges panel or documentary camera crew in sight. I like it! 
2014 saw plenty of changes, some as welcome as your hand making quads on the river, others more like folding aces on the flop. Who saw the takeover of the mighty PokerStars by Amaya Gaming coming? Very few, I suspect, and the price raised an eyebrow like Roger Moore’s James Bond at a staggering $4.9 billion. It’s astonishing how quickly PokerStars became so valuable, given that it only started trading on September 11th, 2001. In an historical oddity, it was a date which came to be remembered for very different reasons - the infamous tragedy that was 9/11. 

That date, in two very different ways, changed everyday life for the whole world and both online and live poker across the industry. As a side note, surely it’s time that a Modern History of Online Poker was written? There have been so many dramatic twists and turns when you reflect on the last fifteen years, so if a documentary needs someone to stroll past cardrooms and provide a voiceover or two over a bad beat montage, who would I be to say no?

Riding the Rollercoaster

December saw the surprise news that Sky Betting & Gaming, which includes Sky Poker, was to be sold to CVC Capital Partners in a deal that valued the Online Gaming Group at £800 million. The newspapers tend to dumb down news, so all the chatter was about “CVC, who own Formula 1”, which they do, but do you know what other investments CVC have? Didn’t think so.  The CVC portfolio also includes Skrill, Samsonite (the luggage people), AA (car breakdowns, not drinking problems), Madame Tussauds (no jokes about standing still), Legoland (building their empire brick-by-brick) and Alton Towers, an investment guaranteed to go up and down as well as round and round. Quite a mix there, and no obvious synergy, with the possible exception of Skrill.

Unlike some other recent takeovers, which resulted in a change of direction and an awful lot of hoohah, the CVC/SB&G deal won’t be quite so controversial. Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair, always says “All noise is good noise.” The jury remains out on that.
Some innovative marketing would surely be advisable at Sky Poker under the new set up. Think about it; a poker promo in which you win a family pass to Alton Towers, or free AA breakdown cover for a year? I’ve heard dafter ideas! It’s about time poker and the outside commercial world connected - we’ve been insular for far too long as an industry and it would be good for the game all round.

Ambassador, You Are Spoiling Us!

In another skilled move, Neil Channing became Sky Poker’s new ambassador. A proper coup, but there’s no way I’m addressing him as “Your Excellency”, no matter how much he asks.
Meanwhile, Queen Victoria (Coren-Mitchell) exited PokerStars, but did you see her abdication statement? Typically Vicky, no brickbats were thrown and no digs were made. She was kind, polite and deferential. If she doesn’t win Poker Personality of the Year at the British Poker Awards, I’ll eat my poker hat.
The UKIPT Ambassadors & Red Pros also disappeared from Full Tilt Poker in 2014, which was a bit sad I thought. But life moves on, the game is changing, and change is good. There will be opportunities galore for young poker professionals who are prepared to work hard to promote a site. In many ways, it was a momentous year for online poker. We’ll all be just fine and, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air was needed.

The Beat Jan 15

Four Cards And...In!
I don’t envy youngsters just getting into poker and trying to beat No Limit Hold’em. It’s never been tougher, and so many people both play and coach it so well, that anyone coming in via the front door now has to be quite exceptional to beat it. The poker media, both print & television, (and I include Bluff Europe and Ch 861 in there) seem to force feed us NLH. It’s a great game, but not the only one.
Pot Limit Omaha is a truly beautiful game, as are the variants derived from it, be they five or six-card hybrids, or Hi-Lo. If you have never played it, do yourself a favour and give it a whirl. Learn the beauty of super-wraps, the perils of giving a free card or trapping, and the ability to fold bad aces pre-flop. Yes, in PLO there are good and bad aces, and letting go of the absolute flopped nuts multi-way when you have no extensions or improvers is a weird feeling, but a great one when you get it right. PLO is exciting, fast, and really makes you think. Oh, and it is way, way easier to beat than NLH.
So if the old A-K v Q-Q flips are getting a bit tiresome for you – it always ends up as a flip in NLH – go on, give PLO a try. Hold’em, with only two hole-cards, will never seem the same again.

A New Era

2015 will be a really good one, and there are loads of reasons why. Poker goes in cycles, or at least, opinions do. So here’s mine.
Cast your mind back ten years, when ‘live’ players all laughed at “those pesky internet players… they’re all rubbish!”
Within a few short years, the position had reversed completely, and online players hammered “lol @ live players” into their collective chat box.
Did you notice that trend in 2014, when suddenly, after years of seemingly neglecting them, online poker sites suddenly realised that the recreationals deserved a better deal, and were worth looking after? Almost every site began to address it last year and not before time. Now the buzz phrase across the industry is a ‘level playing field’.
The best players will always win more, they just will, but we have to address the perception recreationals have that they are simply fodder for the pros. Look at how many recreational players turn into professionals. The big story of 2015 may be just how far the online sites take this.
So, with online poker emerging from a period and live poker on the rise, have the two effectively merged? Well, they’re not exactly married, but they’re definitely an item. They are almost all exactly the same players, so we should recognize that, and stop with the knocking. Live and online bothneed each other. Never forget that. Online poker is fast, and that’s fine, but the lazy pace of the live game is great too. When you’re sitting opposite your opponent in real life, you get time to chat, form relationships, get a massage, or even hold the hand of the players next to you. Just think, you could end up holding hands with Phil Hellmuth. Unless you’re Dan Colman, maybe.
2014 saw a resurgence in the live scene, with some great tours, record-breaking fields right here in the UK, and innovative marketing, especially from Rob Yong and his team up at Dusk Till Dawn. Expect more of the same, only bigger & better, in 2015, starting with the £1 million guaranteed Sky Poker UKPC at DTD in February. A millball! Who’d have thought?
A decade ago, live poker was all freezeouts, and if you arrived after the first hand was dealt, you were disqualified. Now we have late registration, re-buys, re-entries, variable stacks, live and online hybrid MTT’s, all sorts.

The 2015 World Series of Poker

I was chatting privately to a friend of mine who is ‘a suit’ at the WSOP, and he told me that the 2015 series will be a corker.
Have you ever considered the logistics of organising the WSOP? On any given day at the World Series, up to 3,000 unique players take a seat somewhere amongst all those cavernous cardrooms at the Rio. It’s not a Dolly Parton (Nine to Five) either, the Rio runs 24/7, with the bulk of the action between high noon and 2.00am - that’s two shifts of several hundred dealers who need rustling up, providing with uniforms, training, and organised. Rustling cattle would be easier!
It’s an astonishing feat of logistics, and I doubt I’ve ever looked forward to a WSOP more than this one. If I have to hire a rowing boat to get there, I will. Playing or even just blogging from the World Series is the best thing ever, and fingers crossed, the Brits will field a stronger team this year. Maybe they’ll even bring home the prettiest bracelet of them all.
So who’s my long-range tip for best British performance at the 2015 World Series of Poker? Alex Goulder. The kid oozes class, and has some real game. 2015 will be the year Goulder gets the lot.

King For the year

I hereby ban all third party software in online poker.

Lo, a British player will win WSOP Main Event this summer… imagine the buzz of that rail!

A minimum of one poker player per castle must give Pot Limit Omaha a try, just for a week. 

The greatest card game in the kingdom, poker, will reach out to non-poker commercial sponsors. Register for the Ryanair Rebuy, Flop the nuts in the Ford Focus Freezeout, or ‘checkout’ the Tesco Turbo Tournament!

The kingdom declares a final proclamation - that we shall all survive 2015 with our health & bankroll intact.
A very Happy Poker New Year to you all!  

Tags: Tony Kendall, Tikay, columnists