How to Live the Life of the Freerolling Poker Professional

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So, you want to be a pro. In the old days, that meant you had to win enough money at the poker table to pay the bills and have a good life. Today, the route to a happy professional career is to be a sponsored player.

 

It’s a piece of cake. All you have to do is reach an agreement with an online poker site and you will get to play for free in a number of prestigious tournaments in return for wearing the company logo and smiling for the cameras.

 

Sponsorship can really work for both sides. When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker, he was signed up by PokerStars.com and made probably the most high-profile media tour any poker player has ever undertaken, including a TV appearance on David Letterman, which was watched by millions. The combination of the man, the story, and that crazy name helped PokerStars grow 1,000 percent in 12 months.

 

So, do you have what it takes? Here are a few pointers for wannabe professionals.

 

Look the Part

Doyle Brunson didn’t become a poker icon because of his looks, but those of you without back-to-back WSOP titles and gold-plated legendary status need to think seriously about your image. I like the way Marcel Luske makes an effort with his appearance, and there is something obviously telegenic about guys like Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, and Luca Pagano. Victoria Coren is an excellent poker player and writer, but those are not the only reasons poker sites queue up to offer her sponsorship. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson has the hat/beard/wraparound-shades look that photographers just cannot resist. Yet, the value of a good image seems to go over the head of many poker players, and I am sometimes surprised to see guys show up for televised EPT final tables looking like they’ve slept in their clothes.

 

Be Professional

Simple courtesies like being on time and keeping in contact are beyond the abilities of some poker players. If there is any marketing work to be done beyond playing poker, take professional pride in giving it your best shot. A champion European player of my acquaintance blithely mentioned that he’d refused a TV interview because he was worried about his tax situation. That’s fine, but no one is going to sponsor a player who turns down gift-wrapped media opportunities.

 

What’s in a Name?

Dave Ulliott? Nothing. The Devilfish? Everything. You can be sure that at every press interview Dave has ever done, he’s been asked where his nickname came from. It’s part of his story (see below), it suits him, and it greatly increases his marketable value. I also have noticed that in the online world, the value of a good user name is also increasing — think of “Exclusive”, “PokerGirl”, or “Fossilman” — so pick your handle with care.

 

It’s Good to Talk about poker pkv games online

I just love Phil Hellmuth’s Wisconsin whine — so obnoxious yet vulnerable at the same time. Like him or loathe him, Phil invariably makes terrific television, and the main reason for this is that he talks. Marcel talks, The Devilfish talks, and Ram Vaswani doesn’t talk because he’s so damn cool that he doesn’t have to. But my advice is this: If you’re going to play poker in front of the cameras, don’t sit there like a gorgon. Say something!

 

What’s Your Story?

We’re getting to the stage of the poker explosion where merely being good at cards is not enough. The media wants more. They want a story, and this is not something that can be manufactured. If you left school at 18 and have been an online poker nerd ever since, you’re not going to have much of a yarn to spin. But if you used to be a sports champ, or you sold your Internet business for a fortune, or you escaped Vietnam by boat in the ’70s … well, that gives the “you” story a much more satisfying spin. “So, Yevgeny, what did you do before you took up poker full time?” “I was the world’s number one tennis player.” There’s your story.

 

Consider a Sex Change

If you are female, please skip this paragraph. If you are a male, I have bad news for you. In the weird world of poker media, women count double — maybe triple. In my opinion, the media’s fascination with women poker players is disproportionate. My sister plays a mean game of poker. So what? One day a woman will win the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, and then the whole show will go crazy.

 

Understanding Media

Telling your story (see above) is only the first stage. Stage two involves working your sponsor into the item, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. Overdo it and the story gets ditched, leave it out and your value as a company spokesman drops. I heard darts champion Phil “The Power” Taylor giving an excellent interview on BBC Radio recently, promoting a new TV poker tournament. Phil is a master at self-promotion because he is funny, enthusiastic, and natural, but I suspect the PR people were tearing their hair out at the end of that interview. Why? Because Phil never once mentioned the tournament sponsors.

 

Win Something …

Now we are getting to the really hard bit. The small matter of a title — say, 2005 WSOP Champion — is not the easiest thing to get your hands on, although the expanding number of TV competitions with the word “World” in the title is giving players extra shots at glory. If you want to be a sponsored player, you’ll need them, because those little letters — WSOP, WPT, EPT, and so on — are your qualifications to a professional future.

 

….On Television

Poker sites only care about exposure, primarily TV exposure. The value of sponsorship away from the media glare is pretty much nil. Just so you know.

 

Learn to Take Rejection

The vast majority of people who approach poker sites for sponsorship are going to be disappointed. They simply do not make a compelling case for sponsorship because the Chris Moneymakers of this world do not come along very often. But don’t give up hope. Once you’ve dazzled the public with your poker skills and larger-than-life personality in a megabucks TV special, you’ll be a real contender. Come and find me. I’ll be at the bar. ´