Monday, August 24, 2015

Infiltrating an Industry...

The year is 2009 and we are entering the fourth quarter. Up until this point, I had been playing poker online and live for over six years. Most of that time was during my college experience at UCF, in Orlando, where I went from the Information Technology field to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. After returning home to south Florida, I decided to start a poker coaching service. I wanted to help others realize their poker goals, understand the perseverance needed to make it as a poker player, improve their mentality on and off the felt, and teach them the concepts and skills that would help make them successful. Coaching would also benefit me, by sharpening my skills, generating risk-free income, and creating a successful environment with my pupils.

One of my first students, Mayito, came to me with a concern and opinion:

“Tristan – There is this company called DeepStacks University. They do poker coaching just like you. They signed a guy from Florida who doesn’t have nearly the results or expertise as you. I’m going to reach out to them for you and see what they say.”

I was a little hesitant, but I wasn’t going to interfere with what Mayito was doing. He felt a type of way, and I thought it was commendable for him to act upon that.

A few weeks later (thanks to Mayito) I found myself driving a familiar route, taking I-95 North to Orlando, to meet with Chris Torina at a Cheesecake Factory in Winter Park.

Chris’s story was an unusual one. He was a cop for almost ten years, worked undercover narcotics for six, as well as two years on SWAT. He quit his job to pursue his dream of entrepreneurship, and started this poker company, DeepStacks University.

It was a poker training business that created online modules and organized/ran live poker training seminars (named DeepStacks Live.) A couple of the professional poker players who were apart of the business at the time were: Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi, Tom McEvoy, and Justin “Boosted J” Smith. That was quite the lineup of names teaching poker, although I didn’t know any of them really well at the time.

Although the meeting went well, I was still a little indecisive. The gig appeared to be worth it, but I needed to think through things and do some research. I took it very seriously to represent a poker company. Chris seemed like a genuine guy, but reputation is all you can go by in the poker world. I was uncertain about his.

A few weeks later it was official. At the beginning of 2010, I signed on to the DeepStacks University team. (I remember wearing the patch for the first time at Atlantis, in the Bahamas, for the PCA Main Event.) Now, I was a part of the brand. I started out doing a couple online modules for the DeepStacksU website, before my first live training experience approached in Tampa. 

(PCA Main)

This was my first time meeting a lot of the people who were involved with the business, including some of the players, like Mike Matusow and Justin Smith. I did know one person, and that was Adam “Roothlus” Levy. We competed heavily in online poker tournaments, and we played basketball/hung out a few times in Orlando together. (I have quite a few stories from my first DeepStacks trip…)

The pros and other members of the team gathered in a convention space at the Embassy Suites on Westshore Blvd. People found their way into the room, to meet “The Mouth” and the team, and hear about our training camp we were running the following day. Our job was to sell them on that educational seminar. This business model quickly changed.

Not long after the trip to Tampa, the live training space shifted for the company. Instead of selling our camps to people who came to meet and greet us, we were having people sign up ahead of time. This seemed more sustainable. Now we could predict how many students we would have at a camp. I enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with people who were passionate about the game. The people at DeepStacks could see this. Plus, they heard great things about my coaching from the students who came to our camps. It wasn’t long until, a few months down the road, I was named “DeepStacks Director of Training.”

I started by creating PowerPoint presentations that would open and lead the training camp. My job was to educate the masses on fundamentals and teach them the basic strategies that every poker player should know. My presentation, coupled with sitting at the tables and playing hands against all of our instructors, helped our student’s learn that information, and any other nuggets of knowledge we dropped. We all had our own teaching style. It was a lot of fun and insightful to hear everyone’s thoughts on the game. Our customers really enjoyed their experience. Especially when Mike Matusow would blowup and throw chips at them. Luckily, no lawsuits ensued. Ha… He was just having fun!

**************************************************************************

In the beginning of 2011, I was still able to legally play online poker. I played frequently. (For those who don’t know, the United States government made online poker illegal on April 15th, 2011. Only three states have since passed legislation to play online legally.) Something horrible happened one day when I was at the gym. I tore the ACL in my right knee playing basketball. This wasn’t anything new to me, as I shattered the ACL in my left knee a few years prior while in college, partaking in the same sport. If there was one thing poker had taught me up until this point, it was how to handle bad beats. “That’s quite unlucky Tristan…” I thought. I tried my best to keep a positive perspective. The only solution was to have surgery, recover, and come back stronger.

After I completed my procedure, I was bed ridden for two weeks. It would take a couple months before I was walking normal again, and even longer before I could engage in physical activities. This injury provided me downtime at home, and I played even more online poker. I had nothing else to do, and online poker was my best friend.

A few months later, in March, I defeated ~80 players to win the DeepStacks Poker Tour $2500 Main event in Reno for almost $60,000. It was an awesome win for me. Although it was a small event, it was fulfilling to come into a city with the DeepStacks crew, teach a camp, and WALK (ha) away with the trophy and all the cash!

My skills were razor sharp heading into the 2011 World Series of Poker (WSOP.) There, I made two final tables. The first, I finished seventh out of 3,157 players in a $1500 No-Limit Holdem (NLH) event. I believe I would have won this tournament if it weren’t for very few eliminations and a barrage of bad luck at the final table. I still took home $95,000 for my showing. The top spots would have been a huge boost to my bankroll, with the winner taking home $735,000. At this point in my poker career, eight and a half years in, my seventh place finish was the closest I came to a six-figure score/winning a big major tournament.

Almost two weeks later, one of the most incredible things in my poker career happened. I’ll save the complete story for another day. Here’s the short version:

Someone I was coaching at the time, said that if they profited $10,000 or more before the $10,000 NLH 6-max event approached, they would free-roll me into the tournament. They knew 6-max NLH was one of my strongest games. I wasn’t comfortable taking such charity, especially considering the terms of the agreement, which were strongly in my favor. I responded that I would give $10,000 worth of poker coaching to make things right.  A couple days later I found myself at the final table, playing for $1.1 MILLION dollars! I threw the six-figure monkey off my back, and finished fourth for just under $300,000. Talk about a FREE-ROLL STORY!

($10,000 6-max NLH final table)

Two months after that, I went to Cannes, France for the WSOPE (World Series of Poker Europe) and finally won my first major event. I was a WSOP Bracelet winner, besting a very difficult final table in the €3,000 NLH Shootout tournament. This was the staple win I had been looking for, and the $240,000 prize capped off an incredible summer! I was finally where I wanted to be in the tournament poker world… on the map.

(Victory tastes so sweet!)

Throughout the remainder of 2011, and most of 2012, I spent time traveling the world and playing poker. I visited Australia, Brazil, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, UK, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Bahamas, Canada, Panama, Aruba, and a few places I probably should remember, ha! Not to mention plenty of different states and cities in my home country, the USA. I was extremely blessed to have these opportunities and experiences. They shaped me as an individual and showed me the world as a whole.

 (London, England)

 (Cannes, France)

 (Monte Carlo, Monaco)

 (Mouthful in Sao Paulo, Brazil - What's up Juliano!?)

(3D street chalk in Melbourne, Australia)

**************************************************************************

I was healthy once again, and had an incredible few months of poker to make me quickly forget about the past setbacks earlier in the year. Throughout all of my personal success, I never forgot about DeepStacks. My communications with Chris escalated throughout this time. We would talk everyday. I was becoming more involved with the business and helping it grow. After about a year and a half of doing live training camps (which also took me across North America to places I had never been), we began running poker tournaments following the conclusion of the seminar, which was held at the casino. I was responsible for creating the structure and providing other input from the poker side of things, including the overall running and operations of the tournament. When it came to poker, I was responsible for many decisions with DeepStacks. This was my introduction to some of the work I have been doing up until now. My title changed to “Director of Poker Operations.”

Slowly but surely, the focus of DeepStacks University/DeepStacks Live shifted towards the DeepStacks Poker Tour (DSPT.) (For all of those who ask what the DeepStacks logo is, it morphed from the “U” In DeepStacksU into the current symbol we use now. Nothing too complex!) Some people came, while others went. I made friends with many, and shared a lot of great times with people I met along the way. Including people who came to the camps/tournaments, helped put on the event, were a part of DeepStacks, or whom I randomly encountered while on the road. What remained constant was the relationship Chris and I developed. We shared a passion in DeepStacks, in our own, unique ways. We worked well together and helped each other learn a lot. We would frequently talk about the poker industry, business, life, and ourselves in general. We grew close, and only wanted the best for one another, and for the business.

(Torina and I at an event in LA)

We both learned very quickly that getting a poker tour off the ground was a very difficult task. There were many challenges. A plethora of poker companies came before us, and not all of them did good business. It put us in a difficult position, having to prove our product and what we could offer. This was Chris’ biggest hurdle. Not many casinos were easy to get a hold of, communicate with, or knew a lot about poker and how a series is supposed to be ran.

I began studying the industry from an angle I never previously saw, the corporate/casino side. I was used to being a customer (poker player) but casinos didn’t (and don’t) always see things that way. In a business that profits off of people losing money, some might not find value in running poker tournaments. This was where my expertise came into play with the DSPT organization. My job was to educate our partners and people we worked with about poker, the value of running a tournament series, and the way we wanted to run our events. Getting a poker tour off the ground would be really tough, but we were up for the challenge.

{Side note about the industry}
The poker industry is in its infancy. The boom took place when Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main event from an online satellite in 2003. That was only twelve years ago! People who know nothing about poker have been placed in positions within the industry. Gaming commissions, who typically deal with slots/table games, also know nothing about poker. Therefore, it is the job of the casino to educate the gaming commission on what they would like to do. Whether that be run a tournament, stream an event online, or allow the remaining players in an event to distribute the prize money how they see fit (aka chop… Ahem, I’m talking to you, WSOP.) As you can see, the foundation of poker throughout the world has to be built from the ground up. If the people at the bottom aren’t experienced and knowledgeable, the top can never be informed.

Fortunately, throughout the existence of DeepStacks, Chris was able to create relationships with some great people who helped the business. As well as alliances with casino partners at stellar properties. Two people involved with DeepStacks who have been instrumental in this process are Rodman Schley, and Chris’s wife, Katherine Kowal. (Who Chris finally tied the knot with in January of this year. CONGRATULATIONS you two!) Another woman who has helped DeepStacks tremendously is Jeanine Deeb. She became a part of the company a couple years ago, and is now the Tour Director, although she basically does everything! Jeanine, Chris, and I are essentially the core of the DeepStacks team.

The tour was building momentum. We picked up more stops, filmed and televised three episodes of the “DeepStacks Poker Tour” (where I was the poker analyst with PokerStars commentator, Joe Stapleton.) DSPT was growing and the brand was building momentum.

(Shooting one of the episodes from the DSPT TV show)

During this time, I spent less effort focusing on my personal poker playing and coaching. I was doing what I needed to do as Director of Poker Operations and an ambassador representing the brand. I started working with casinos to put together our poker series schedule, tailor structures for our events, and manage the rake as well as other expectations we had for our product and company. I would travel to all of the events, talk to the customers at the tables, learn about the market, study the property and determine what we could do better. We wanted to offer the best poker tour experience possible for the mid-level player.

Eventually, I was rewarded ownership in the company. It felt great. I put a lot of time and effort into helping build DeepStacks into a formidable poker entity, and I was now officially part of the business. We were learning a lot about the industry, but we still hadn’t broke through to where we wanted to be. Our events were successful, and people really enjoyed themselves, but we hadn’t yet been able to consistently produce the larger field sizes we had dreamed of. Our product was good. Our tournaments were great. But we still had a lot of work to do.

We all knew it would take perseverance, hard work, dedication and the right relationships to bring the DSPT brand to the next level. It was also going to take the right amount of luck too. That “luck” came in the form of a conversation Chris had with his wife one day. Katherine suggested that she introduce Chris to WPT President Adam Pliska. She had previously worked with the WPT and had a close relationship with Adam. She advised they have lunch to get to know one another and learn more about what each other’s brands were doing. Kat made the introduction, and after several months of meetings, a partnership was formed. On April 29, 2014 a new brand was born, WPTDeepStacks.

We were now known as “WPTDeepStacks,” although we operate separately. I am not formally a part of the WPT organization; my responsibility lies strictly with DeepStacks. The WPT partnership is exciting and it is something that we are constantly growing by learning ways we can help one another. The WPT has been going through a lot of changes themselves, since they were recently acquired for $35 million by a Chinese-based social gaming company. Time will tell what takes place between us, but I look forward to the future, and what we can possibly create together and what we could become.

(Representing at WSOP)

The last year and a half with the company has been the most exciting because of the growth we have experienced, in and outside of the business. We now have our own Tournament Director, Chris Spears, who is working with our partners to make sure all of our events are run successfully. Coupled with Jeanine, and her live reporting team. I have still been traveling to all of the events, representing the company on and off the felt. We have built great tournament stops, and events in many different parts of the world. We will continue to improve and get better.

The WPTDeepStacks brand is evolving and constantly figuring things out. We are finishing the last third of our season, with six stops remaining. There is currently a series running at Atlantis Casino, in Reno, where I will be traveling to this weekend, to play the main event. For information about the tour, go to WPTDeepStacks.com. If you come and play one of our series, say hello to me and introduce yourself.

Thank you for reading about what I’ve been doing in the poker industry, along with part of the journey I’ve had with DeepStacks.  I haven’t always been very vocal about my work with the company, but I am happy to share now.


I was introduced to poker as a player. I care very deeply about the well being of the game, and where the industry is headed. I have my own personal visions regarding where I want to see poker go, and how we can get there. Being a player gives me an experience from the customer perspective. Working with DeepStacks has shown me what it’s like on the other side of the fence. I’ve infiltrated the industry, what will happen next?

Until next post...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Absent...

 I've been absent from blogging for a LONG time now. I plan on giving an explanation, soon. This post won't have much information. The purpose for me writing this is to throw something on my page, and say that more will be coming soon, which I already said. Maybe I'm a little rusty with this! Haa.. I love writing, but lately my efforts and energy have been directed towards other aspects of my life. I miss writing and expressing my thoughts through keystrokes. Anyways, enough rambling.

 Welcome to my blog. It has been around for seven years. Wow. Go through my archives and you will see a plethora of posts about poker, life, music, and other random stuff. Until then, more content coming soon. I'm active on a couple social media channels. If you want immediate details or updates, check those out. I have Day 2 of a tournament tomorrow. I need to get some rest. Thanks for checking in.

    -Tristan

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stir The Pot... One Drop.

 It's funny... on the night I tweet:
 I return to blogging. You probably heard about Daniel Colman, I am not going to give an interview or explanations. I'm here for a reason. The same way Colman was on his way to winning over FIFTEEN (15) MILLION DOLLARS in the $1,000,000 buy-in One Drop poker tournament. [One Drop is a great foundation that raises money to fight poverty worldwide by supporting access to water and raising awareness about drinking safe water. Look them up.] Throughout the event (and after the tournament was won) Colman apparently didn't want to give interviews on anything other than the charity. No self promotion, no winners speech, but he's a nice kid. I don't know what he actually did, how he acted, or what was said. What I do see is what the poker media is immediately saying about him.

  The poker media isn't being assisted in something that is essential to their job. A champions interview! Who wouldn't want to give an interview after winning such a prestigious event?! Wait a second. What if it was the biggest tournament of the year, and it was going to be nationally televised, all SIX hours! What kind of message would you like to send on that platform, if you were in Daniel Colman's shoes? He is being portrayed as the villian, while Daniel Negreanu is being praised like a white knight savior. Negreanu is doing exactly what the media thinks every champion/poker player should do. He has reason to. Maybe this was all a ploy by PokerStars. If Daniel doesn't win, he will receive more publicity when Stars pays off the second place finisher to keep quiet and not do an interview. Brilliant move! The media fell for it! I'm sure ESPN will too!

   People think Negreanu is a great ambassador for poker. I totally agree he is. But look where he stands in comparison. Mr. Negreanu is at the absolute peak of the commercial poker world. His involvement with PokerStars has put him in a position that few, if any, will reach. He has it ALL (when it comes to poker.) He has a good reason to be an ambassador. He gets paid for this role. He directly benefits from being a great ambassador, among the other things he's involved in.

   Getting paid a poker sponsorship is rarely happening for poker players. What do you have to do to get to Daniel Negreanu status in the poker world? How many tournaments (in a row) do you have to win to get on a salary? Or a free tournament buyin? Maybe health care? Fine! We will settle for food comps. Wait, this banana costs $2.75!?! For ONE!?!

(Photo Cred: @TomKoral)

 Things like this are what we deal with as poker players. This is just ONE issue. It's not easy being a professional poker player. Ask any of us. Although some definitely make it look easier than others.

In the One Drop event, $111,000 of the buy-in went to charity. The forty two poker players paid over $4.6 MILLION to charity. What did they get in return (besides the obvious charitable benefits and water bottles they received)? How much does the Rio/WSOP make throughout the series? What about ESPN off of the television broadcasts? A discounted weekend poker rate is $220 a night? SIGN ME UP! $30 for two eggs and toast in the morning? I'm out of comps!! Poker players are spending the money. What are the big businesses giving back to the community? Are they worth what we are paying them?

Without what has happened in the past, poker would not be where it is today. I understand that, and am thankful for it. Without doing something about the present, the future won't ever change either. The poker is an infant. It's new. It's changing. Take Black Friday three years ago. Before then, the majority of poker players STILL weren't making money off sponsorships or endorsements. Something needs to be done for the community and game to grow.

There's a reason why you see the same people sticking around. Grinding it out. We aren't stupid. We know how to find our edges. Calculate our equity. Access the situation. Pick our spots. Sometimes we even diversify for a more profitable, long-term return on our investment. There isn't any compensation for poker players from most of the people we do business with. They offer a service and we pay for it because we have to. After all, we're dealing with casinos. Casinos don't like to lose. Casinos only play with an edge, but that's a whole separate topic...

 Poker media, back to you. I don't know why more wasn't immediately explained. You're trying to cover one of the biggest tournaments of the year. Deliver your best work. Let's talk about something that will help the industry grow. You guys are just as responsible for that. Why are intelligent poker players like Olivier Busquet and Haralabos Voulgaris sticking up for Daniel Colman in that situation? I imagine it to be a pretty good reason. The main point is: If Daniel Colman didn't want to do something, he shouldn't have to do it. Period. There were anonymous businessmen who played the event too. What if one of them won the tournament and didn't want to be in the spotlight for it.

 There are bigger issues we should focus on in the poker industry. The whole community. It starts with the poker players, the customers. The media, venues, tours, poker sites, casinos. Everyone should share the same cause: bettering the industry as a whole so we all win. Or at least bettering yourself. That'll help too. Hopefully this situation highlights a hidden side to the promotion of poker, and what can be done on said platform. I think what happened is a positive thing. It applies pressure in spots that haven't been tested before... And I like it.

  The WSOP Main Event is coming up... Excited for that one!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

DeepStacks Barcelona...

 Last year I spent some time in Barcelona, Spain. Tomorrow, I am heading back there once again. This time the purpose of my trip is to help DeepStacks put on a tournament series at Casino De Barcelona. I will be playing some of the tournaments as well and making sure everything runs smoothly while we are there. It should be a great trip. Some of the DeepStacks crew will be coming too. I really enjoyed Barcelona when I was there before, I plan on seeing more of the city this time around.


I'm especially excited about the $1.5k Main Event, and the $3k High Roller events we are running. Can't wait to play these! Click here for the schedule of events.
 Here is a link to an article I did for PocketFives.com -- I've been a long time user/contributor to their website. "Heads-Up with Tristan Wade (Cre8ive)" Check it out, it's a nice little interview. Wish me luck! More updates to come...