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Mingling with the Maven: Joe Sebok

Joe Sebok

David "the Maven" Chicotsky caught up with UB pro Joe Sebok recently to discuss everything from poker to life in general. We found out what it's like to have Barry Greenstein as a dad, what Seebs would do with $100,000,000, more.

What’s your take on online poker not being 100% kosher in the USA?

Honestly, most poker players think it's kind of bullshit, I think the system is broken and we’re all kind of hoping it will shift soon. You know, with the UIGEA and whether it gets appealed or amended, or who knows what’s going to happen, but I don’t think that playing poker is illegal in any way at all online.

Obviously, we know the laws are set up in a way that makes it more difficult for the banks to deal with the online sites and all that, but it’s a broken system, obviously it’s something that we’re going to be taxed on — they just need to make it wholly legal across the board so that we all can sort of reap the benefits from it. So I think we’re all in the same boat on that.

OK, now that brings up an interesting dilemma because if you read the poker forums, there is always talk about how we need regulation, but many argue that whenever the government jumps into the private sector and starts regulating, it just tears things up and things don’t necessarily work out for the best. So isn’t there kind of a dilemma? The argument can be made that if the government was a small limited government, with true free markets, we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. So what is the poker community's reaction?

I think that regulation for poker pros is a no-brainer. For us, it’s going to benefit us because of sponsorship money, commercial you know, just more endorsements. So for us we’re in a little bit of a different boat. I think that we all kind of agree that in a perfect world that it would be nicer if everything was just kind of not screwed up at all, and that online poker could go on like it was going on circa 2002, 2003, moving forward.

The reaction is to actually ask for more regulation, so isn’t it kind of a catch 22? Now you’re asking for more regulation when the case can be made that if the government didn’t put its hands into the poker business in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this situation now. What’s your take on that?

You’re right, if these other groups get involved, then all of the sudden there are some people that feel we need regulation. In a perfect world you’d rather have it untouched and not be screwed with in any way, and let us regulate ourselves. The problem is that we don’t live in that perfect world. We live in this world where certain groups are trying to step in and make it more difficult. So then people are saying, well hey, maybe we need regulation now. But I agree, if you go back to the start and don’t mess with it in the first place, then we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation now.

What’s it like having The Bear [Barry Greenstein] as your dad? What don’t most people know about him, that you would like to share?

[Laughs] What’s it like having Bear as my dad? He’s a great dad. He’s taught me everything, all the normal things, how to be a man, to grow up, all that sort of stuff. But on the same note, he has his own set of beliefs and ideas of certain ways you should live that I don’t always agree with. So we definitely butt heads a lot. We get into arguments and all that fun stuff.

But I don’t know, he does have a big heart though at the end of the day, that’s probably something that a lot of people maybe don’t see. They see him stoic and his face never changes when he’s playing and all that kind of stuff, but deep down under all that stuff, he’s got a big heart and people know about the donating money and everything. But he’s got a big heart as a father and with our family.

Is there anyone out there that you’d like to give a big shout out to?

Who would I like to give a big shout out to? Well, I guess poker players in general. You know, I think every year we keep hoping that something’s going to give, or that we’re going to be able to do what we want. And I’m just kind of proud of all the pros out there that just keep on doing what they’re doing and keep promoting the game and having fun with it. So just a shout out to poker players in general.

Alright, what about a big F you? Who would you give a big F you to?

[Laughs] Well, I don’t want any of the people that I would give an F you to, to know that I want to give them that F you, so I’m going to keep that quiet, but there are definitely quite a few people out there, and they’ll probably know that it’s directed at them.

That’s cool, if you had a hundred million dollars, what would you do with it?

You know, I probably wouldn’t do much. I pretty much live the way I want to live, so I’d probably pick a couple causes and help them out. But I’m not really one of those dudes who is going to go out and buy three or four cars and all that kind of stuff. I get to live on a beach, and I get to go running everyday, play poker, and do my job and that’s about it. So I don’t think I would change that much - maybe just help more people who need a hand.

Yeah, I mean I think that’s one of your greatest appeals is that you’re well spoken, you’re educated, you come from a great family and all that, but you’re also in a lot of ways your everyday man and you seem to relate to the average person pretty well. And it seems through PokerRoad that even your audience connects with you maybe better than other commentators, or whatever you want to call yourself, just because of all of your life experiences. You seem like someone who has been there and done that on a lot of fronts. What would you say as far as having life experience and having that translate to behind the camera or on the poker felt?

Well, I think it’s exactly that. I think you hit the nail on the head for sure. There’s so much in life to do. Poker is one piece of what we do, but there’s so much out there, whether it’s traveling or education, doing business, doing a job. I mean, there’s just so much to do. To be a well-rounded person, you have to do all of these things, and because of that I am really actually happy that I didn’t find poker until late in my 20s, because I was able to go out there and do a lot of these things.

That’s what’s given me the knowledge that poker is not the only thing out there, and it’s helped me with my game, and like you said, with any of the business that I’ve been involved in, or any of the media stuff that I’m involved with, and you know I like to pride myself on identifying sort of with the regular guys and all that stuff. Even if I had a hundred million dollars, like I said, I wouldn’t be out there driving a Ferrari or Maserati or anything like that. I’d have my Jeep and just kind of keep doing what I’m doing. So that’s something that’s always been kind of a hallmark of mine, and I’m happy that you mentioned it.

One of your UB brethren, Phil Hellmuth. People always bring up his name and they always have something crazy to say about him, and the reality is, I always thought he was a super nice guy. He’s one of the only poker players to be married for 30 years to the same wife; he takes care of his family. It seems like his poker TV personality and his life persona are different. Can you comment on that?

Well, I think that they blend together a little bit at this point, but yeah, Phil is a good guy, there’s no question. There’s a lot of people in poker that if you polled professional players, they would say that, yeah, this guy is an a**hole and this girl is a b***h and this or that, but you know, Phil is a good guy. He’s just kind of in his own little universe. He lives on Hellmuth’s planet, and that’s sort of part of his charm, but if you get him kind of outside of everything, and I know everyone always says this kind of stuff, but he’s a good dude. He just, like I said, lives in his own little world. I think you’re absolutely right, he’s a good dude on and off the tables for sure, but with that said, some of this stuff bleeds together when you have that much hype. Everybody starts to believe their own hype a little bit. I think that’s started to happen with Phil, so he’s sort of incorporated some of the weird Hellmuthisms that you wouldn’t relate to Phil, which is the normal guy that he is.

Where do you like to go in Vegas for food and entertainment and just having a good time partying?

You know, the normal stuff, obviously the clubs and all that kind of stuff that people get pulled out to. There’s some cool little dive bars that of course you have to search them out. I’m lucky that I’ve got some friends in Vegas that don’t play poker, so there’s a couple cool little spots that I don’t want to give out, because then they won’t be local spots anymore. But for food, the restaurants in the main casinos obviously, that goes without saying, but there’s a couple of spots up in Summerlin, like a nice little Italian restaurant that I like to go to, Naked Fish is a nice little sushi spot for all the poker pros when they’re in Vegas, that I love to go to, as well. It’s actually interesting that Vegas is one of those places, there’s a lot of local flavor, you just kind of have to seek it out a little more than in other cities I think.

What’s on the docket for PokerRoad going forward?

PokerRoad is sort of in the same spot that it’s been in for a while, which is just that we’re hoping UIGEA gets amended or dealt with, and there’s sort of more dollars that are flushed into intermediate companies at this point. Barry and I built PokerRoad and we’re very, very proud of what it’s become, and we’re proud of everything that it’s done. But it’s sort of at a bit of a stagnation point, because it’s not really growing because the bigger sites aren’t really pumping money into the economy, and at this point, Barry and I are funding it just solely on our own. So obviously that eats you up slowly after a while. I’m glad we don’t have any plans to shut it down or anything. If anything, we’d like to kind of incubate it, and make sure it’s around so when some of that money gets pumped back into the economy, we can be there to sort of remedy poker back to life a little bit.

I have to ask you some UB scandal-related questions. Are there any new names you can deliver, or anything at all that’s news worthy at this point?

I don’t think so, I signed a year ago and we wanted to get some stuff done and to sort of flush out as many of the physical names of these dudes as we could, and women actually, and working with Wicked Chops over there, we feel like we’ve done that, at least as much as we could find. That’s not to say that there aren’t other people involved that went under the radar or we were unable to prove stuff, but I think part of the thing is that the public wants this whole thing to be so sexy. They want it to be big name pros who were going in and cheating, and unfortunately, that’s just not what we found.

Russ Hamilton is like the ultimate scapegoat. Can you comment on that? It seems like it was almost a benefit to UB that he was there, because then you could say, oh, Russ Hamilton did it. But, reality is, it was 20 to 30 people right? It was a very complex thing. And also it’s a very interesting thing, because if you look at the people who still associate with Russ Hamilton, aren’t those people also suspect?

Yeah, I agree with you. In my mind, anyone who would spend time with these dudes, like whether it’s Russ Hamilton or Scott Tom or anything, they may not be suspects for the actual cheating, but you have to certainly question their morals and ethics. If I discovered, even if it was my best friend in the world, that he was a cheater, that he cheated people out of a bunch of money, and then I found that out, that person is not going to be my best friend in the world anymore. So I totally agree with you, at the minimum they have to be suspect. Unfortunately, because people may or may not have bad personal choices in who they spend their time with, or who they befriend, it doesn’t make them a cheater. That’s sort of where it fell with us.

It all kind of goes back to the same thing. If we found anything that maybe showed if they were cheating, or anything like that, that was more than circumstantial, which these transfers would have been just circumstantial, then it would have been out there. I wasn’t out to bury anything, I’ve gotten into many arguments in UB, outside of UB, across the board for sort of pushing this thing as far as it could be pushed. But yeah, I totally agree with you, I definitely think people who weren’t involved in the cheating, but who rubbed shoulders with the cheaters, whether they knew they were cheating or not, we’ll probably never know. At the end of the day, I can’t climb into people’s heads and see what they’re thinking, but we weren’t able to find any evidence pointing to them cheating or actively helping the cheaters or anything like that.

David "The Maven" Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and currently owns and operates a poker training facility out of Las Vegas. He can be reached at

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