Black Friday changed the lives of many poker pros. With the online poker options greatly diminished in the U.S., some pros decided to move to other countries to continue the grind, but others didn't have that option. Just two months before Black Friday, Mike Ziemba had earned Supernova Elite status on PokerStars, now, a year later, he is grinding live cash games in Las Vegas. Ziemba's story is quite different than Spencer Hudson, who moved to Mexico after Black Friday to continue playing online poker. We sat down with both pros to discuss how their lives have changed since April 15, 2011.
How were you specifically affected by Black Friday?
MZ: I’ve been playing poker professionally for five years or so and all of it was online poker, so obviously it affected me big time. I never really played live poker. I just played live poker for fun with friends, which is obviously quite different than online.
SH: At first it didn't have much effect, but as time went on, I of course realized pretty quickly that I needed to make some income somehow.
When did you first discover the news of Black Friday and what was your immediate reaction?
MZ: My immediate reaction, I remember getting a text message from my mom in the morning. I woke up really early and ran upstairs to log on to PokerStars to see that ‘You are No Longer allowed to play on PokerStars in the United States.’ I was kind of freaking out about all the money I had on there, you know. Am I going to get it? They responded so fast, I got everything in 10 days. But I think it opened up a lot of opportunities as far as really questioning do I want to play poker the rest of my life? I started brainstorming business ideas and what not. It forces you to think of other ways to make money. But I’ve been trying to keep in touch with the games also and still improving, watching training videos, always asking questions with friends that also play for a living. That is very important.
SH: I was actually leaving on a cruise from Miami with a few friends, and we had actually left the dock already and my phone started blowing up with text messages. At first, I didn't think much of it at all and figured I would figure something out or maybe I didn't know the seriousness of it.
How do you feel now about Black Friday — a year later?
MZ: I feel upset that it isn’t legalized yet. I think they’re working on it. It should be, hopefully sooner than later. It is pretty dumb that the government…it astounds me that you can go down the street to play poker in a casino but then to play on the Internet, I’m not sure if it is “illegal,” but it is not available. I took online poker for granted. So once it comes back, I’m going to probably play even more. It makes you realize that it is hard to make that much money in an hour doing anything else. I definitely took it for granted. I can’t wait for it to come back.
SH: For me, Black Friday was basically a huge blessing in disguise. It really made me realize how you should really take advantage of whatever you have going for you. Being stripped of something which we could consider as a right was really a wake up call.
Mike, a lot of pros have left the country. What is keeping you in the United States?
MZ: My friends and family. It is hard to just move to another country. I’m not sure. I can still do pretty decent just playing live. But online, is just far better and way preferred. I guess I could move to another country, but I’m not forced into that yet.
Being Supernova Elite, you are clearly used to a lot of multitable action. How has it been in the live scene for you?
It is extremely boring. I find myself always on my phone or dozing off. It is really hard for me to concentrate doing the things I need to be doing like focusing on players at the table and stuff like that. Online I can be a bit lazy and I have a HUD where I can just look at all my stats and I know exactly how people are playing. I know my numbers online. It is quite different live. It is much slower obviously.
Spencer, can you discuss your decision to move to Mexico to continue playing? Was it easy to get set up down there?
SH: I had moved to Vegas at first for a few months after just thinking I could kill the live cash games and not even thinking about the lifestyle there. Needless to say, after a few months of a horrible lifestyle, seeing degenerates every day, and hardly making any money, I knew I had to get back online again. At first I was going to move to Rosarito because there was such a big community down there so quickly, but after talking with a friend and seeing how Playa del Carmen had a few players, I realized it was a much better choice. The initial process with getting online wasn't exactly easy, but I found a roommate and a place to live quickly, so that worked out well.
If online poker was legalized in a few states here in the US, how likely would you be to return
I wouldn't be in any hurry to come back to the states if it was legalized, and I can see myself in Mexico for two years easily. You never know though, a lot can change during that time.
Of course we are all hoping that online poker is legalized very soon, but let’s just say we are back here in one year and nothing has changed, where do you see yourself in that situation?
MZ: Honestly, I would probably make frequent trips to Sweden. I have lots of friends there and I would probably go there for a month and grind online poker and then fly back here for a couple months. I can’t see online poker not being legalized within the next two years or so, especially intrastate poker. As long as that is available I won’t need to travel to play poker.
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