Three weeks ago, Dusk Till Dawn poker club owner Rob Yong wrote a blog post that stirred plenty of conversation in the British poker community. In that blog, Yong highlighted many points that he believes are bad for online poker, and I took the time to respond to Yong with my own thoughts.
Earlier this week, Yong penned a second blog where he claimed he would quit the poker industry in six months if his new online club cash games are not successful. Upon reading this, PokerNews reached out to Yong and he agreed to give us an exclusive interview.
First of all, thanks for making time to talk to PokerNews, Rob. I have to ask, what was it that made you write that blog entry that seemed to really stir the poker community's responses, particularly the online poker community?
The subject of the blog has been on my mind since reading Phil Galfond's article. To display player photos alongside player names, we have been building a library of photos of our members playing at the club for the last couple of years, but with so much going on with projects such as the Caribbean Poker Party and ISPT Wembley, the project has not come to fruition until now.
I wanted to set the scene in my first blog and justify the reasons for displaying real names and banning tracking software, which some of the online pro grinders aren't happy about. I didn't just wake up one morning and try to think of a subject to write a blog post about. Everyone who knows me personally is aware of my views on the current online poker set up, with new and recreational players being skinned alive at a faster rate than would happen in a more natural live poker ecology. My second blog was more about the practical detail of how we're going to try and make on online poker more 'live,' with the Real Player Display, Instant Skype Support and the policing of the tables.
In your second blog post you mention that you have fallen out of love with poker somewhat. Is this due to the direction you see online poker heading?
Yes, I started playing poker after watching Late Night Poker when characters like Jac Arama, Simon Trumper, Devilfish and Phil Hellmuth were stars, not young guys in hoodies talking about plus-EV and triple range merging. These were gamblers who were good card players and it was attractive and interesting. Most of the original guys have fallen behind a little bit and the evolution of the game has moved towards computer and math players being successful, especially online because the online industry has allowed an unlevel playing field to evolve. Your image of a great poker player isn't the Devilfish, Tony G or Mike Matusow, who the average guy on the street can identify with. I guess I've just fallen out with the whole thing a bit because it doesn't hold the romance that it used to. It's getting more like computer chess.
I would like to say that a player like Sam Trickett, an ex-plumber who starting off grinding 50p-£1 cash tables, is the exception to this. The man in the street can really identify with him — he promotes the game well. I know he feels the same way as me on many of these issues even though he has had phenomenal success in this climate.
Why do you blame online poker for this?
Online poker effectively runs poker because live card rooms are not profitable enough to pay for campaigns to attract new players into the game. PokerStars is an amazing company but they rule online poker while everyone else is struggling and doing nothing about it. The games dry up and everyone moves to PokerStars where the liquidity is. The games dry up because the truth about online poker is that new and recreational players don't stand a chance unless they get incredibly lucky in a tournament or just have very deep pockets.
The smaller sites don't have enough marketing budget to attract new players and develop their software because they pay it all out to rakeback affiliates and online grinders. The average guy will quickly get his bankroll ironed out by the sites online reg grinders, a bunch of anonymous sharks allowed to feed at as many tables that their statistical minds and tracking software will permit. PokerStars are great but we do need more successful online poker sites to have a healthy live and online poker industry. PokerStars also need that actually.
I agree with what you say regarding there being fewer characters in the game. There are a lot of faceless mathematicians in the game today.
I've played some EPTs this year and some players sit at the table don't speak, have their headphones on and dwell for minutes even when they have got the nuts on the river – the same as they timebank online, anything to get a minuscule edge over you. I guess it's gamesmanship but I call it disrespectful, especially against a recreational player or satellite qualifier. I don't know if you got to read the stuff Neil Channing wrote about his WSOP experience this year? Neil's a great example of someone we need in the game, he's old school and I don't want to speak out of turn but Neil probably couldn't beat many low- or mid-stakes online cash games; the computer guys will just out analyze him with their tracking software in the long run. He can beat a live cash game for certain, so you've got to ask yourself why so many good live players cannot win online, never mind the ritual slaughtering of the new and recreational players. It winds me up talking about it, as it does Neil.
What's your goal for these online club cash games Dusk Till Dawn has launched? Would you want other online operators to replicate them?
Yes, I would love that, ideally ipoker because we have a skin on that network. I guess one of two things are going to happen, the first is a the games will be a total flop. The second is they will be successful enough for bigger operators to look at these ideas. I don't see tracking software being banned in the short term because there are too many high raking online pros using it and if one of the bigger sites bans it then all of their online grinders will just leave and move to another site.
I particularly like the fact you will always know who you are playing against in your online club cash games in a time when anonymous poker seems to be on the increase.
Yes, I have seen more sites doing anonymous tables and also the option to change your alias frequently. Our online cash games will allow players to see the real name and location of their opponents, but only if they are playing at that particular table. There is no doubt in my mind that anonymous poker will be finished when online poker is properly regulated. Governments are focusing on how to tax it at the moment, then online poker will come under the same rules as the live card rooms that these authorities regulate. You are not allowed to play in a live poker room anonymously so do you think the UK Gambling Commission will accept online players unwittingly gambling against a known fraudster, drug dealer, or more likely, a poker player with a dodgy record of cheating and collusion?
Regulated gaming is very much about the protection of the customer. A new or recreational player should also know if he is playing against an established pro; obviously this could be bad for pros as they may struggle to get into juicy games. This is happening more and more in live games, so I get why certain players are against this, especially the bum hunting grinders. I know players who can't get a game live because of their etiquette or they have form, so why should they be able to get a game online just because they can hide behind an alias? This will also reduce chat abuse, but that's not my main reason for proposing it. Chat abuse can still be policed with aliases.
You are someone who is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and put your neck on the line for something you believe in. Is it true that you will walk away from Dusk Till Dawn in six months if your online club cash games do not take off?
Yeah, definitely. No going back now. Three thousand unique people have already read that blog post.
What's your definition of taking off? What will it take to keep Rob Yong at DTD?
Two hundred table hours per week, which is what we do in the live club. That's 1% of our 65,000 members playing once a week.
You'll completely leave the poker industry?
Yes, I really have no choice for three fundamental reasons:
The first reason is a vote of confidence. If I cannot get 1% of our members to back me, I am not the right person who should be leading any poker business. I got in a similar position at my football club. I'm not asking people to stop playing on PokerStars, I'm asking them to make DTD their second option site, if I can't get 1% support, our members are basically saying they do not believe in me.
The second reason is a loss of credibility in the industry. How can I stay in the industry after making these allegations and consequently being proved wrong, sitting on my lonesome on a table in the online room! I have not had much back up so far, mainly doubters, so if it proves that I am so out of touch with the market then I should be really be packing my bags.
The third reason is I don't want to continue investing in an industry that I see cannibalizing itself. I am already down around £8 million of my own money and an independent company like DTD with adventurous tendencies needs to look ahead and see growth potential. The live club itself would be very viable if it was absorbed into a larger company, which is probably what I will look to do.
So what you're saying is you would put DTD up for sale if these new DTD exclusive cash tables don't prove a success?
Yes, exactly that.
There are a lot of businessmen who wouldn't have those morals; they would stay in their role and make profits while the industry imploded on itself.
As a businessman, I have never been financially driven, I have always been about growth, creating jobs and quality of service, but maybe a weakness of mine is that I have always needed to feel love from my customers and employees, and respect from my competitors.
I have reached this point before. In my recruitment business, when the market started to move online and it became less face-to-face, with candidates firing their CV into cyberspace and clients making selection decisions over email, I simply fell out of love with that industry and left.
The second time was with probably the biggest love of my business life, my football club. When I fell out with the F.A and Council, I didn't feel that the supporters got behind me, so I quit. I spent £2 million on that football club and sold it for £1!
I love Dusk Till Dawn and have made many friends there and in the industry, but ultimately if this is the industry that I have to operate in and we are too small a voice, then it's not for me anymore.
What if you do receive the support you are asking your members for? Do you think they will support your idea?
We will give it a go but to create an online cash game room from zero liquidity without employing online grinders to prop the games is no walk in the park. Trees are grown from small acorns but we would need an established online presence and the backing of the poker community to move forward, which is basically what I am asking for when you cut through all the talk. We are not a new company coming into this market promising the world. The players know what they get with DTD, and our members now have the choice to determine our future.
Nobody could ever accuse you of not being open and frank with them could they?
Well, I learned a lesson with my football club, which was a community based business like DTD. I didn't really give people enough notice or tell people what was going on inside my head, I am sure some people are going to say that this is a case of taking my ball home because I am losing, but that is not the case. I am just being honest. I have done seven years. I won't be leaving defeated, more proud of what DTD, its employees and the customers have achieved.