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These days live high-stakes poker games aren't always open to anyone who wants to sit down and often it's the grinders with a background in online poker who have the most trouble networking their way in. Earlier this summer Greg Merson ran into trouble getting into a $200/$400 game at Aria, and that's not even close to the highest stakes they play at that casino. Former VP at Facebook Chamath Palihapitiya has been playing in the $2,000/$4,000 No-Limit game at Aria for the last few weeks and he thinks keeping it exclusive is the way to go. We spoke to Merson, Palihapitiya, Dan Cates and Tony Dunst to find out when it pays to be social and network in the poker world.
Tony: I really think that most of the guys who became very talented at poker have like a very left-brained, analytical, logical, problem-solving nature. And something about, like, people and dialogue, words and aesthetics, don't really appeal to them and they see it as something they kind of have to do in order to get what they want. And so it doesn't shock me that they just don't bother in many cases and that they're happy to leave it to somebody like me who enjoys doing it.
Matt: Big events like the world series bring all kinds of poker players together. But not everyone understands how big a role networking plays in getting into the high stakes side games. For pros looking to book big scores it's often not what you know, it's who you know.
Chamath: Just like last year, basically this huge cash game broke out at the Aurea. And a lot of our good friends that we play with a lot from Macau were here and so we have been playing it for two weeks straight. It's incredible. In that game, nobody is there to make a living. They all come from successful businesses that they do in their full time. And so this is just a great release and so what you get are really interesting fun people, that talk a lot about really interesting things. It's just a great environment. If you put a lot of sort of grinders in the game, I think it would change it. That's why I have to be quite honest with you, I've gotten a little frustrated this year with a lot of the tournament play. Particularly the one drop was excruciatingly frustrating. A lot these kids, I think, were playing their case money and every decision took three or four minutes. People were tanking for ten-fifteen minutes at a time. And to be quite honest with you, for me, it ruined it.
Tony: The older players are used to poker being this very social game or at least like semi-social game. And that was part of what they showed up for. Meanwhile the online guys didn't get into it for that reason, and a lot of the guys that developed a lot of talent, were already not that interested in people but there's a very workmanlike feel to most poker tournaments I go to now. It's like, "We're here. We have to be here. Hopefully, it's our turn to win the flips and grind out our edge and realize our equity. Oh God, I just got three-outed and I'm pissed." And so like, it doesn't surprise me that it's just not as fun as it used to be.
Chamath: When I play in tournaments, what I see are really, really thoughtful, smart young, but very mechanical thinkers. But when you play in cash games, there's this like nuance about taking risks that very few of these young players have. They just don't have the heart to make those calls and so it's interesting, business people play poker in a very different way, I think. It is much more about the intuition and the ability to pick your spots and be able to go with it and, you know, take a lot of unbounded risk in ways that, I think, a lot of the tournament kids I don't really see having.
Matt: Nevada gaming laws are designed to keep poker games open to everyone, but wealthy high stakes players can take advantage of loopholes to keep their games exclusive. Players who are in it just to make a buck but haven't done the networking will often find themselves on the outside looking in.
Greg: Yeah, I mean they don't want pros in the game for the most part. But then there's certain pros that are networked in and that's just never really been one of my priorities to worry about networking in poker. It's just I'd rather play against all pros then have to put on some type of front in order to get into certain games. And you know people are going to go about their different ways of getting into these games and I just have never chose to go that route.
Dan: They don't want any regulars and they take all these steps to make sure nobody gets in. Like yesterday, for example, Tom was taking a seat but he was sleeping the entire time. So they just put his name on the seat and that prevented anyone from sitting there. They're not doing anything, like particularly unethical. They're just, like, trying to keep the game in a way that they want it. I can't that it's unfair. And even saying so doesn't benefit me or anybody really. It's not like they're going to stop doing it.
Greg: We had a little situation at the Aurea that's supposed to be being taken care of. And we'll see. I mean, I'm going to take their word for it and leave it alone for now. But if things aren't different by next World Series then I've no problem, like, standing up for what is right.
Matt: They aren't very good about getting themselves into games with a soft touch. They tend to be kind of forceful. So, I know recently, like, Greg Merson had this big thing with JRB where he called him out on Twitter about getting into the private games. And I thought well Greg Merson is right about what's going on there and the whole JRB situation, but the way he approached it will not help him get into those games. And I see online poker players make that kind of mistake a lot. Which is...you cannot force people when they already have control over the access to the games. And so you really have to convince them, influence them, to let you in. Because they like you or they think you're going to be value, or they think you're going to be fun in the game, or whatever it is.
Dan: In the end, they want it to be a soft game. They want it to be mostly fish or people who just aren't that good. It's like one of the softest games that are run. So I'm trying to get in it. I really am trying. I'm doing everything I can.