Easy Game Episode 1: Barry Greenstein

Published on 20 August 2012 by Pokerlistings 8240
PokerListings.com is kicking off its new poker video series "Easy Game" with one of the greatest poker players to ever play the game. Barry Greenstein has been one of the most successful poker pros in the world for decades and he invited PokerListings.com into his home to give you the benefit of his experience.
Barry: I think online poker was the biggest driving force in the poker boom. You hear people talk about Chris Moneymaker, you hear people talk about poker on TV, and you even hear some people talk about, for instance, the movie Rounders. Online poker made it so you could sit in the privacy of your own home and play poker.

Announcer: He's just thinking about how much to extract. He decides on 28,000, and he's right.

Antonio: Barry Greenstein, ladies and gentlemen. Whee! Just wins the money, just wins the money.

Barry: I'd been playing poker professionally for about 30 years before the advent of online poker. I thought it was kind of a novelty, like video games and people who have fun with it. I didn't think it'd be that big a deal. Well, I was certainly wrong.

Antonio: Can I get a clock?

Doyle: I'd get one.

Antonio: Sorry, guys.

Announcer: He's going for clocking himself now.

Doyle: I have one right here.

Barry: Yeah, everyone wants to be a rock star. I guess it's easier to be a rock star in poker than it is playing a guitar in a band or being an actor or something like that. Poker might be an easy game if the people you're playing against are bad.

Doyle: Fifteen seconds.

Antonio: Oh, I can't believe it. I'm just gonna fold it. I'm gonna switch the 50s, okay?

Announcer: That was the right move.

Barry: One of the things that's happened with the online phenomenon is people have been able to get to be better poker players much faster than they were able to in my day. To give you an example, if you played in an early World Series of Poker tournament--you know, I didn't play in them until the '90s but even then, which isn't going back that far--you would maybe have one other good player at your table and the other people were pretty bad. When I play in a tournament now, you're hoping to have one bad player or two bad players at your table. That's all you're gonna find because the other people have taken up poker as an academic interest. They've studied the game. They've watched videos. They've read stuff. There wasn't any good stuff even to read when I was growing up as a poker player. And now there's a lot of information out there, so we have a lot of good players. So it's made the competition pretty tough. Especially at the higher level tournaments, you've got hundreds of good players. You've got 80% of the field has a chance to win. It wasn't like that before.

Tournament poker online is so much fun because you get incredible volume. You get tournaments on PokerStars where it's normal to have 1,000 or 10,000. They even have 100,000 people in a tournament. I mean, it's ridiculous the numbers they get. And what that means, as far as an investment, you can put in a small amount of money and have the chance of winning a real lot of money, even possibly life-changing money. And nothing like that existed before. You just didn't have that kind of volume. Even the World Series of Poker, the most prestigious event in the world, when I first played in it had maybe 200 players.

I think poker players are clearly above average in intelligence, at least successful ones. But I think they also have certain traits. And two really important traits are the competitiveness--if you're not competitive, you're not gonna make it in poker--and the other is the toughness, especially the psychological toughness, because you're gonna get beat down at times. So it's someone who, even when they're beat down, will be able to get back up and compete.

It wasn't until I was about 20 years old that I even really thought of myself as a professional poker player, because I had bought my mom some gifts, some stuff for her apartment that she lived in, new TV, things like that, and she said, "Where you getting all this money to buy me these things?" And I said, "Well, Mom, I'm a professional poker player." And then she said, "Well, how did that happen?" And I said, "Well, probably started out by you and me playing cards every day." I've always been good at cards. I've always been able to make money. But I never really thought of, "I'm gonna be a professional poker player my whole life," the way it turned out for the most part. I took a seven-year absence to do something more productive, which was programming, and I didn't play a lot of poker during that period of time.

Well, I played cards with my family and board games. We played that all the time, Scrabble, Clue, Monopoly, those types of things. And even though I hadn't played it before, my dad had showed me a little. He played in the army, had shown me the rules. Someone invited me, I think, when I was about 12 years old, and I said, "Yeah, whatever, I'll take a shot." We played poker for quarters. It was small. And I did well from the start.

My dad was a grammar school principal. When he retired, he wrote a book. It's got a lot of parallels between my book. First of all, I asked him why'd he write the book. He said, "Well, everyone's got a book in them, and I figured I might as well get it out." And I talked to Doyle, and he had such a nightmare writing his Super System 1 and 2 because if you go with a regular publisher, they don't understand poker vernacular and if you go with a poker publisher, they're not that good at writing. And so it's very difficult, and I wanted my book to be the best-written poker book, which I like to think it is. It's funny, sometimes I hear people say, "Oh, he cashed in on the poker boom by writing a book." Well, I think it was $500,000 out of my pocket, and I missed a lot of good poker games that were going on at the time.

One other interesting thing, my book became a family project. My dad was 90 years old when I wrote this book. And I had him read it, and he then took over as my editor. And he, at 90 years old, we would go through weeks where he'd be pulling an all-nighter almost every night. I was afraid he was going to kill himself editing my book. But every night, he'd wanna come up with the right way to rework a paragraph or the right wording, and then we'd go over things the next morning or afternoon, what he had done the night before. And this is 90 years old. Thankfully, he's still alive. He's 96, and it didn't kill him. But it certainly could have.

When I was in college, the thing that kids did when they didn't want to do their work was they played pinball. And there were some universities that banned pinball games. You couldn't have them in the bowling alley. Yhey wouldn't allow them on campus because too many of the students were playing pinball. So I was in college in the '70s. When you got to about the '90s, we had a similar phenomenon once we had the personal computer, of people playing video games, either on the Nintendo or whatever, those types of things, or on the computer playing all these games. And I had it with my kids too. They're spending too much time playing video games and not doing their homework. So that was the next thing. And now when we went to the 2000s, the next thing was poker. Online poker was there, whether it was for small money, some people for play money. But poker was even more fun for a lot of people than these others because you still had all that competition, but now you'd even make some money out of it.

Most of the people that we notice playing poker, they're the ones who have been playing games their whole lives--playing board games, playing card games, playing video games, whatever--and they're people who like to compete. But all these people are unified in that one thing: They're competitive people. Again, I always try to compare it to sports because I see a lot of similarities between sports and poker. They're both competitions. One has more athleticism. Sometimes people say, "Is poker a sport?" And I think somebody else, not me, came up with something where they said, "Anything that you can compete at and also gain weight while playing is not a sport." So poker doesn't qualify as a sport. It's a mind game, I guess. So we see athletes who've made a lot of money when they're 20 years old playing sports. The difference between sports and poker now, with the poker boom, is we have 1,000 gifted athletes or a couple thousand at most who've made a lot of money playing sports, where we can have 100,000 doing it at poker because poker's so much bigger.

Well, a lot of people would say, it was an easy game before online poker, but now poker's tougher. It's a lot harder. But I think one of the main reasons it's harder is the global economy. There's just not that money being thrown around by people who are recreational players anymore. And it seems like whenever you compete, you're competing against other people who are professional players, so that's made it a much tougher competition. And it means you better be on your toes, you better be prepared to play, and you better be focused, or you're going to be it at the table. The old saying, if you look around and you don't know who's it, it's you. And that happens more frequently nowadays than it probably did in the past.