The live poker tournament scene is as saturated as ever.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) and World Poker Tour (WPT) have a global network of events that spans all buy-in levels.
The European Poker Tour (EPT) has a stranglehold over the biggest action in Europe and the Bahamas.
It's difficult to get a foothold with these three taking up so much space and yet the Unibet Poker Open has managed to do just that.
"Unibet Poker Will Be Market Leader"
Unibet doesn't try to match the power of the big three. It instead offers a little sparkle of difference. And it works.
Just before the end of 2015 Unibet continued that approach by inking a deal with Caesars Entertainment and unveiling plans to create a lower buy-in Unibet Poker Tour in the UK.
I reached out to Unibet's Poker Marketing Manager, David Pomroy, to talk about that tour, his life with Unibet and much more.
Lee Davy: In 2005 you came close to winning an EPT title. Today, you're Unibet Poker Marketing Manager. Can you connect the dots?
David Pomroy: I've always been extremely passionate about poker and so far haven't found myself wanting to work in another industry.
I started playing professionally in 2001 (at 18) and eventually stopped in 2010. The games had got a lot tougher by then and I'd reached the point where I thought I should branch out into other things.
"All of us get to have a direct say."
I was offered the chance to become a partner in a staking company which was a great experience for a couple of years. I then worked with Neil Channing at Black Belt Poker for a year or so before launching another staking company in 2013.
Staking was really enjoyable as I loved working so closely with a large group of players and seeing them evolve, but as the industry started to shift it seemed that it would become a harder and harder business to sustain.
I then happened upon the Unibet Poker thread on 2+2 at the start of 2014 and found myself in complete agreement with what they were trying to achieve. I've been here for around 18 months now and absolutely love it.
LD: What are your roles and responsibilities?
DP: I'm mainly focused on ways in which we can attract new players and also ways in which we can make the whole experience more enjoyable for our existing players, mainly through promotions and rewards.
In short, acquisition and retention. However, we're a small team of only six people, and there's a lot of poker experience on the team, so we often pitch in with each other's roles and share ideas quite freely.
All of us get to have a direct say in virtually every aspect of what we do as a site and I don't think any of us would have it any other way.
LD: What are the toughest parts of your job?
Cut teeth with Channing.
DP: We're growing from quite a small base and I think most of us wish that we could just reach our potential tomorrow. We're very proud of the fact that we started some of the trends other poker sites are now following (no external software, primary focus on a healthy ecology, lower rake).
But we're still only a fraction of the size of PokerStars and when we do something that another site follows, it's often the bigger site that will get a lot of the credit and thus the exposure.
Rakeback has become synonymous with online poker for real money and so it's sometimes hard to convince everyone that low rake is better than high rakeback and that it's actually much more sustainable in the long term.
LD: What do you enjoy the most?
DP: The feedback from players is satisfying and it's nice to see that a lot of the players who engage with us on sites like 2+2 and Twitch really feel that they are in on the ground floor and are helping to build the platform.
There are often occasions where we can react directly to suggestions from players and can include them in a software release only a month or two later. Unibet's general motto is "By players, for players" and I couldn't think of a more fitting motto for the poker platform.
We have also been given a lot of freedom with the direction we can take the Unibet Poker platform in and I feel very lucky that I get to come to work every day and think about things in a creative way with few restrictions.
LD: The Unibet Tour manages to exist quite nicely alongside the giants like EPT and WPT. What makes you so successful in such a busy market?
Much like BOM, inclusive in nature.
DP: I've played a lot of EPT, WPT and WSOP events (without much success) and have now been to five Unibet Open events as a staff member. Just as no site can hope to become another PokerStars, I think no other tour can hope to become an EPT - you have to offer something different.
The thing that stands out for me about the Unibet Open is its inclusive nature. While the poker tournament itself is a huge part of it, a lot of the focus is on a relaxed atmosphere, parties, activities outside the card room and getting to know other players.
When I first started out in 2001 I was lucky enough to play on a site which offered something similar, and through that I met a lot of other poker players who I still consider friends today.
LD: How does Unibet know what its customer wants, and what does its customer want?
DP: We have over 50 years playing experience between us but that's still only six viewpoints and we try to gather as much direct feedback from players as we possibly can.
The current Unibet Poker platform was born out of a collective frustration at the state of online poker, the same feeling many other players probably still experience elsewhere today.
Our players mainly seem to want to be able to play in a non-predatory environment, to play in games which they consider fun and to be able to trust the company they are playing with.
One of the most satisfying pieces of feedback we receive is 'I've played poker for a number of years and had started to fall out of love with the game until I found Unibet.'
We are simply trying to create a site that we as players would enjoy playing on.
LD: How do you learn from the current dispute at PokerStars to make sure the same thing doesn't happen at Unibet?
DP: It's a tricky subject for someone at another site to talk about as I'm not privy to exactly what conversations are taking place there and don't know all of the reasons why certain things are being done.
As a player I certainly disagree with the way in which the cutting of rewards was handled, especially how it was communicated to players.
We've been able to make cuts to rake rather than cuts to rewards recently, and even if we had to do something unpopular I could certainly appreciate that players deserve a lot of notice, especially if their 2015 activity affects their 2016 rewards.
As a player, I want to see other sites succeed and for the industry as a whole to grow, so it doesn't fill me with pleasure to see another site having problems, even if they are a competitor.
LD: Why did Unibet decide to choose the UK as a location to create a national tour?
DP: We work out of Unibet's London office and are very familiar with the UK poker scene, so it definitely made sense logistically.
UK the right spot.
Due to regulation there are also now a lot of countries where it's difficult to run a tour like this. The UK is our fastest growing market but I still think that most players in the UK wouldn't say 'Unibet' if they were asked to name five poker sites.
We'd obviously like to change that and there's still a strong grassroots poker movement in the UK which we'd like to try to add to.
LD: What was the reasoning behind the lower buy-ins?
DP: The focus for us will be on online qualifiers and we wanted to be able to create a package for the events that players were able to reach from a relatively low buy-in in only a few steps.
We're able to send over 200 online qualifiers to each Unibet Open event and it'd be great if we were eventually able to do something similar on a national level in the UK.
The majority of players on our site aren't playing professionally and we aren't offering nosebleed-stake cash games or tournaments, so a low buy-in tour that still offers attractive prizes definitely fits best for our players.
LD: Why did you decide to partner with Caesars?
DP: We're also working with Living It Loving It on this tour and they spoke very highly of the Caesars venues and staff. I've played a fair few times myself at a number of their venues and have always had a good experience, and their staff have been very enthusiastic about what they could add to this tour.
The UK tournament scene is getting quite busy, and players have a number of good options every month, but hopefully we're able to add to that with a relaxed and friendly playing environment.
LD: What do you see when you look at the world of online poker?
Live poker always in demand.
DP: I'm slightly sad that the industry as a whole still hasn't been able to solve issues that have been there for years, but I still see a lot of potential.
I think the game still has a lot of room to evolve and hopefully some of the problems the industry has faced in recent years will see players be given a louder voice when it comes to shaping the future poker landscape.
We'll certainly be doing our best to push from that angle.
LD: What do you see when you look at the world of live poker?
DP: Again I think there is still a lot of potential for the game to grow and in new directions, and poker should be able to learn a lot of lessons from similar games (particularly with eSports events and the way they are organized in mind).
We get to work with a great production team on Unibet Open events and if even half of their ideas for live poker come to fruition, I think the future is pretty bright.
I think most online players start playing because they either see a live poker tournament on TV, or they play in a live game themselves, and I can't see the demand for live poker waning anytime soon.
LD: What is the one question you wanted to answer that I didn't ask?
DP: Where do you see Unibet Poker five years from now? We still have a lot to improve upon, but I genuinely see us as the market leader eventually.