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Dan O'Brien - Good For Poker

Dan O'Brien Good For Poker

Besides the monetary gain of finishing in a higher position, you already have a second, third, fourth and seventh place finish, is a bracelet still the one big thing missing from your life as a professional tournament player?
I don’t think so, and I don’t put too much stock into it. It will be really nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s definitely not why I’m playing. It’s not why I’m going to the World Series; I go there to make money. I’d much rather finish third in the Main Event than win one of the other bracelet events for even, let’s say, a million. It’s definitely more important to me to make some money, and I think that’s how most true gamblers are going to feel. Of course winning has always been a dream of mine since I started playing poker, and I will go out and play as many events as possible. Especially in some of the smaller field ones I think I have a pretty big edge. Games like No-Limit Deuce to Seven and things like that are some of my better chances, so I will make sure to play them. 

Let’s say the World Series of Poker keeps going like it has been for the last few years, do you still think there is value to bracelets in the year 2050 or will an EPT maybe mean more since those are more sparse?
It’s tough to predict how public opinion will change but I definitely think that it will lose a little bit of its luster. That’s just on the fact that there are so many more events, and now even in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region. Obviously the more you have, the less impressive it is that you’ve won them. I think that in the foreseeable future it will always be pretty big that you’ve gotten some of those WSOP bracelets. Anyone can win one or two bracelets, as we’ve seen, but if you have say five, six or more it’s a lot more impressive. In 2050 it might be a big deal if you have 15 or 20 bracelets to your name. I think it will stay relevant in the public eye, but you just have to win a bit more.

What is your proudest accomplishment in life so far?
This is one of those where you don’t want to give a bad answer, it’s my whole life here (laughing). It’s need to be good!

Do you think it is poker related?
No, it can’t be. I mean, I’ve accomplished enough in poker and I’m proud of a lot of the things that I’ve done for sure. I have a history of starting things and not finishing them. But in poker, even though I haven’t given it 100%, I’ve definitely taken a lot of strides and worked hard to get where I am. As far as “the greatest accomplishment in life,” I just can’t see it being poker. I’m trying to think of something huge, but I guess I just haven’t done anything huge to consider for this question. 

Would it been have different if you had won that bracelet last September?
I would’ve definitely been pleased, especially because of how I sat there and battled through adversity. I was proud of the way I handled the game and myself during that heads-up match, because it was so brutal. It would be up there for sure; just in terms of finally getting to accomplish something I worked really hard. But I don’t think I could ever consider one poker tournament victory as the best thing in my life. You’re just beating variance and you work hard. But it’s really all about your daily, weekly or monthly struggle, not so much about one time, or the few times, when you’ve gotten to the place where you wanted to be.

In the YouTube series about Russell Thomas preparing for the World Series of Poker Main Event final table you said something very interesting, “Luck and variance are basically the same thing.” Could you explain to everyone how it is you see this?
Variance is just a mathematical term for luck. If you don’t really deal with mathematics too often, then you’re going to look at certain situations and say, “I was lucky to land this job,” or “I was lucky with this near miss of my car because this guy almost hit me.” They are totally right in saying that, but sometimes people get a little bit silly, and think luck as more of a long-term thing. “This guys just has very bad luck,” or “That guy has really good luck and if he goes to play Blackjack I want to play next to him.” That is just people misunderstanding the way that math and the distribution of numbers work, when there’s randomness involved. If you’re dealing with randomness and probability, there’s going to be a distribution from what is expected. I’ve been out of math for a while, but that’s called standard deviation. So you’re going to deviate from what you’re expected to gain, sometimes that’s a lot and sometimes a little. 

If you’re playing in a $1/$2 cash game, and it’s really soft, you can expect to win $20 per hour. You might not deviate too much from that, and every week you come pretty close to that, because the game is soft and you’re playing ABC. In tournament poker the standard deviation is enormous because the fields are huge, and the prizes are so top heavy. So you might expect between 20% and 50% in a tournament; but you may go years as a loser before making anything. Or, you can just win a couple at the beginning and be a god in poker for a while until nobody hears from you again. It’s really just about understanding that things kind of fall one way or the other, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You have no control over it, and you’re just hoping to be on the right side of them. It’s all about understanding that, and knowing how to deal with it because it’s a part of the game.

One of the things that always stands out to me is how people like to classify certain events, things and results as “good for poker,” or “bad for poker.” Can you explain to me, what’s good for poker?
It’s good for poker if everyone’s playing. More people equals more money and especially from amateur players. More publicity and excitement from the general public in regards to poker is also good. As far as specifically what’s good, if one guy wins or the other that’s pretty worthless nowadays. From what I’ve seen the only thing that really matters, from a media standpoint, is the World Series of Poker Main Event final table. There are just a few more things on top of that like the NBC Heads Up, but for the most part that’s the only mass public presentation we have. So that pretty much shows off the entire poker community for one year. For a bunch of quiet online kids to make it, it’s fair to say that that’s not that good for poker. If there were some more colorful personalities; young, old and some females; that would be good for poker. Unfortunately we just missed out on having two females at the final table last year. 

Getting more women involved is always a good thing, since it’s a giant market of people that are not generally that into the game. For the public image of it, it’s also good because you don’t want it to be just an old boys game. But even if Gaelle (Baumann) and Elisabeth (Hille) both made the final table, it still wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. What we really need is big money behind it, like from PokerStars and Ceasers. They need to start advertising it more and keeping it in the heads of your average consumer. That’s really what we’re all hoping for. 

Are there still things bad for poker right now, or has Black Friday ruined poker so much that nothing could really do more damage to its image right now?
Things can still be bad but it takes a lot to really be bad for poker. You need like scandals and shit like that. Public scandals, which give the impression that poker is dirty or full of cheats, are obviously not good. For the most part now, people that would hear about that stuff would already know that it’s not necessarily encapsulating of poker. Since there’s not too much public interest in poker right now, nothing can be all that bad. If things get bigger again and money starts coming back in from the US, those things could be a bigger deal.

What’s your opinion on the state of poker right now and the growth, or the possibility to have growth in the future?
I think we’re in a limbo. It remains to be seen and I’m looking forward to legalization. I’m very optimistic about a lot of the states getting involved in it. Of course that’s not because they care about people’s freedom to play poker, but because they will see that other states are making money doing it. Between that and Caesar's and MGM’s ability to lobby and make money, I think there’s definitely a huge chance that poker will be close to being national in the US within the next two years. As far as how big that will be, I’m not really certain. I don’t think it’s going to be 2003 or 2004 by any means, but I think it will be pretty good. I guess it also depends on how the economy is doing and the willingness of people to spend money on gambling, which I’m not in entirely optimistic about.

Interview by Remko Rinkema
Remko Rinkema - Interviewer

Remko Rinkema has covered the biggest poker tournaments in the world since 2008, including many WSOP, EPT, Aussie Millions, APPT, MCOP and Unibet Open events. As an in-depth interview and story enthusiast he tries to do things a little differently. Besides the usual writings Rinkema grabs every chance to appear on podcasts, live streams and in the occasional video.

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