Is the possibility of the game getting bigger again a specific motivation for you to stay in the game and not venture out to different exploits?
Yes for sure. If online poker wasn’t going to be regulated for the next ten years, I’d have a lot less optimism as far as my career as poker player. I think not only is it good for my ability to do what I want to do, which is basically to focus on other things. But to still be able to play online and make a reasonable living from my own home also gives me motivation to travel and play all these big tournaments, and hopefully increase my brand to the point where I can add value to a company, and get paid to do some of the things I really enjoy doing, like making media content, appearances, coaching, MC-ing and commentary. All those things that I enjoy; that aren’t playing poker but affiliated with poker, I’m hoping to have a lot more opportunities to do, with online poker coming back to the US.
Poker commentary is something that you’ve been doing for a while now. Your style is to be open, honest and straight up about what you see on the felt. Do you think that’s a good way to approach poker commentary going forward? The majority of the crowd that watches will maybe get a negative feeling about themselves since they might also think the way most of these amateurs tend to?
There’s a huge difference between commentary for live streams and commentary for television. It’s partly the audience that I’m catering to, and it’s partly the amount of time that I have to dedicate to each piece of analysis. If I’m on TV, I will cater to a broader audience and it will be a little bit more simplified. I will also have a very limited amount of time. So then I will just get some sound bites in and discuss some hand analysis, as well as my feelings on a person’s play in a very concise manner. Now I haven’t had that opportunity yet, so for the most part, what I do on a live stream is trying to be entertaining for a very long period of time, where not all that much is going to be happening. There’s going to be exciting moments, but for the most part we’re just trying to entertain the viewers, have some banter and teach them about some of the plays. All of that, without, taking too much away from the guys that are actually playing. So it’s definitely a different kind of feel compared to what guys like Lon (McEachern) and Norman (Chad) do.
Maybe I was a little bit hard on people in the beginning, but for the most part now I’m quite fair. I think that it’s important to understand that even good players make bad plays. Whenever we say that someone makes a bad play, we’re not condemning that person to be an awful player. If you watch me play for eight hours I’m sure there’re going to be a couple of plays where you’d be thinking, “Well, he shouldn’t have been doing that.” I’m probably thinking it myself, maybe like two minutes after I did it. Sometimes you just don’t approach the right decision at the right time and that happens. I think we should definitely be honest in our feelings about it, and not really worry about people’s feelings all that much. You put yourself out there and you just have to deal with what we talk about.
You provide hands for the Instapoker App, a poker-training app for IOS and Android. Is that something that keeps you honest and looking at yourself from a more judging perspective, because you have to provide content, and explain to people why you are doing certain things?
It’s always helpful to think about the game, and how to play certain hands, and which routes you could take to get somewhere that might be better. So definitely writing the hands is helpful, but I think the most helpful thing is recording the hands while I’m playing. That really makes you focus on your mental toughness throughout the play. Let’s say it’s Day 25 of the World Series, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been getting your ass kicked or if you’re have some good results, and you’re playing in a $1,000 event. It’s early in the tournament, and it doesn’t really have an effect on your bottom line. Then it’s easy to just do whatever and gamble, when you don’t mind busting and going to the pool. It’s sometimes easy to get into those spots where you might want to gamble for a big stack, and give your mind a rest in case you bust early. If you’re recording the hands and you’re thinking about it, it’s really hard to make a play you can’t explain to anyone. Every once in a while I’m sitting there thinking, “Why the hell am I doing this? I would never tell anyone to do this.” So it helps me to stay more disciplined in situations where it’s easy to lose that discipline.
Photo: Vivek Rajkumar. Dan O'Brien playing Open Face Chinese Poker with Jason Somerville and Vivek Rajkumar.
Do you feel like Instapoker really gives something to your every day poker player, or do things get too complicated too quickly?
It’s hard to say. I think we just need to create more content, and do a better job of building a broader spectrum and ranking things better. Less experienced players should know that they can get “this” pack, while more experienced players can get different packs. For me it’s really hard to write for less experienced players, because I’m always going to try to think of every possibility to play the hand optimally. I think that, for what it is, it’s the best. It’s on your phone and you have between 10 and 20 hands in a pack. In your free time you can look at a hand that was played, and read the play-by-play analysis from someone who is an expert in that position. You might not even agree with it all the time, but it gets you thinking exactly how to play certain situations, and why you’re making all the moves you’re making. For me, when I first started playing, that’s what I was lacking the most. The ability to open up my mind and think of every possibility to play a hand. For that, I think it’s great. As far of its overall appeal, it should be good and it’s cheap all things considered. But how many people are really looking to learn poker? There’s not that big a market for poker training, and people like to think that they’re the best at what they do. It’s hard for people to open up and think, “I actually want to learn and be objective here,” because poker is such an egotistical game. So I don’t know if it’s going to be the most successful venture ever, but I’m definitely proud of the product that we’re putting out.