I sat on the steps of my back deck, talking on the phone to Michael Casselli in the UK. He was part of the effort to start up a new poker magazine. It was 2004 and the post-Moneymaker poker boom was in full swing. They were looking for a “gossip” column — sigh.
Lou Krieger had recommended me for a column in the yet-to-be-launched Bluff Magazine. I was leary of a new magazine. Like restaurants, everyone thinks magazines are easy to run and most people lose money at them. It also made me nervous when I mentioned Mike Matusow’s name and Casselli asked if he was an American football player.
But Casselli seemed to know the magazine biz. And Eric Morris and Eddy Kleid seemed to know, and love, poker. I had only been published in Canadian Poker Player Magazine and PokerPages at that point. I thought that the column, if tastefully done, would help anchor my fledgling “career.” The Bird on the Rail was born. Along with the column, I was picked up as a weekly guest on their radio show.
I gave up the Bird after the 2006 WSOP, handing it off to Jen Leo. When Jen had her fill, she passed it on to change100 (aka Nicole Gordon). I always liked that the column resided with us. And now apparently it is going to die with us. Due to budget cutbacks at Bluff, the column is being pulled.
Quoting an email from change100: The Bird is dead. Long live the Bird.
There is more death on the poker media front. By now you probably know that PokerPages is shutting down shop as of October 31st. PokerPages was one of the first internet portals dedicated to poker — long before poker was cool.
I spent last weekend copying all my articles and blog posts off the site. But I kept thinking about everything else that was going to be lost — articles by Andy Glazer and others, videos of final tables dating back to the pre-boom era, early tournament reports from Dalla, Glazer, Paulle, and Shapiro, thousands and thousands of photos — and of course the coveted player database.
I wrote for PokerPages for a couple of years. I also was its editor for a short period of time. In my tenure as editor, non-WSOP traffic hit record highs. I wish I could take the credit. But traffic is generated by providing good content — and you can’t have good content without good writers.
I convinced Joe Sebok to join the site as a blogger. I brought back Tommy Angelo (author of Elements of Poker) to write for the site again. I brought in Dave Scharf (Winning at Poker) and Jay Greenspan (Hunting Fish: A Cross-Country Search for America’s Worst Poker Players). I was lucky to get Dave Apostolico (Tournament Poker And The Art Of War). I convinced the site to keep on John Vorhaus (Killer Poker Shorthanded), although they wanted to cut him because they thought he was overpaid.
Luckily, I inherited Matt Hilger (The Poker Mindset: Essential Attitudes for Poker Success) and Lou Krieger (Hold’em Excellence (2nd Edition)). I also convinced Phil Hellmuth (Play Poker Like the Pros) to write an introductory article that served to reintroduce new players to Andy Glazer’s many articles on the site.
I also twisted the Poker Shrink’s arm to cover tournaments for PokerPages, starting with the WSOP Circuit Event in Indiana of all places. Not only did he do a fabulous job covering the event — but he worked with the local casino to heavily promote the coverage. Up until that point, the circuit events were getting little notice. That event got more web traffic than our WPT and Tournament of Champions coverage. I also convinced BJ Nemeth to leave Card Player…although that’s a longer story.
The UIGEA sealed PokerPages fate, but the die was cast even earlier than that. Many poker sites are still surviving today, living off their boom-year profits and developing more profitable business models. Unfortunately PokerPages made some sizable investments in early 2006 that didn’t pan out. In fact, the site’s eroding financial condition factored into my decision to leave and take a job with Michael Craig to work on The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition
PokerPages bought a company called Tournament Reporter out of Canada. The company tracked online tournament statistics. I think the idea was to market the service to online poker sites like PokerStars and FullTilt. That never happened. Not long after I left, I noticed that the service had been terminated even on PokerPages’ affiliate poker site, Bugsy’s. They also made a sizable investment in an internet show called “The Real Deal.” They spent a fortune on video equipment, software, lighting and staging. They flew their TV crew to a number of venues. Again, not long after I left, I noticed the show was dead.
By the time the UIGEA rolled around, I suspect PokerPages was pretty well tapped out. A friend of mine at Paradise Poker called and said they had been asked to buy it. Eventually PokerPages did get bought. But by that time, competitors had gained even more of the market’s shrinking share.
In a side note, I have been contacted by a number of poker sites looking for the PokerPages owners’ contact information. It seems everyone is interested in acquiring PokerPages player database on the cheap. One word of warning, boyz and girlz: Everything comes at a price. It takes a lot of effort to maintain and update that database. If you get it, you better be ready to do it right or it will be a waste of whatever you paid for it.
My job keeps me from blogging as regularly as I used to. But I’ll be posting more frequently over the next few weeks. I’ll be posting some of my favorite PokerPages articles and some of the backstories behind them.
Btw - I believe Earl Burton broke the story about PokerPages in the poker media (and thanks for the shout out, Earl). Pictures: The first cover of Bluff Magazine, a picture of James Woods and me from PokerPages, and Dave Scharf’s lovely promo pictures.