Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shady motherf***ers: TC goes used-car shopping

There are a number of occupations that have bad reputations. For example, people love to take shots at lawyers and many people have pretty bad names for them. But most of the lawyers I know are actually solid, honest people who really want to help regular folks navigate difficult legal issues.

The profession that is most maligned is probably that of used car salesman. The three words are nearly synonymous with "slimy" in the heads of most people. When I googled "professions with a bad reputation" for the purpose of this post, this result was the #1 hit, and it showed used car salesman as the profession with the worst reputation.
The used car salesman still remains the measuring stick for all professions that are frowned upon. Society views these individuals as sleazy shysters who will do whatever it takes to get you into hunk of junk. Many people won’t even go near a used car lot for fear of being ripped off. Also, being swindled by a shady used car salesman is the only instance in life that, when given a lemon, you can’t make lemonade.
I never really wanted to believe that any profession is inherently bad. I've gone through my life trying to stay aware of potential cognitive biases. I reasoned that most people probably only deal with a used car salesmen a few times in their life, so if they have a bad experience with one, it's going to be quite impactful. On top of that, people have been preconditioned to believe that used car salesmen are these slimy people, so surely there must be a lot of confirmation bias at play.

Well I'll be damned if my most recent used car buying experience doesn't validate the public wisdom!

I needed a car in Vegas. I know what kind of car I like: small, sporty convertibles that are reasonably comfortable but not too expensive. I sent the same form letter to about a dozen used car dealerships in Vegas. I told them all to send me their best offers because I'm not going to be popping into all of the dealerships and this is their best chance to get me in the door.

The tactic worked out quite well; I was able to weed out all the salesmen who wouldn't give me a decent offer by e-mail and wanted me in the door. I ended up getting a competitive offer on a BMW 128i from Desert Audi's internet sales manager which was about $2000 below what they had it listed for. I took it for a test drive, and they pushed me to make a decision that day, but I decided I should mull it over. There were some scratches and dents on the car and I e-mailed them back to say that if they cleaned up the interior and exterior, and removed the $400 "documentation fee" that we had a deal. They set up an appointment for me to come in on Wednesday where I was supposed to simply point out what I wanted fixed on the car.

When I came in on Wednesday morning, they told me the car had been sold last night. Okay, no big deal, it happens. The internet sales manager apologized and said she'd e-mail me some more vehicles. No problem.

She came up with another 128i. It seemed to be the same car as the previous (without the dents) but for about $1000 more. I went back on Sunday, test drove the car, and it looked great. I said if they could make it the same price as last week's car, they had a deal. They came back with an offer for $500 less and I hemmed and hawwed, negotiated some window tint, and took it. The manager and I both signed a piece of paper agreeing on the price. I shook hands with a bunch of people who congratulated me on my new purchase and got my checkbook out.

Then came some waiting, waiting, waiting. The salesman told me it was "to prepare the paperwork" and at the time I actually believed that (after all, I've already agreed to the price -- shouldn't they want me out of there asap before I change my mind?) but I'm convinced that they intentionally make the whole process take longer to increase your commitment.

Finally the finance guy took me into his office. I know this is the part where they try to get me on a bunch of features, extras, extended warranties, and other high-margin crap I don't want. No problem, I figured I'm pretty strong at this kind of thing and can just decline across the board. So when he got into his whole extended warranty speech, I cut him off by saying, "well, this is a certified pre-owned and covered until 100k miles right? So I don't think I need that."

"Oh, is it? Let me double-check." The guy gets on his phone with the manager.

He hangs up and says, "sir, the BMW is not a Certified Pre-Owned."

I'm flabbergasted. I'd been double and triple sure to check this online and here is a screenshot *right now* of their online posting:

You can see at the bottom their Certified Pre-Owned banner in the bottom, which isn't present on some of their other cars. Oh, and when I showed up on the lot, there was a huge banner in the windshield which read "Certified Pre-Owned by BMW".

I asked about this and he said (are you ready for this?) "yes, but it was CPO at the original price. We're giving it to you for this reduced price."

Oh. You dirty motherfuckers. They were trying to pull out the rug and quietly remove the CPO (45000 miles of warranty) just without saying a word. Then they tried to calm me down by selling me their "Platinum Service" which is "much better than the Certified Pre-Owned." I'm sorry for being profane twice in the same paragraph, but you shady, shady motherfuckers. Like, how do you do that? I can understand high-pressure sales tactics, but how do you just change the terms of the deal without telling someone? Why not just take out the steering wheel, the engine, and the seats while you're at it, and charge me for those? "Sorry sir, the engine was included with the original price, but since we're giving it to you for this reduced price, that's going to be extra."

You slimy, underhanded motherfuckers. The world is right about you people after all.

I didn't actually drop any f-bombs in the dealership, but I told the manager that I thought this was shady and unethical. He didn't even try to argue, and I left the dealership. They had a sale in hand, an absolute lay-up, and they lost it by trying to fuck me over just one last time. And the scary part is that it damn near worked. If I weren't such an incredibly meticulous person on this type of thing and checked the CPO online before walking in, they would have gotten me.

What gets me is that the whole time, I actually did get the feeling they weren't trying to fuck me. Now I think the tactic with the whole sold car, the extra waiting, all of it is just a tactic to get me to make multiple trips and wear me down. When I look back on things, I can think of at least five different ways in which someone in the company simply lied to me to get me more committed to buying.

In general, I'm a conflict-avoider. I'm one of those people who feels bad about asking for what I really want. I'll often take a little the worst of it to avoid conflict. But when I get fucked over or someone tries to pull the rug out from under me, my moral outrage goes off the charts. I become the Incredible Fucking Hulk of moral outrage. I will spite people forever and make them mortal enemies. And yeah, maybe I'm being unfair painting all used car salesmen with the same brush, but now because of these guys, I've got the whole industry on notice.

I believe in capitalism. Always have. Always believed that voluntary transactions between individuals are beneficial to both parties; that they're win-win. But used car buying -- that's now adversarial. This is now me against you. When I play poker, I don't cheat, and when I fight, I don't break the rules. But now I have found that used car salesmen are pretty damn likely to short the pot, mark the cards, rub ointment on their gloves, and load their hand wraps. So now I'm on notice. Now it's on.

Ultimately, it seems the most important thing to remember when buying a used car is the same thing to remember when you're in a cage fight:

Protect yourself at all times.

Monday, March 18, 2013

PokerListings "Easy Game" mini-documentary's Matt Showell approached me a few months ago to say he wanted to feature me in one of their mini-documentaries. Egotist that I am, I couldn't say no! Matt messaged me to let me know that the video is now online, and here it is.

If the above doesn't work, you can always click through to the original page here.

I think the documentary turned out great and I'm really happy with it! In particular I like the part where I get to talk about my motivations and reasoning for doing this. Matt was super easy to work with and the whole thing was far more fun than work.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I'm joining Ultimate Poker!

I've teased a couple times on this blog over the last year that I had something in the pipeline brewing. It's with great pleasure that today I get to announce it.

I have joined the Ultimate Poker team.

For those of you who don't know, Ultimate Poker is the newest venture out of Ultimate Gaming. Ultimate Gaming was one of the first companies to receive an online poker license in Nevada, way back in the fall of 2012. We are also majority-owned by Station Casinos and are partnered up with the UFC (who are of course, also owned by the Fertitta brothers).

It should seem fairly obvious that this is a pretty good place for an MMA-obsessed poker pro to land, from both my side and theirs.

I was first contacted with the idea of joining Ultimate Poker almost one year ago to the day. Since then it's been in my head the whole time. It was a struggle to decide though. I thought, "hey, my life as a poker pro/MMA nerd is great. Why mess with something that isn't broken?"

For the last two years (when I started to seriously get into MMA), my life has been a repeat of: wake up, work out, eat, nap, train MMA, eat again, and sleep - and I simply fill the gaps with a small amount of online grinding. Once in a while when there's an exciting major tournament somewhere cool, I go to that -- and try to find a fight gym worth training at as well.

Despite how content I was with everything, I still couldn't shake the idea. I talked to a few close and trusted friends and they thought it was a great opportunity for me. I thought back to my PokerStars days and how much fun it was to be part of a poker startup, to watch a business grow from infancy into something massive and awesome. At the same time, playing poker started to become less exciting to me. Ten WSOP cashes is great and all, but when you cash ten times, that's a ton of hours at the poker table (and no real big payoff, in my case). In the fall, I played only five live tournaments and had a 1st, 2nd and 4th. I ran super-hot in that period and yet I still wasn't sure if I wanted to play poker for a living. I thought, "if I'm not super-excited about poker when I'm running good, I'm a little worried what's going to happen when I start running bad..."

So I kept coming back to the Ultimate Poker thing. I had been mostly talking with their Chief Marketing Officer, Joe Versaci. Joe was North American Marketing Director at PokerStars for many years. Our respective Stars careers barely overlapped, but we know many of the same people, and the people I talked to all said great things about him. Joe not only wanted me because I had past experience starting up the PokerStars support team, but he also loved the idea that I'm a poker player who lives and breathes MMA and the UFC. So I said to Joe that I'd love to work for the company -- as long as you can promise that I'll still be able to train MMA the way I'm used to. When it came to salary, I didn't ask for a dollar more than they were offering; I only wanted the freedom. He agreed, and in fact told me that not only supported, but actually wanted me to fight and play major poker tournaments as it would be great for our brand. And that's why I'm sitting here with a real j-o-b in an actual o-f-f-i-c-e for the first time in nine years.

On one hand, it's a huge change for me. I know from experience that being part of a startup is crazy work. Stuff always goes wrong and there are always challenges and hurdles you didn't anticipate. But more than anything I'm excited. Excited to be hopefully a good team player and leader. Our Vegas office is a couple dozen employees and they're an awesome group who has welcomed me. We have a lot of fun in the office throwing around poker ideas as we stand on the precipice of the first legal real-money hand of online poker in the United States. There's so much talent here, all channeled towards the same goal, that I can't imagine anything other than success and good times.

As for what you'll be seeing from me: more of the same! Any time anyone ever sees me at a poker tournament, they want to know when I'll be fighting again. Well, I've now relocated (yes, legally) to the biggest fight town in the world. So, let's hope the answer to that question is, "soon!" And I'll still be at the WSOP; look for me rocking the Ultimate Poker gear at the tables. I might not have month-long training vacations in Thailand or be able to fly down to Australia or Europe as much, but I'll still be in the poker scene.

One of the nice things about having been successful and reasonably smart with my money over the years is that I only have to do this as long as it's fun, and if it stops being fun, I'll go do something else. That goes for poker, MMA, or working in a poker startup. But I'm loving the people and the environment so far, and I'm excited to be a part of something big. They say that when one door closes, another opens. But I've walked through a new door here, and I still get to keep the other ones open. Good deal for me!

But that's enough self-indulgent writing for now. If you'll excuse me, there's work to do to get Hand #1 dealt!