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!