If you’re a regular consumer of poker media content, you’ve certainly come across Steve Ruddock’s work. This would be especially true if you closely follow the legal developments in the online poker scene.
Steve has written for dozens upon dozens of poker sites over the years on practically every topic under the sun. He’s also one of the few poker writers who has made a splash at the poker felt, with a well-noted appearance on Season 4 of Poker Night in America.
Though we’ve been in touch professionally as colleagues in poker media for a good couple of years now, I didn’t really know much about Steve beyond his poker work and PNIA appearance. Steve represents yet another example of why it was so important to me to produce this “Get to Know the Poker Media” series. All of us poker fans take for granted that the game’s great writers will keep on chugging along, producing content for us to consume, but it’s all too rare that we take a few minutes to learn more about the writers themselves.
I’m so happy that Steve agreed to be interviewed, and that I got to learn so much more about his life. I trust that you, too, will enjoy learning about him and reading what he has to say.
How did you first get into the business of poker writing and for how long have you been doing it?
I was between jobs in 2008/2009, so I did what I always did and returned to online poker to make money. I started writing poker related articles on a whim in, more as something to do than a way to make money, and truth be told, I was a terrible writer. I had no background in writing, and could barely piece together a coherent sentence.
Like most things I decide to take up, I dedicated myself to becoming a better writer, and as I improved (I’m still working on improving) it just sort of just snowballed. By 2011 I was actually getting a lot of offers and started making decent money. Of course, this was right around the time Black Friday hit and the industry was decimated. A lot of people don’t realize this, but a ton of mid-tier affiliate sites, which were the lifeblood of poker writers, tanked, and many went under or were bought and assimilated into a larger network of sites.
My income was slashed by 40% in the months following Black Friday, and a lot of writers in the industry lost this battle of attrition. At several points throughout 2011 and 2012 I considered moving on. I’m glad I didn’t.
When online gaming was legalized in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, I realized very few people were following these developments as closely as I was, and if I really applied myself I could separate myself from the pack.
The idea that I’d be speaking at gaming conferences as an expert, or have direct lines of communication with CEOs, lawmakers, and regulators wouldn’t even have crossed my mind in 2012.
just got giddy when I heard the word iGaming about a passed amendment
— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) June 22, 2016
What poker outlets have you written for and which has been your favorite (one-time or ongoing) gig over the years?
If I listed all of the outlets I’ve written for this article would eclipse War and Peace in size!
Some of the places I’ve worked for over the years are, Bluff Magazine, Online Poker Report, US Poker, Poker Update, Pocket Fives, All In Magazine, Global Gaming Business, iGaming Business, USA Today, and NJ.com.
They all present different challenges, but if I had to choose one, working for Online Poker Report and US Poker and their affiliated sites, has been the most satisfying. It’s hard work, but it’s both fulfilling and rewarding, especially when lawmakers or industry executives know you by name and value and respect your thoughts and opinions. I also get the added bonus of working with Chris Grove, who is the smartest person I know, and his team, which has helped me develop as a writer.
What is it that you love about poker that keeps you so interested in the game?
I like everything about poker. The strategies, the personalities, the legality, and the history.
The history of the game is so rich, yet at the same time almost mythical, based on oral histories and second and third hand accounts. The history of poker is a lot like the game itself; there is a lot of incomplete information that needs to be parsed and it’s really fun working through it.
What sort of job(s) did you have before getting into poker writing?
I wasn’t a product of the poker boom, so I’ve held quite a few jobs over the years.
I worked at a chain sandwich shop (not Subway) when I was a teenager, and later worked on the company’s opening crew, so I got to travel around a bit and assist in opening their new stores, which is a pretty fun job if you’re 18-20.
In my early 20s I got big into weight lifting and I started working at health clubs. First behind the desk, then as a personal trainer, and I later managed a couple facilities.
Around this time, the late 1990s, I found poker and within a year was playing semi-professionally, mainly in the back rooms of social clubs with some infrequent trips to Foxwoods. Around 2001-ish I started playing poker full-time and did that for five years or so until UIGEA passed and my beloved Party Poker was taken away from me.
UIGEA also coincided with the birth of my first son and a horrible downswing, so it seemed like a good time to get out. I ended up cashing out my entire online bankroll and went back to managing health clubs before falling into writing. During the two years after UIGEA I didn’t play a single hand of poker live or online, and consumed almost zero poker media; I was simply burnt out on the game.
Tell us a bit about your personal life; where you live, family, etc.
I’m married with two kids and live in a small town in Massachusetts. I also have a really big dog.
How often do you play poker? Home games mostly or in poker rooms? Cash or tourneys?
Not too much anymore. I might play once a month in a small buy-in tournament at a local home games, and maybe half a dozen times throughout the year I’ll play cash games in casinos, usually when I’m in Vegas on business.
It’s a far cry from the volume I used to put in – I’ve estimated I’ve played about eight million hands of poker in my life – but I don’t think I would enjoy playing poker if it became a grind again.
You made a memorable appearance on Poker Night in America. A show like that has a minimum $5,000 buy in and plays relatively high stakes for a recreational player, $25-$50 NL Hold’em. Can you tell us how you got to appear on the show and how much of yourself you had?
As far as how I ended up on the show, I was invited to play by 888, so I basically had the same deal as the site’s online qualifiers – they put up the buy-in and I kept what I won, so it was a pretty sweet deal for me.
The stakes were way above what I’d be comfortable playing for these days, but back when I was serious about poker I would sit in the $75/$150 Omaha 8 game at Foxwoods that ran some weekends; routinely played $40/$80 and $50/$100 Limit Holdem and mixed games; and played the $5/$5 PLO game that played much bigger than the blinds would suggest. Basically, the stakes weren’t completely foreign to me, as I’ve put a couple thousand dollars on a poker table quite a bit in the past, but it had been a while.
What was more nerve-racking than the stakes was the game was No limit Holdem. I have a lot of online Sit & Go and MTT NLHE experience, but I’ve never enjoyed playing No Limit cash games, and at the time had played no more than 10 live sessions of $1/$2 and $1/$3 NLHE. I was definitely out of my league, but figured I could fall back on my general poker knowledge and experience to get by, even though I’m rusty and out of practice, but was self-aware enough to know I was -EV in the game and would need some help from the deck to book a win.
What were your favorite takeaways from appearing on a televised poker cash game? Would you do it again?
I would play again in a heartbeat. I had a great time and met some great people.
In fact, the best part was getting to know the other players in the game, it was a great experience all around.
Overall I think I played ok, even though all anyone wants to talk about is the hand where I folded KK preflop to Shaun Deeb’s six-bet.
I’ll give you one anecdote from the game:
I pay very careful attention at a live poker table, and during the first hand was dealt I could see Jared Bleznick’s cards because of the way he looked at them. I informed him after the hand (you can probably see me leaning in and whispering something to him on the live-stream), he asked me what they were and said I saw a four, and he thanked me for telling him. Later, when I four-bet pocket tens against his squeeze play, he asked me if I could still see his cards.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about poker writers/writing?
I think the biggest misconception people have is that writing about poker is a fallback profession for failed poker players or failed journalists. I don’t think a lot of people truly appreciate what type of hours and effort some writers in the gaming industry put in, and what writing consistently quality articles takes.
Another misconception is the notion that the content is all bought and paid for by online poker sites.
I can only speak for myself, but no one I currently write for scrubs my articles of negative commentary. If the criticism is fair, we, the poker media, owe it to the community to report on it.
The problem occurs when poker players see hyperbole and unsubstantiated allegations being tossed around on forums and social media and get mad when the media doesn’t report on it, so they get the impression that the poker sites are influencing the content.
Contrary to what some players might believe, poker writing doesn’t pay too much, especially if you’re a freelancer. Do you do any other sort of work, writing or otherwise?
Since I branched out beyond traditional poker a few years ago I’ve had more work come my way than I could possibly handle, and am in the enviable position of being able to carefully pick and choose what I write and who I write for. So I’m full-time-plus with writing.
As far as pay goes; in my opinion, it’s like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. It can be a part-time job; a grind to pump out as many words as possible for minimum compensation; or a decent paying career if you have the dedication and want-to.
What other hobbies do you have? Tell us about them.
My hobbies and interests are constantly changing. Right now I’m on a woodworking and building kick which is even more fun because my younger son like to build things too, so it gives us a chance to spend some time together.
I’ve always liked to read. I’m a big history buff and a political junkie, and enjoy watching sports… now that my playing days are behind me.
What do you enjoy writing about most in poker – lifestyle/feature pieces, op-eds, promotional stuff, tourney recaps, live/online poker news, or live reporting? (and why)
I prefer to write op-eds and commentaries, or to dig into the history of the game. Anything where I get to talk to people, or research things, so I can add to the conversation and bring new details to light.
— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) July 19, 2016
You couldn’t pay me enough to do live reporting – I have a huge amount of respect for the people who do that job day in and day out.
The recaps and promo stuff are easy enough to write (so they pay pretty good because you can pump them out pretty quickly) but are sort of tedious to me.
What’s something you still haven’t yet done/accomplished in poker that’s on your bucket list?
This is almost comical, but I’ve never been to the World Series of Poker, and would like to play some WSOP tournaments at some point in time – maybe I’ll wait another 10 years and enter the Seniors event?
Alright, the stage is yours – go ahead and let loose about something you just HAVE to get off your chest.
I’d like to see the poker community be a bit more welcoming, and for the conversations at poker tables to be less about poker.
When I started playing poker, new players were greeted with open arms, and the other players in the game were (generally speaking) friendly and tried to be sympathetic (outwardly anyway) to their losses. Great players were publicly humble about their skills, not wanting to either educate “fun” players or scare them away, so the conversations were generally light, or focused on non-poker things.
In the modern poker world people just assume another new player will take the place of a busted new player, so they insult, ignore, or snicker at them, and openly talk strategy at the tables.
As we’re starting to see, these “fun” players are not always replaced, and the people who are most hurt by it are the professionals themselves.
If you’ve never read it, Neil Channing’s blog post on this topic is a must-read for any poker player.