It’s a lot harder than it used to be to hold people’s attention, but one surefire way to attract eyeballs is by using video. Poker is no exception to this, with Twitch streaming, YouTube podcasting, and vlogging emerging as new media via which to capture fans’ fascination. One vlogger, in particular, who is attracting tons of attention and near-universal praise is Andrew Neeme.
Since starting to vlog back in October of last year, Andrew has produced just over three dozen videos and has amassed an astounding following of close to 40,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel (update April 2017: now it’s 50,000+) Clearly, he’s doing something special and innovative that makes so many people want to watch his videos.
Having watched many of Andrew’s videos myself, I must admit that they are quite gripping. As a matter of fact, part of the reason it took me so long to prepare my questions for this interview is because I kept on getting sucked into the video wormhole, watching hours of superbly edited footage that Andrew has strung together over the past few months.
I’m actually familiar with Andrew’s work in poker from long before he started vlogging, so that’s going to be our starting point and we’re also going to cover a wide variety of topics beyond his vlogging efforts. Without further ado, I’d like to extend a big thanks to Andrew Neeme for agreeing to this interview, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know him better.
On your website, you mention that you graduated university, then started working “in the real world” in London and then Los Angeles. What year was it when you started playing poker, and then how much later was it that you decided to do so full-time in Las Vegas?
Online poker first caught my attention around 2004 after I had come back to the States. I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up playing poker at the kitchen table with Grandma (we preferred Crazy 8s) so I was as much of a “fun player” as you could be back then. I had to learn the rules and hand rankings. But the combination of how easy online poker made it to get into a game, and the promotion and excitement of the game all over TV was compelling. I was still chasing the dream of working in the music industry at the time, so online poker stayed a spare time activity for me for several years. I loved the job I had in London, and spent the next four years in Los Angeles looking for a similar career experience.
The music industry is tough though. You can land a reasonably fun gig with a small, or even major label, or a job with really cool perks like at a major talent agency and go to shows every night if you want, for free. But it’s very unlikely you’re going to be making much more than minimum wage for quite a while. That’s fun for a kid who just wants to drink beer and see bands play. But in a city like Los Angeles where the cost of living is so high, it doesn’t add up to a great standard of living as time goes on. Of course, there are people who end up doing well for themselves, as long as they stay driven and don’t get jaded by certain aspects of the industry. Having my introduction to the industry with a company that I loved working for in London, and then never being able to find anything that I enjoyed to the same degree, just led me to fall more and more into poker.
I was playing recreationally, online, and my results slowly improved as I eventually found some strategy forums and read a couple books. As the economy slowed, the last music company that I worked for had some projects fall through, which meant more time for poker.
I was playing on a site called Bugsy’s Club which doesn’t exist anymore. But back then, it was so soft… I ran a few hundred dollars up over $30k playing cash games and using a 20 buy-in bankroll rule within a year. I wasn’t even that good. But having a bankroll combined with poker showing no signs of becoming less popular, and not quite finding my way in the music industry… well, it just happened.
I loved Las Vegas and probably visited 20 times during the 4 years I lived in LA. I always hated leaving. So, I just decided to go and not leave anymore.
I first came across your work and became familiar with your name back when you were blogging for Pokerati.com, a great poker media site that used to be wildly popular but that has been pretty much “neglected” for the last few years. For those unfamiliar, could you talk a bit about Pokerati, its audience, and how you came to start writing for them?
Pokerati is the brainchild of my buddy Dan Michalski. In his words, it’s “snarky pseudo-journalism” although I think that’s being too modest. It’s definitely snarky, but he’s a very sharp guy and the pseudo part doesn’t do it enough justice. I honestly don’t know how I would describe the audience. I think a lot of poker industry people would read his stuff, as well as your more hardcore poker-nerd types who wanted to consume as much content as was out there.
I didn’t know Dan at the time, but I would occasionally read his (or one of his writers’) posts about the industry or Las Vegas. Dan is one of the best writers that I know, and also one of the smartest when it comes to dissecting how the poker industry is playing out, and reading between the lines of PR and quotes from casino execs.
I had an idea for his site to do a first-person narrative of the ups and downs of a low stakes Las Vegas cash game grinder. In other words, my blog. I had no real writing experience so I offered to do it for free, and he was all too happy to take advantage of a hapless, naive poker player for a few extra web clicks. Just kidding. It was fun and he helped me with some editing and directional ideas for the writing. And it was my first foray into creating content for an audience.
For a brief time, near the end of your tenure at Pokerati, you had started producing the Vegas Grinders podcast, together with Dan and fellow writer Dave Ferrara. Though it was an ultimately ill-fated venture, why did you guys start the podcast? Who was your intended audience? After how many episodes did you decide to pull the plug?
We started the podcast because we thought that we all brought something interesting to the table, both through our different personalities and through the type of things each of us could focus a discussion on. As previously mentioned, Dan was the industry guy and brought his years of experience working with and reporting on gaming corporations and dissecting the way they were moving.
For example, Dan correctly predicted it would be years before California was anywhere near any sort of agreement to move online poker forward, despite all the fervor at the time. Dave was the news guy who was always on top of the latest developments in poker rooms around town–whether that was upcoming tournaments or promotions to be aware of, or Vegas-based threads on 2+2 that merited some analysis. I was the full time poker player, bringing my written blog to the podcast medium while providing the player’s perspective on what the latest happenings were.
Our intended audience was the casual to moderately big poker fan, who occasionally took trips to Las Vegas to play some cards. They would want to know what was going on in the rooms, which promotions to take advantage of, maybe learn a thing or two with a hand history, and which new restaurant or nightclub sounded really cool.
I don’t think it’s right to say that it was “ill-fated,” because to me that sounds like perhaps the concept was flawed. We cranked out about 25 episodes or so and the feedback was awesome. The plan was to take a bit of a break for a few weeks, then get back after it. But the break coincided with some changes at our real jobs (well, their jobs and my “job”) and the different paths that we were on took us away from the grind of both staying on top of the Vegas poker landscape and production of the show.
Dan went to complete a Masters degree in journalism and media studies at UNLV while also teaching, and Dave took a great job with the Las Vegas Review Journal. His stories are regularly among the most read for the paper. (He’s the other best writer that I know personally.) As for me, I took the time to get a little more serious about grinding in an effort to move out of $1/3 NL.
It was somewhere between a passion project–which the audience seemed to find really enjoyable and informative–and something that had real potential to be a regular fixture in the poker media world. We talk regularly and just a few days ago there was a brief mention among the three of us about firing the podcast back up. Maybe if I find an editor for the vlogs I would have time for it…
It seems like you started your website right around when Pokerati pretty much closed down, at the start of 2013. You were semi-active there for about two-and-a-half years, but you haven’t added any new blog posts since August 2015. What motivated you to create the site and why have you stopped publishing new content there?
I got sick of Dan getting all the fame and money off my beautiful writings. Kidding again. But I thought it might be a good idea to start thinking about some branding of my own and in a manner in which I have full control over the style and presentation, a la my own website. I don’t have any good reasons for why I stopped publishing blogs. I still love writing, as you can probably see, Robbie, by these long winded answers that you didn’t give me any sort of length guidelines for. Maybe I’ll do one soon, about the first few months as a poker YouTuber, or something…
OK, so now let’s move on to the work that most people know you from, your vlog.
Hey, I made a vlog! Feedback is welcome.https://t.co/rBtZbqwFuc
— Andrew Neeme (@andrewneeme) October 8, 2016
You mentioned in one of your videos that you decided to do a vlog in the first place in order to find more fulfillment than just “grinding out a winrate”, which had started to feel slightly meaningless. You also mentioned that you like creating things from time to time and getting feedback on the things you create; that you felt it would be fun to document the live grinder lifestyle. How and to what extent does the prior poker writing and podcasting you’ve done motivate and influence your vlogging?
The prior projects were stepping stones of sort, to the vlog. That’s kind of how most things are in life, no? Do one thing for a while, it leads you to another place or job or project… do that one for a while and either stick with it, or maybe try something else. I guess the feedback that I got from each stepping stone kind of encouraged me enough to not be afraid to try and put my foot on another stone.
You’ve said in your videos that you feel there’s a hole in the type of poker content being created, namely that there’s a disconnect between how poker rooms brand themselves publicly versus how low-stakes poker players might perceive them. In particular, you feel that your video documentation of walking into the rooms, buying chips, the poker action, and cashing out makes live poker more relatable. Your booming subscriber base and the sheer number of videos views you’ve gotten seem to be proving your theory correct.
Why, then, do you think there seems to be this “corporate pushback” – for lack of a better phrase – as of late? Wouldn’t it seem more logical that poker room managers and casino executives would see the success you’re having as a vlogger and want to work with you to help promote their rooms?
You’re preaching to the choir on that one. To the poker player it’s such a no-brainer… We always talk about how we can grow the game, reach new players, get people to just take a seat and see if they enjoy it. So in my mind there are two ways that you can do that. You either alter the product so that poker more resembles the games in the pit which have simple rules but you don’t really win anything. Or you alter the way poker is presented and marketed.
I can’t tell you how many people–non poker-playing friends of mine, or others I overhear in casinos–say how intimidating a poker room is. You have this big space where everyone is mostly quiet and serious, with earbuds in, and a podium that you have to walk up to and declare your intentions, and figure out how the hell you buy your chips and risk looking like a dummy for not knowing what you’re doing. Then you have so many different unwritten rules of etiquette as far as how to carry yourself at the table. I was the same way when I started–clueless–and I know I’m not the only professional poker player who was that way.
As an amateur looking in, it’s impossible to know what the truth is, which is that most of those “serious looking” poker players don’t actually know what the fuck they’re doing either. The reason they look so serious is because they’re trying to figure out where the hell they are in any one particular hand, not because they’re coolly calculating odds and accessing a wealth of poker strategy stored in their brains, and then staring people down to manipulate them.
As a poker room, your choices are to create a comfortable, classy, fairly quiet and perhaps intimidating space; or copying the blackjack pit with go-go dancers and loud music. So if those are your only two options, you go with the former and recycle the same trusty high hand promotions that rooms have been doing for years. You could say there is somewhat of a lack of innovation. Somehow The Bicycle was the only one doing something completely unique, for years, with Live At The Bike.
The problem for casinos when considering working with someone like me is multi faceted. The first potential problem is that having a camera on the gaming floor could be an issue with the gaming commission. I’m not an expert but I personally don’t think this is the true issue. It seems this could be solved in various ways, whether it’s via a dedicated “vloggers” table and a Notice of Filming sign like they use for televised tournaments, or otherwise.
The bigger problem for a casino is that they have to be ultra protective over their brand, especially when they are a multinational, publicly traded company like MGM or Wynn. So if someone they’ve never heard of–me–requests to come into the room, film the action and operations and the logo and branding, and broadcast that to the masses, they will default to no. Especially because, as we all know, poker isn’t exactly the real money maker for the casino on a dollars per square footage metric. What if my tastes turn out to be different than theirs, and the content I create is nowhere near in line with what their branding departments have been working on for the past 6-12 months? What if a harmless argument breaks out, and I think it makes for funny content, but the casino execs think it tarnishes the brand?
It isn’t that the poker room managers don’t see the value. I’ve had conversations with several managers at my favorite rooms in Vegas. Those guys 100% see the opportunity. But the decisions don’t end there, it goes up to someone with a title like VP of Casino Operations. We see this all the time in many different industries.
Big corporations are incredibly slow to change, are very risk averse and are content with their market dominance and current revenues, so a new startup comes along and changes the game because they can try new things without the same fears. Casinos are protected by the high barriers to market entry, and people will always want to gamble, so perhaps their gambling will just take place in a different section of the property. Poker stagnates as a result, outside of a place like LA where it’s just part of the culture.
Producing well-edited, fun-to-watch vlogs doesn’t happen at the push of a button; it takes a lot of time, patience, and persistence, as well as a healthy dose of creativity. Approximately how long do you invest in producing each video from the raw footage you shoot, and (percentage-wise) how much of the raw footage never sees the light of day?
Filming an episode takes the better part of a day, because I’m basically playing a full session of poker, as well as any other potential content for the vlog. For example, a stop at a favorite restaurant or bar. Editing usually takes another full day. Sometimes longer, occasionally less. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not a professional editor. I bought the editing software that I use when I made the first episode. I’m sure a pro could do it in less time. But when I started, I knew it would take a lot of time, and decided to allow it as much time as required to create what I had in mind. All of that means less time for poker, but personally, it’s been beyond worth it. Having a losing poker session is annoying. Having a losing session and making a fun video out of it and being creative as a result of it all is a game changer.
There’s practically a limitless amount of bells, whistles, and other “enhancement” that editing can accomplish. How do you know when you’re “done” working on a video and that it’s ready for uploading?
There’s a quote that I heard a couple years ago: “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” The goal is to do and to create, and then do more. Not to be perfect. Of course you want to refine along the way, during the process. But if you keep waiting to do something until you’ve reached perfection or until the stars are aligned just right, you’re waiting too long. And if I wait to upload a video until it’s perfect it’ll never happen.
My videos are sort of expressions of ideas. Each video might contain a couple different ideas: Poker is fun, poker is hard, traveling and playing poker is awesome, Vegas is pretty, studying is important… As long as the idea is generally communicated and the audience is taken down the path of the idea, then it’s good enough.
As for your video style, you’ve mentioned in one of your Q&A sessions that your overwhelming influence has been Casey Neistat, with a little bit of The Trooper (Tim Watts) mixed in. What sort of unique artistic angle to you try to bring to your vlogs to help them stand out? Specifically, what components to you try to integrate that you feel will be most entertaining to viewers?
Casey brought the production value of a professional short film maker to the medium of YouTube vlogging, and doubled down on positivity, fun, extremely hard work, and helpful life lessons. With his skill set in production, and his ability to live on 4 hours of sleep per night, it was just waiting there for him. As for me, I’m more of the 8-9 hours of sleep kinda guy, and have no professional film making experience whatsoever. So I’m like the poor man’s Casey who’s focused on a niche industry. But if I can focus my efforts on similar qualities, and some fraction of the same effort as to final product quality (even though the editing also takes me at least twice as long), then I think it’s worth exploring and sharing with a poker playing audience.
As for unique artistic angle… I don’t know how to describe that sort of stuff. I’ve always paid attention to cinematography perhaps more than average, and think “that was a cool idea” when I see something in a movie. Sometimes a particular scenic shot is the most memorable thing about a movie to me. Did you see Sicario? The overhead tracking shot when the caravan of black SUVs cross the border into Mexico is so dope. It’s meaningless to 99% of the audience but it’s the sort of thing that sticks with me.
In a second Q&A session, you mentioned you played against Don Cheadle once in LA; that he was “cool dude; pretty chill guy”. Any chance you could elaborate on that a little bit? What’s it like playing with a movie star? How does everyone else at the table react – just sort of treat him as one of the guys and play poker and talk about poker stuff only or fanboy a bit and talk Hollywood, movies, etc?
This was at the Commerce and was back when I was still living in LA. I think for the most part everyone treated him as “one of the guys,” but someone might have had an occasional question about a movie or something.
What stakes were you playing and where? About how long was the session? Can you recall any specific interesting hands in which you squared off against Don heads up?
It was $5/10. Didn’t play super long together, maybe 2 or 3 hours tops. I remember playing a hand against him in which I had two pair. I think maybe he opened preflop and bet flop, check called my turn bet, and then I checked back river like a total fish where I had the obvious winner. I think I had an exceptionally elevated heart rate on that hand, because it’s like, not only do I hope to win the poker hand, but I also get to tell my mom and dad a story about poker which they can actually understand on some level!
Your many fans are quite engaged, even mailing you stuff from time to time! Have you been sent anything interesting that you could tell us about?
Going public with a mailing address is something that I’ve noticed other vloggers like to do as another way to connect with the audience. Of course for the big time channels there’s the added benefit of receiving free stuff, like if you’re on Casey’s level and companies send you Boosted Boards, or a truckload of Coronas on Cinco de Mayo, or whatever. I don’t expect that to happen. I think people get a kick out of physically sending something in the mail, having it arrive on the creator’s end, and then seeing it in the content that they enjoy watching. It’s different from sending a tweet or a DM and getting a reply. The tangible still has that old world value. Like if I could send a pack of Sour Skittles to Jack Nicholson and he ate them in his next movie, the postage would be worth it for me.
Before I set up my PO Box, somebody took it upon themselves to mail me a letter and $10 in Wynn chips. But they didn’t have my address, so they mailed it to the Wynn casino and addressed it to “Andrew Neeme, the poker player. Care of whatever cashier is closest to the poker room.”
I just so happened to be having a meeting with the Director of Poker Room Operations there regarding filming at the tables, on the day that it arrived, and he gave me the package. We were both shocked that it was successfully delivered. Maybe him seeing that sort of interaction will cause him to argue a little harder on behalf on the vloggers…
If any Cardplayer Lifestyle readers would like to send me something, here’s my mailing address:
201 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89125-1547
You’re also one heck of a photographer, with a vast collection of brilliant pictures on your Instagram account. Frankly speaking, I couldn’t help but scroll through the images and feel as though I was admiring the work of a true artist. What do you enjoy about photography? Do you have any specific reasons for taking so many pictures of poker chips at the tables?
At the start of 2016 I gave myself a challenge of posting something from my day on Instagram every single day. It had to be a photo taken that day, rather than a photo from my archives or what have you. I slipped up at the end of the year, after starting the vlog. So I sort of botched the challenge, but the idea was to do something creative every day, and it kind of led me to doing the vlog.
So naturally as a full time grinder, I was often sat at the poker table. As you may know, live poker can be a little slow at times so I would often be thinking of different shots and unique edits to use. So I tried to step away from the norm a bit with the shots. The photos that seemed to get the most feedback were of shots at the poker table. Everyone likes seeing a successful session, signified by a castle of chips.
I don’t imagine that when you started vlogging you could’ve envisioned so many thousands of poker fans flocking to your YouTube channel so quickly. With a large audience comes the power to influence. What sort of path are you hoping to take moving forward with your vlogging and what would you like most to accomplish?
I don’t think there’s a particular end goal, per se, at this point with the vlog. For the time being I’m just hoping to make cool videos that people dig watching, and to keep growing the audience. If I can give my perspective as a professional poker player to people who are curious about what it’s like to grind midstakes full time, and answer questions, or even just provide some poker content that’s entertaining, that’s great.
There are some overarching goals that I hope to work towards as time goes on, mainly that the vlog brings a sense of fun to the game of poker and in turn attracts people to the game. It’s kind of a call out to the poker rooms, to make their space less intimidating and to be open to different ideas about how to market themselves and the game. It’s also a message to the industry as a whole, to stay more on top of content consumption trends.
Poker isn’t just firing away at huge buyin tournaments and hoping to win the lottery, or nosebleed cash games that we’ll never play in… That content is great, and we like big budget action films, but we like documentaries too. And maybe we should consider fun ways to connect with the everyday poker player in a relatable way by utilizing some new media channels and their creators.