Together with my Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast co-host Bruce Briggs, I recently interviewed Eric Danis, the Head of Content and Chief Statistician for the Global Poker League/Global Poker Index (GPL/GPI). Eric’s history in the poker industry stretches far deeper than his current involvement in Alex Dreyfus’ venture to sportify poker, and we listened to him talk all about it. In addition, Eric was kind enough to answer our many questions about the GPL/GPI and give a primer of sorts to poker fans who aren’t necessarily as familiar with the new company.
Below, you’ll find the audio file for Episode 270 of the podcast, which includes our interview with Eric starting at the 14-minute mark. You can also read the summarized transcript below.
Interview Transcript (Summarized)
Eric is Head of Poker Content for the Global Poker League as well as the Chief Statistician at the Global Poker Index/Hendon Mob and he just got engaged a couple of days ago. Welcome to the show Eric and congratulations!
Thank you gentlemen. I’m sure that’s the only reason you had me on today, to celebrate my upcoming nuptials! For the first time in about five years, poker took a back seat for the weekend!
Start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I didn’t start out wanting to necessarily be in poker media, but I’ve always been addicted to radio broadcasting. I did study radio broadcasting in college and in my teen years I spent a lot of time in hockey arenas lending my voice to home games. I’m a big fan of hockey and sports in general and addicted to stats. I’ve always been addicted to cards, and that’s in a good way. I come from a French-Canadian background and any time there’s five or more people in a family getting together that means cards are going to be played. It wasn’t necessarily Hold’em, but there was a lot of poker being played, a game that I call 500. I’m not sure if it’s popular around the world, but in Canada your uncle steals your pennies and dimes when you were a young man and they teach you to cheat and since they’re older you’re not allowed to correct them!
I’m sort of also an accomplished cribbage player believe it or not. I’ve played in several cribbage tournaments in team cribbage and I’ve won my fair share of trophies and tournaments! To be fair, that’s where my passion for statistics started in high school. I did have a statistical system for cribbage, but I invented stats for it and I worked with a math teacher in school with it. Getting stats together and seeing how players could actually improve their games by looking at little cribbage percentages. That’s how it first started with cards!
Patrick Bruel has always been an idol of mine, and when I saw him playing at the World Series of Poker in Vegas in the early 90s I was so excited. Then TSN, which is the Canadian version of ESPN, started showing the Main Event when Dick van Patten was the host. I got really excited about the World Series from a very young age. I started doing home games and tournaments with friends.
We always like to quiz our guests on their home game background and it sounds like home games have played a pretty important role in that part of your life.
Absolutely, I remember being in seventh grade playing spades and getting into five-card stud, Follow the Queen, Baseball, Chicago Low, and all those fun games! We were always getting our older cousins or uncles to teach us some of the new games and a lot of money was lost. Good news back then was that the money lost was about $10, although that was a lot of money for a kid of 12 or 13 years old.
For Canadians we really got into poker during the 2004-05 NHL lockout where there was nothing on TV. No hockey obviously, and the sports channels started to show a lot of poker. That’s when our poker boom really started. I had been to Vegas a few times to see the World Series before then, but when that strike happened there was nothing for us to do so poker just boomed! The Moneymaker effect was followed by the NHL strike, and obviously if there’s a hockey strike in Canada we don’t know what to do with ourselves in the winter!
We have a lot to talk about, but before we get to the GPL and the Hendon Mob, let’s dial it back a bit. How did you first get into the industry side of poker, and what did you do before joining the Alex Dreyfus empire?
For the most part I was a call center manager for Ticketmaster, that was my regular 9-5 job. I helped around the call center there in Ottawa, but I was also in charge of scheduling for North America. We had some amazing systems which showed us statistics like call times and where to book the agents so that was really fun. The unfortunate part was that I was part of the internet revolution in ticketing, which meant that less and less work was needed for call center staff. I got into another company doing purchasing and invoicing, so that was fun too. But when that was happening I was manager of my local junior hockey team, and it really doesn’t get more Canadian than that, but it was a really stressful job as you were in your local newspaper and television and if you trade a player and it’s a bad move you would get absolutely roasted for zero dollars! Through that I rekindled my passion for stats and I thought poker was a great way to do it. I just tried my own blog and doing my own player of the year and talked about tournament poker and results. I had an advantage over others because I could just look at the PokerNews coverage and say “There’s your winner!”
There was a guy called Jeff Walsh who was here in Vegas who liked what I was doing and liked that I was independent, so he just added me onto a weekly segment on his show. They had just started a Canadian podcast on their network so asked if I could join to give some stats, and by my second appearance I became the co-host. It was just a bunch of coincidences and hard work really got my foot into the door of the industry. I have a fantastic mother who is a banker, who just retired, but she is by far the most influential person when it comes to financial advice so I decided to check with her. I wanted to quit my job and wanted to give poker a shot, and she said that would be OK. I was 34 or 35 at the time and was tired of a regular routine. I was lucky enough because four days after quitting my job I got a Skype call from a strange Frenchman named Alex Dreyfus, and I was working for the GPI four days after quitting my job.
You’ve just ridden the wave! A lot has been said about statistics recently, with that movie ‘Moneyball’ with Brad Pitt showed all about statistics. People have really started to pay attention to statistics and they are something that is very important and that can give you a great advantage.
It’s funny you say that. I’m in a variety of fantasy sports teams and last year my partner and I were in Mike Leah’s fantasy league. It’s a lot of money for guys who work regular jobs! We decided to go straight analytics just for the fun of it. It really added to the fun. We were OK last year for our first year, so we’re going to reanalyze how we do things, but stats have really taken over sports. I’m going to spend even more time away from the fiancée working on fantasy sports!
You said you got a phone call from a strange Frenchman. First of all, was the phone call in French as you’re French-Canadian?
Well, for the most part, the French don’t really consider us French-Canadians to be actual French people, so most of my conversations for the year or so was in English. To be fair it took an adjustment period for us both to understand each other. Which is funny because we speak the same language, but it is very different. There are words that we use and vice versa, and accents etc. It took a good year to actually understand our own French.
And you’re based in Vegas now for work?
I haven’t had a permanent home for about two years now, so I’ve been a travelling man. I spent most of last year in Malta. But yes, we do have an office here and the eventual goal once the American government accepts me as a citizen is to live and work from here in Vegas. So I’m temporarily based in Vegas but I often get to work from my beautiful home in Canada as well.
So now we understand the true reason you’re getting married, for the American passport?
Our listeners might not be familiar with all of these three-letter abbreviations; GPL, GPI as well as the Hendon Mob and Alex Dreyfus. In a nutshell perhaps, could you introduce people who are not familiar to what it’s all about to what it is and what the purpose is?
The Global Poker Index (GPI) is the first one that Alex Dreyfus acquired and simply put it’s a ranking system of all the live tournament players around the world, and I do mean all! If you play in a tournament down your local casino, and the results are entered into the Hendon Mob, then you do get a ranking! It’s fun to know you’re ranked 400,000th in the world! It is an offshoot of the APT tennis tour or the PGA tour. It’s a rolling system, not a player of the year, even though we have that as well. The ranking will be over your past three-year performances by three-month segments. If someone is hot for six months normally they’d shoot up to number one, and that’s not necessarily the case for us. It takes a while for a player to become the number one player in the world. It’s just a different way of viewing things. We think that it’s the best way. It does look at consistency, and we take that into account. Unless you’re Fedor Holz and you just win everything for three years! But someone like Ole Schemion, it took him about a year to reach number one. He stayed there for quite a long time, but he hasn’t been doing that well or hasn’t played all that much in the past year, so those numbers go down. It’s something different than a regular player of the year, and we truly feel that by having Fedor Holz as the number one player, with people like Chance Kornuth climbing up the ranks, it’s a great way to be presented with those rankings.
And these are all tournament players?
Correct, live tournaments only. We’d love to have a cash game ranking, but we are familiar with the fact that people don’t necessarily want to let us know if they’re winning or losing at the cash tables. It’s also a way for players if they do want to remain anonymous, you can always choose the cash game route. We purchased the Hendon Mob in my first year I think, and we got to meet and work with the great Joe Beevers. I think Joe Beevers was one of the first player back in 2001 I think, he won a tournament live on TSN and it was really exciting, I remember being really excited seeing players like him. It was really cool that he showed up at the GPI booth at the Rio and knew who I was. The Hendon Mob lists results from any sanctioned tournament from around the world where results are sent in. Any tournament around the world, so if you’ve won a tournament at the Genting Club in Derby, England well then that will be on the system. Those results are then turned into points on the GPI system. Just a quick background, the reason we acquired the Hendon Mob for us it was critical that we owned those results. We had a partnership with them, but if they decided to abandon the system we needed to know that the GPI could be sustainable for years to come.
From that we have a few offshoots including the GPI World Cup, formerly the Global Poker Masters. Team Italy won the first ever World Cup, and it will come back next year in 2017. It will resurface, it will have a different qualification system more like the FIFA World Cup so it’ll be more exciting. People will be able to see where there countries are being listed and that’s something that a lot of the players are excited about. I know that Bulgaria is right on the bubble in our system, and a lot of their players like Dimitar Danchev are encouraging players in his country to play in order for Bulgaria to qualify for the next World Cup. It’s good to see that players are excited to play for the country, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Italy won the first World Cup because they really caught on to the country feeling within the competition. They did have Mustapha Kanit and Dario Sammartino, but it was great to see a country come together. Russia was the same thing with players ranging from 50+ years old to 22 years of age. It was a fun experience.
And from that we have the Global Poker League which we’ve been working on for three years now. The GPL has 12 teams across the world, and team managers who are fairly local to each franchise. We had a Draft in February, which was my baby. Alex set up the league and I said, ‘Well we have to do a Draft!’ A lot of people outside of North America have no clue what a draft is. In most countries you buy and sell players, where here we have the draft. That was a really great experience for me and it was exciting to see players like Jason Mercier come on stage and say that it was a dream fro him to be drafted as a child. Obviously he didn’t want to be drafted as a poker player, but it’s cool to see someone like him, with the record he has, to say that it was a special day for him and that is father was excited to watch the draft, it gave me a few goosebumps.
So when you draft these players in to the League, that’s like sitting around drafting a fantasy football team. You don’t contact the players, you just do this independent of the players wishes.
Sort of, the players did have to sign on in order to be draft eligible, so the top 1,000 players based on the GPI rankings were eligible to be drafted. Then you had to sign up for the draft as well. We did that for two reason. Steve O’Dwyer for example, who was ranked number one at the time, just wanted to play less poker. Steve had just gone through a year where he was chasing the EPT Player of the Year title, and he politely declined. There were a couple of other players who declined who saw the draft and saw how exciting it was and they missed out on that. It’s a grueling schedule and we try to schedule them as best we can so it doesn’t affect the players, but it’s a challenge.
It’s good that you have players who have committed to being an active participant, as opposed to drafting them and then a month later them saying ‘Well, I’m actually going to take the year off; too bad you drafted me’.
That will be a challenge for team managers. They are in charge of playing their players when we do have games. There are 15 games left this season, and some teams like the LA Sunset have players including their team manager Maria Ho who has only played once. You have to play six times. It will be strategic. I think someone like Maria decided to play her two hottest players Fedor Holz and Olivier Busquet first, and it has served well because they are second in the Americas Conference, but she has to put those players on the sidelines and make sure that she plays more.
One thing I should mention is that each time was allowed two wildcard selections. The managers were able to select themselves as one of the wildcards. So for Maria Ho, she has herself and two-time Emmy Award winner Aaron Paul. We saw Aaron in our GPL Arena in Vegas this summer, but Aaron was a great person to have. He’s really into it and Maria was looking at adding a celebrity to her team, and Aaron was her first choice. We went from installing the Cube and the cameras to being live with Aaron Paul! We wanted to work out the kinks, but he was shooting the very next morning in New York, so we had to move up the match, and then he had to ship out the very next day. Aaron is going to play a few more times online, and then if the LA Sunset make it to the Playoffs or the Finals, it will be interesting to see if Maria decides to play Aaron or opts for the big guns.
I want to dial it back a little bit, I know a lot of our listeners keep track of how well they’re doing in poker with money. Could you explain the format of the league for our listeners?
Just like a regular sports league, players are getting paid to play. They’re not making millions yet, but just enough to cover their costs and expenses. We have an online season, and then a Summer Series in Vegas. Our online season starts up again on September 20th. Each team is playing for points and hope to be ranked in the top four of each conference over Six Max and Heads Up matches. If you’re fans of the Party Poker Premier League, players do have different decisions to make. You might have to fold a really strong hand in order to move up in points. It’s happened with us before, with players noting that they need to fold a hand because they’re playing for points. Each team has a different approach to the games. We’ll see that progress as the season that moves on. Teams need to change their approaches if it looks like they’re going to miss out on the playoffs.
You mentioned that they’re playing for points. I guess at the end there’s a big trophy and is there any money that they win? And secondly you said there’s this Cube that you’re staring at; what’s that all about?
There is money, there’s $100,000 to the winning team. It’s not millions, but like when Team Italy won the GPI World Cup, there is the issue of bragging rights as well and that really comes into play. For some players once they’re in the tournament it doesn’t matter what the stakes are, they really just want to win.
The Cube was meant to be kept hidden away for our playoffs, but we have this beautiful building here in Las Vegas, and I challenged Alex and said ‘Let’s get the Cube here in Vegas for the Summer Series’. It’s harder than we imagined. We had to put this four-ton thing on a boat from Malta to Las Vegas. It was complex, but it did get here in time. It took a special team to put it together. The walls are one-way glass, meaning the audience can see in, but the players can’t see out. Also it’s soundproof so players can’t hear the fans cheering. You can see that if this is happening in front of a 20,000-seater stadium then it’ll be exciting to have a light show, have people really involved and see what’s going on inside with the players not being able to see what’s happening outside.
And there’s no dealer or table, it’s all on your software?
It’s controversial. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t a fan of that, I like the old school way. But to be honest we’re playing five to six times as many hands. We have players who love it and there’s a rush there. We have a fun concept with players not having a shot clock but a time bank. Once that time bank hits zero they have four seconds for all of their decisions. It does add to the pressure.
Do you get the chance to play much poker?
I usually have a tradition of playing one WSOP event each year. I didn’t get to do it this year as there was too much going on, but home games are always necessarily. We play a couple times a year. A lot of us aren’t in our home town, but when we do get together around Christmas time, usually we’ll play one. I’m coming home in October for our hockey draft and I guess we’ll have some games then. The wives hate it because it means they won’t see us for a few days, but it’s really fun. I miss those games. They’re even more fun now. They used to be for competition but now it’s just for fun. We have timed blinds but usually we push the timer every now and again because we’re having so much conversation and laughing with one another.
I also try to play in charity poker tournaments from time to time, and I had one recently where I played with Chris Moorman, Katie Linsday, Liv Boeree, and a bunch of other great players. It was a lot of fun!
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Eric. It’s been great having you on Top Pair!
My pleasure guys, thank you. To all the listeners, you can follow me on Twitter @EricDanisPoker.