Peas in a pod. Two of a kind. A dynamic duo if there ever was one, Brad Owen and Andrew Neeme are unquestionably a couple of the best, most positive forces going in poker today. The multi-time Global Poker Award-winning poker vloggers have captured the imaginations of poker fans, enthusiasts, aspiring pros, and the industry as a whole, all the while bringing their sunny, smiling countenances into both the greatest poker rooms in the world as well as to hundreds of thousands of viewers via YouTube. Whether you find yourself on Brad’s channel or Andrew’s channel, you know you’re always in for a good time, great hand recaps, and a poker journey like no other.

About three years ago, Andrew and Brad formally joined forces to create MUGs, a.k.a., meet-up games. The MUGs mission is as simple as it is straightforward, namely to gather people around a poker table who are interested in having fun, meeting other people, socializing over a card game, and making lasting connections. A natural extension of their stellar vlogging work, MUGs have given Owen and Neeme fans the opportunity to mingle with and better get to know the prolific poker pair throughout the United States and, more recently, Europe.

With live poker currently on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brad and Andrew are using the opportunity to relax and recharge from what’s become an increasingly hectic and busy travel schedule. Once things get back to normal, they of course plan to restart their MUGs and fill their calendars once again. In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to speak with them about the anatomy of a meet-up game. They kindly took the time to answer a battery of questions, and as someone who hasn’t (yet!) attended one of their events, it was that much more interesting to learn a bit more about what goes on at the MUGs, how they’re planned, and hear some of their personal highlights of MUGs past. I hope you enjoy the read.

Andrew Neeme Brad Owen

How do you guys select a destination/poker room to travel to? Do you have specific locales you want to hit up and just keep going down your lists or do different places just reach out to you and you put them on the schedule?

It’s a mix of all of the above. We receive a lot of requests in the comments and during live streams from the vlog watchers to “come to X city/casino”. So that, combined with YouTube analytics, helps us tell which regions likely have the biggest concentrations of poker content fans.

In the early days, before the concept was tested, we’d go to any room that would allow two random dudes with cameras and YouTube channels onto their casino floor. Now that the value is clear to most properties, we have a wish list of venues we’d love to work with and continue to work with–those are usually going to have sizable poker rooms in order to accommodate a double-digit number of tables, as well as a good reputation in the industry.

How do you decide at what times the meet-up games should begin and end each time you host one?

The bigger the expected turnout, the earlier we’ll want to start the MUG in order to play with as many people as possible. So the official start time will usually be around the end of the workday, but we’ll actually start some games a few hours before that.

On a weekday, we’ll typically have an official start time around 5pm but we’ll show up a few hours beforehand to fire up a live stream promoting the event and then actually begin playing around 3pm. On weekends, we’ll usually start at some point between noon and 3pm. We’ll end the games with a couple of hours before last call in order to get some hangout time away from the tables.

Normally, there are standard rules regarding when players can change tables in cash games. As you mentioned though, due to the nature of MUGs, you naturally want to and try to play with as many attendees as possible. How do you decide when to change tables? Do they add a tenth seat at the tables you move to or does someone get up so you can play?

Originally we just waited for a seat to open at another table before hopping over, or asked someone to swap seats with us. But the problem was that if everyone came to this event to try and make it into a vlog, then nobody is going to want to swap tables with us. So it made much more sense to keep all the tables 8-handed, which means there is always a seat open at every table, and we switch every 45-60 minutes. We do our best to try and have at least one of us get to every table in the room.

In a typical cash game session, you get to sit for a few hours with mostly the same players. At MUGs, you’re both constantly on the move. Do you have any time to develop any sort of table image? Do you always feel like you’re playing with a massive target on your backs, either from people who want to take your chips or make it into the vlogs?

There is very much a target on us, which makes for an interesting dynamic at these games. People will widen their ranges significantly in order to either create a story to tell their poker buddies, or to make it into a vlog. So conventional poker logic would say to tighten up and let them blast off. Our table images are mostly established before we set foot in the casino. People usually have their opinions formed of how we play based on watching our videos.

Andrew: I’m usually having beverages at these events and playing slightly smaller stakes than I might on my usual grind. So tightening up is usually out the window; I can’t just nit it up at the MUG. I want to splash around with people. These are fun events, this is social poker, and nobody likes a nit. So perhaps at the expense of the audience watching the very-suspect lines I’m taking in some of these hands in the subsequent vlog, I’ll be in there mixing it up and it evens out in the end.

Brad: What is most important for me is figuring out how people think I play and what their motives are for being at the event. A lot of people show up just to make the vlog and will tend to call lighter and/or try to bluff me more. With this type of a person, it’s important to play tight and go for thinner value.

What sort of adjustments do you make to your poker game when moving from one table to the next? Do you always top up your stacks if short the max buy-in or are you ever allowed to pocket some profits when moving tables? Also, often you’re changing stakes repeatedly from one table to the next…

We’re happy to top up to the max, and bring the full stack from one table to the next. It’s much more interesting playing deep, particularly for the audience. For a variety of reasons it’s not beneficial for us to pocket profits when moving tables, unless it’s literally against the rules to bring more than the max buy-in to a new table (as in some locations). Generally speaking, we’ve gotten pretty good at adjusting to tables quickly.

Also, how are you going to get a good clickbait thumbnail of your stack when you’re ratholing chips? The MUGs are almost always the same stakes across all tables.

I’m sure you get approached a lot during MUGs for selfies, by people who just want to say hello, or give you gifts. Plus, to an extent, I imagine that “the filmmakers within you” are thinking of how vlog episodes of each MUGs will be constructed while you’re in the midst of the sessions. Do you ever find it difficult to concentrate on actually playing poker?

When you’re a host, poker player, producer, writer, director, cameraman, editor, and star of your own show, it’s a lot of bases to cover at each event. There is always a lot going on from our perspective and it can get distracting. On top of that we are usually at least slightly buzzed as well. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

We’ve thought about hiring videographers, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened yet. When you’re doing everything yourself, the quality of each thing will potentially suffer to some degree. Surely the poker we’re playing at the MUGs is not our proudest. But in exchange for each aspect potentially diminished to some degree, the audience receives something that is 100% produced by us, untouched and delivered directly from us to their eyes and ears. That authenticity and connection is priceless.

You’ve both said that your favorite parts of the poker meet-up games are the mixers at the bars after the end of the sessions, and from watching the vlogs it always looks like those are lots of fun. What are the typical topics of conversation during the mixer portions of the evening?

The conversation will be all over the place, from hands that went down that day, to general questions about poker and vlogging, to sports in their hometown. People will bring up their favorite moments in the vlogs, or we’ll get to chat to their significant others who don’t play poker but came to the hangout, or about their favorite beer. It’s a great way to just get together with people and not worry about the money that’s in front of each of us, or about being guarded with information they might potentially give away at the poker table.

Meeting and interacting with our viewers is something that we really enjoy. It’s fun for us to have one-on-one conversations and get to know people at a more personal level. At this point there are a lot of locations we’ve been to multiple times; it’s very cool to see people return to the MUGs and to develop friendships with them.

Finally, what’s some of the nicest or most memorable feedback you’ve gotten from poker meet-up game participants?

Brad: People occasionally tell us that it’s the most fun they’ve ever had playing poker. That is always our goal – to create a fun social event around poker that others will remember and want to come back to. Beyond that, on several occasions people have shown up at our MUGs for their first time ever playing live poker at a casino. I still remember the first time I played live poker at a casino. It’s a special memory for me. I’m glad to be a part of that for someone else. It shows that we are helping grow the game in a very tangible way.

Andrew: It probably sounds unbelievable, but there have been people who’ve told me that the vlog has changed their life in some capacity. There’s one guy in particular who told me a story about how he was watching episode #48, which is the one where the channel crossed 50k YouTube subscribers. In that episode I talked about how the grind of poker wasn’t exactly making me happy, but the video creation process and connecting with people was a game changer for me. I asked people to leave a comment about how happy they are on a scale of 1-10, and why.

After a Meet Up Game at Mandalay Bay, this guy came up to me and told me about how unhappy he was at his job with Microsoft. They would increase his pay every 6 months or so, and that was the only reason he kept staying there. After watching that vlog episode and being sick of his 1-10 number being too low, he said that he finally decided to get away from it. He said that he bought a motorcycle and was gonna ride it to Alaska, which was a dream of his.

Granted, it can be a bit disconcerting to hear someone say they quit their job with the most successful software company in the world because of your little poker vlog, but this is a smart guy, an engineer, and he’ll end up on his feet. He was beaming and excited for the future. That sort of thing is inconceivable when starting this sort of a project, and there have been countless people at the MUGs who have shared stories of how the vlogs have impacted their lives–whether it’s entertainment when they needed it, to poker lessons that made them a winning player, to the most fun they’ve had playing poker at one of our events.

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