A staple of poker media for over a decade, pretty much everyone in the professional poker player community knows PocketFives.com President and Editor-in-Chief Lance Bradley. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of BLUFF Magazine, Lance has covered all segments of the poker world, both online and live, during his tenure writing about the game.
While I’ve never had the good fortune to meet him in person, after years of reading his work and following him on social media, it sort of feels like I know him already. I’m so happy he agreed to be the latest interviewee in my ongoing “Get to Know the Poker Media” series, as it gave me a chance to learn more about the man behind the byline.
Without further ado, you’re all invited to learn more about the witty and charming Lance Bradley, his career in the poker world, and a bit about his personal life as well.
Oh yeah… and there’s plenty of fun, behind-the-scenes info about his dress shirt prop bet with Antonio Esfandiari as well. 🙂
How did you first get into the business of poker writing and for how long have you been doing it?
I had been working with Bodog as their Poker Business Manager up until the summer of 2006. After leaving there I was left wondering what to do next. I had the journalism education and thanks to my time at Bodog, had a ton of connections in the poker industry.
I looked at the poker world and felt that there was an endless number of unique stories that needed to be told. I started my own poker blog, ThePokerBiz.com, and just began writing. A little over a year later a position opened up at BLUFF Magazine to be their Managing Editor and I was fortunate enough to be on their radar.
So, I’ve been writing about poker since the 2006 WSOP Main Event and have loved every minute of it with the exception of Black Friday. That day sucked.
What poker outlets have you written for and which has been your favorite (one-time or ongoing) gig over the years?
I’ve been pretty fortunate during my career. After writing for my own site, I went straight to BLUFF and after BLUFF closed down, joined PocketFives.com. I’ve also covered poker for ESPN.com.
Favorite gig? Not sure I have one to be honest. The entire journey has been a ridiculous amount of fun and no two days have ever been the same. I think I’ve had favorite days or favorite stories – but my entire time covering the poker world has been fun and I’m really enjoying being a part of the PocketFives team now and seeing where we can take it.
Ah, I remember ESPN.com’s Poker section with fondness, specifically their monthly “power rankings” and The Poker Edge podcast. What do you think it would take to bring that section back to life so that poker could get some more mainstream exposure?
Federally regulated online poker in the United States – or at the very least a number of key states offering shared liquidity regulated online poker. ESPN – or any content-driven business for that matter – isn’t going to throw resources behind something unless they can properly monetize it. That section was flourishing just before Black Friday, when PokerStars was spending millions of dollars advertising on ESPN.
They’ve still covered poker since then, to support the WSOP on ESPN broadcasts, but not in the way they did before Black Friday. Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing unless the online poker scene in the U.S. changes.
What do you miss most about your time at BLUFF?
When I first started with BLUFF I worked remotely from my home in Vancouver, BC. A little over three years ago I moved my family to Atlanta so that I could be in the BLUFF office with the rest of our staff. We asked other staffers to move there too, and they did.
Being in the office every day, working with people all passionate about being part of something exciting and fun made the move worthwhile. The thing I miss most is sitting in the content team office with Kevin Mathers, Tim Fiorvanti, and Paul Oresteen every day, coming up with great ideas and then turning them into content for our readers. We’re building towards that now at PocketFives and I think we’ll have some things coming out soon that will reflect that.
What other sort of work, beyond writing, do you do in your position as President and Editor-in-Chief of PocketFives?
The cliche answer is “it’s a little bit of everything” but, in reality, it’s “a lot of everything”. The day-to-day operations of the company are my responsibility. Given the status of PocketFives in the poker industry, I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
Along with doing some writing, I’m editing other writers, helping generate story ideas, coming up with promos for our members, and maybe, most importantly, building and maintaining business relationships with companies within the poker industry. I have my hands in lots of different cookie jars, which is great. I love cookies.
What would you say the main differences are, goals-wise, between BLUFF and PocketFives? There seem to be some obvious differences between the respective audiences.
BLUFF was owned by Churchill Downs the last three years that it was in operation. They saw BLUFF as a traffic driver to an online poker site they had plans on launching had legislation passed. The main goal during those last three years was to just continue to expand our audience.
The goal with PocketFives is obviously pretty different. The goal is to drive traffic to PocketFives and continue to expand as a business around that traffic while expanding the overall reach of the brand.
There are some differences between the core audiences of each site, but most importantly, PocketFives isn’t just a content site – it’s a community and has been since it launched. Oftentimes the people we’re writing about – the highly ranked players on PocketFives – are our audience and are active members of our community.
We’re also expanding the way PocketFives covers poker to be more inclusive, maybe taking a page out of the BLUFF playbook a little bit in that sense, to shift some focus to the poker world in general; all with the goal of increasing the number of people who read what we write and eventually join our community.
What is it that you love about poker that keeps you so interested in the game?
There is a lot that I love about poker – both as a game and as an industry. The game itself is constantly evolving, so covering it is never boring. More importantly though, the people who play this game are so diverse in terms of backgrounds, status and ambition and they make it easy and fun to find a fascinating angle on a story. And again, there are just so many people playing the game and working in the industry that every time I show up at a tournament, I see dozens and dozens of possible stories waiting to be told.
What sort of job(s) did you have before getting into poker writing?
I was in journalism school in 2001 when I got a job with Bodog as a customer service rep. I worked my way up and eventually went full-time with them, doing media relations and content. When they decided to get into online poker in the midst of the poker boom, they offered me the chance to run that business. I was one of maybe two poker players in the company at the time and jumped at the chance to do it. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. I learned a ton. After 2.5 years of doing that, I ended up writing about the game and haven’t looked back since.
Before that, I had a whole bunch of jobs. I worked in a couple of pizza places, worked as an usher in a movie theatre, worked at one of Canada’s largest sports card stores during that boom.
How often do you play poker? Home games mostly or in poker rooms? Cash or tourneys?
Not as often as I would like to. The nearest casino to me is in Cherokee, North Carolina and that’s a 3.5-hour drive on a good day. I’ve played a couple of home games in the Atlanta area in the last couple of years but with a family and a job that I spend most of my waking time thinking about, it’s hard to find the time. When I’m on the road though, I usually find time to play some.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about poker writers/writing?
I’m hearing this one less and less now, but I think a lot of people believe we’re failed poker players who, instead of driving Knish’s Truck, turned to writing as a way of making ends meet. That’s unfair. There are a lot of people covering poker who have the skills necessary to cover anything and chose poker. And no matter how they got to where they are, there are some incredibly talented people covering the game of poker.
I think most of us like to play the game, but we’re what the cool kids are calling “recreational players”. I don’t think Brian Windhorst is covering the NBA because his jump shot sucked and Adam Schefter isn’t covering the NFL because his 40-yard dash time was a few thousandths of a second off of him getting drafted. But I bet Windhorst loves to shoot hoops with his buddies and Schefter probably plays in a Turkey Bowl every year. It’s no different with poker media.
What other hobbies do you have? Tell us about them.
I love to read. I’ll read almost anything. My goal each year is to read 52 books – one a week – usually end up somewhere around 35 though. I also read a lot of online content – on really any topic if it’s well written.
I’m Canadian, so I’m legally required to watch hockey and I watch a ton of it. I’m also a big wrestling fan – have been since I was five years old. Outside of that, I mostly just love spending time with my wife and daughter.
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?
The short answer is people. There are so many amazing stories to be told in the poker world and almost always the story is really about a person or a group of people.
Whether it’s the latest tournament winner, an amateur checking something off of his bucket list by playing in the WSOP Main Event, or a player who has done something outside of poker that is worth talking about, I enjoy all of that the most. That being said, I love writing about poker in general. Tournament recaps, lifestyle stuff, breaking news – it’s all fun.
Your story from earlier this summer about Bob and Charlie playing in the WSOP Main Event was phenomenal. Once you finished interviewing them and getting the required information to write the piece, can you describe your mind frame and work process that carried you through until publication?
Thanks. I’m grateful that a lot of people took the time to read their story. I interviewed Bob first and then Charlie. The interviews took almost two hours and, as soon we finished, I knew I had a very special story. The few hours right after the interviews are a bit of a blur. I know Tim Fiorvanti, who was there for ESPN, asked me if I was okay. It shook me. I lost my mom to cancer when I was young and to hear Bob talk about his kids hit me hard. It took me the better part of that day to process what Bob and Charlie had talked about.
I didn’t sleep much that night for two reasons: first, I couldn’t stop replaying the conversations in my head and second, I knew I had to do the story justice and as any writer will tell you, that haunts you.
The next day I basically wrote it over about a 14-hour period, taking breaks in between to do some other stuff or clear my head. Then I sat on the story for a day and went back and read it again, made sure I was happy with it and that I felt it represented Bob and Charlie properly, hit Publish, and went for a walk without my phone.
Switching to a lighter subject, at this point it seems like everyone in the poker community knows about your $8,000 prop bet with Antonio Esfandiari. What I want to know is how your family (your wife in particular) reacted when you told them about the bet; do they believe in you or do they think you’re nuts? Also, do you think you’ll break if you have to attend a wedding or a funeral?
I actually texted my wife that night and told her. So, in the middle of the night she woke up, read the text and replied “k”. She thinks it’s fun and has been super-supportive.
My daughter is six and doesn’t quite get it, but she knows that next summer we’re probably going to be going to DisneyWorld and it’s all because Daddy wore the same shirt for a whole year. It’s been fun.
— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley) July 15, 2016
It’s a dress shirt and it goes well with a suit. I’m actually going to be going to Global Gaming Expo in September in Las Vegas so I’ll be wearing the shirt every day there. I’m also going to be at a few poker tournaments this year so it’ll be making the rounds. I’m not at all worried about me, I’m worried about the shirt lasting that long.
I actually asked Antonio for an out if I had to go to a funeral and his response was “Nope. You’re just going to have to hope nobody dies.”
Somebody at Facebook is trolling me. pic.twitter.com/0onugdFCqD
— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley) August 18, 2016
What’s something you still haven’t yet done/accomplished in poker that’s on your bucket list?
I can think of a few things I’d like to do.
- Interview Jack Binion. You want to talk about a guy who can tell stories for days? It would be an honor. Same goes for Bobby Baldwin.
- Play the WSOP Main Event. I felt a real connection with Bob when he was talking about how this was the one event he’d always wanted to play and here he was, playing it and having a blast. It’s tough not to think about that while writing his story.
- Interview the first (and second) woman to win the WSOP Main Event. I can’t even begin to understand what that would mean for the game.
- Help get Isai Scheinberg in the Poker Hall of Fame. Blows my mind that he’s not already in there.
- I’ve got at least one book in me and I know I’ve got to sit down and write it at some point. In the months leading up to Black Friday I was pretty close to getting a book deal but it all disappeared after Black Friday happened. Publishers weren’t as excited as they had been.
Also, I’d love to write up a few other stories that I’ve had bouncing around in my head for a few years now. They would require having a pretty big travel budget, but they’re great stories that need to be told.
Alright, the stage is yours – go ahead and let loose about something you just HAVE to get off your chest.
I think after 12 years in the poker industry my biggest pet peeve is the opportunistic folks who think they have a way to make a quick buck out of poker without actually doing anything positive for the game or the industry.
There were a lot more of them during the boom years, but we still see some of them coming in to the industry today. They gain the trust of some players, get them excited about a business opportunity and use their good name to help prop it up; then, when the business doesn’t work, they move on to the next thing and leave a pile of bodies behind. It makes it really difficult for talented, organized business people to do good things in the poker space when so many people have stories about being burned.
As I wrote on Twitter the other day in the midst of the record-setting fields at EPT Barcelona, poker doesn’t need to be saved.
If I’m to believe these record numbers from EPT Barcelona, it would in fact appear that poker is not dead and doesn’t need saving?
— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley) August 23, 2016
For the most part poker is doing just fine. There absolutely are some challenges, but they’re almost entirely about getting players and potential players access to the game. Online poker was that access point at one point and will be again if the politicians and stakeholders ever get their head out of their asses and regulate the game in the U.S. again.