While I’ve been in touch with Paul Oresteen on-and-off via social media for the last couple of years, he’s one of the veterans of poker media that I had always wanted to meet.
I finally got my chance a couple weeks ago in Florida, as we were both covering World Poker Tour’s Tournament of Champions. Friendly, down-to-earth, hardworking, and humble, it was a pleasure to get to know him better in person and work alongside him.
I’m grateful that he agreed to be the latest interviewee in our ongoing Get to Know the Poker Media series and am absolutely blown away by many of the things he chose to reveal as part of his personal story. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy getting to know him better, too.
So, with many thanks to Paul and without further ado…
How did you first get into the business of poker writing and for how long have you been doing it?
I got into poker by accident really. I had a non-linear life where I followed a dream of writing about music after failing miserably at college right out of high school. A couple friends and I started a DIY music magazine that we grew into a business, I was in my early 20s and spent 4-5 nights a week going to shows meeting and interviewing any band I could. It ran for about four years and I learned some very valuable lessons – most of which was that there was a lot I didn’t know and needed to go to college. So, I was a 25-year-old freshman at a community college, and transferred to Georgia State University to study journalism.
As luck would have it, a very close friend of mine happened to work for Bluff Magazine in sales and secured me an interview. I actually bombed the interview, but they hired me as an intern right after I graduated in 2008. The country was going through a recession then and I was quite lucky to land a job in my field. Lance Bradley was the Managing Editor then and gave me the all the opportunities in the world. I love the game and telling human stories, and just kept showing up. There’s a lot of unseen work and sacrifice that the other arms of the industry don’t see or notice.
Interesting; so were you new to poker, too? Were you aware of the Moneymaker Boom? Did you know the names of any of the big players or were you learning everything on the fly?
No, I was very much part of the boom. Watching it on TV, playing home games and in bars. I was on 2+2 each night and read everything I could. I already had background from my Dad’s game, but none of those guys played No Limit.
I decided that the best option for my future was to earn my college degree. Before I got into working in poker, I played every chance I could and would beg to hit casinos “on the way home.”
What poker outlets have you written for and which has been your favorite gig over the years?
I’ve been fortunate to write for almost every publication in poker. I started with BLUFF but have written for WSOP, PokerNews, almost every US tour, and various freelance gigs with independent tournament series. Through BLUFF, I was published on ESPN.com – something I’m very proud of to this day.
Now, I call Poker Central home and couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed. I don’t know that I can say any particular outlet was my favorite as each opportunity led to another and allowed me creative freedom you don’t find in other industries.
You’ve been writing for Poker Central for the last few months. What’s the day-to-day like? Do all articles get assigned to you by Senior Editor Remko Rinkema or do you sometimes pitch potential ideas/stories on your own?
It’s really a collaborative effort by a few people. We write to our strengths and in poker you always have to be flexible with your time. Remko and our VP of Content Sam Simmons create the big picture plan and give us the freedom to fill in the blanks so to speak. I feel that we all have an equal voice when it comes to pitching stories – they haven’t told me “no” yet…
What would you say are the main things that make Poker Central unique among other poker sites? In other words, what sort of content do you try to focus on and produce that other poker sites don’t?
Poker Central is uniquely positioned to give access to the High Roller players that don’t grind out the Circuit. I love to write about people that happen to play poker, not the other way around. Poker writers still have to put in their time writing tournament recaps, framing press releases and other monotonous tasks – but that’s what affords the opportunity to write about other things.
I recently attended a pro-level Call of Duty tournament and I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t know anything about video games. The last gaming system I owned was a Sega Dreamcast and was pretty lost on the action, but there’s a lot of similarities between that industry and the poker world a few years ago and I think I captured that when I went. I might not go to another eGaming competition, but there’s always a story if you show up and pay attention.
It’s practically impossible to write anything about Poker Central without mentioning the Super High Roller Bowl. Over the last couple of years, the event has become a magnet for High Rollers, both professional and recreational, from all over the world. This is the first time the event will be taking place with Poker Central now having an in-house editorial staff. What sort of work/writing/coverage will you be doing while the event is taking place that’s different from your regular day-to-day work?
To say I’m looking forward to the SHRB is an understatement – I attended the first one and was blown away by the event. It’s going to be all hands on deck for the event. We hope to blend live coverage with editorial pieces that tell the whole story of the event, along with our video product.
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) April 3, 2017
What is it that you love about poker that has kept you so interested in the game for so long?
Every day is different – I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again. The job afforded the opportunity to travel and meet some of the best people in the world. The friendships that I’ve made in the industry helped grow as person and a writer.
There’s a lot of perceived competition between outlets but I’d like to think it’s between the suits. Members of the community of working poker writers really support each other and I’ve grown as a writer by just having the opportunity to work around and be inspired by those people.
— Paul Oresteen (@PaulOresteen) April 10, 2017
— Paul Oresteen (@PaulOresteen) April 10, 2017
How often do you play poker? Home games mostly or in poker rooms? Cash or tourneys?
I don’t play as much as I used to. I rarely play in a casino environment because after spending 15 hours a day for a week in a casino all I want to do is get back to my room. I don’t really like casinos, which I know is odd considering my profession.
I like to play poker as a means to relax and blow off stress. I prefer to play a home game among friends where having a fun game is the goal.
But I do have to mention that I’m the third generation to host “Club 37” – the original home poker game my grandfather started in 50s. We have custom decks and custom chips are on the way.
That sounds pretty cool and unique. Can you go into some more detail about that? Do multiple generations of people from the same families play? How often? Where does the name “Club 37” come from?
Club 37 comes from my Grandpa’s address from a house in the 50s in Illinois. The house was #37 on the street, so his game earned the nickname of Club 37. It was nickel and dime around the kitchen table and they were a rowdy bunch. My then-12-year-old dad was kicked out of the game after playing better than them following their hours of drinking.
Then, as my dad grew up and moved around, played a lot of cards with the army and ended up multiple places, he re-started Club 37 in the 90s. He has some custom decks printed up and it was good fun so I got to play in that version.
Since I love lineage and history, I call my home games Club 37 also. My next project is a custom felt or cards.
So Club 37 isn’t one single game or place, but there’s always a big Old Man’s Holiday Home Game in December each year that boast a few family members. Any game at my house is by extension a Club 37 game.
Do you enjoy mixed games? Which is your favorite and why?
I enjoy almost every variant of poker except for Badugi and Stud Hi/Lo – those games just grind my gears. After-hours poker media games tend to be all Mixed Games with some really stupid variants that we created just for fun and action.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about poker writers/writing?
The biggest misconception is that we all want to be poker players or are failed poker players. I’m a writer, I always have been. As long as I can remember, I wanted to write for a living, I just happen to love poker too. People that want to play poker for a living rarely last long on the media side – it’s long hours, poor pay and you get shit on by a lot of people if you make a mistake. No one does this without having a passion for what they’re doing.
I also hate the fanboy assumption people carry. I couldn’t do my job if I cared about what poker players thought of me after I write about them. For the most part, I’m friendly with poker players, but they’re not my friends.
There are some exceptions when you spend so much time traveling and seeing the same players at tournaments. It’s natural to look for friends in unfamiliar places, so I do have a handful of players that I consider friends, but I’d like to think they respect me enough to know it’s never personal if I write something unflattering or interview them for a story.
What sort of job(s) did you have before getting into poker writing?
I started working in restaurants in high school and cooked my through college years. I spent a lot of time working in kitchens and considered culinary school for a little bit. But ultimately, I hated cooking in restaurants but cook for almost every cookout or family function.
Could you tell us a bit more about your personal life; where you live, family, etc.
I live in Atlanta and have been there over 20 years now. I was an Army brat growing up so I’ve lived in many places and overseas but finished high school there and stayed.
I’ve been married for eight years, but been with Tina for 14 years. She’s rock I need to survive in this job. One of my first friends I met when I moved to Georgia ended marrying my wife’s sister the same year we got married. So one of my best friends of over 20 years is my brother-in-law now and the four of us are like The Super Friends.
Following up on the “living in many places and overseas”, you’ve mentioned to me that you attended numerous schools all over the US and Germany. Describe what it was like to move around so much as a youngster.
I’m very grateful that experience. I learned how to make friends fast and can talk to anyone. I had the opportunity to see the world and travel all over Europe at a young age and was very immersed in German culture when we lived there.
What would you say are the positive/negative effects of such an upbringing?
The negatives of that life were all temporary – moving a lot, changing schools, etc. but it teaches you to adapt. I had a strong German accent when we moved back to the States and ended up at Fort Knox – where they school thought I had a speech problem. I rebelled against speech therapy and I think that was critical to me developing into a writer at a young age, where I could clearly communicate not worry about pronouncing my Rs and Ws.
What other hobbies do you have? Tell us about them.
I love all card games and board games that are strategy based. I took to chess, Monopoly and Spades/Hearts at a young age. I collect decks of playing cards. I have a deck from every (inhabited) continent and a couple of Kem decks from the 50s that grandparents had that are still in good condition. I’m sucker for special editions, custom decks, and different artwork on the cards.
I learned to play the drums at a young age and was always surrounded by music. There’s something inside me that resonates with music more than the average person. There’s a bad joke about drummers hanging out with musicians so I’m taking piano lessons to fix that.
Many laugh, but pro wrestling is a huge interest for me. It’s something I got hooked on as a kid but never really went away. Atlanta has been a hotbed for pro wrestling for a long time and it still is. It’s an art form. It’s entertainment. Like poker, it’s not something that people are into casually; it’s all or nothing. They are performers as much as any musician, comedian, or entertainer. They’re out there to elicit an emotional response from the crowd, night after night in a different town. Fans of pro wrestling are some of the most passionate and loyal fans you’ll find anywhere.
— Paul Oresteen (@PaulOresteen) April 13, 2017
Well, since my table seats eight, it would have to be a traditional Four-on-Four Survivor Series Match. I’m taking full creative license here and my team is full heel Hogan, Flair, Bobby Heenan, and Brock Lesnar (we’re both diverticulitus survivors). And we could take on any team of Ham ‘n Eggers like John Cena, Roman Reigns, HBK, or Bret Hart.
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?
My favorite stories to write are long-form interviews. One of my strongest attributes is my ability to coax a good interview out of people. I’m naturally outgoing and a people person, so I have a pretty good record of organic connections with the toughest people.
But I wouldn’t want to do those all the time, the best part about this job is not doing the same thing twice. I get bored easily doing the same thing over and over.
— Paul Oresteen (@PaulOresteen) March 31, 2017
What articles (or other content) that you’ve written/produced do you look back upon and say “that was my best work”?
That’s a very tough question. I struggle with self-doubt and the feeling that a story is never finished. Everything I look back on I see a way to make it different or a little better, I guess that’s why we have deadlines because otherwise nothing would ever be finished. I have a very hard time judging my own work.
(I’d have a much easier time plugging stories by others that I like but I don’t think my employer would appreciate that, lol.)
What’s something you still haven’t yet done/accomplished in poker that’s on your bucket list?
I’d like to cover the Aussie Millions – I’ve never been to Australia and everyone raves about the Crown.
Alright, the stage is yours – go ahead and let loose about something you just HAVE to get off your chest.
I can’t tell my story properly without talking about my near fatal diverticulitis attack in 2013. I flew home from the PCA on a Tuesday, was in the ER Wednesday, and Thursday they told my wife I could die. My large intestine had an infection and then ruptured in the gut. I had surgery to removed 12 inches of intestine, my appendix went septic and they “re-routed my plumbing” for a few months.
I was hospitalized for two weeks and was actually quite lucky that I got sick at home and not in the Bahamas. I had a second massive surgery a few months later where they opened me up from sternum to pelvis to remove more intestine and re-route my plumbing back to normal. It took quite a long time to recover from and was on bedrest for weeks. Although, I still managed to attend the WSOP that year.
I had a moment of clarity when I woke up after the first attack with nearly two weeks of missing memory. I knew I was seriously sick when I was in and out, but I didn’t understand how close to dying I was from the amount infection and septic shock.
The doctor and Tina had to explain to me the seriousness of what happened and it had a huge effect on me. Tina hadn’t left my side for the longest time and then spent months nursing me back to health.
Today has been a struggle and not even noon. #diverticulitis
— Paul Oresteen (@PaulOresteen) April 20, 2017
But I turned a negative into a positive; each day the birds the chirp a little louder, the music sounds a little better, and life is a little more amazing. I live with diverticulitis but it’s something I have to manage every day. As result I haven’t drank alcohol in three years and there’s certain foods I have to avoid – my system just can’t handle it.
Now, it’s surreal to think back about and how close I came – who knows if the hospital in Nassau could have identified the problem?
After that experience, I’ve left anger behind in my life. Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick. I prefer quality time and experiences over possessions; my friends and family know how much I love them.