While in Bucharest to cover the latest Unibet Open festival there a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting veteran poker reporter Jason Glatzer. On the one hand, Jason and I “go way back,” with an online relationship stretching back a few years. On the other hand, the opportunity to connect with him in person had never presented itself until the stars recently aligned in the Romanian capital. It’s always so great to put a face to a name, with the chance to strengthen a collegial bond. Similarly, having so much familiarity with someone’s name via a byline, it’s pretty cool to watch them work and see their professionalism on display.
I usually send out these Get to Know the Poker Media questionnaires via email and do the back and forth online, so it was thus quite special to be able to chat with Jason in person and hear his answers in real time. I hope you enjoy getting to know him better, in the latest installment of our ongoing series chronicling the lives and careers of poker’s finest media members.
I listened to the great interview that Unibet ambassadors Dara O’Kearney and David Lappin did with you on the Chip Race podcast. You mentioned that you’ve been playing poker for 30 years, and specifically have tons of home game experience. Let’s start out by finding out about your personal poker background.
Basically, I started playing at a very young age. I was probably about 11 or 12 years old, so it goes back to the early 80s. And my father was playing in a monthly, bimonthly type of poker game with other parents at the time. So he’s always enjoyed poker in a very recreational, social basis. One day the children “of that game” decided OK, let’s just play our own game. So, we started playing for literally pennies, nickels… The big winner of the night would maybe win like, four or five dollars. We thought we knew the rules of the game from watching our parents, but we were basically making up rules as we went along. There was no such thing as Hold’em back then, of course; a game like seven-card stud would be pretty standard. But we’d have our own rules to games like Midnight Baseball, Acey-Deucey, we had our own version of Follow the Queen, Jacks or Better. I think even at one point we invented our own version of Omaha without even knowing that it was Omaha, but instead of the cards being laid out straightforward on the board, it was more in a pyramid. It would be three across, then one on top and one on the bottom. And instead of being able to use all five cards, you can use any from one row or one column.
OK, like a cross, sort of.
Did you actually play with coins, like pennies, nickels, and dimes, or you used poker chips?
No, we played with pennies, nickels, and dimes, so it was really old-school. By the time I got to college in 1991, I met other people that liked playing poker. So this was before the whole Hold’em boom. I think it was even before Atlantic City opened poker! I went to college at Lehigh in Pennsylvania, and basically was earning my beer money by playing poker with friends. It would once again be a mix of games, I think it was common for that time where, when it was your turn to deal, you’d decide what game you want to deal. It was like a true dealer’s choice, because the dealer was actually physically dealing.
You could have wild cards, you could add a second deck; really whatever you wanted to do as long as you could explain the rules to the other players. It was fun. Around the same time I actually got into competitive bridge and competitive pinochle as well. I didn’t make as much money doing that as playing poker, but it actually exercised the mind quite a lot.
OK, so let’s keep hearing about your personal “poker timeline,” as it were.
I think Atlantic City started spreading poker in ’94 – it could have been later – and all it offered was stud. So, I mean there was probably other games as well, but most of the games were stud-related games. I was playing quite a bit there, for many years, and then I moved to Belgium in 2000 and stopped playing for a little while, and then I moved back to the U.S. in 2001.
Then, all of a sudden, voila, there’s online poker. So I’m “relearning” the game. I think my first site was the now-defunct UltimateBet, and I put $500 right away. I sat in a $5/10 game and I lost $400 within 5 minutes.
So I took my foot off the gas pedal a bit, and looked around the lobby. I was like “OK, well, what’s a poker tournament?” At that time I’d been playing poker for literally 15 years, but I’d never really watched poker on TV. The WSOP was around, so I knew – generally speaking – what a poker tournament was, but it’s not something I ever really put time into thinking about or participating in.
I entered my first tournament, and it was a $5 limit Hold’em tournament. There were a lot of limit Hold’em tournaments back then. Somehow, I won that tournament – my very first tournament. The top prize was about $400, so I got my bankroll back. That’s when I decided to take poker more seriously.
I was a financial controller at the time, not involved in the poker industry at all, so I was playing quite a lot. I was working about 60 or 70 hours a week, but still found 30–40 hours to play poker somehow. I moved strictly to online and didn’t really play live again until I moved to London in 2006. I went to the WSOP and played a little bit, and in general I went back to playing some live games in London. There was this old club called the Gutshot, which I think has shut down now, and there were self-dealt games there.
I was just having fun, in a grassroots style, playing poker, but of course I visited some of the main casinos, like the Vic. The Hippodrome and Aspers weren’t around then. I would play in cash games at the Gutshot, and also these small fun tournaments after work.
Now that I’m in the industry, I find that each year I’m playing less and less poker. I think my last major tournament cash was in 2013 or 2014. Some of that has to do with being in the industry, and some of it has to do with Black Friday. Even though I’ve always enjoyed playing online tournaments, I was not making as much money doing that as I was playing mixed cash games. Full Tilt Poker was the site to do that on, and when they shut down and got rebooted, it never had the same liquidity as before.
How did you first get into the poker industry, and for how long have you been doing poker media work?
When I was living in London I met my wife. My good friend Milda is Lithuanian and I met her in London. She helped me through a dark time after my best friend in the United States, Matt, passed away when I felt maybe I could have done something if I had been back in New Jersey. At the same time, my job was starting to wind down in London, and I was supposed to go back to the U.S. to do more, but I’d been with the company for 15 years and wanted a change. So we agreed to part ways. She moved back to Lithuania, and a few of us were like in a group that we would go out, and I went with that group to Lithuania, and my (now) wife picked me up at the airport.
I moved to Lithuania and played professionally for about a year and a half. This was past Black Friday. I became a moderator at PocketFives and the main person I probably need to thank for that is somebody that you’ve interviewed before, David Huber. At the time, he was the chief editor there. So brought me on. About a year later, when David left to do other things, Adam Small and Dan Cypra were the two people who helped me take my next step into the industry.
They said “hey, why don’t you work for us instead of just being a moderator,” and I said, well, the timing is good because I was just getting my resume together to look for work because I have a kid coming. So I was running the rankings at PocketFives, just helping out with marketing and running the community. Later on, I was at a conference with Adam in London, and he introduced me to Robbie Davies, who unfortunately passed away this year. Adam told Robbie, listen, this guy’s in Lithuania, you should definitely be hiring him to work at PokerNews. Robbie and I had an instant connection, and every time he’d come to Lithuania we’d get together. About half a year later, he said, OK, it’s time to get this done.
So I began I began helping out on the promotional side for iBus Media (parent company of PokerNews), but Robbie left a month later, and he wasn’t really my boss, either, so I had no boss for like two months, just doing whatever.
Then Giovanni Angioni was hired to be the company’s European editor, and he took me under his wing so I started doing some poker writing. I have to thank him for actually opening his mind to me, always being completely frank with me. And even though he’s moved on to the casino side, I consider him to be a good friend, as well.
A couple years later, Donnie Peters, who was still at PokerNews, said, “I know you said you don’t do live reporting, but why don’t you get your hands wet at the World Series of Poker Circuit Event in Rozvadov?” He said that Christian Zetzsche would teach me the ropes, and after that I’d have fun doing the PokerNews stuff by myself. So that’s exactly what happened. After 10 days of watching Christian at that event – he’s an absolute machine, and I’m not sure I could ever be a Christian – I wasn’t sure live reporting was for me, but I kept an open mind about the PokerNews stuff where, it was a recreational-minded event, I had more leeway to talk to the players, learn about their insights, report on the environment, the atmosphere, and all that. And I’m like, well, this is more my kind of reporting.
That’s why I enjoyed doing the Cash Game Festival, and I’ve been at almost all of their events. I have a good relationship with the people there, especially Martin von Zweigbergk, who we affectionately call Franke. He appreciates the kind of insight, because you’re not reporting that many hands there, you’re reporting more about what’s happening, how people are feeling, what their thoughts are about everything, than, you know, this person won a €500 pot with pocket kings against someone else’s pocket aces.
Sure. So, besides PocketFives, PokerNews, and the Cash Game Festival, are there any other outlets you may have written for over the years, through your poker career?
I occasionally freelance. Sometimes an online poker room will ask for a one-off, you know, kind of feature piece. I’ve gone to a few events independently such as the MPN Tour at Sunny Beach and the Irish Open. In October, I will also be attending my first Battle of Malta, working for MPN.
What is it about poker that keeps you so interested in the game?
It’s always been a hobby of mine, so oddly enough I don’t consider myself to be an ultra-competitive person, but I’ve always enjoyed the sports and I’ve always enjoyed games. Obviously, the games are more fun when you’re winning money than when you’re losing, but poker provides strategy, and it also meshes well with that degen gene; you have to have that first.
So I just find the game fun. And when you can work, and what you feel is a fun atmosphere, that’s when you have the best of both worlds. And of course I do things with my work that you don’t necessarily want to do but you have to do. Alright, that’s with any job, but the issue of that is much, much lower than when I was a financial controller, where it was basically a 95% ratio.
Alright, well, that’s actually the next question is, you mentioned your background in finance. What job specifically did you have, or generally did you have within the finance field for 15 years?
When I was in college, I was approached by my friend’s mom asking “hey, do you want to make some extra money putting together desks and chairs and painting the walls of this company called IDT?”
This is right when they started; I think they were expanding from about eight to 50 people. So I did that for a few days. Next winter break, I was entering my second or third year of college, and I was studying accounting. The same person said IDT was looking for someone to help out, catch up with the billing, etc. That’s when I met the future CFO and the future treasurer of the company.
When I graduated college I traveled in Europe for a month, and eventually I decided to go ahead and work for IDT. At the time, it was still a very small company, but they were planning a public offering. This was right around the time where Netscape went public. Netscape isn’t around anymore, but they made quite a lot of money with the public offering. IDT, which was founded as a telecommunications company, was getting into the ISP business. So there was a public offering based on the ISP business. I was there on the ground floor, but I wasn’t ground floor enough to make the big money. Still, it did actually accelerate my career quickly, and before long I was an assistant controller within the organization, and then I moved to Europe and became the financial controller of the European litigation operations as well.
I loved the people I worked with, but after a while I got a bit burnt out and needed a break. I wanted to temporarily move to Lithuania, change everything for a little while. Then, I realized just after a little bit of reflection, I didn’t want to get back into it. The money was really good, but I was struggling, I was spending what I was earning and I wasn’t enjoying life as much as I wanted to focus on myself, my future wife and later on my child. Also, part of that focusing is being happy with what you do when they’re not around. Because then you bring that same happiness back home.
I like that; that’s a great quote. Tell us a little bit about your personal life, family, you know, what you do when you’re not working.
My wife is my grounding force. She helps me let loose. I take my work very seriously, but when there’s downtime, when I’m on the road, I have some fun as well. So she’s my grounding force, and even sometimes my kid tells me “Daddy, grow up,” or something. He’ll be seven in December and his name is Lukas. He’s bilingual, speaking fluent Lithuanian and fluent English.
Do you speak Lithuanian?
I understand quite a bit. In Lithuania, I basically don’t speak it so much. When I’m on the road and I speak it people say that I speak it well, but when I’m in Lithuania it’s like OK, I’m going to talk back to you in English. So I understand quite a lot, but I wouldn’t say by any means I’m close to being fluent.
What do you enjoy most about living there, and what do you find most challenging?
Challenging, one would be the language barrier. You don’t want to be that guy that everybody is speaking English just because you’re there.
And the other would be, I created this kind of niche job for myself, but what if one day that’s not there anymore? What can I do in Lithuania? There’s not really multinational companies that would have their accounting headquarters in Lithuania where I’d be able to hop back in after 10 years and do it at the same level.
What I really like about the country is that the weather is gorgeous 10 months of the year, and the two months that it’s not gorgeous it’s usually not that cold. Even on the days where it is cold there’s no wind. But it’s dark, because there’s those two months. The sunlight is out, but it’s sort of like a greyish sunlight for two months. Living in the city of Vilnius is great as well. That’s the capital. We live about 10 minutes from Old Town, which is beautiful, but our backyard’s in a forest, so you have lots of nature and lots of things to do in the city. It’s not as much to do as in London, but I’d rather raise my child in a city like Vilnius than in London or anywhere that I lived in the U.S.
Over the last couple of years, you’ve been the main person doing poker media work at the Cash Game Festival. Those who may not be familiar with it, tell us just a little bit, like, what is this Cash Game Festival in a nutshell, what’s the gig like for you, and what do you enjoy the most?
OK, so. Basically, the Cash Game Festival’s a relatively new festival that was developed by cofounders Enri Orav and Franke in the city that they live in, Tallinn, Estonia, as something for cash game players to go to. They saw that there’s plenty of festivals for tournament players, but nothing really out there for cash game players to go, have fun, and enjoy some vacation and poker travel. So they had three festivals in Tallinn in I believe 2014 and 2015, and one of the things that grew out of that was the popularity of their live stream.
Twice a day at the Cash Game Festival they have a stream where basically anybody who signs up in advance can participate and perhaps actually gain a little fame. You don’t have to play high stakes, they even offer streams at €1/2. There have been streams as high as €25/50, so it’s a big range. I usually attend the festivals to work, but once I went as a player, so I’ve had both viewpoints. Once they went international in London, I fell in love with it right away, because I saw, unlike in tournament festivals, players can decide their own schedules. So when there’s activities planned, they can decide whether they want to do it or not and not have to be limited by still being in a tournament. Or they could be on a good cash game table and decide they don’t want to do anything else.
The players are having lots of fun, too. At the Cash Game Festival, there’s people laughing, people having a good time on the tables, and people are making friends. So it’s basically a family that’s growing, and people will come to another stop, and then you usually pick people up at each stop and then you see them somewhere down the road at another stop. I typically do interviews and blogging for them, but at the last two festivals I’m also one of the main guys doing commentary on the live stream.
I’m a cash game player at heart, so for me it’s like the perfect environment. I love seeing games that you don’t normally see people playing. Most of the games are Hold’em and Omaha, but you see games like Sviten Special, which we can talk about, Dealer’s Choice where it’s almost like my home games where as long as you can explain the rules to the players at the table, you can play it. There’s lots of great action. I make a lot of friends as well.
The next Cash Game Festival is at Banco Casino in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava on Sept. 19-23. Amazingly, this will be my 20th Cash Game Festival of what I hope is many more.
Overwhelmingly, when people think of poker these days, they always think Texas Hold’em, maybe occasionally some PLO. At least stateside, it seems like there’s a minor push to try and get people playing some more mixed games. Is this something as, you know, you’re basically based in Europe and you get around a lot, do you see this at all in Europe, and why is or isn’t this the case?
I don’t see it at all in Europe outside the Cash Game Festival. And the reason for that is twofold. One, a lot of the growth is coming from online poker, in Europe, and when the US and Europe weren’t allowed to share liquidity anymore at the legitimate sites, the mixed games were completely dried up. And, you know, it was kind of helping people get involved. So I don’t really see it at all live outside the Cash Game Festival. Obviously, there are places, if you go up to Scandinavia, when you go to their local clubs you’ll see some mixed games, you’ll see some variants on Super Stud that you’ve never heard of before and the game Sviten Special that I mentioned. But at the cash game festival, that’s when you usually see a few tables, either Sviten Special or Dealer’s Choice games, and people are experimenting a little bit outside the box.
What are some of your favorite locations to report from and why?
The perfect destinations are the ones, especially when you have an extra day to travel at the end, are places that I haven’t been to very much, or that if I’ve been to that you can feel at home. So even though Tallinn is nearby, I absolutely love the city, and I have so many friends that I always love going up to there, and the Olympic Casino up there is top-notch as well. Sunny Beach is awesome because the casino is literally 12 steps from the beach, and there’s lots of cafes and whatnot. And I enjoyed going to Bratislava, because it was my first time there.
What other hobbies do you have?
My hobby is my kid, so now my hobbies involve Legos and building things and whatever game Lukas makes up. I also do a lot of reading. Recently I, because I never watch any of the Marvel cinematic universe stuff, so I found a website that actually ranked, listed in chronological order, not the order that they came out, but the logical order. So now I’m going through one by one and watching them all.
I used to like things like tennis and basketball, and unfortunately I’ve gotten a little bit out of shape in the last few years.
What is something you still haven’t done or accomplished in poker that you really want to do?
I enjoy being at the events that are more recreational-minded. Down the road, I wouldn’t mind working in more of an operational type of field where I could have a big impact on the poker community and extend my knowledge. So being, say, the Head of Poker at one of the online poker rooms would be of interest to me, if it’s the right fit.
But I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now, and I’m hoping to let’s say grow within the role I’m doing now, so it’s a tough question.
You have the stage. Let loose about something that you just have to get off your chest.
Often people tell me “you have the dream job,” and that’s without them actually knowing what I do. You have to have a love for what you’re doing. And they ask me how they can get involved, and I give them some tips, or even say contact with this person to potentially be doing this thing if you need somebody, and oftentimes they do. And then what I see from people who want to get into it, laziness sneaks in. You need to be somewhat committed to doing what you want to be doing, no matter what it is.
So if you’re given an opportunity, put your all into it, and make sure you make the most of the opportunity, and then you can take a step back and decide whether this is something you want to do or not. But put your heart into it in the beginning.
Lastly, I would just like to take the opportunity here to give a special shoutout to all the great people at PokerNews. I have learned a bunch working under Frank Op de Woerd, and Yori Epskamp also provides great guidance when it comes to live reporting. Of course, Sarah Herring has always been amazing when it comes to talking about anything video related and Pam Maldonado is always on top of the social media and giving me advice as well when I am on the road. In the past, Brett Collson and Chad Holloway have also given me advice and I also enjoyed my time working with guys at PocketFives who I haven’t already mentioned including Cal Spears, Nat Arem, Ram, Jose, and of course Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers.