Have a listen to the interview that my co-host, Bruce Briggs, and I did with renowned poker author Ashley Adams on episode 231 of the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast. The interview segment begins at the 6:00-minute mark. You can also read the summarized transcript below.
Our guest this week on the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast is Ashley Adams, author of two well-regarded poker books: Winning 7-Card Stud and Winning No Limit Hold’em. He’s also well-known as the host of the hour-long “House of Cards” radio show (not to be confused with the Netflix show starring Kevin Spacey). Ashley has travelled all over the United States and the rest of the world to play poker, speak about poker, and write about poker. He’s written dozens upon dozens of articles about Stud games for PokerNews as well as scores of poker room reviews for them gleaned from his travels all over the world.
Above and beyond all that, Ashley LOVES home game poker – and we’re excited to hear all about it.
Interview Transcript (Summarized)
Welcome to the show Ashley!
Thanks guys. Just for the record, I don’t mind if people confuse me with Kevin Spacey from “that other” House of Cards show. Seriously though, we did have the name first. Maybe I can dream about having a guest spot on that show some day.
Aside for the Doyle Brunsons of the world, rarely do we encounter someone who has played poker for close to 5 decades… but you’re a young guy…. When did you first learn the game and what is it that you loved (and still love till this very day) about poker?
I started playing when I was six years old. My grandfather taught me in 1963. He played poker every week and taught me and my brother how to play. Back then all I knew about poker was 5-card draw. We played with buttons, not money. If you lost all your buttons, I’d just reach in to my grandma’s bag and get some more.
I graduated to playing for pennies in junior high school, then to nickels, dimes and quarters in high school and for dollars in college. My first “real” poker experience was in Foxwoods, back when it opened in 1992. They spread $1–$5 Stud and $3/$6 and $6/$12 limit hold’em. I got crushed, and subsequently spent the next few years learning how to win at 7-card stud. It’s been a wonderful road since then.
That was well before the Moneymaker Effect, right?
Sure! Poker was actually on the decline for a number of years, from the mid 90s onwards. Then, it was a confluence of things – the movie Rounders, the spread of Indian gaming, the hole cam, Chris Moneymaker, and online poker that made the game of poker universal.
Now there’s a bit of a decline again, with some poker rooms closing, right?
Yeah, a number of rooms have closed down. Most recently the Mirage poker rooms closed; they say it’s temporary. As a matter of fact, before it had closed it was one of my favorite places to play poker. Ever since the “bigger and better rooms” opened like at the Wynn and Bellagio, all the good players go there. That means the tourists, who are relatively easy pickings, went there – to the Mirage.
What is it that drew you to poker in the first place? What is it that you love about the game that you’ve been playing for the overwhelming majority of your life?
It’s a lot of things. Fact is, it feels good to be good at something that I’ve developed a proficiency at. I don’t get that kind of immediate results when working on other things in life. I love thinking about the game, working on my game, thinking about situations. I also just love meeting people who I’d otherwise just never speak to or encounter at all. You get to meet all sorts of people at a poker table. I also like being a mini-celebrity in poker rooms… you know, people who’ve heard of my book or my radio show.
How did you first get involved on the writing side of poker? Did you just wake up one day and decide to write a book about Stud? Did it start with articles in the poker media? What did you feel qualified you as someone to write a couple of poker books?
It’s a very interesting answer. I was an English Major in college. I wrote lots of papers. I came across a box of my own papers once and looked at them – they were horrible. I was a bad writer. What got me to write about poker was this:
I had a fundraiser once in my synagogue. There was a silent auction and I wanted to donate a prize. I decided that since I played poker I could donate poker lessons and write a manual to go along with the lesson. Off the top of my head I typed out something 30 pages long. I gave a copy to the guy who won. A few years later I found myself on the rec.gambling forum; the first online poker forum. A lot of big poker names would post there.
Someone asked “does anyone here know of a good book on stud poker?” There really weren’t any. I thought I’d have a little fun and I said “there’s the Ashley Adams book”. Some guy actually answered and said he wanted a copy (of my little pamphlet). I said “$10” and he paid me on PayPal and I sent him a copy. He posted a review saying it was great. Within a week, 50 people ordered it. One of them was an agent. He asked me “how would you like to turn this manual into a real book?” I filled out the pamphlet into a full-fledged book. I then got paid $5,000 for it plus they paid me residuals.
My agent then suggested I start writing more poker articles to help get my name out there. I started doing it. Then, the poker boom happened. A bunch of sites contacted me and I was able to make a decent living writing articles. I’d write 2–4 articles a week at $350 a pop. I said “let’s make hay while the sun is shining”. I wrote about 1,000 articles in a 4-year span and made a bunch of money off it.
At the height of the poker boom, you did a two-year-long series of articles where it seemed like you visited every single poker room in the entire United States, played there, and reviewed it for PokerNews. How did a gig like that come about? Were you simply driving along out on the road for a couple years?
Well, actually it happened like this. PokerNews founder John Caldwell approached me at the WSOP in Las Vegas. They were looking for content writers. We negotiated a rate for me to do reviews of poker rooms.
I had my day job as a teacher’s association union organizer. I get five weeks of vacation a year. Plus, part of my job mandated that I did some training in other states around the country. So I took advantage of every work assignment, every weekend, and every bit of vacation time to find poker games wherever I traveled and then wrote up reviews of each room. Often I’d visit multiple rooms on each trip I took, but I’d only send PokerNews one installment per week for publication.
I think you are talking to someone who has been to more legal poker rooms than anyone on earth. I’ve been to 382 poker rooms at last count. I love it! I love figuring out a room’s setup and meeting the shift manager and owner. I once checked out 25 poker rooms in central California in 6 days.
I find that it takes about an hour and a half to check out a room before the layout is permanently imprinted in my brain. I can visualize every poker room I’ve ever been to.
Wanna tell us a story of an interesting “out there” poker game you’ve played in during your travels?
I once visited Lynchburg, Virginia for a conference and was determined to find a game while I was there. It’s a very Christian place. I’m Jewish and thought some local Jews might be intrigued by a fellow Jew coming to town for a conference. I called up the synagogue and asked them about services there during the week and if there was a local poker game. Sure enough, they told me that while they didn’t have services during the week, there was a congregant who ran a poker game. Turns out he was a pawn broker; he had a game on Tuesday night. The game was out in a beautiful chalet in the woods. I played $10/$20 dealer’s choice poker for 5 hours in Lynchburg and had a great time.
I’ve got many other stories like that. Once I was in Tunica and I met a guy at the table from Alabama. I mentioned I had never played there. He told me that his brother had a game there and that if I was willing to drive 5 hours for a game, he’s tell me how to get there. Long story short, I get there. About an hour into the session a guy walks in. The host introduces me to the new guy and he’s like “Ashley Adams? The poker writer?”
What can you tell us about home game poker? Do you play in regular home games? With your reputation as a known author and authority figure, have your buddies gotten intimidated playing with you over the years?
Yup. I’ve been going to a game for years. It’s the perfect game for me. It starts out as no limit hold’em for 2 hours. Then it’s hold’em and Omaha. Then for another two hours it’s no limit dealer’s choice with an ante. Follow the queen, guts, wild games, you name it. It’s pretty crazy; all the games you played in high school. I still love those games and it’s rare to get to play them for higher than nickel and dime stakes.
I also host my own home game. We play $3/6 dealer’s choice without wild games or $1/2 no limit hold’em with a $300 maximum buy-in. I also have a group I play with – very wealthy guys but they play for very low stakes; like quarters, and I love playing with them.
You also host the House of Cards radio show. When did that start? Tell us a bit more about that?
I tape shows that run every week. They’re syndicated by a number of Internet radio stations. I’ve interviewed a number of poker celebrities. Old episodes are available anytime you want to go check them out on the website. I’ve been doing it for eight years. We usually tape two shows at a time, sometimes three.
With all of the pokering that you do, how do you maintain a “life and poker balance” with your full-time job as a union organizer? Have you ever wanted to go full-time into poker?
My emotion and soul goes into the work that I do. I love being a union organizer and I’ve been doing it for 33 years. I’m also very passionate about poker, but if there’s a potential conflict, my real work wins out. I find that by being organized about it, I can always carve time out for my poker passion. My wife is a saint and she appreciates my love for poker and lets me pursue it. I’ve never wanted to do it full-time though and I wouldn’t find satisfaction in playing poker professionally or even writing about poker full-time. I like doing it all part-time. A big part of the balance is being happily married; I get nourishment from a very good home life and that’s key to me being able to travel as much as I do.
Before we go, anything specific you want to promote to our listeners to they can “get more Ashley Adams”?
If people want to check out the interviews I’ve done, they should visit houseofcardsradio.com. I’m working on a book: “My 50 states of playing poker.” That’ll be out in a couple of years, so stay tuned 🙂