Interview with David Lappin

By Robbie Strazynski
August 09, 2018

When you arrive at a place you’ve never been to before, you tend to latch on to anything with even the slightest semblance of familiarity so that you can attempt to get your bearings. Upon arriving for the 2018 Unibet Open in Bucharest, I was confronted with a situation where I had never set foot in Romania before, had never before provided poker media coverage in Europe, and was completely unfamiliar with my environs at the event destination.

Emerging from the sea of faces in the crowds was the smiling countenance of David Lappin. The cheery Irishman and I had met for the first time just a few weeks ago at the World Series of Poker, and our brief chat there was quite enjoyable. We had been acquainted with one another from afar for a while, thanks to the magic of social media, but it was nice to finally put a face to a name.

David Lappin

Reconnecting in Bucharest, we had the chance to talk quite a few times and have forged a significantly deeper friendship, as we share a number of passions, attitudes, and interests. Beyond that, David was an exceptional host, going out of his way to recommend and point out people for me to meet, as well as introduce me to some of his fellow members of the Unibet sponsored pro team. He’s not only a great ambassador for the brand, but also for the game of poker itself and It was my pleasure to interview him.

The video below is accompanied by a full transcript. Enjoy!

Hey everybody, Robbie Strazynski here with Mr. David Lappin. How are you doing, buddy?

Good to see you.

Likewise. Alright, this is going to be a lot of fun, and we’re going to just jump right in. We’re going to start off with a question that everyone, as far as I know, is dying to know the answer to. Mr. David K. Lappin, what the hell does the “K” stand for, and how many other David Lappins are there that you feel the need to distinguish yourself?

Well, the truth is my name is actually David Kilmartin Lappin and I do go by that on forms, my passport, and everything. And I think my HendonMob is actually David Kilmartin Lappin as well. It’s my mother’s surname. So I have initialized the K over the years, I guess, and no disrespect to my mom of course, just to simple it up, I guess.

Got it, OK. You’re originally from Ireland, obviously as our viewers can tell. Now you live in Malta, but you lived for a spell, if I’m correct, in Connecticut?

Good research. Very good, yeah.

Thank you. So why don’t you give us a bit of a timeline and what you were doing in each of those places.

OK, super-quick timeline, then. I started playing poker about 12 years ago (in 2006), predominantly online. About maybe 10 or 11 years ago I, actually online playing poker, I met a lady–or a person I assumed was a lady at the time, you’re never quite sure, of course—

Ooh, OK. The plot thickens.

I actually met her in a, at the risk of naming a rival site, on a Full Tilt sit and go. And we became friends and became sort of online pals on Skype and all that kind of thing, and eventually met maybe a year later and sort of hooked up. And we ended up a couple for about five years, and she had a couple of kids, too, lovely kids, Max and Lily, which meant that I pretty much had to move over there. She didn’t have the option to live in Dublin. So I moved to Connecticut, lived there for about, maybe four years, in my poker career. Sort of the up-and-coming years, if you like.

Then in 2010, I moved back to Dublin, we broke up unfortunately, and I’ve been living in Dublin until about three years ago, and then I moved to Malta. So yeah, I’d have to say, shout-out to my Chip Race co-host here, when I moved back to Ireland I didn’t really know anyone in the Irish poker scene, even though I’d been a pro for quite a few years. Dara O’Kearney I met very early on, and he introduced me to everybody. He likes to tell people that I had no friends; the truth is I had no poker friends. I had a few friends, and we had a good balance of course, and all these years later we’re still pretty close.

Yeah, we’ll talk about him a little bit soon. I read in an interview that you did with Lee Davy over at that—

Great guy.

Great guy. The Chingster!

Yeah, that’s right.

Back in your early 20s, you worked in TV and film. Is that right?

Yeah, that is true. I actually grew up in a family who were filmmakers. My father’s a producer; my stepmother’s a producer. So, I was always sort of surrounded by film people. I worked at a film sets, I guess when I was in school even, all the way back to transition year, which is our funny year in our school cycle where you can do work experience for something. I spent that working in the art department on a movie called Boxer, I was working as an extra in several of my dad’s films. And then when I left school, I worked on a couple movies during summers, and eventually when I left school altogether. I oscillated between working on film sets and working in a restaurant when I got to my college years. So yeah, I was surrounded by that. Once college finished, I studied philosophy, I did an M-lit in philosophy and a master’s as well. It’s kind of basically a year short of a PhD. So that was my main area of interest. I also studied screenwriting; I did a master’s in screenwriting. I did another master’s as well. Lots of college years in there.

Where is this in college?

All in Dublin, UCD, University College Dublin, then also in IATD, Institute of Technology Dun Laoghaire, another nice part of Dublin. And specifically, the degree in Dun Laoghaire was the screenwriting one, and that was where I was kind of going. Once I’d finished college, I had put together some pitches for TV shows and movies as well, and I wanted to develop those ideas. And that was kind of what I wanted to get into the writing side of it. Neither of my parents were… actually, my mum was, she was a theater actress, so there’s drama all the way around there.

It’s in the genes.

Yeah, and in a sense, even though my dad and stepmum are film people, I probably got my interest in writing more from my mum because I think writing and acting are much more closely linked than the kind of business side of the work that my dad did. So yeah, that was where that came from. That was very much my passion and what I wanted to get into. I wanted to become a screenwriter.

So how does philosophy fit into this? You said you were studying philosophy.

It’s such a great subject. It’s just the underlying stuff of almost everything, so it was fascinating for me to learn about the ancients. I eventually ended up specializing in hermeneutic philosophy, which is a modern area of philosophy. And yeah, I wrote my thesis kind of on the overlap between philosophy and drama, I guess in a sense. So very much with an eye on moving in the direction I wanted to go to, which was to be a dramatist eventually. Although poker has gotten in the way over the years, or maybe saved me from a life of destitution trying to scrape a living together as a writer.

Ah, so a man of the humanities. That’s exactly my next question. So, when exactly did poker enter the picture for you?

It entered the picture because I wrote a TV show for the national broadcaster in Dublin, RTE, and they commissioned me to write an entire show as the showrunner, which was an amazing opportunity. I was in my early twenties. And unfortunately, it was right bang around the time of the economic collapse in Ireland, and the budgets were all cut back quite considerably. They were developing three shows, and mine was one of those, and they only continued developing one the next year, and my show was essentially scrapped or shelved or whatever you want to call it.

I like to blame the economy, but maybe it was rubbish and they realized it, I don’t know. But anyway, essentially I was unemployed. And I had started making beer money from poker, started playing a little bit of poker in my spare time. Probably was a small winner, modest winner in games against other very poor players. I certainly wasn’t a good player yet.

Did someone teach it to you, or did you watch it on TV?

No, I did watch poker. I liked home games, five-dollar sit-and-go home games with my pals and we’d go back years. So we all played poker, very much sort of encouraged by Late Night Poker, a great British TV show, that sort of showcased UK and Irish players in the ‘90s.

So that got my interest in poker as something I did socially or for fun. As I said, I lost my job, I was unemployed, really trying to make ends meet. Decided, well, I’ll play a little bit more than beer money, maybe enough money to just get by until I get my next writing job.

An Irishman mentions beer, what is the chance, right? What are the chances?

Exactly. So, yeah, it’s terrible, actually. Just conforming to stereotypes.

But seriously though, I ended up sort of having this career that snowballed from just trying to make enough money to pay the rent to little by little by little by little, maybe one year down the line, it was like I’m somehow still doing it, I’m somehow surviving. Didn’t really build up a bankroll that first year, just made enough to get by. Second year, made a little bit more, had a bankroll, building slowly. And then I had big results at a live event in Barcelona in 2009, and that was for almost 70 grand, and that basically gave me a bankroll to play good stakes.

And you started jumping up stakes as well, then?

I went up stakes online, I still didn’t really play too much live, although that result probably should have encouraged me, but it was around the time I was in Connecticut. I just wanted to play good, mid-stakes games, and I had good games routinely online where previously I’d just kind of grinded out that first year, was playing with $20 stakes. Just trying to scrape by. So that was fun, that was how the career has gone on and hasn’t ended since then.

So it’s sort of like an overnight success that took like 13 or 14 years to happen, that’s what you’re saying?

You could put it that way, sure.

You mentioned your love for writing, screenwriting. You have a blog.

I do.

You penned your first blog post in 2008, so it seems.

That’s right, yeah. That was a, yeah. I was playing the million-pound challenge, I think it was a Full Tilt event actually. My good friend Michael Craig, an excellent writer, The Banker, the Professor

and the Suicide King, yeah.

And he also did the Full Tilt Strategy Guide, which was one of the books I learned the game from, to get good, anyway. And Michael and I were correspondents, and a really good guy, shout-out Michael, he’s not involved in poker too much anymore. Great writer. And he was covering the event, so I had the opportunity to hang out with him. He introduced me to some of the pros at the time, who were some of the big names, of course. And yeah, that was a real sort of baptism of being able to be in amongst, I met Joe Beevers that day, and the Hendon Mobsters.

The original Hendon Mobsters.

The original Hendon Mobsters. And yeah, and Andy Bloch, Chris Ferguson I met briefly that day as well. So yeah, it was a lot of the pros, big names in poker, and kind of for the first time got to rub shoulders with those people.

So what gave you the impetus to want to start a blog and write?

Well I guess I wanted to cover that event. I thought, I had a sense, in that moment, I’d been playing for just over a year, and I thought, well, this is kind of me arriving. I’d done that year where I’d grinded out just enough to get by, maybe 20 grand, just to live. And now I was going to one of these events. Now I didn’t even have a good result at the event, I didn’t cash. But I felt like this was my first step out into the real poker world, the one that I used to watch on TV that I saw. And I don’t know how to say this in the back of my mind, I should cover this, I should write down my thoughts, I should kind of write it how I want to write it.

The creative juices were flowing.

Yeah. And I think even in that first blog post, I think I may have written a line somewhere in there, maybe towards the end, where I hoped that this was the beginning of my career that would go on. So yeah, it was, there was some fortune-telling there, I guess.

So we’re 10 years on from that now, and as far as I saw, it was 250 blog posts or so, even more than that.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

That’s about 25 a year. So my question is, I’m a writer. How do you decide what to write about, and what is it that makes you say OK, I’m going to go sit down and write a blog post right now?

Well, what I would have to say is, a lot of those 250 probably, I was probably churning out one a week for the first couple of years. It was very much a sort of a diary format, tracking all my new poker, everything was very new at the time, of course. And looking back now, there’s little strategy nuggets that are not good strategy quite away.

Don’t read those!

Don’t read those early ones. But I was, in amongst that sort of diary approach, very conscious of the fact that very few people were reading my early blogs as well.

You wrote it for yourself.

Exactly. I didn’t feel an onus to kind of write for an audience. As time went by and the readership of that grew, but also as my writing style matured, or my, I guess my specific interest in what I wanted to write about in poker matured, I very quickly realized I didn’t want to do little pithy “what happened to me at the poker table today” kind of stories. Unless it was a particularly good story, or it had a way to relate back to a broader theme, I didn’t want to do it like that.

So I became much more about writing better quality blogs, that I hoped, in more recent years that were really much more like industry pieces where I was trying to find an angle, often interested by any crossover I could make between poker and the real world, because I think that’s almost always the challenge, for me in those blogs, is how do I make poker understandable or relatable if you don’t play poker. And I hope they’re readable, for the most part.

I read a few of them; they’re pretty good.

You know your poker though, so I don’t know. But yeah, hopefully people enjoy them. Some of them have been critical of the industry at different times, over the years.

Yeah, you’re not afraid to say what’s on your heart.

Yeah, exactly. And some of them have been, I guess modified trip reports. Trip reports are a fantastic story too, and a lot of storytelling. Probably the most popular format that my blogs take from time to time is the gobshite, the gobshite blogs. It might be a phrase that you know because I know you like the turns of phrase that Irish people use. To any non-Irish viewers that don’t know what a gobshite is, it’s basically an idiot.

Oh, I see! Thank you for the translation.

And it’s a word that my girlfriend will regularly use to describe me, and the gobshite sort of series of blogs that are sprinkled in there would be the ones where I usually lose a substantial amount of money somewhere, and hopefully it turns up, or I do something really stupid.

But they make it, it’s very relatable though, because a lot of us lose at poker. What can you do?

I get into scrapes, I—well, not even losing money at poker, like literally leaving my bag with a lot of money.

Oh, like lost-and-found lost! Oh, good heavens, wow!

Yeah, so there’s a few that, I lost my passport on at least two occasions. In this very city, actually, right now we’re in Bucharest. About two years ago almost to the day, I lost my passport, I’m pretty sure in a kebab shop that also exchanged money. Which, you know, is obviously a reputable place. I’m pretty sure I lost it there; I’m pretty sure there are many David Kilmartin Lappins all over Eastern Europe right now.

That’s not all they did at the kebab shop, I suppose?

But I ended up spending a full day in the Irish embassy here in Bucharest, trying to solve my situation. It ended up being a really good story. Read that blog, because that’s a good blog, you’ll see.

Besides poker, what do you do for fun?

For fun? I used to play cricket. That was probably my biggest sport passion.

Really? Not baseball?

Not baseball. Basically, the really good game that baseball is this horrible diluted version of, in my opinion.

One man’s opinion.

Yeah, do you think you have a big American audience here?

Ah, at least half of it.

At least half of the people have gone off.

But for the others, cricket, yeah, woo, tests, matches, you know, googlies! Googlies. Leg before wicket, that’s a big thing, right? I know my cricket! I just don’t understand why everything is an innings, plural. It’s an inning. One inning. Yeah, see. You gotta watch your CNN Sports.

We do say innings. You’ve switched it up. Anyway. Yeah, until a couple of years ago I was very involved with cricket, both as a player and also I helped to run the cricket club. I played in Dublin, shoutout to Leicester Cricket Club, when I lived in Ireland. So yeah, that was kind of an on-field enjoyment, drinking with the lads. Usually a day of cricket is getting up at nine o’clock, going for breakfast with your team, and then having pints with them after the game until two in the morning, so a full day’s away.

Are you a batsman or a bowler?

Definitely a bowler, but I’m not a slouch with a bat either. So yeah, as a sport, that would be my big passion. But I haven’t played for the last three years, basically since moving to Malta.

I follow politics, and anyone who reads my Twitter will probably, maybe a lot of the poker people who read my Twitter are like “oh, I hate when he tweets about politics,” but I do tweet a little bit about politics.

Check it out. Plus, cinema, I guess. That feeds back into where I would like another career to go at some point in the future.

Well, that all completes the picture. OK, so we’re going to throw some numbers at you.


About one million in online poker cashes, dollars. Five hundred thousand dollars in live poker cashes. Currently 49th on the Irish all-time money list. Do those numbers mean anything to you, or motivate you to climb higher? Why or why not?

No, they don’t, because they’re all bad numbers, in a way. They’re all kind of misnomer numbers. I have a lot more than a million in online winnings, I guess that’s a PocketFives number, and I spent at least half my career playing sit-and-gos and satellites. And that number’s, you could probably multiply it by three and a half or four, and that’s in a lot of skinny games where you’re not making big 23% ROIs.

It still counts.

It does count, for sure, but it’s not like, I’m not trying to triple my earnings there. These were some very skinny games in my past, plus, no, they’re not really, I guess, any one is not a very good judge of where you are as a player, because you know, there’s people—

Even though the goal is to make money in poker though, no?

Yeah, but I guarantee you can find people with more winnings who are losers in the game. So I don’t think it necessarily like, I mean bottom line is important, I would always want to be somebody who is profitable in the game, and I’ve never had an unprofitable year in the game.

That’s an important, not a lot of people can say that. Very good.

I actually, at the very start I guess it was playing sit and goes I had, in my first 72 months of playing poker, I had 71 winning months. Which is very rare. I was grinding sit and goes.

I encountered the games where you weren’t up against good players.

Well, table selection, game selection is very important. You gotta know where you’re sitting, sure.

Maybe, but eh, the Irish stuff now. I do, I could tell you most HendonMob stats, because I guess, you do kind of like check in from time to time, like who am I getting above, whatever, when you have another score. I think Dara is number one on the all-time Irish number of cashes, and I’m number three on that list, and a future guest of our podcast, The Chip Race, Mick McKloskey, really good friend of mine, actually. He’ll be a guest on the show in a few weeks’ time. He’s the second, and I’m third on that list. And I guess that stat doesn’t speak to earnings either, of course, actually I would have a very low average winning amount compared to a lot of people with higher earnings up the list. But it does speak a bit I think to being a bit of a live grinder, and I don’t really consider myself a live grinder. But I’ve always been somebody who kind of came to festivals, we’re here in Bucharest, and I want to play the 300, the high roller, the 1k Main, fire again if there’s an option to fire again.

If you ask me, it’s far more impressive to have the big scores in the low buy-in events, that means you really made it. Or like you said, lots and lots of cashes, to—you know, somebody who wins a million dollars one score and then you never hear about them again, fine. But if you’ve gotten a hundred cashes that it took you to make that million bucks, to me, that’s a sign that a guy knows what he’s doing and, I think so.

Yeah, I don’t think I am, I genuinely, I still have a passion for the game. There have been periods, I don’t want to misrepresent, I’d say maybe twice over the 13 years where I maybe fell out of love with the game for a few weeks, a few months, run bad will do that sometimes. Or a feeling like you want to change things up, where I’ve taken a few weeks off, a few months off. But usually, the passion for the game reignites again, and it’s just something I really look to. I love the competitiveness of it. I love the, also the fact that you’re, at this stage as well, you’re sort of building on a solid foundation of a career, and I love writing another blog and adding another good blog, some extra blogs.

And you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are, like why abandon it and go somewhere else? I get that, yeah, sure. You mentioned Dara, and you mentioned The Chip Race, of course. How did the two of you meet? You’re obviously co-commentators. How’d you meet originally?

We were introduced by a mutual friend called John O. Carew. John O was a Northern Irish professional poker player. He quit the game, actually became very successful and didn’t need to quit the game. Quit by his own volition, and that’s three or four years ago. But John O was a kind of online friend of mine, and he knew Dara, probably both online and live, and he introduced us at an Irish Open, I think it was 2011.

You guys clicked instantly?

Yeah, Dara’s going to hate me for saying this. Very early on, we had a really interesting chat, and we started talking about Beckett or someone that we both had an interest in in literature.

The writer, Samuel Beckett.

Yes, exactly. And we went on a man-date, I guess, for want of a better term, in a very nice restaurant in Dublin, maybe a few days after that. Literally got along like a house on fire, just had loads of common interests, loads of things that we could relate on, and just, yeah, a friendship was born for sure.

That’s wonderful. That’s great. When you listen to The Chip Race, you can obviously hear that there’s a tremendous rapport between the two of you. It’s the truth.

I’m glad that comes across.

You’re not just putting on a show, you can’t bluff, what six, seven seasons? Six seasons.

Six seasons.

Wow. You can’t bluff six seasons live. There’s an interview you did last year with Jason Glatzer from PokerNews. You discuss the podcast’s origins; I believe you started in 2015.

That’s right.

Did you have any experience podcasting prior to that? Because I say to myself, if not, did you feel confident in your ability to just go ahead and start hosting a poker podcast?

Yes and no. I think Dara and I have both been given the gift of the gab, so we’re both—

You kissed the Blarney Stone! That’s what you get, right?

That’s exactly where you get it, yeah.

Where is that?

In Blarney.

In Blarney, in Ireland.

Yeah, you have to kind of lower down to kiss it, you gotta, yeah, and people hold your legs. But it’s, yeah, I guess, I mean, I’m one of those, I’m a yapper. And Dara’s not a yapper, but he’s like, he’s more the guy in the conversation who doesn’t say anything for a while, and then leans in and says something very interesting. And actually in combination, I think those two personalities work well for a podcast, because–

The yin and the yang.

I just give it all that, just loads of inane shit, and then Dara just leans in and says something much more interesting every now and again.

Well, you have to obviously pay attention throughout the entire podcast to catch it. You’re both pretty well established as professional poker players, you and Dara. You’re fortunate to have done well, you’re sponsored by a great company, by Unibet. The podcast, then, I guess at this point, it’s a labor of love? Why do you do it?

Yeah, no, it definitely is a labor of love. I think, and it’s known that, you know the process of creating a podcast, an awful lot of time goes into research for every guest. An awful lot of time goes into the edit as well, because we do quite a heavy edit on the show. People listen, you know, obviously we have those five segments and you’re cutting in between everything. Also trying to make people sound the best you can, it’s like a trust thing. I always feel like when you have a guest on, a guest is like somebody in your house, and you want to do your due diligence, the phrase you used earlier, when preparing for them to arrive so you can have nice conversations. But also then, you want them to sound like the best version of themselves.

You just polish up that little bit to make them sound like something that people will say oh, I sound better than I thought I did, and you’re like, yeah, you did, but I spent like ages making sure, maybe piecing it together at the end. But, no no no. People come on, they give great interviews, we’re very selective with who we have on the show. We always want people to have on the show to come on with a bit of a purpose, to have a story to tell if they’re one of the players who’s telling their life story, or somebody from the industry such as yourself, it’s worth having you on the show to talk about something going on in the industry or something specific like that. So it’s very much a passion project, but at the same time, we’d be lost without Unibet, I have to be honest. David Pomroy, big shoutout to Dave.

Absolutely, he’s a great guy.

Great guy, he is moving on to pastures new in the near future, so I wish him luck in his future endeavors. But I have to say, David saw the opportunity in what we had, which was an Irish-oriented podcast, recognized that it could easily be expanded to being a Europe-facing with a bit of America-facing, and English-speaking-world-facing, I guess, and have broader appeal. And he was, I’d like to say sort of like, the cleverness of what he did, or the support, the way he expressed support for us was to leave us alone. He said I think you guys will curate the show well. He’s had almost no intervention. He intervenes every season to kind of go, well, what’s the shape of it, or wants to take a kind of a broad picture, but very much trusts us in the details. And that’s lovely, because we have to create the freedom to make the show that you want.

And then it’s the best it could possibly be. So let’s talk about Unibet for a minute then. So how did you first get into a relationship with them? Did they sort of like pick up the phone and say “Hey, you guys want to be ambassadors?” Like, how did it work?

I think for a period of time before we were signed, Dara and I, through our blogs, became synonymous with maybe a discontent in the way the direction of European poker was going, the direction of some maybe decisions that were happening online with some of the sites, decisions that were happening in live events. And we were very vocal about that. We’ve always been, as we said, mouthpieces who will maybe do a hot take when we feel it’s necessary. And yeah, Dara and I penned a number of blogs over a period of about I would say six months to a year, that was very critical of a number of areas in the industry, but only because we love the game and we care about the game and want to see all the companies do the right thing and improve.

Comes from a good standpoint, yeah.

Oh, yeah, there’s no malice, and even as a Unibet ambassador, it’s not like we’re out there throwing rocks at the competition either. We would never be that way; you would want to go to a competitor’s event and see them do it really well because you care. I see us all as caretakers of the game, in a sense.

But yeah, for a period of time, and there was, and I think everybody knows what that period of time was, it was a year or two where really you felt like decision after decision after decision was more bad news for the players, decisions that were going to ultimately curtail the number of pros in the game, maybe the goal was to kill off the pro, we felt at one point as well. And maybe just a bit of greed from the sites. And I think Unibet recognized they wanted, they sort of agreed with our vision, and they wanted to have their online grind and their live events with it, with the focus that we were talking about was the way poker grew, it’s the way poker’s been successful. And changing those things and reorienting the way the industry operated was a bad thing.

And I think that sort of, it was like our voices suddenly there was a big overlap between the way they saw themselves as a company and the growth that they wanted to achieve from it, from quite a small place, because they had just create their own clients, they were building up something from the ground and maybe having ambassadors who have a similar voice. So we weren’t going to go in there and be like shilling and peddling sort of a company line, we were going to actually say what we really think.

Not shilling anything. Not peddling anything.

No shilling necessary. I will shill the Chip Race. The Chip Race, the Chip Race. Just, no. It is not beneath me to shill, don’t get me wrong, when it comes to the Chip Race. And what I mean by that— I’ve wrecked the set now. This is terribly unprofessional. Anyway. So, what I think is much better when the ambassadors, and I mean this for all ambassadors for all other sites as well, if you have the freedom to go out and say what you really think about poker, and that’s also your company’s vision, that’s a very easy place to be. If you, and actually David was very adamant to us from Day 1, he was like, even when you don’t agree, and there’s going to be times when you don’t agree with Unibet, maybe we’re doing something in live events that you think is wrong. Maybe the structure of this tournament could be better. Say it. He always said, say it. Blog about it and say it.

Wow, that’s pretty cool.

Because then, even if we don’t do what you say, it will be, you’ll be true to yourself.

At least you’ll be true to yourself.

You’ll keep your integrity, but also you’ll create that dynamism in the company that maybe internally then you’re pulling in different directions. And that, you know, I think they understand that that means as a company they’ll hopefully make better decisions, because there won’t just be yes-men around. And I think that’s a good thing as well, to have people who will be reflective or self-critical. I think that’s really important, that we could do with more of that in poker in general.

Well, we’re here at the Unibet Poker Open in Bucharest, Romania. Lots of tournaments going on. You obviously play tons of tournaments. To what extent do you play cash games, if at all?

Very little. Although I am really happy to see that Unibet have partnered up with the Cash Game Festival, because those guys are traveling around maybe 10 or 12 venues a year, they’ve been in my hometown in Malta a few times, in St. Julian’s. And yeah, when the opportunity arises, it is fun to kind of splash around in those. I’m definitely not a cash game player. I think I’ve done pretty well in cash, but I think that’s only because I’ve run well in a small sample size. Whenever I’ve played live, particularly televised live cash games, I seem to have actually had quite good winning sessions. It’s almost made me go “Maybe I should be doing this instead” but then I realize no, no, hang on Dave, you had aces against kings. Stop pretending you’re someone you aren’t.

Gotcha, OK. Well, everyone’s good at Hold’em. Everyone’s improving, studying, I mean, you can’t compare to even five years ago. Everyone’s getting better. In that sense, do you play any games besides Hold’em? Do you think it’s important to play mixed games?

I love loads of other versions of poker. My grandmother taught me how to play stud poker at a very early age, she used to teach me gin rummy and stud poker when I was like seven years of age. So I vividly remember sitting on the balcony in her house, playing cards on a summer’s day. We only had about two or three of them every year, so I do remember that as like an early memory in my mind. So I used to play HORSE, so I used to play the rotation HORSE. I can play PLO pretty decently; I have a few results in PLO over the years. I think Razz is one of my stronger games. I would say maybe stud high-low’s one of my weakest; I don’t do the badugis and the badeuceys and into those other versions yet, but maybe I will. Triple draw, I wouldn’t have much knowledge of that either. So, yeah, I think maybe the HORSE games and PLO would the other games I can play. Not much besides. But yeah, I love PLO at the live festivals because it’s nice to just switch it up for the afternoons, yeah.

You’ve been playing professionally for almost 11 years now, and looking back, what would you say have been some of your most enjoyable moments, and some of your most challenging moments?

Yeah, that big result in Barcelona was a big moment in terms of giving me the bankroll and the freedom to do other things. That was fantastic, very exciting, as well, live final table that I can still. I think signing with Unibet was a very proud moment, because I guess it’s the holy grail to get a pro deal. I chased one for years, with other sites and different things and like promotional things that they would have run that would have given you more attention and it never quite happened, so that’s very satisfying.

Well, the validation.

Yeah, it’s satisfying and validating and also, the platform it gives you to get back to the game, in a sense. Like, I always feel like content creation is something I was passionate about early on, blogs pretty much satisfied that for a long time. I guess the Chip Race podcast more so does it these days. But I always felt like you want to give something back to the poker community, that they don’t have to pay for that they can enjoy, and that’s quite satisfying. Honestly, the podcast I’m very, very proud of. I don’t want to circle back to that again, but–

You can, it’s a great podcast!

I do feel like years from now, if I stopped playing poker today, I think 10 years from now I’d look back and go oh, Dara’s and my show, I would be genuinely kind of proud of what we have put out. I think Dara and I have taken a lot of care to balance the show, not to ever make it too modern pro, old-school pro, all the different demographics you could have. Pushed the role of women in the game as much as we can as well, I think women only make up about 3 or 4 percent of any live event, maybe that number increases to 10 or 12 percent online. But we really try and push sort of a metric where at least a quarter of the guests are women. I would obviously love to see women be half of poker.

And you have the queen rules, queen’s rules?

Yeah, that’s a cool initiative.

Where the queens beat the kings, so they’re going to have a special tournament like that here, where you’re going to have more than 3% of women playing that one, I hope. I sure hope so. I’ve seen a lot of women walking around here.

Absolutely. You know, I think the symbolic value of that is very important. People have sort of derided it recently, and I know one high-profile event in the UK didn’t go ahead with those rules in place because people were worried about would they get confused, how would they feel if they made mistakes, would they get angry, would there be a negative response. But really, that’s a symbolic gesture, there’s a king and a queen, one is male and one is female, one outranks the other. Why not flip it?

It’s native integration of a very important social movement into the game of poker, I think it makes tons of sense.

I do like it, I have to say.

Just to circle back to that question though, any specifically challenging moments during these last 11 years?

One big downswing in 2010. Well, I suppose it coincided with coming back from the States, I felt a bit lost. I’d broken up with my girlfriend, and yeah, it was kind of a challenge to sort of get back on the horse and play again. I had downswung for a while as well. So that was probably, and I give Dara O’Kearney an awful lot of credit there, he really kind of got my head back into poker and thinking about the game right, and the moral encouragement as well. And I have to say, the biggest challenge of the last few years is, I have a baby son, Hunter, and very happily with my girlfriend.

Sixteen months?

He’s sixteen months, and very happy with my girlfriend of six years now, Saron, who’s a fantastic mom. And actually we used to go out way back when, when I was in my early 20s, we went out for a little while. She saw sense; I wasn’t a good catch back then. Probably not that good a catch now, to be honest, either. Maybe she settled; who knows. But I certainly haven’t settled, and I have to say that the daily challenges of life are probably the tougher stuff, but they’re so rewarding though, as well. That’s the kind of stuff that’s kind of hard, you’re responsible for more than yourself, now, that was a big turning point for me, but, you know, very proud dad, very proud boyfriend of Saron, and even though there are challenging times, and there have been challenging times all the way through that relationship as well, it wasn’t always easy for Saron and I, it’s been so rewarding. It’s so rewarding for us to be as solid as we are now with our little fella.

I love it. Well, I met you actually just a couple of weeks ago for the first time, at the World Series of Poker. Back in 2013, you wrote on your blog that “Heading to Vegas for the WSOP was akin to social contagion.” Those are your words, sir!

You dug that up; very well played.

Five years later now, you have just gotten back, I believe this was your first World Series of Poker, is that correct?

Yeah, my very first.

So. What finally made you decide to take that trip out? How did it compare to your expectations, and what was the experience like for you?

It did become a kind of a thing every year where I would kind of explain my reasons for not going. Because I guess everyone was like “You’re a pro, you’re bankrolled, you know, why are you not going, it seems like the kind of thing, the obvious thing you should do every year.”

Yeah, of course, everyone goes to the World Series.

I guess it was this reason for the first three or four years I was in poker, I wasn’t rolled for the World Series. I think you do need to be responsible with your bankroll.

Can’t play with scared money, I get that.

That kind of thing. It just wouldn’t have been a good choice. And I think I made a good choice, picking those years. Then Black Friday happened, and all the good players would go off and play in America, and they couldn’t play online when they were there. They were amazing months. It was like a guaranteed 20 or 30k online.

So I guess I was just like, oh, I can’t leave, I have to just grind 60 or 70 hour weeks in June and early July, for that reason. So I did that and I used to justify it on those grounds, like I’d make a quarter of what I’d make in the year in these five weeks. So I did that, and I think that was a good reason. I think I probably started making a mistake not going three or four years ago, I think I started moving more into playing more live, I think live became softer the last few years. I think that was a real opportunity, particularly with, and I don’t want to use this term overly disrespectfully, because it’s not their fault, but American players have not had access to online. They can’t learn the game, keep up with the game in the hyperspeed that online allows, so they’re probably sitting there in casinos reinforcing bad habits and mistakes, and then they show up in force to the World Series, and they are soft money. And that was soft money I let slip.

And on the flip side, I think online’s got tougher and tougher and tougher. So I think probably from around 2014 on, maybe I should have been going out there. I realized that mistake because I was out there this year, and it was eye-opening that oh, I could have been out here for at least two or three weeks every summer. But the reason is, I think I would have still been stubborn, only Unibet sent us to Vegas last November for the Unibet European Open that was in the Wynn, and hey, well, the Wynn, you go in somewhere and you go to the Wynn, it’s like really plush. And I just felt like, yeah, I actually kind of enjoyed Vegas, it wasn’t as naff as I thought it would be.

No social contagion.

In small doses, I was like, oh wow, I could totally do this. As I said to you earlier, I’m a grinder; there’s nowhere else you can grind live like five tournaments a day if you need to, which you do when you’re busting everything. So I did, I said it to Dara, I think I’ll go to Vegas this year for just a couple of weeks.

And you had a good time?

I had a really good time. I roomed with Dara, which made it, as well, that was just good fun, and somebody I knew.

At the Gold Coast, I believe. I may have been there! I like it; it’s a great place.

The Gold Coast is the hotel I deserve.

We’ll leave it at that. Take from that what you will. I liked it.

If my girlfriend’s with me, she wouldn’t let me stay in the Gold Coast. If I’m, you know, going somewhere on my own, I wouldn’t let myself stay anywhere much worse than that, but I also wouldn’t let myself stay anywhere better, because I’m too cheap and I wouldn’t pay for a better hotel when I’m just going to be sleeping in the bed. So yeah, it’s probably the hotel I deserve.

Well, last question here, because we’re running out of time. It’s a big one. We save the best one for last. What sort of goals and hopes do you have for yourself as far as a pro and in life in general over the next decade?

It’s always been about the money. Honestly, there’s nice legacy things in being a pro for this long, obviously, win a big title, but I throw my titles in the bin. You can say that, I’ve probably lost the remainder of your audience. I have no interest in trophies. Could I throw a bracelet in the bin, probably that would be a tough one, because I could probably sell it on eBay. But I’m just not about trophies. I’m about winning, because the guy who wins gets the most money, and I’m all about money because I would love poker to fund other things.

I would love poker to fund a writing career and that would not be under pressure from the outset. I would love to have more money so I could buy a nicer house and provide for my family more and things like that. And also the game of poker, it’s sort of pure capitalism in game form, and I’m not a big fan of capitalism, if I’m honest. It actually doesn’t marry well with my personal values. But the game is there, the rules are the rules, once you’re in it, you’d better play the game the right way. And so I do, and I try to do as well as I can for the money, but then once I have the money I want to do maybe more moral or principled things with it. So the more I can get, maybe, the more I can improve my own life and the life of the people around me, and maybe have a more balanced life as well. And I know people would say, oh, trophies and titles.

Well, there it is. David Lappin, we’re here again at the Unibet Open in Bucharest, Romania. Thank you very much for your time, man. This was awesome; I really enjoyed it.

It was really good; I’m so glad you’re here for the week. Looking forward to watching this and other ones that you do.

Thank you very much.



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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]


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