The popular online poker forum CardsChat recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. After having had an online presence for so long, the site’s existence is something the poker world essentially takes for granted at this point. Yet, even a site so well-established has an origin story, and it’s one that I’ve long been curious to know. Beyond that, it takes loads of ongoing effort by a dedicated team of people to ensure a website remains relevant and flourishes over a decade and a half.
Debi O’Neill is someone who has been with CardsChat almost since its inception. After joining the community in 2006, she soon became a forum moderator and subsequently an administrator. She and I have been acquainted for years, so I knew she’d be a great person to interview. Our conversation was a great one, and I’m grateful to her for giving us all the scoop on how CardsChat started, sharing some highlights she’s experienced in working with the brand over the years, and the site’s plans for the future.
Thanks for agreeing to speak with me, Debi. So to start off, please tell us about how CardsChat first began. Who founded the website? What were the founder’s main goals?
Nick launched CardsChat in 2004. He wanted to create a site where card game enthusiasts and poker players of various skill levels from all over the world would feel comfortable discussing all things card games and poker.
You joined the team two years later, in 2006. How did you first discover the site and what motivated you to take more of an active, involved role in running things?
I met a CardsChat moderator playing a Sit and Go tournament on PokerStars and he invited me to check out the forum. I loved it and instantly wanted to become part of the CardsChat family. I started helping out and joining in on everything and soon became a moderator. The forum was thriving and I felt it was the perfect environment for so many poker players who felt lost at other forums. I wanted to be a permanent part of the future of CardsChat and became the forum administrator.
There are a number of forum guides, moderators, and administrators associated with the site, as well as multiple poker strategy experts participating in the discussions and answering member questions. Can you describe how CardsChat grew from just the founder to the 20+ person team at the site today?
We have always tried to maintain a good ratio of moderators and forum guides to members to ensure the forum is well-moderated. Along with an amazing team we also have many long-term members who assist us in the forum; helping us out with events, our league, the Leaderboard and forum programs for members.
We work really hard to keep our members happy and engaged over the years and that really paid off. We still have an ever-growing active member base from every country in the world.
It takes a long time to build an almost 300,000-person strong poker forum community, with members hailing from 190 countries. You’ve witnessed the overwhelming majority of the site’s expansion on that front. What role did you play (general and day-to-day) and how does it feel on a personal level to know you’ve had a hand in growing the community?
Personally, I find it very rewarding, but it’s 100% been a team effort all the way. We ensure all our members feel welcomed and we always try our best to offer them great opportunities.
I and our Assistant Administrator, Tammy, work together to ensure CardsChat members feel appreciated and are kept busy with poker events.
Over 289,716 members love to use CardsChat, not just to take advantage of special events, promotions & freerolls, but to chat about poker, get advice, & make lasting friendships. Don’t take our word for it, here are just a few of our members’ testimonials https://t.co/USyFq0ZggC pic.twitter.com/Xq7aNCQfZ6
— CardsChat (@CardsChat) November 24, 2019
Not every poker forum out there is fortunate to have such a stellar reputation, like CardsChat does, for being a friendly and welcoming community. Wanting such a thing to be the case versus it actually being so are two very different things, as the internet can be a nasty place sometimes. How have you managed to keep toxicity off the site?
We start by making our new members feel welcomed and we discourage negativity from the start. We have a very low tolerance for trolls and bad behavior in the forum. We strongly encourage our members to be respectful to one another and try to set a good example for the members.
What do you like about CardsChat? Members share their thoughts. pic.twitter.com/lGzuA2Pztg
— CardsChat (@CardsChat) December 3, 2019
Over the years a handful of poker pros – Collin Moshman (2009), Katie Dozier (2010), Jacki Burkhart (2013), Ryan Laplante (2014), and Jeff Gross (2015) – joined CardsChat and eventually represented your brand. Why did management feel the need to have a team of brand ambassadors in the first place?
A lot of the pros found their way to the forum on their own, and since then we have established good relationships with them. We primarily want our members to have their poker questions answered by the pros and experts so they can improve their strategy’ with the knowledge they gain from them.
Two of the best SNG experts out there are among us in the CC community! @TeamMoshman and @Katie_Dozier have an AMA thread that you need to visit if you have any questions about playing a SnG tournament! #AMA https://t.co/zC6oOXPTfL pic.twitter.com/f0GjPPOqrG
— CardsChat (@CardsChat) November 23, 2019
What role do these brand ambassadors play (in general, and on a day-to-day basis), and what do these players all have in common that make them such excellent representatives for CardsChat?
They represent CardsChat in various ways – some wear our patches and gear at live events, talk about CardsChat on their Twitch streams, create exclusive videos for us etc. What makes them such great representatives for CardsChat is that you can find them all in the forum helping members; in AMA threads and in the strategy forums. They are all well respected professionally and personally in the poker industry.
CardsChat.com also has a great News section that publishes new articles regularly. There are a number of poker media sites out there (including this one, of course). In what way would you say that CardsChat tries to distinguish itself from the crowd? Who is your primary audience?
Yes, I would say that we publish our news for everyone, but do so with the purpose of keeping our CardsChat community informed. We want our forum members to be kept abreast of what has people in the poker world buzzing, and to know who’s who in poker — because the biggest stars of the game tend to change!
I know there are a number of benefits to being a CardsChat community member. Care to share them with us?
Well, first of all, CardsChat is free to join! Within the forum we have some great discussions about strategy, which provides members with the opportunity to improve their own poker skills. We also have a separate strategy section on the site with some great articles on commonly sought out poker topics. Aside from the forum discussions and articles on site, we always ensure there is a good number of pros and experts on hand to help our members.
We offer more events than any other poker forum out there. In addition to an average of $15,000 a month in freerolls we have a league, a Leaderboard and our monthly special events. We mix those up with various themes and games. We have scavenger hunts, guys vs. gals, holiday promotions and lots more. We even have a special Leaderboard for the ladies of CardsChat and they love their monthly games. Our members have a lot of opportunities to win CardsChat merchandise – hoodies, caps, shirts, card protectors and more. Also, once a year during the WSOP we have a WSOP Team event that 15-20 members participate in.
Ain’t no stopping this crew! #WSOP50 #Colossus #TeamCardschat
L-R: @pokerscubed @stephendealio96 @DebiONeillCC @Protentialmn @Jasonsaurus @JoeShowdown pic.twitter.com/EAflWFOHCp
— CardsChat (@CardsChat) June 26, 2019
Now 15 years on from CardsChat’s founding, the poker landscape is obviously very different in 2019. How have the site’s scope, activity, and goals evolved over time?
In the beginning we focused on growing our membership and finding our niche in the industry. We are now heavily focused on ensuring our members have the best experience possible.
It’s been great speaking with you, Debi. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we let you go?
We recently celebrated our 15-year anniversary. We had over $45,000 in freerolls, special events and prizes for our members in September alone. We will exceed $225,000 for the year in 2019. CardsChat gives back to its members and that is one of the many reasons they remain so loyal.