Keeping it fresh
A hot topic among poker operators and sites right now is how to get new people into poker. It has been a focus for industry minds for years but the pandemic has really concentrated efforts. Several seemingly promising initiatives from the past ultimately proved fruitless, the biggest of which I call the mind sport dead end.
Essentially, operators believed the best way to sell poker was to strip away the nasty gambling component that upset mainstream advertisers and the media. They pumped a lot of money into getting chess players to play poker by promoting the idea that it was all about strategy. Expensive flops like the Global Poker League aimed to prove that you can get the top players in the world together playing in a league format, pit them against each other with no prize, and people will watch. Well, they didn’t. What started out as a so-called attempt to “spotify” poker ended up just borifying it.
the players are far less important than the stakes
The reality is that stripping away the gambling from poker is like telling the strippers to keep their clothes on at your strip club. You may end up with a classier offering, but nobody will care. The time-proven truth of the matter is this: if you want people to watch poker, the players are far less important than the stakes. Put the nine best players in the world at a table playing for nothing but pride and you’ll fail to find an audience. Put nine complete randoms at a table playing for a multimillion-dollar prize and everyone wants to watch.
Leaning into the gamble
One man who understands that poker must embrace the gamble rather than try to eradicate it is the charismatic organizer of the forthcoming Festival in Tallinn, Martin “Franke” von Zweigbergk. A former Chip Race guest, he has a pretty unique approach to spreading his message, as he explained when I spoke to him:
25+ variants of poker
“We have to get across the message that poker is a fun way to gamble to people who like other fun ways to gamble. At the festival, there are tournaments in blackjack, roulette, sportsbook and slots, and 25+ variants of poker! Most of them have several starting days. For example, for our roulette tourney we have already sold 67 entries at €250 ($262)!”
In my recent UK and Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT) Dublin trip report, I noted that most players I spoke to at the event expressed disappointment at what they felt was a noticeable lack of buzz or excitement around it. Reflecting on this and the fact there was a similar lack of buzz around the first two seasons of that tour when there was no live stream or TV coverage, I felt the lack of a live stream took away from the event. Franke agrees:
“We have TV table sessions for both cash games and tournaments.”
One thing that is abundantly clear is that after the pandemic and associated lockdowns, there’s considerable pent-up demand for live poker. Franke backs this up:
“We had a €300,000 ($315,044) guarantee in Bratislava during our September stop (our first ever Festival) when all of Europe was red or orange in the COVID map and we reached it, we had 621 entries to the €550 ($576) Main Event.”
this stop will be much bigger than our first”
For our Tallinn event, we have already sold 220 hotel rooms in three hotels and I am looking for a fourth hotel. We know from experience that one room is equivalent to 1.8 players, and we also know that most players organize their own travel and hotel booking. And we know that quite a few Estonians have said they are coming, so yes, the outlook is for sure that this stop will be much bigger than our first.
We have four starting days in Main, so for a €550 ($576) tournament in summer, Tallinn is the place to be.”
A packed schedule
Another complaint I heard a lot at the recent UKIPT was the distinct lack of variety in the side events, something Franke is keen to point out won’t be an issue in Tallinn:
“We believe the schedule is very nice. We have received a very positive response and it contains a lot of interesting games at different price levels, including three Highrollers… (one is in my favorite Open Face Chinese 1k Event and the Festival Queens, a ladies event with a twist). From a player perspective, we have a lot of tourneys with 100ish as buy-in like the eight games, popular among Estonians.”
Have fun, be fun
In previous events, Franke has found poker an easy sell as fun to roulette, blackjack, and slots players. But he has a few words of caution:
“Roulette, blackjack, and slots players always express surprise at how much fun poker is when they try it. What isn’t fun, however, is experienced poker players berating their play at the table. You should be happy to have new less experienced players in the game, and welcome them with open arms!
You might find you enjoy it a lot more than you think”
Similarly, a lot of poker players are one-dimensional in their view of gambling: they see it as a point of pride that poker is the only thing they gamble on. But they should be open-minded to at least try something new. The festival gives them the perfect opportunity to try, say, a roulette tournament. You might find you enjoy it a lot more than you think!”
Final words of advice
Franke has some advice for players regarding accommodation:
“It’s easiest if players book their housing themselves using Airbnb or whatever but we have good hotel deals here (and more coming): https://www.thefestival.com/book-a-hotel-in-tallinn
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For players looking to qualify, Unibet qualifiers are open around Europe, every Monday and Wednesday.”