“I am very much against the notion of HUDs. A pro ought to be able to beat a recreational player without a HUD!”
As I currently see myself as a poker player who loves to write (instead of a writer who loves to play poker), in this series of interviews I will find out more about the media side of the poker industry. What makes a great poker story? How do I arrange an interview with Phil Ivey? I have a lot of questions and I will try to get the answers from various poker insiders in my new series “Behind the scenes”.
For my first interview, Robbie Strazynski was so kind to give me some insights on his passion for writing and poker. He is the owner of cardplayerlifestyle.com and has also written for pokerstrategy.com, All In Magazine, pokerupdate.com, and other poker media outlets. He has also interviewed Phil Ivey, among many other top poker pros.
Hi Robbie, thank you for your time. Can you first tell me a bit more about your background? How you got into poker and when you decided to start writing about it?
I was born and grew up in Los Angeles, California. I finished high school there, and just before my 17th birthday, I moved to Israel. I went to university here and got my master’s degree in English Linguistics. That pointed me in the direction of a career in writing and editing. Just to be clear, this is not journalism; that’s a totally different thing. I don’t consider myself a journalist at all.
When I grew up in Los Angeles we would go 5–6 times a year to Las Vegas. It was a 4.5-hour drive and my family would stay for the weekend. We were not high rollers, but it was a fun, quick vacation. It was the 90s and Vegas was still very kid-friendly, with tons of attractions, theme parks, shows, etc. so it was always an amazing experience. I always generally loved the whole idea of gambling and specifically poker.
I actually still have a picture of me, my dad, and my grandpa sitting around the kitchen table playing poker. I also had a little video poker machine I used to play a lot on. Besides that, my father used to organize home games and I always would find an excuse to get into the room to watch him play with his friends. Those were great times!
More recently, I’m sort of a product of the Moneymaker boom. I saw everything on ESPN and started playing live poker with my own friends, as well as with my dad’s group.
So you play poker yourself, too?
Yes, but it’s much more of a social thing for me. Here in Israel, we don’t have casinos or poker rooms, so once every week or two I play in a home game with my friends. I did play online in the past, but not too seriously; I never used a HUD. Online I was missing the fun element; it’s only about losing or winning. So that was the main reason I quit online poker, along with simply not having the time to dedicate to it anymore after having kids. So, I’m definitely a recreational player. When I play, I try to win and I’m always looking to improve my game, but it’s also no problem if I lose.
What was your first poker job?
Well, back in 2009 I started my own blog called cardplayerlifestyle.com. My friend gave me the idea, since I already loved and followed poker so intensely, and had a knack for writing. We started a partnership where he would do the backend website work while I would write the articles. Back then, we didn’t have a real direction, didn’t have any goals, and we usually got somewhere around 5–10 hits a day on the site. After having learned a lot about WordPress from my partner friend and realizing who my site’s audience was, I bought him out in August 2011.
I’m proud to have an average audience of 6,000+ visitors to my site each month. The climb has been slow and steady, but it continues ever higher to this very day. It’s certainly a slow grind, though.
I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t possibly compete with the PokerNews’ of the world in terms of content creation capacity so I found my niche market; fans like me. I write for recreational players and poker fans; people who follow the main names in the game, people who don’t calculate their VPIP or necessarily try poker coaching software, but they do have a passion for the game.
And I think I made the right choice in terms of target audience, as I see that it’s the direction the online industry is heading in now. I am very against the notion of HUDs. A pro ought to be able to beat a recreational player without a HUD! In my opinion, the online poker rooms that act to counter the existence of HUDs by allowing for anonymous tables, webcam poker, or disallowing HUDs altogether have the right idea. This will help keep recreational players in the game. Let us have fun while we lose!
What does a working day (related to poker) looks like for you?
Just to be clear, all my poker pursuits, including my website, my podcast, and my app, I work on in my free time. I have a full-time job in the online gambling industry. I’m the Head of Content Strategy for the company that owns pokerupdate.com. The company’s main focus is on the online casino sector of the industry and they are also involved in sports betting and other gaming avenues, but since they understand my affinity for poker, I’m allowed to have a special consultancy/advisory role for all poker-related business.
In the evening, after we put the kids to sleep, my free time begins. I do all the work for my own website, including writing, uploading, promoting, and, when I’m lucky enough to make some money from ads, bookkeeping. I only sleep 4–6 hours a night on average, but I’m very passionate about it so I don’t see it as work… and thankfully I don’t need much sleep!
I also co-created an app called Poker Notes Live. It allows players to take notes during live play. I was fortunate enough to come in contact with a great app developer who also loved poker, Alessandro Roaro, and we created this app together. It’s available in 9 languages, on Smartphones and tablets, and on Android and iOS devices. We’ve got over 6,000 free downloads and close to 1,000 paid downloads (the paid version, for $4.99, allows you to save the notes you take).
Lastly, I co-host the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast along with Bruce Briggs. I’ve been doing it for almost a year now and it fits my profile as we cover regular home game topics, from the types of cards and chips to use to reviewing some hands we have played to what to do when a police officer comes to the door. We also do interviews with people from the poker industry. Some guests we’ve had on include Eric Raskin (Editor in Chief of All In Magazine and author of The Moneymaker Effect), Allen Kessler (poker pro known as “the Chainsaw”), Chad Holloway (Senior Editor of PokerNews), Barry Carter (Editor of PokerStrategy.com) and Jared Tendler (author of the Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2).
It’s a great show and I’m happy to have another way to put my name out there. Doing the interviews also provides me with a great way to establish and develop relationships with people in the poker world despite being physically so far away from it here in Israel.
Since your start, you have written for a number of big poker media outlets, which have been named above. How did this develop?
It all happened organically. That’s the cool thing about having my own website; I don’t work for anybody. I have somewhat of an aggressive social media approach. Twitter is especially good for helping to promote my site’s content. If some major poker influencers read my stuff and are kind enough to share it with their followers, it obviously helps grow my audience of site visitors – and hopefully followers as well. Pretty much all of the other poker media outlets I’ve written for noticed the stuff I wrote for my own poker blog (either on their own or via me pointing them in that direction).
At the end of the day, I work very hard to try and get my name out there. My own website has certain limits, so I find it highly advantageous to try and get some extra reputability by attaching my name to the big, well-known poker media outlets. Of course, if I’m delivering good content, it’s also good for them as well.
It’s always good to connect with and establish relationships with high-level poker influencers. Daniel Negreanu has taken an interest in my work and has been incredibly kind to me on many levels (thank you Daniel – you’re the BEST!). Needless to say, if someone with that type of poker following shares an article, it’s a great thing for the person who wrote the article. Nolan Dalla, WSOP Media Director, has also become a big supporter of mine and I’m very grateful for that. I could go on “name dropping”, of course, but I’ll just end off my answer here by saying that I’m incredibly thankful to all the fans I’ve gained over the years; they keep me very motivated to keep on trying to produce top-notch poker content.
About creating good content. What makes a story worth writing about?
Generally, when I think about topics I ask myself the question: does my audience want to read this? So I think a lot about my target group these days. I want to deliver high-quality articles so my readers aren’t just entertained, but also likely to tell their friends about it. Why do authors become popular? Because people talk about the things they read. My audience likes the popular players, the stories that move them, stories that make them think. I try to give them food for thought via my op-ed pieces as well. Also, any post that creates controversy tends to do pretty well traffic-wise.
Interviewing poker celebrities must be the best part of the job. I see you did interviews with Phil Ivey and Martin Jacobson. How did you get in contact with them and what was it like to do interviews with these stars?
It’s certainly the coolest part on a personal level to get to interview the champions and the legends of the game. I’m a poker fan and I love watching these guys on TV. They are sort of celebrities to me.
The first poker pro I ever met was Matt Glantz. I was railing him at Parx Casino while he was playing and he was kind enough to let me sit next to him for a few minutes; just super cool. I asked how often he played and he answered “ Tuesdays and Fridays”. So I was like: What do you do on the other days? And he answered, “Be a dad”. So we just talked about being a dad, as I also have kids. It was the best.
With Martin Jacobson, a representative of his sponsor e-mailed me and asked if I’d like to interview him. This happened just after he made the November Nine and I was very enthusiastic about it! Then, he, of course, ended up winning, after which point I was able to interview him. I still keep in touch with Martin and he’s just so very down-to-Earth; a great guy.
With Phil Ivey, it was another story altogether. He rarely grants interviews and I felt the need to explain how that happened, so I actually wrote a follow-up post to the interview itself, which explained how the whole thing came about. I will forever be grateful for being granted that special opportunity.
Do you also travel to cover events?
You hit a soft spot. Because of my full-time job and my being a family man, it’s not really possible right now for me to do too much “poker traveling”. As I live in Israel, it’s also not very practical, but I would love to do more of it if given the opportunity. That is the 1 missing ingredient. Someday, I hope to attend the World Series of Poker and just finally soak in that magical atmosphere. I just want to be there to observe, meet people, and write my reflections. I wouldn’t cover events or anything, like PokerNews, but I’d try to put together some interesting features.
Can you share a few last tips with me?
I feel that there are two things that really helped me get to where I am today: passion & persistence. I write about poker because I care. I feel that the only reason I’ve been able to get this far along the road I traveled is because I love writing and love the game of poker. I certainly don’t do this for the money. Regarding persistence; it’s not going to happen overnight. If you see my site’s traffic since 2009, it’s moved up slowly and gradually throughout. It’s just about persistence; keep writing and don’t give up. Continue to improve yourself and implement the stuff you learn, from thinking up great titles & subtitles, adding compelling images, and working the social media channels. Beyond that, do your best to build relationships with people and just be a good guy and help out whoever you can.