on 10:17

So you'd like the chance to become a
sponsored pro?

Below is an interview carried out with Kev Stevens of UKPOKER on 05/07/2009
UK Pro Talks Candidly about Black Belt Poker

Steve Holden is a midlands based, primarily UK live tournament circuit professional with an impressive list of tournament success under his belt that include a GUKPT final table and a GBPT victory. Steve is also a corner stone of the UK blogger community, regularly entertaining the masses with updates to his popular Steve Holden Poker Blog.

Steve has recently been through the Black Belt Poker grading system and many followed his exploits through his afore mentioned blog and weekly articles he wrote for Betfair’s website. Steve kindly agreed to give UKPOKERINFO the inside track on the newest approach to poker sponsorship.

UKPOKERINFO: How did you get involved with Black Belt Poker (BBP)?
SH: A couple of players had been to a launch party in London, they called me and told me about this new venture that Neil Channing and Nik Persaud were getting off the ground called Black Belt Poker and they thought that I would be well suited to the rigorous criteria that BBP had provisionally put in place. I got in touch with Snoopy and went through the application process along with about 120 other hopefuls.

UKPOKERINFO: Do you think you had enough support from the BBP team and fellow graders through the process?
SH: I think that this was the blue print for future gradings, we were to be the guinea pigs and hopefully mistakes could be learned from. I think that the level of support from the mentors could have been better and more individually focussed.

UKPOKERINFO: Exposing your play to fellow professionals for analysis must be quite difficult; can you tell us about the experience?
SH: We all play our game differently and we all have different opinions as to how you should play certain hands from varying positions – It’s good to get a feel for other opinions, but to open up your game and expose how you feel or felt about certain hands can be a bit daunting, your leaving yourself wide open to criticism and we all know that poker players don’t take criticism too well.

UKPOKERINFO: There where a number of rumours that the eight brown belts where pre-chosen and this was all a charade to build publicity for the site, does your experience from within the process bear any of this out?
SH: This was the rumour and it was my biggest concern on day one. Neil sent a personal video to all fifty candidates reassuring us that we all had an equal chance and that the “nailed on” candidates who had been sponsored by him previously would probably have to try even harder than the other candidates as he (Neil) didn’t want to be seen as looking after his favourites.

Click this link to see the video that Neil sent out to the 50 lucky candidtes:
(health warning: 18 minutes of Neil talking!!!)

At the end of the first week we were down to 42 candidates left with Tony Phillips, Sunny Chatta, Micky Wernick and Sam Trickett already dropping out. This left the other candidates believing that they had a realistic chance and that the “pre-chosen eight” didn’t exist.

UKPOKERINFO: Where you a little surprised at the low limit’s established players where expected to prove themselves at?
SH: I was surprised at a lot of the criteria. This was a grading process designed to get eight players to go out to Vegas with $20,000 worth of sponsorship going to each of the eight for “live play deep stack events” but all of the criteria was based on on-line play, I’m not that sure that on-line players can cut it live or visa versa perhaps the results when they get back from Vegas will be a good indication.

UKPOKERINFO: Do you think playing at the lower levels where most of the graders where probable somewhat unaccustomed made the challenge much harder?
SH: There’s so many grinders and robots playing at the levels that we were expected to play that it could be seen as harder to crack than say the $3/6 or $5/10 tables. I found it to be a hard grind with the variance I experienced.

UKPOKERINFO: What kind of pressure did having to grind the low stakes online, whilst still having to play much higher stakes live comps to keep the money flowing in, put you under?
SH: It was more a case of the regimented hours that we had to achieve each day is where the pressure was, I like to think that I respond well to pressure – on the first weekend of the grading I had two 8 hours days at DTD getting deep live as well as putting in 6 hours multi tabling each day, at the end of the Sunday night it felt like I had jetlag having only had 12 hours sleep in 72 hours, this has to have an adverse effect on both your on-line and live play.
Although you’re sat at the table with the BBP shirt on this was not taken into account with your “worked” hours.

UKPOKERINFO: What where the high and low points of the experience?
SH: Without doubt the high point was being selected as one of the fifty candidates. I received several messages of support from many people who had also made an application and had not been accepted.
I believed on day one that I would complete the grading and that provided I could get a decent curve in my profit then it would be extremely difficult for Neil and Nik to overlook me. I had a telephone conversation with a couple of days to go with Neil and he told me “in all probability if you complete the grading you’ll make a blue belt — you’ve done well in all the other areas and it’s just the profit letting you down.

UKPOKERINFO: Do you regret retiring from the challenge so close to the finish line?
SH: No, not at all. I only participated in this exercise to attain the Brown belt with the levels of sponsorship that came with that particular belt along with the Vegas sponsorship.

I already support myself with live tournaments to the value of around £2k per month so have no interest in a blue belt with $1500 sponsorship each month giving away 50% of myself after make up and being subject to regimented hours online in order to get so many playing points in order to retain my belt or work my way up.

I was also upset that after being told that profit was never going to be a major factor it certainly was in the decision to award me with a blue belt, I was told that I had exceeded in all other areas apart from profit but because of the profit situation I could now only attain a blue belt.

I don’t profess to be an on-line cash player and never have been, preferring to play satellites and tourneys.

In week one I played for a total of thirty six hours multi tabling with a loss of £190

Week two thirty seven hours for a loss of £134 and
Week three forty hours for a loss of £689 This was all money out of my pocket that I could ill afford to lose, I started week four off “chasing” knowing that I needed to get in the black, by day three in
Week four I was down another £369.

Once it was made clear to me that I could only get the blue belt I felt so de-motivated after all the effort that I had put in.

UKPOKERINFO: What are your thoughts on the decision to announce the results on the poker show?
SH: I thought this was a really shit move, although Neil has admitted that he couldn’t resist the publicity that giving the results on live radio would create he does concede that this was perhaps not the best way to let people down who had worked their bollocks off for four weeks.

UKPOKERINFO: Would you do it again? If so what would you change about your approach?
SH: I don’t know, for me to take part again there would need to be some major changes.
There should be more accountability and transparency in making the decision and having a leader board in place, at least then graders can see where they are at any given time and in what areas they need to improve, if your bottom of the list “tough shit” get over it and work your way up, much the way a group grading class at martial arts centre is run, the results are up on a weekly basis with all the given areas to be judged on “marked up” so if you have got to leap frog someone in the last week you know exactly how that can be achieved.

The way the Belts were selected were very much down to perceived opinions, profit and rake-ability- for the sake of future gradings they will need greater transparency in place. Profit certainly played a bigger factor in the decision making process than was ever expressed up front, This meant that people with a higher budget or bankroll could afford to gamble in week four where people on more constrained budget or bankroll would be forced to play within their limitations.

There needs to be a level playing field for all graders to fight upon. In this experiment some graders budgets were obviously bigger than others with some graders being staked which in turn takes some of the pressure away.

Everyone should start with say $2k in their account on week one and can only move up the levels when they are up to $3k, $4k and $5k if you drop from $4k to $2k you drop back down the levels encouraging bankroll management and avoiding the “Gambling in order to spin the money up is not encouraged mentality” this would give the mentors and graders some measurable targets to be used as a yard stick.

I also think that there should be some “Live deep play” testing during the grading as everyone taking part is hoping to become a sponsored pro for live deep stack events but some of these kids have never left their bedrooms and will find it hard to play live, never mind the interaction skills required.

UKPOKERINFO: What where the major positives you will take away from the experience?
SH: Bearing in mind the community spirit and sharing idea’s it became clear to me that if I wanted to pursue a career playing on-line cash then I will need to get my old brain round all the software and programmes that are out there on the market. If you’re not using it then you can be sure that people will be using it against you.

UKPOKERINFO: Thanks for taking the time Steve and good luck for the future.
SH: You’re welcome



Fenix35 said...

nice interview. u made me some good points there

Wildcat said...

Sounds like it was very poorly organized to me, good on you for giving it a go!

Doomswitch said...

Lol at 3/6 and 5/10 being easier than the micro and small stakes!

Kevin Stevens said...

Thanks for the linkage Steve.