The lure of poker brought Ryu "THE FOX" Dang, from Europe to Asia, from Belgium to Thailand.
Seven years, seven countries and a seven-figure profit later, giving in to the (poker) temptation years ago appears to be the best decision he has ever made in satisfying his passion for the game. His new pet project-- 88Fox Poker, acting as South East Asia Manager for the rebooted online poker site, is just icing on the cake; a confirmation that the road he took was the right one.
Speaking with Pilipinas Poker recently, he not only wants to disclose his experiences in poker but also wants to share the success he had in this game. And hopefully, the same rubs off to his new found friends this part of the world.
Pilipinas Poker (PP): Hi Ryu, first tell us more about yourself; outside of a poker room-- online or otherwise-- what do you do?
Ryu Dang (RD): After I graduated from university in Belgium, I worked at a bank for about 6 months, until I made the same amount of money playing poker at home as with my daytime job, then I decided to just pack my bags and move to Thailand and become a full time online poker pro, which I did successfully for about 6 years, winning over 7 figures in total poker earnings during that period.
After that I became more involved in doing marketing, consulting and general managing inside the poker industry, which ended me here with 88Fox and my latest project APG666 for Chinese poker.
PP: How old are you? Do you have your own family? How do you balance poker with other personal things that you do?
RD: I’m 33 years old now, and I don’t have a family yet, although my parents are clamoring for it, I’ve always told myself to do what I wanted if I wouldn’t bother anyone else with it, but I do see myself settling down in 2-3 years time and raise some kids.
As for working hours, I have a steady 12 to 14 hours average work schedule, I have always been a very hard working person. And I believe good work ethics is one of the most important things to become a successful person in life, no matter what job you are pursuing.
PP: A Belgian living in Thailand; what’s the adventure like? Filipinos are deeply rooted at home; tell us how you came to this decision and how you handled being away from home.
RD: The masterplan was to give playing poker fulltime a try for a testing period, I didn’t want to do it back at home because that would mean I wouldn’t be doing it all alone. I made it a point towards myself that if I was going to try this, I would do it by myself without any safety net. So since I am Asian by heritage, it was pretty clear I wanted to live in an Asian country, but I wanted to be somewhere where I could save some money also.
The whole plan was to go and try out poker for about 3 months with a $1500 poker bankroll and $1500 life bankroll and to see if I would be able to do it… Well I’m still here now after 7 years or so… I also want to point out that I didn’t stay here for 7 full years, I lived in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South-Korea, China, Macau and the USA, Boston and California, for a while also during my poker pro period.
As for being away from friends and family you kind of get used to it after a while, when it comes to friendship you can make them everywhere you live if you are a normal social person, but of course, I have my closest friends in Belgium whom I call brothers. I always enjoy meeting new people and hear their stories which make it easy for me to basically live anywhere I want. My parents visit me here in Thailand on a yearly base and I also fly back to Belgium to visit everyone on a yearly base as well.
PP: Aside from the game we all love, what other interests do you have?
RD: I’m a huge fan of UFC or Mixed Martial Arts fighting and I do follow Football as well, because I used to play it on a high level back when I still had a 6 pack and they called me triple lungs. (Laughs) Besides from sports, I love American series like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Blacklist among others…
PP: Tell us how you started the game? What did you play first, live or online…
RD: I started playing online poker with money that was given to me by a friend on Partypoker, and I was playing 1/2 cent tables, full ring and 6 max NLHE in 2006.
PP: Did you initially like the game? Why? Were you playing other variants of poker or card games that you were already familiar with poker by the time you started playing it?
RD: I honestly didn’t believe there was any strategy involved and thought it was just gambling, of course I realized how stupid I was after a few weeks… I also don’t know how to play any other poker game then NLHE, or any other casino or gambling related game for that matter, I really played poker just because it was a game of skill and I could make money out of it and I always have treated it as a job.
PP: What made you realize that this was a profitable venture and what prompted you to give up your previous day job.
RD: After I was making steadily the same amount as my day job playing after my working hours, I wanted to try playing poker full time, that’s when I decided to pack my bags.
PP: In a few words, describe to us what a Filipino player is in poker.
RD: Friendly but very competitive and in love with tournaments.
PP: You’ve played against Pinoys already in some live/online games recently; can you compare the type of player Filipinos are compared to other nationalities? Is there a marked difference when you play one player from a different nationality to another?
RD: I would have to say there are all kinds of players, no matter what nationality you are, there are good players, tight players, loose players everywhere spread around the world. So I can’t really say there is any difference much between any nationalities.
As a professional player you should be focusing on the player his style, rather than his nationality.. Although one consensus that I have noticed is that female poker players are generally always tight and rarely ever bluff.
PP: What prompted you to start your own online room, were there any similar ventures in the past before this?
RD: I have always wanted to start some kind of business in the poker industry because that has been such a great part of my life and I have accumulated so much experience in it now that it just seems to be a waste if I would do nothing with it.
Being a former player and coach, it kind of gives me a multi perspective on things, where I can relate on both sides and kind of know what players want from the management side and vice versa.
PP: Where did the 88Fox name come from?
RD: The name is actually not my choice, basically 88Fox has been around for 3 or 4 years already, but as a dead site, because nobody was promoting or running it, so I just took over a dead site and re-launched it.
PP: We’ve seen a lot of poker sites come and go; what’s with 88Fox that should entice us to stay and stay for a long-time with this site?
RD: I think what most people try to do is compete with big poker sites like PokerStars, and throw big money at huge events and advertising like them, but finally realize that it’s impossible to compete on such a level. Rather than following them in what they are doing, I try to do different things with 88Fox and try things that other poker sites never have done before.
One nice example is our Pilipinas Poker League, which is a league that consists of Live events and Online events for a very small buy-in, to basically just attract all sorts of players to play on our site and try to create a competitive sports event rather than just have people grinding for bonuses or playing 16 tables for rakeback. We try to create a fun but competitive event for every normal person, not just grinding computer nerds.
PP: Tell us more about 88Fox and its scope; from what countries are the players coming from.
RD: As you know 88Fox is part of the Enet Network, which is basically an Italian casino based player pool. So most Europeans that play on our network come from Italy; while we as a site on the network have Asia only as our target pool. All players that sign up on 88Fox are from Asian countries, primarily Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, China and the Philippines, of course.
PP: You already had the launch event—the Charity for Yolanda event—about two months back; what other similar tournaments can we expect from 88Fox that caters to the Philippine market?
RD: That’s what our Pilipinas Poker League is for Live events in Manila-- and Davao and Cebu coming soon-- and online events specifically for Pinoys only. The whole idea is to set up leagues in all our countries and one day, have an Asian showdown between all the league champions.
PP: Speaking of the Philippine market, it’s pretty obvious you want visibility in this region; why and what sort of potential do you see from this market?
RD: First of all I love the fact that you guys have a completely legalized system, where people can play poker online and live as long as they are licensed. I think with the upcoming new casinos the influx of poker players will grow and it will develop into a very strong market.
PP: Tell us more about the PP-FOX partnership; how did this start? Did Alan strong-arm you for this partnership to come into fruition? Seriously, what did you see in Pilipinas Poker that made you decide that a partnership with this community will be good for 88Fox and its programs?
RD: I actually know Alan from when I was coaching poker players on PilipinasPoker, and Alan was part of it also (although he didn’t listen much). After a while you get to know people better and I have always had a good relationship with PP guys so they were the first people I contacted when I was planning on launching 88Fox in the Philippines. I really have nothing bad to say about Pinoys in general, I always meet great and friendly people which just make me happy I’m working in this market.
PP: The PP-88FOX League has already started; for those who still do not know about this league, please do expound on it a little bit.
RD: The league consists of 6 live poker events and 12 online poker events, in each event you can collect points depending on what position you ended in that particular tournament. After the 18 events, the top 30 will compete in the Grand Finale Event to prove that they are the most cunning poker player in the Philippines.. Because they will have proven that they can beat not only live poker but also online poker. That’s a true testament of skill!
I also wanted to note that the total prizepool from our current league is 1 million pesos! Every live leg is a P100K guaranteed so that makes it P600K already with the final event and the online legs, the prizepool is truly 1 million pesos, in case people thought we were making false advertising!
The Fox giving the opening statement at the inaugural leg of the 88foxpoker Pilipinas Poker League.
PP: Also, you have the PP-88FOX PRO “Becoming the Fox” program already cooking; for those who are still interested what should they do to participate in this program.
RD: Just go to PilipinasPoker forum and apply! That’s all really.. We are just looking for people that not only wants to play poker, but are eager to learn poker. Don’t think that you know everything already.. Have an open mind about things and it will get you further in life.
PP: Aside from this, what other campaigns do you have in store in the near future? Can we expect satellite to big events like APT Philippines 2014 or other Macau/Asian tournaments?
RD: We are thinking about giving the winner of our league a seat to the APT or WPT event, but we haven’t finalized that yet… We just know that it will be a great final event where everyone will receive their own personalized jacket and a champion will be crowned.
Other projects are “the Foxhouse”, which is directly correlated to the Becoming The Fox Program where we will basically pay players to come and work (play poker) for us and receive a fixed amount of income/salary, so people can actually treat it as a real job.
A mobile app for 88Fox, which is coming in 2-3 months, upgrading our current play software, and getting more Asian time friendly online tournaments are the biggest working points right now for us.
PP: As a coach, advice to Filipino players?
RD: Try to always keep an open mind about things, and never become stuck in your situation, even if you are doing well; know that you can always do better. My parents always told me to aim for the sky, because if you aim any lower you will never use your whole potential.
Interview with Euryd Rivera
Meet yet another member of the Rivera family and meet yet another winning poker pro in the country. Roughly a month before, we’ve featured Czardy Earl Rivera for winning an APT title, here comes brother Euryd who won the latest big tourney at the Metro Card Club, the Metro6 Anniversary Tournament. And even years back, Rivera brothers Marc and Ashby have been consistently winning or placing ITM in major tournaments.
Meet Euryd, who has taken down yet another major tournament and has upped the title count for the Riveras. Indeed, it’s all in the family—poker skills and more.
Pilipinas Poker (PP): Tell us more about yourself outside the poker room…
Euryd Rivera (ER): I worked for several companies in the States. Right now, I’m a part time broker for Mega World Corp and a full time pro poker player. I studied nursing too while working, but wasn’t able to finish it. One more semester-- last sem is difficult since I have to be at school and duty for 6 days a week, even 7 days, since I’m the breadwinner, this is one thing I have to give up for now.
I spend most of the time with my family. Spa is my weakness; I almost do it every other day. I play basketball once a week with poker friends and some old team mates in University of the East (UE). Also with my brothers if there is a basketball league. I do enjoy playing billiards too.
PP: How’s family? How do you balance your family life with your poker grind?
ER: I have a beautiful and understanding wife named Rochelle. She is a blogger and just recently finished BS Nursing. She takes care of the kids most of time while I’m at work. I have 3 wonderful boys named Nikolas, 11 Ethan, 6 and Elijah 5. My mom is also with me, she looked after the kids while my wife is at school and me studying and working. Love u mom!
They are very understanding when it comes to my work. I have to work most of the time at night and have to go out of town or even out of the country when there are tourneys and good cash game. I always make sure to spend my free time with the family and put my kids to sleep before I leave the house.
PP: Any other non-poker stuff we should know about?
ER: My first love was basketball. With the influence of my elder brother’s Marc, Ashby and Czardy, I played for the UE pages in my high school days. Then, I also started playing billiards. Marc put up a billiard table as his business before and that where it all started; I became good that I was already making some dough while playing it when I was in college.
PP: How did you start playing the game of poker? Specifically what drew you in?
ER: In 2007, I started playing poker when I was in the states. I heard the news in PI that my big bro Marc won a tourney in ACF. That was the BMW I think. He then started telling me to study it and gave me several eBook. I downloaded it and began reading it.
My brother Marc sent me $50usd that time at poker stars and it all started there. I joined small tourney like the 1.50usd 90, 180players. And the first win was a 2nd place. I played and eventually broke my bankroll at that PokerStars game.
Then I started playing at the poker rooms where I played a 1/2 no limit holdem. The min max there was 100usd because of the state law. So even big blind, still it was a small buyin. Then played live tourneys and won several small tourneys.
PP: At what age did you begin playing… Who influenced you at the start—and eventually, who influenced you try the bigger and higher stakes?
ER: I started playing at the age of 25; it was my big bro Marc who I idolized right from the start. He gave me everything I need to improve my game. It was my brother Marc who gave me a break in higher stakes. I played the 1/2/5 game and started grinding it.
Also it was Tetsuya Tsuchikawa , when I won the a 300k grtd tourney in Asia poker and followed a 1m grtd tourney , He asked me if I want to join the apt main event 120k buyin in rw. We seek my bro Marc opinion and advised us that I am not ready yet. Tet insisted that how would we know if we will not give him a chance to join and participate on the said event.
Then I joined, luckily I made it to the itm and I think I finished 27 or 26th place. I would like to thank Tet for believing in my skills and for staking me in both cash game and tournament two years ago.
PP: Any interesting/funny stories when you were just starting?
ER: A good friend of mine, Cris Oxonian invites me to join his Saturday night game with his office mates at JP Morgan Chase, We play a .25 / .50 cent blind with the game of your choice, It was pretty difficult bec. You create your own game and explain what you like, you even combine an Omaha hi lo using 5 cards instead of 4 card, elevator game, that I honestly forgot. I really missed those games.
PP: How has the game changed since you’ve started (when you were virtually starting) and compare it to now?
ER: When I started here in the Phil on 2009, the game was honestly a lot easier in cash game. A lot o beginners are already playing the ave stake of 50-100 so winning is a lot easier. Now days, a lot of good players are playing, newly improved players are grinding the tables. It’s not that easy compared before.
On myself, I feel I have improved my maturity on game, I tend to play more solid than before. Avoiding stupid plays and bluffs. With the help and advice of my big brothers.
PP: What’s your biggest win so far in poker?
ER: Metro 3m, it is the most memorable one since it was the hardest; I started day 2 with only 9,800, shortest stack. Also it was a back to back win since czardy just won the APT main event.
PP: What’s the major difference between tourney poker and cash games? Strategy-wise, do you have a conscious effort to change things up when playing one vs. the other?
ER: For me tournament is a lot harder than cash game. I’m always having headache after a tourney. Difference for me is you meet a lot of new players in tournaments, needs to observe almost most of the time, from the start up to end of the tourney. Trying to get some tells and info on player’s you are on the table. While on cash game, same faces are playing the game. It’s a lot easier.
PP: What is it like being in a family with other good poker? How do you try to support each other, say when one is having a bad run, or bad luck?
ER: A little pressure since they are all successful on the game. My big bro are always there for each other, which is the best part; we have been supporting each other ever since we were just kids up to now.
Left to Right: Marc Rivera, Lester Edoc, Euryd, Czardy, Jojo Tech and Martin Gonzales.
PP: We asked Czardy this and he said that Marc is the best poker player in the family; what’s your reaction to that?
ER: I was actually confused why Czardy said that?? Why didn’t he mention me as the best???! No just kidding! Yes the best is still the big bro, Marc, Czardy, Ashby then still me as the weakest.
PP: It is a big poker family you got there; we’ll attempt a quick Q and A here; we’ll tell you a poker word/s and you give us a Rivera name in that category:
Best Bluffer is… Marc
Best Heads-Up player is… Marc
Best Tournament player is… Czardy
Best cash game player is… Marc
Worst Bluff in the family’s history… Honestly, I can’t remember any but it’s always Ashby making the worst bluff though… sick bluff!
Best Bluff in the family’s history… It’s always Czardy making the good bluff!
Best Online Player… Marc
Worst Tells of Marc… His eyes, he stares at you on a HU situation.
Describe Marc in one word as a poker player… Simply the Best
Worst Tells of Ashby… His beard, he always holds it on a HU situation.
Describe Ashby in one word as a poker player… The Mentor
Worst Tells of Czardy... His hair! Haha. Love you bro!
Describe Czardy in one word as a poker player… A well disciplined poker player
PP: How would you compare the recent Metro 3M tournmaent win to your previous wins or ITMs?
ER: It was the sweetest of all since again entering day 2 with the shortest stack. There were 114 players and I was the 114th. It was a very challenging tournament since the last 1st place I had was on 2011 in Asia poker where I won a 1m grtd tournament. Strategy was still the same, play patiently and tries to increase stack if given a chance of having above average stack.
PP: Do you have any player you idolize (international or local) that you try to emulate and pattern your game to?
ER: My big bro Marc Rivera being an all around poker player both cash game and tournament. Bankroll management and being a good father, son, brother and friend. Czardy for his discipline in the table. Always supporting me all the time.
PP: How comfortable are you playing at the Metro? Is there a marked difference when playing in Metro compared to other poker rooms? How do you like the structure, payout, format, etc of the tournaments there…
ER: Metro is the hardest poker room to grind. A lot of good players started playing at metro and a lot of newly improved players. It is like the training ground in the Philippines. Tournament wise, the best structure as skills is always being tested because of their roll back on blinds most of the time. Which we love the most.
PP: What was the most memorable play you did during this championship run?
ER: 88 vs. Q10 mark benasa, my first hand of day 2 , I doubled up, mark raise utg +1 and I shove mid position 9800, holds up and doubled up
Will reveal a bluff I made on this one; A10x vs. a5x flop Ah2x 6h turn 5x river Qh peter Albrecht , I raise cutoff and peter called in the button, I check called, turn check called river I shove and make the best hand fold using a scare card. That was when my stack grew up to 170k with ave stack of only 80k.
76h vs. 55 tourney life ft I lost a hand prior to that, I have AK, when emman defended his blind. Flop was j65 turn j river j, I c bet flop, turn was a check, river he bet 200k and I called with a high hoping he was on a post oak bluff. Possible missed straight draw like 78. The 7h 6h, I had 5bb left I think on utg so I shove, and emman made the call on the button. I doubled up and that’s where I started to gain chips. I think 4 players or 5 players left at that time.
PP: We believe you went into the final table with a mid-sized stack; how did that change your strategy from your previous 3 days of play?
ER:I did have a healthy stack going in the FT; I had 700k plus stack and the ave was almost 600k. I just played my hand and do some maintenance on my chips, making sure I have an ave stack going into the last four players.
Heads up with Rene.
PP: Who was the toughest guy to play with in the Final Table?
ER: Last 4 tables was tough since KDR, Jojo tech and Flo the Fish was still in those last 4 table run, luckily they bust out early as expected. On the ft it was only eman who I feel was the threat on the table since he was the only one who got the guts to defend his blinds and 3 bets me. Also René has a massive stack going to the last 3 players.
But not to bring up my in chair, I feel pretty confident going hu even with a 4:1 underdog chips. I just felt having a little edge, skills wise in hu with René. I got lucky though. I shove with a7 thinking I was ahead yet he had a9.
PP: Finally, what’s your message to the PP community?
ER: Always believe in yourself, being good on something especially in poker takes a lot of learning and effort . Even pro and the best in the world commit mistakes once in awhile. Patience is a big factor in tournaments. As I set example of having the shortest stack on day2 and still believe that I could win it and it did happen. Thank God on this one!!!
Also would like to thank my family, my sister Revvy Ivy Isip for always supporting me, My Mom Maura Rivera for the continuous support and love. My wife for always believing in me. They are the people that are not involved in the world of poker but always with us all the time!
*Photo credits to Euryd's Fb page.
PilipinasPoker Interview with APT champion Czardy Rivera
Born in Bamban, Tarlac and raised in Sampaloc, Manila. Born a winner and destined to raise championship trophies in this sometimes dog-eat-dog world of poker. Czardy Earldale Rivera won the most recent APT Asian Series Main Event title and confirmed his status as one of the best poker players in the Philippines today.
Pilipinas Poker finally caught up with Czardy post-APT win (most probably because of endless parties and celebrations) as he tells us his thoughts about the huge APT haul in Resorts World Manila (about 4.27 million pesos), of his winning run, how he started in poker (how a poker show on TV “blew his mind”) and how important is family to his poker success.
Pilipinas Poker (PP): Tell us more about of yourself; what’s life outside of a poker room for a Czardy Rivera?
Czardy Rivera (CR): Before I became a full time poker player I was in a business with my family. I also took up practical nursing but unfortunately found my interest in playing poker so I wasn't able to finish it.
PP: How’s family? Do you have kids?
CR: Yes, I have my own family. I have two daughters, 13 and 4 years old and a son, 2 years old. I am very thankful because they're very supportive to me when it comes to my profession. They understand that I have to be out when I have to grind and play tournaments in different parts of the country as well as abroad.
When no game is available I see to it that I find quality time with them to play around and hang out wherever they might want to because that’s the reason why I am working so hard, it’s because of them.
PP: Any other competitive activities you’re into?
CR: I used to play billiards and basketball with my brothers and friends before I started to play poker.
PP: So, how did you discover the game of poker?
CR: When Solar Sports started to air the WPT tournaments, my brother Ashby and I became interested because it was a mind game which will blow your mind especially if we're playing with each other.
PP: What age did you start playing this game seriously?
CR: I was 25 years old then when I started and it was my brother, Marc Rivera who is responsible why I became a disciplined and good poker player now. He's always there to guide me and support me all the way. Love you big bro!
PP: Any interesting poker stories when you were just starting to play the game?
CR: When we we're starting, we used coins as our chips. It was a sit n go tournament and buy in was around 500php. Whoever wins in that tournament will be the one who's playing the cash game in the very first poker room in the country, the Airport Casino Poker Club, it was the only poker room available that time.
PP: Is the APT Asian Series title your biggest haul yet in your poker career?
CR: Yes, the last APT Asian Series Main Event was my biggest score in my poker career.
PP: In general, what do you say to other players who ask for your advice on how to be successful in poker?
CR: Observe and adapt… Never stop learning because this game is just a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Adjustments are important in this game because you will be playing with different kind of players so you have to be versatile and flexible.
Believing in yourself that you can win together with discipline and patience. You will be needing a lot of those if you want to win.
PP: What is it like being in a “poker family” as Ashby, Euryd and Marc also very good poker player? Do you consciously/intentionally talk about poker at home?
CR: We're always there for each other no matter what. I am proud to be one of their brothers. We always talk about hands that we played every now and then, just to know what's on their mind because you might encounter it again on the table when you play. Those conversations help me a lot in improving my game
Left to Right: Good friend Jay Tolon with Czardy Rivera, brother Marc and Ashby.
PP: Who is the best poker player among the Riveras?
CR: Marc Rivera is still the best, maybe I'm 2nd best! (Laughs)
PP: How would you compare the recent APT Asian Series win to your previous big wins? Specifically, what were the differences in your approach/strategy in this tourney?
CR: It's so sweet not only because of the money but because of the love and support from my family and friends who were there to support me all the way. I actually used small ball strategy in the recent APT Asian series. Not to risk your tournament life on flips or stupid bluffs… Weird thing was I didn't catch AA even once since the tournament started… it was an Aces-less win for me…
PP: Compare the level of competition of the APT events with the local ones? Is it more difficult playing against foreigners/international players or the local ones?
CR: I still find it more difficult playing with local players because of the wrong betting pattern of those players who wants to gain chips early in the tournament… Madalas tatamaan ka ng ligaw na bala pag di ka marunong umilag!
PP: That said, do you have any player—international or local-- you idolize that you try to emulate?
CR: The way u handle your losses and sick beats as well as your bankroll management, if you only knew how Marc Rivera does it, you'll be amazed…
PP: At what point of the tournament did you start believing or realizing that you had the chance to win it all…
CR: The moment I bought my tournament ticket, I believe that I can win it because why would you join a tournament if you know you cannot win… I felt the chance in making it when I made it in the money and I am 4th in chips. I told myself this could be it and thank God it was!
PP: What was the most memorable play you did during this championship run?
CR: The hand with the Indian Kukreja who finished 4th was very crucial. It was 4-handed and action was folded to me on the button, blinds were 40k/80k/10k.
I was dealt Kc7c so it was a pretty good starting hand on the button against the blinds so I raised it up 180k and the Indian 3bets me 120k more, BB folded and as I was thinking, I can play with him because we were pretty deep (I had 1.55M and he had 2M) that I could still see a flop and I'm in position at the same time, so I called 120k more then, the flop brought us Ad10c2c, he led out 200k on a 720k pot…
Two things, he could have a monster hand or a pretty scared hand so I decided to test the waters so I raised it up 520k total leaving me 730k behind. Two things again, if he pushed I would call then. If he flats and leads again I give up but if he checks, it’s gonna be hard for him to call an all in bet on the turn even if I miss my draw...
What happened was he flatted on my 520k bet then checked the 4s turn card, I decided to push the pressure and go on with my plan, I pushed all in (semi bluff flush draw), he tanked for a very long time that I have to hold my breath for so long and he eventually releases his hand… That was the turning point of my win I think, my stack goes up to 2.5m and never looked back…
And of course my winning hand Kd3d against Ad10s of my good friend Lester Edoc, I put him all in for his last 1.2m (blinds 60k/120k/20k) and flopped the flush… Destiny as they may say it but hard work, patience and perseverance helped me a lot to bag this title.
PP: At one point you were a 10-to-1 underdog in the final table, we heard some of your friends bet on you to win it all at that point? How BIG were those winnings?
CR: My brother Marc won, the rest I didn't know how much, hope they also won big...
PP: Final message to the PP members and poker community?
CR: Believe in yourself. Grow and continue to learn every single day. Watch the action on the table and adapt things that you could use in the future action when it comes to you. Always believe that God is always there for each and every one of us. Glory to you my lord! Thank you for everything!
PP: Thanks, Czardy!
Photos courtesy of Czardy's facebook page.
Chatting with Nick Galan is like being on a straight and flush draw whilst having the top pair as well—you have lots of outs and you know you want to shove when pressed for action. A conversation with Galan brings the same possibilities— ask one question and you’re likely to get a long and detailed answer about your queries.
And when Pilipinas Poker asked a lot of questions we got a lot lengthy interview with one of the men behind the success of the Metro Card Club in Pasig. Topics ranged from the roots and history and Metro to the current set-up, tournaments in the best and largest card room in the country.
Pilipinas Poker (PP): First things first, tell us the story of how Metro began and the history behind it.
Nick Galan (NG): The Metro Card Club brand first opened its doors in 2007. We spread the first two tables in Davao, then opened at Metrowalk in Ortigas in the same year. We opened the Cebu branch in 2008, though it was then called the Bravio. Bacolod opened shortly after.
The notion of the Metro was born of our desire to fill a need for legal, regulated poker in the country-- PAGCOR did not regulate poker at the time-- fill a need for the growing market, and to begin to nurture up and coming poker players in the then-nascent poker market.
Of course, we had identified a business opportunity, and being a group of entrepreneurs, went for it. It took quite a bit of work lobbying both PAGCOR and local governments to recognize and allow poker to legally operate, but we felt the need and the opportunity were sufficiently present to invest heavily in time and money to make it a reality.
VIP Room at the old Metro.
PP: Why and how did you choose “Metro Card Club” as the name for the poker room?
NG: Our intention was always to site our flagship club at the Metrowalk Commercial Center in Ortigas. We felt that naming the club the Metro would dovetail nicely with the name of its location. The name stuck, and Metro Card Club brand was born. As far as other names, I honestly can’t recall the other candidates for our brand; it’s been quite a long time since those early days.
PP: It is generally known as that poker rooms can earn more by staying underground aside from the legal implications, what were the motivations on why you decided to go mainstream so to speak?
NG: The Metro was never an underground club actually. There were some predecessor clubs that blazed the trail for the development of the Metro brand, especially by getting the right people together to drive the concept, make the investments, and get it done. Legal poker was always the goal, regardless of the cost.
Though underground operations naturally retain more of their sales, they ultimately fail, due to a number of factors, legality being only one. I cannot think of any sizable illegal operation that has had any longevity.
Management cannot truly build or promote a brand, staff cannot build legitimate resumes, and the fundamental controls that must attend a legal, regulated operation tend not to be implemented in illegal settings, so you suffer things like theft, bad debt, etc. And most importantly, you probably won’t get interviewed by PilipinasPoker if you run underground. (Smiles)
The Old Metro Card Club.
PP: Being the first “real” poker room in the country, what sort of challenges did you face then?
NG: Well, we technically weren’t the first legal room in town. The first poker tables were spread at the Airport Casino Filipino prior to our being able to open our own doors. We were, however, the first to receive authority from PAGCOR to operate.
It was quite a process, to be honest. There was plenty of education and explaining to do to regulators, as well as local government officials, even to the barangay level. We spent at least a half a year going through this, but it paid off in the end.
PP: Can you describe Metro now and compare it to the then Metro? How vibrant was the growth and personally, since you are one of the key guys who built the Metro empire, how proud were you in seeing this room grow over the years?
NG: I would characterize the Metro now as an established cardroom brand, with a profile internationally as well as in the Philippines. We are operating today in a much more serious competitive environment, not because of an expanding population of poker clubs, but largely due to a declining population of new entrants to the game of poker.
Poker has lost some of its faddishness and sex appeal over the years, and there just aren’t the numbers of new players clamoring to get into the game. A sad result of this is many smaller rooms are closing, and smaller markets really can’t support operations anymore. An example is the recent closure of our Bacolod branch.
So in one sense, it’s not as exciting, heady and full of surprises to be in the poker business today as it was in years past, but it is a lesson in rigor and professionalism to all of us, from our receptionists to our senior management. We welcome the challenge.
PP: What about the poker industry itself? Is there some sort of satisfaction knowing that you are of one the industry’s pioneers and has helped through the years in what poker is now today?
NG: It is indeed satisfying to have been a part of creating value where nothing existed before. That’s the true reward for an entrepreneur. More importantly, I’m most satisfied at having been able to meet and work with some truly excellent people, people I know I will call friends well beyond poker.
PP: What’s your take on other poker rooms not getting the “right formula” operating and running these rooms?
NG: It’s always been my contention that running a poker room isn’t rocket science. Too many others have fallen into the trap of being too gimmicky and running promotions that tend to take away from what serious card players are really after.
We’ve generally kept it simple, really, and have rarely ventured into overly complex marketing promos that tend to cost too much money for too little long-term return. I’m not saying that we’re entirely innocent of these mistakes, but we tend not to prolong them when we recognize them.
The Metro Card Club
PP: Obviously there are some challenges to running a big poker room like Metro. What sort of challenges do you encounter, either in a day-to-day basis or even long-term, present in operating a poker room as big as Metro? How do you deal with these challenges?
NG: I’d say the fact that it is a customer service centric business, with many, many different customer personalities and requiring hundreds of employees, the human element is likely the biggest ongoing “challenge”. Not to say that it is a problem, but that it requires strong policy development as well as a well-developed human resource function.
Another challenge is the sometimes fickle nature of government regulation. Often policies and rules will change without consultation with the industry, leaving us in a reactive stance, which can require drastic, material changes on our part.
At times market conditions change and revenues decline, being a large room with a large operating cost can be a handicap. Not only do we need to spend to bring new players in, but we need to invest heavily in competing with other clubs to retain our player base.
PP: What sort of criticisms of Metro do you hear? How do you respond those?
NG: I’ve heard all sorts of criticisms of the Metro over the years, and I must admit that many of them are valid. Recently, I’ve been hearing complaints about the level of customer service our staff have been providing. We have taken those to heart and are addressing those.
Regarding our level of innovation, I can take that point. We have a good marketing team on the ground and are willing to explore any ideas. Innovative programs are a tricky thing, as they inevitably demand investment, so choosing where to spend our money most wisely is not an easy exercise. With respect to creating/converting new players, big investments are often required. TV production, mass media, etc are examples.
We used to benefit from the investments of others, such as the online sites, in the past. In the past there was an ecosystem of investment in mass communication promoting the game. There is far less now, and we are too small to invest in such activities. I’ll take any suggestions that anyone can offer however. (Smiles)
PP: What’s your take on online poker? Do you also play online?
NG: Online poker is a valid way to play, especially for professionals. Game selection, seat selection, multitabling, assistive technologies such as HUDs and all that can make it a more scientific way to play the game. I used to play a bit in the early days, PartyPoker, Stars, Full Tilt, but haven’t played in a long while.
PP: Do you think online poker is a major threat to the Metro? How?
NG: Online poker has actually helpful to the Metro in many ways. We’ve had a long-standing working relationship with Pokerstars, FPT/APPT and have co-sponsored launches for new poker sites for example. Also, players awaiting seats or tables to open at the metro often kill time on their tablets playing poker. In short, I haven’t seen it as a major threat.
PP: Can you tell us what the immediate plans of Metro are? Which tournaments should we look forward to in the coming months.
NG: This week, we’re holding Metro Poker Cup Hangover, a 300K GTD event, Day 1a October 18th. This tourney will be a nice lead into our 6th Anniversary Tournament, with a main event with a P3 Million Pesos Guarantee, which will kick off this coming November 14h. We’re proud to have been in the game for 6 years, and as we do each year, will give our players a nice week of multi-event tournament poker. Hope to see you all there!
PP: What’s your message or advice to all the new and old players?
NG: If you’re serious about learning the game, spend time with the grizzled veterans who’ve been through the mill and learned the valuable lessons. No better place to that than at the card clubs where they hang out and play.
Beyond reading and learning by book, learning by watching, conversing and playing with winners develops serious player better than anything. If you’re a long time player, you’re likely a winning player, and therefore better than I. You don’t need my advice.
Thanks, PilipinasPoker, for this opportunity. More power to you, and see you at the Metro!