There were many casualties from the fallout of Black Friday (April 15, 2011), none more devastating than an online pro looking to keep his home and start a family. Because of that day that will live in poker infamy, I compete against one of these players in my local casino, a result of him having to ply his trade live to earn a living.
Bill Slaght (a.k.a. CrazyHorse76), is a former online player of the year in his 30s with a house in a small midwestern town. He has a wife and he wants to start a family, but things aren’t what they used to be. He graciously agreed to talk to Ante Up about some of his struggles and how he is dealing with his new life.
How long have you considered yourself an online pro? About four years.
So four years ago you started gravitating away from the live games and concentrating online? Yes, it happened gradually. For a long time, I played both. As I started finding success online and increasing my volume, I played less and less live. For a year or so prior to Black Friday, I was nearly 100 percent online.
You just mentioned Black Friday. Did this sudden change surprise you? Very much so. I was actually playing that day. I started at about 11 a.m. then at around two in the afternoon I got a couple of messages from friends from the online community to check the message-board threads. Then shortly after that U.S. players could not register for tournaments on PokerStars anymore. Yeah, it came out of nowhere.
How has your life changed since Black Friday and how have you coped with the loss of your livelihood? It has been tough. I went from working from home and being able to work as much or as little as I wanted. Now I travel out of town a couple of times a week and really don’t have another option as far as games. I do play at our local casino but about the only thing available is $1-$2 no-limit hold’em.
Do you follow any circuit or just jump in occasionally to what is available? I’ve been to the World Series of Poker the last three years. I’ve been there a total of four times and I go to other things around here when they come up. I will be looking to travel to more live tournaments in the near future.
Do your backers support you in the live games as they did in the online world? No. I play strictly on my own money now, which is the way it always was until August 2009. I very much appreciated my backers, but it just isn’t feasible for them to support me live. Online I could play like 300 tournaments a week and live I can only play maybe five. The buy-ins are considerably higher for live tournaments. Also, the backers were hurt badly. I couldn’t even speculate on the amount of money that (the backers) have tied up online.
Without asking for a hard number, will you share a percentage of what you are making now compared to before Black Friday? I’m definitely making less than I did when I had full availability of the online sites. It has probably, at least, cut my earnings in half on average. My biggest issue is just the availability of games. If I travel out of town to play in a good cash game I may not get to sit in another strong cash game for a week or two. There’s a lot of pressure there when I feel I have to win every time I play because I can’t play as often as I did before. Also, online, once I became staked, I played strictly tournaments and I’ve played very few tournaments since Black Friday.
Make a guess as to how long until we see online poker back up in the United States? I think it will happen in 2012. I think it’s pretty likely some might say it’s optimistic, but it really is only a matter of time. It probably won’t be an instant fix and we are right back to the level we were, but in the long run the return will be a good thing for all of us. There should be more sites and more competition, which should mean better rake for us and a larger player pool.
Some say once regulation is in place that we may see a second boom. Do you agree with that? I’m hopeful and I think it’s pretty likely. However, I really don’t think it will be like it was in 2006. I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t think it will ever be that good. To anyone that’s playing now that didn’t play in 2006 it’s almost impossible to explain the difference. The game has changed so much. It is significantly tougher now than it was five years ago. I wish I had started full-time a year or two earlier than I did because the games were so much softer.
Do you think you can hold out from having to find a steady job until online play comes back? Oh yeah. I would not describe it as holding out. I’m still playing and I’m making money. We’re doing OK. It’s just a difficult transition as far as the availability of games. Then the change from tournaments to cash games because they are different and it takes some adjusting. This is my career this is what I intend to do. I have had several people ask me if I was going to get a “real” job. They don’t realize that this is my job. I do have a college degree, but I don’t plan on turning in any resumes any time soon.
There was a big exodus of young players to other countries; did you ever discuss that with your wife? I’m glad you brought that up. We got married over two years ago and bought our first house right after our wedding. I’m a little older than most of the online professionals, so between having the house and being married I have no intentions of moving anywhere to play online poker. If I was younger and unmarried I would probably already be in Canada or Mexico. If it was just a matter of telling a landlord I was moving and packing a bag I would have already done it.
Do you enjoy live games and much as online play? If I had to pick just one to play for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick live poker. I enjoy the friendly interaction with the other players. While I’ve madequite a fewgood friends in the online community, I would say I enjoy live more. But I gravitated to online mostly for the convenience and the fact that I could play 20-24 tables if I like. There are certainly pros and cons to each, but I will certainly shift back to online once all the smoke clears. I willmake a point to play live at least a few times a month as well. I still truly enjoy poker and am very thankful that I am able to play a game that I love as my living. But, I need to go with what works best for my family time-wise as well as financially. My wife and family will always be first.
Is there anything else you would like to share? Yeah, first I’d like to say thanks to Ante Up for allowing me the opportunity to do this interview. Second, I would say the transition may not have been as rough for me as it is for many online players. I mean this is what I did before I took up online play. So I’m really just returning to my roots, but it’s frustrating that I’m basically stepping back to where I was five years ago. I was working for much more. All in all, I guess I really can’t complain too much. I get to play a game for a living that I really enjoy.
— Ken Warren is the Ante Up Ambassador for Iowa. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.