An interview with TonyBet Poker spokesperson Warren Lush on their decision to offer rake free No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.
TonyBet Poker broke the mould when they became the first online poker site dedicated to an Open Face Chinese (OFC) product. While rake free cash games aren’t in that same ground-breaking territory, it’s still a bold move in a business that’s as competitive as ever.
I caught up with TonyBet spokesperson, Warren Lush, to ask his view on the recent announcement and their plans for the future.
So Warren, what can we expect from Tonybet in 2016?
“There is a huge amount planned for 2016. We already made our initial moves in late 2015 with the introduction of rake free NLH and PLO cash games.”
Do you think this is wise? Operators have tried this before, and many acknowledge it wasn’t successful in building liquidity in the long term?
“The introduction of rake free NLH and PLO cash games has already had a huge positive impact on our liquidity which obviously was the intention. I have had people saying to me why do you do this, it has been done before for limited periods, etc. but Tonybet is in a unique position to do this. Adding rake free NLH and PLO cash games to a product dominated by an OFC product is an approach not taken before – we think people in poker need to think outside the box and do different things. We are proud of the fact that we are an independent site with our own software and liquidity – it allows us to take risks. Nobody can say that online poker doesn’t need risk takers and a massive shake-up in the current environment.”
Rake free poker is hardly a massive shake up, though?
“No, it is just one element of the approach we are taking – sorry to use the overused words in the industry we truly believe we are doing things that will benefit the more casual player! This means that our goal is to make Tonybet Poker a place where players can have fun while playing online. The problem is that these days poker has become dull, there’s no spark and as Tony would say it is lacking big heart. We’re on a mission to change that – it’s not just about giving away loads of money through promotions and scrapping rake, it is about the experience that we offer.
“For example, we are introducing straddles to our cash games which you won’t see anywhere else – it is popular in the live environment so why shouldn’t it be the same online? This makes the game more fun, and action packed as the famous straddle gate video of our founder Tony G shows!
“6-max is now full ring at Tonybet – fewer opponents means faster gameplay and less waiting around in tournaments. We’ve definitely learned something from OFC in this regard – in OFC you play every single hand –the logic is to bring it to other poker games if you catch my drift. Players can also find 4-max and heads-up tables in the Tonybet Poker client – forms of the game that promote action.”
Online straddles sound fun but do you think it will fit in with the culture of online poker?
“As they say at Tonybet, and like they do with an all-in, it’s ‘no balls, no glory’ – if we don’t try and liven things up and take steps to pump up the action then we don’t know – poker needs it. We are in a unique position as an up and coming operator to try such things. I’m sure a lot of the bigger operators would love to be in this position to disrupt and not be afraid to fail.
“Another simple thing we have done to try and reinvigorate the online poker experience is to make the majority of our tournaments have 10,000 starting chips. With all the dominance of math in elements of the game today we want to hark back to the fundamental psychology of the game.
“We hope big stacks appeal to those sick of small stacks and flipping pre-flop. Psychologically it promotes more boldness in play. For example, with just the view of a bigger stack in front of you could be more likely to check the flop with your favourite hand. Don’t get me wrong the big stacks are not introduced to lengthen the action or are hardly revolutionary, the blinds will start higher – we are taking a punt on it having a positive impact on the experience. Again, we are in a unique position as an operator to do these things so we will.”
What else is on the agenda for 2016?
“With the introduction of NLH and PLO games on the site, we are also going to add freerolls, freebuys and knockout tournaments early in the year and continue to add elements carefully to improve our product.
“We also have plans for our first big online NLH and PLO series in February. We have already put $100,000 in guarantees aside for this in our initial discussions. Amongst the key promos coming up include weekly prizes featuring an iPhone 6S giveaway and a special Las Vegas package.
“Also, each new depositing sign-up will receive a free ticket worth €10 to a €5,000 guaranteed monthly event. As if that wasn’t enough, each month Tonybet will be rewarding €15,000 in cash game, SnG and MTT races. In a different approach to most of the industry, the cash game and MTT leaderboard races will be based on number of hands rather than rake allowing the lower stakes players to compete. You never know we could transform from a small Jack Russell dog nipping at the heels of the industry to a majestic German Shepherd!”
Ah, so how are Tony and his dog Nordas?
“They are fine – Nordas has developed from a promising young pup into a magnificent creature – let’s hope Tonybet can do the same. Unfortunately, Tony has absolutely no day-to-day involvement with the business he founded anymore, but we aim to display the same heart and commitment to the game and have the same anti-nit bike time all action spirit that the poker world dearly misses at the moment. As Tony says himself anything is possible, and everyone’s a winner if they focus.”
I couldn’t help notice that Tonybet has moved into the live poker arena? Tell us more?
“Tonybet is the headline sponsor of the upcoming Tonybet Winter Poker Festival at the Playground Poker Club in Montreal and will be sending online qualifiers to the $1,100 buy-in $500,000 guaranteed NLH Main Event there.
“This is quite a step but as anybody who has been to Playground knows it is great place with a huge commitment to making the game more fun, so Tonybet is a good fit. The previous ventures into live poker have been very much OFC based so this is a new and exciting adventure. Seems unusual to say that we are on a brave new adventure by hosting NLH and PLO tournaments but it is true, and I like our different approach!”
Talking of OFC live tournaments, how did the Tonybet OFC World Championships go in Prague?
“The events were a great success – it still staggers me how we attract so many players into the $10k high-roller for example, but it is a big team effort. We also seem to be running well with winners of the events – the ladies seem to dominate in the form of victories for Isabelle Mercier and Alexandra Usoltseva in November as well as Jen Shahade last year. Nobody can say this isn’t refreshing for poker.”
So what do you say to those that say OFC is dead or a dying fad?
“With 33 €10k entries and a bumper €304,095 in the prize pool, the Tonybet OFC World Championship high roller at King’s Casino in Prague in December became the richest live OFC tournament in history, beating last year’s record set at the same event which gathered a crowd of 23 players.
“This is very healthy – as were the numbers for the Main Event. We also introduced a €350 Progressive Pineapple tournament in December, which exceeded our expectations. Online we are seeing consistent growth with decent spikes around the events, so we see a bright future. With all the female winners though perhaps we should take a leaf out of the WSOP book and up the buy in for ladies and reduce the entry for men?”
So we should sign up for Tonybet today?
“Why haven’t you already? It seems that the holidays got an extension this year with the festivities relocating to the Tonybet Poker tables. If you haven’t joined yet, be sure to do so using the bonus code STARTER to receive up to €500 bonus as a welcome gift. Next to that you will also be rewarded with a free €10 entrance to a €5,000 guaranteed monthly tournament.”