Christian Scalzi making dreams come true for the players of partypoker

TAGs: 888poker, Christian Scalzi, PartyPoker, partypoker LIVE

Lee Davy talks to the Tournament Director, Christian Scalzi, about his new partnership with partypoker, the LIVE MILLIONS brand, Button Ante concept, and their forthcoming $9m GTD partypoker LIVE MILLIONS Sochi event in Russia.

One mistake that live poker tour operators have made in the past, is they take out the plaster of Paris and begin to shape a live festival structure that they like.

Of course, this is batshit crazy, because what live poker tour operators should be doing is taking that plaster and creating a masterpiece that their players will love.

Now, this isn’t easy when you are a live tour operator dealing with so many diverse cultures and languages. How do you know what your people believe; who they look up to; who they trust; what they’re afraid of; what they yearn for; what they are hungry for?

One way of figuring out the dreams of diverse cultures, and then delivering, is to hire someone who understands those cultures, speaks those languages, and is in those conversations.

Christian Scalzi is a consultant working with partypoker LIVE and will be the Tournament Director for the partypoker LIVE MILLIONS in Sochi, Russia, and the partypoker Caribbean Party in Punta Cana, and his role is to understand the psychographics of both the players and partypoker’s casino partners, as well as promoting their live and online events.

“For sure, it’s important to be multi-lingual, because our casino partners operate very differently all over the world,” Scalzi told me from his home in San Remo, Italy. “There is a core way of managing the business, but it’s layered with nuance. Moving from France to Spain to Russia to Montenegro, I need to understand that nuance. Most importantly, I  need to be able to communicate with the players, because if I can’t do that, then I can’t build the trust needed to grow these events.”

A few days ago, Mohsin Charania, became the sixth member of the Triple Crown club after winning a $1,500 buy-in event at the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

I spoke to Charania, a few days before that win, to ask if he thought partypoker had the marshmallows to one day overtake the PokerStars Championship as the third cog in that prestigious wheel.

Charania gave the thumbs up.

What does Scalzi think?

“I think partypoker LIVE is putting a lot of energy and effort into their events, right now. In my opinion, an event like the $5m GTD MILLIONS in Sochi, Russia, should be included in the Triple Crown, and a lot of people share that view.

“Rob Yong, Tom Waters and the rest of the team are putting a lot of thought into making the LIVE MILLIONS product great for the players in every way. Everyone in partypoker, from the people in the background you don’t hear about, to the faces of the company, are all working hard, and pulling in the direction to create something special for the players – you can feel it.”

Hang on.

Is partypoker LIVE MILLIONS a meteor shower for the likes of the PokerStars Championships – everything looks spectacular, devastation ensues, followed by nothing?

The European Poker Tour (EPT) spent 13-years clawing their way to the top of the food chain in Europe, spearheaded during those early years by partypoker LIVE President, John Duthie.

Christian Scalzi making dreams come true for the players of partypokerIsn’t this a little bit early to be heralding partypoker LIVE as the next big thing?

“It feels like we are a new company. I know we have been at this for a long time, and we should never forget the heritage of partypoker, and the legacy it has created. But we are talking about a young, strong company, with worldwide credibility, and a group of experienced people working hard at the rock face to make poker fun again for the players.

“Yes, we need to eventually create the same coverage that the likes of PokerStars, World Poker Tour, and World Series of Poker enjoy, but within a year, no more than that, with the festivals that we plan to operate, some you know about, and others not yet released to the public, we will be putting the fun back into poker, not just for professional players, but also for recreational, and amateur players. It’s our job to create dreams, like when Maria {Lampropulos} won the £1m first prize in the £5m GTD MILLIONS event in Dusk till Dawn.”

It feels like the MILLIONS brand comes from the hearts and minds of the players. But how complicated is managing the live/online hybrid for a Tournament Director? Is Christian Scalzi feverishly chewing on Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum like a cow chews the cud?

“We knew we needed a way to make live tournament poker attractive to as many worldviews as possible,” said Scalzi. “It’s accepted within the poker community that the game needs an influx of amateur/recreational players. But we also need to look after our semi-professional and professional players.

“The Phase idea covers all the bases, allowing pros to buy-in at a higher level thus skipping the early action, while simultaneously creating a way for amateurs to win a million bucks for a single cent.

“From my side, running Phase 1’s online, and live, with live Turbos, etc. – this is not easy. It’s imperative that you have a strong unit of employees who are all rowing in the same direction. The bagging, the redraw, the communication channels need to efficient, and this is why the relationship with our casino partners is so important.”

Partypoker knows how to run a top-notch live tournament. They have been involved in many through their relationship with the World Poker Tour, and they have seen PokerStars and the World Series of Poker maintain consistency for many years. But what can partypoker do differently?

How do they position themselves, so the players choose to spend their pocket money in Sochi for the partypoker LIVE MILLIONS and not the PokerStars Championship?

One way is to create new and improved ways of playing the game.
Like the Button Ante concept, trialling at the German Poker Championship in Rozvadov.

“Simon Trumper and I have been working on this idea behind the scenes since we saw it operate at the Aria during a Super High Roller event. Aria officials used the big blind as the ante, but we think the button is the best position.

“Imagine you are playing a 1k/2k level with a 100 ante. The big blind posts 4k, now what will the initial raise be? What will the three-bet be? It cannot be 3x because UTG may raise to 5k, and the big blind will just call. So we felt the button was a more suitable position to post the entire ante for the table.

“We didn’t choose the button because it’s the most profitable spot on the table, we did it after speaking to the dealers and understanding this is where we will save the most time. By cutting out the waste that accompanies ante posting (people forgetting, finding change, conversations), we believe we are saving two hands per hour.

“The changes will speed the game up, while at the same time keeping the core structure of the game as we know it. Of course, we need to see what the feedback will be when the concept is applied in a live tournament, but so far the feedback has been great. The only concern that has been pushed our way is what happens when the small blind busts. In that case, we will have no ante for that round.”

It’s an innovative way to improve the efficiency of the game, but I still believe 888Poker have found a much better answer by introducing shot clocks on all tables. I ask Scalzi if that’s an idea that has been slapped on the whiteboard at partypoker towers?

“I once did the same at an Italian series called ATOP. It’s a great idea, but to be honest, we had some problems with the dealers forgetting to press the button, and some of the players complained. We have to remember that live tournament poker is very different to online poker. We have staff, players, discussion, strategy, time, casino requests, so sometimes it’s not that easy. But the idea is very good, and I am happy to see that 888 is doing this. When we test the Button Ante in Rozvadov people will look at us as the testbed, and that doesn’t frighten us. Someone has to be brave enough to go first, and we are brave.”

Partypoker has just released the schedule for the August trip to Sochi for the partypoker LIVE MILLIONS Festival. There will be $9m GTD throughout the festival, with five events featuring seven-figure guarantees, with the $5,300 buy-in event having a $5m guarantee.

With a $10,300 buy-in High Roller, a $25,500 Super High Roller, and PokerStars failing to turn their recent visit into the spectacular fireworks display they hoped it would be. I sense that this festival, while not make-or-break, is going to be a defining moment in partypoker LIVE’s short history when it comes to their handbags at ten paces scuffle with PokerStars, as the major online poker room/live festival combo act.

“We are all focused on this event,” said Scalzi. “All the team in our private chat talks about this daily. It was nice to put out a brilliant schedule; different buy-ins; big guarantees – now the challenge is to attract all the players.

“As you know, Rob {Yong} has put a lot of thought into this. There is a private jet flying from London to Sochi, 8-15 September for the players who will compete in the High Rollers. Partypoker will also take care of the Visa situation because this helps the player.

“We were there in March for the $1k, and it was a challenge. We attracted 1,270 players, which nobody thought was possible in a new location. Now, we have raised the buy-in and guarantee so now it’s another challenge, and we are in touch with a lot of players at the King’s Lounge in Vegas, and all over the world.

“We want to give the best service to the players, especially those who have never been to Russia before. I have been twice, and Sochi is a beautiful casino. Artur Voskanyan is a fantastic partner for us – we have worked together in Montenegro and Cyprus with his team at Poker Club Management, and they are fantastic with a great understanding of serving players needs. I think the players will love the 5-star hotel and all the different new things to do. Our cash games will be fantastic and 24/7. Yes, it’s a big challenge, with big money on the table, but it’s these types of festivals that our customers value. Now it’s up to us to show them that we can make poker fun again and that we can make their dreams come true.”


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