PCA Reports: Barry Greenstein on Play Money and Philanthropy

PCA Reports: Barry Greenstein on Play Money and Philanthropy

In another installment of reports from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Lee Davy, catches up with Barry Greenstein to talk about his love for this event, his role in kickstarting the philanthropy in poker revolution, and his love for Play Money games. 

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He looks like an angel; white from head to toe. Even his beard has stolen the colour of the page. Barry Greenstein. The author of the one poker book I never read. I assumed I would one day knock him out, and I wanted his gift to mean something to me. I’ve only played with him once. It was at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). I didn’t leave with a book. There was no ace on the river for me. I don’t think I saw an ace that day.

PCA Reports: Barry Greenstein on Play Money and PhilanthropyAnd here he is, patiently waiting for me.

Another PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA).

Another set of questions.

Here we go.

“I’ve been hear every year since inception,” Greenstein tells me beneath the inconvenient holla of the tournament announcer. “I don’t travel that much for tournaments. I pretty much play the World Series of Poker, this event, and because I live in LA, I may play the Main Event at the Commerce or the Bicycle Club. They’re about to have some good tournaments at the Gardens where I play some cash games.” 

I sense loyalty in Greenstein. A man who respects his roots. A leaf refusing to rust. A fondness for the WSOP, yet beyond that he’s likely blind to the growth of the partypoker MILLIONS and other tournaments that are weighing heavy on the shoulders of the PCA.

“This {PCA} is the second largest tournament behind the World Series of Poker,” Greenstein confirms. “We consider the WSOP the convention for all poker players, and the PCA is the convention for online poker players. But it’s down from its heyday because online poker has been shut down in the US. It used to be this amazing, room-filled tournament, but when you shut out the largest and closest market to this event it cuts things in half.” 

There is a majesty about this place. An opulence I have only seen replicated in Monte Carlo. But Greenstein is right. There’s a torn flag feel to the place. A taste of ash. The poker room is cavernous. The Main Stage mirroring the luxurious feel of the yachts parked in the bay outside. But there is an echo. Even with a million for first, there is an echo. I bet this place was bouncing before the US government took out their chainsaw and went all Al Pacino on online poker.

Greenstein patiently waits for me to stop thinking.

“I used to play the EPT Main Event in Monte Carlo and I would pick one other event each year,” Greenstein replies when I ask him why I have not seen his soul in Europe more than I have. “I traveled with my partner to places like Paris and London. When I met her she told me she liked to travel. So we traveled around the world with poker. Then we traveled around a few more times. Finally, she said, ‘“Ok, I like travelling, but can we go to different places, please?’

“I ended up travelling alone and I don’t like hanging around for a week or two, alone. I play poker and then go to my hotel room and it’s kind of boring. In the future, we may take a trip to China or something like that. It has to be something new. I always tell the younger players. Don’t just go to play – make a holiday out of it. These events are in some of the greatest places in the world, take advantage of that. 

“It takes the pressure off in some ways. Normally, when you travel to a tournament it’s like an all or nothing thing. If you get knocked out you feel stupid that you traveled and lost a bunch of money. But if you turn it into a destination, now that’s different. In the old days I would take my kids and my partner; so even before I played the tournament I had nothing to lose.” 

The vagabond lifestyle is more suited to the young and unattached. Ships that don’t mind getting lost. The raindrops sound different in each country, but you can’t hear the melody when you’re thinking about the things you’ve left behind.

And Robin Hood never ventured far from his home.

Sherwood Forest contained all the excitement he needed, so why should it be any different for the Robin Hood of poker.

“I think I got a lot of credit{for his philanthropic endeavours}and not all deserved,” says a humble Greenstein. “Poker players as a group are generous with their money. It’s the nature of what we do. Yes, we’re fighting for money so people think that we care a lot about money but it’s usually the other way around. If you’re willing to put all your money in the middle on a bluff, it’s probably because the potential of losing money doesn’t scare you.” 

Poker players will donate more money to charity in 2018 than any other year since Greenstein first stuck a feather in his hat and began fingering his quiver. Robbing the rich to give to the poor has become synonymous with poker, and you have to say that it all began with the man sat before me. 

“Before I became a high stakes player I always wanted to do something good with the money I won,” says Greenstein. “It’s like taking a pot off the table and doing something productive with it. However, it wasn’t only me. The people I played with were always very generous when it came to giving away their money. They would bail people out, loan money; if someone died they would cover the funeral costs; they’re the biggest tippers. I just got this idea to make it a public thing. I didn’t intend to get a feather in my hat – no pun intended. I thought it would spur people on to do the same thing – take a percentage or two with their winnings and do something good with it. I wanted to be a catalyst and I hope I am. When I did it, I think a lot of people thought it was an obvious connection and that’s why you see it continue, today.”

Greenstein is an icon, particularly in the poker rich lore land of the USA. Raising For Effective Giving (REG), Helping Hands, and the other top charitable initiatives created by poker players are lost on the average US citizen. The Robin Hood of Poker has the monopoly on the market. And Greenstein’s earning to give tributary isn’t his only waterway to the charitable high seas.

How many PokerStars Team Pro’s spend their time cutting teeth in the Play Money games?

“I love the Play Money games,” says Greenstein. “Everytime I play someone posts in the chat, ‘Why I am playing?’ I joke around and tell them I’m practicing my game; I ran out of real money. This week, I said I thought it was playing for cryptocurrency. I live in the US. I can’t play for real money. I represent PokerStars. I am sure they {PokerStars} make millions of dollars off Play Money. A million dollars in Play Money costs about $5. So the skill level is about a $5 buy-in and people take it very seriously.” 

Like a gravedigger who gets through I shift without lifting a lid, I don’t understand it. Why would anyone want to play poker for Play Money. Isn’t the ‘money’ as important to poker as the cigarette that used to hang off the lips of John Wayne was to Hollywood? 

“People take it very seriously, “ Greenstein reasserts. “The talk in the chat is about the same. People get frustrated, the excuses for the bad beats are the same. People say that something is rigged, or that I won the hand because I represent PokerStars. People take it all just as serious. In real poker it’s the same people who blame the dealer when they lose a pot. People are trying to win. 

“I am always questioned, “How can I play for millions of dollars and now I play for Play Money? I may have the best record of any Play Money player in the world. I’ve won the Main Event a few times, came second a few times and made a few final tables – I have had an amazing run. Basically, I am a high stakes player competing against $5 players, so I will have an edge.”

“Great poker players adapt to the environment. Even if someone created a new poker game or had a new style, you adapt. It’s the same in Play Money. People over bet and over bluff too much in Play Money. A lot of the tournaments I won was where I was checking when I had a real hand and then someone just ships it with nothing. I have won lots of pots while holding the nuts. 

“I don’t play a lot of NLHE. I play Mixed Games. Outside of the WSOP and the PCA the only time I play NLHE is in the Play Money tournaments. I had a few deep runs at the WSOP this summer and I find it difficult to believe that playing in Play Money tournaments didn’t help. It had to help. When you get older you play your basic strategy from memory, and I am going to plug the PokerStars Play Money if I final table an event because I know it keeps me in practice. I do believe it’s been helpful.” 

And with that, Greenstein shakes my hand, and wanders off in search of something to do. I sit there, hoping he will turn around and give me a copy of his book. I guess I’m going to have to earn it.