888Live Barcelona: Martin Jacobson on the WSOP; HR politics and more

888Live Barcelona: Martin Jacobson on the WSOP; HR politics and more

More coverage from 888Live Barcelona as Lee Davy sits down with the former World Series of Poker Main Event Champion, Martin Jacobson, to talk about how it feels to enter the lion’s den after being the lion, why he isn’t playing more high roller events, and more.

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There is a $100,000 event going on at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) right now. These days, you look at the roll call and are surprised if you don’t see the name of Dominik Nitsche. But he’s not the only 888Poker Ambassador you feel could punch his weight in these things with enough study time and the right bankroll situation. Chris Moorman is one, and I caught up the other one during an 888 team meeting during 888Live Barcelona.

888Live Barcelona: Martin Jacobson on the WSOP; HR politics and moreLadies and gentlemen, here is the former champion of the world, Martin Jacobson. 

How does it feel to return to the World Series knowing you have already destroyed the End Boss? 

“It was a few years ago now, but it’s still a special feeling. It’s great , and I still have the urge obviously to do it again.”

It doesn’t change?

“It doesn’t change at all; it’s like I haven’t won it.”

It was one of the most critical moments in your career, but you were already an established face in the game. Is there anything that changed because you won it?

“It’s impossible to answer, but there’s probably a few things that have happened that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t won. Opportunities like the sponsorship with 888, for example. Some other opportunities where I’ve been invited to private events, stuff like that.”

When you say private events, you mean poker games?

“No, I mean charity events, sporting events, that’s been fun, but other than that, I feel my life is pretty similar to what it was previously. It’s funny if you look at the previous winners, most of them have come out of nowhere, it’s their biggest achievement. It’s my biggest achievement too, but it wasn’t life-changing for me. I’m still playing now in the same tournament with the same people; it was just one of those huge achievements.”

 I’m surprised you said the 888 deal because, for me, you were top quality sponsorship material without being the World Champion. Did it ever get on your nerves that you didn’t get that big deal?

“Yeah, to be honest, it did back in the day, but once I realised that, I gave up. Even when I made the final table I reached out to a couple of companies that I would be interested working with, some came back, and some didn’t, but the offers I got weren’t that exciting, so at that point, I just gave up. Even after I won, it was quite dry, but I don’t take it personally, it’s more like bad timing. It’s always good to win the Main Event, but it’s bad timing regarding sponsorship deals because poker, in terms of a marketing perspective, isn’t what it used to be back in the day when you made the final table and earned a million dollar deal.”

888Live Barcelona: Martin Jacobson on the WSOP; HR politics and moreWe’re not going back to the million deals but the recent rise of partypoker is spicing things up a little, don’t you think?

“Yeah, it’s very exciting, and it’s reignited, not just me but other pro’s motivation to keep playing, keep striving to be a professional poker player. Whereas only a year or two ago, poker was kinda’ dying, it was definitely on a massive decline. I feel like we are seeing a different side of things where poker companies are again investing in the poker market.”

PokerStars and partypoker each have some heavy hitters, but I’ve got to be honest I would pit the 888Poker team in 8-handed action against either of them.

“Yes, I’d say especially these days because right now if you look at most teams, especially PokerStars, I couldn’t even name five players who are sponsored by PokerStars anymore because it’s all low stake guys who have 10,000+ followers on Twitch. It’s not what it used to be, like with Full Tilt for example with all the Red Pros.

You never got to become a Red Pro then?

“No, never, not even a Red Pro.”

I was in Montenegro for the Triton Poker Series a fortnight ago, thinking about the players who could compete at this level but don’t for a variety of reasons. You are one of those players. Why don’t we see you in these games?

“That’s a good question. It’s something I have been asking myself too when I was watching the Super High Roller Bowl the other day. I’m not going to lie, that looked like a lot of fun but it’s also a strong commitment playing in all those events because in the past my ambition has always been to only play those Super High Roller events where I really feel like playing them and not just play all games by default, but I think nowadays as poker has become a lot, lot tougher only in the last two years it’s not that great of a strategy because you are losing a significant edge not to play all those events because you are missing out on so much information that occurs in each of these events and it’s hard to keep up and stay competitive because you need to play 100% of those events.

“The buy-ins are like $150,000 or even a million at some point, that’s a lot of money. It’s clear that none of the players that are playing these has 100% of their action, not even close, some players have 0% of their action, they are just pocketing the markup so to me it’s like whenever I played one of those I have had a decent chunk, probably more than I should considering my bankroll. It’s also a lot of politics. I guess in a way because you have to be regarded as a top player to be able to sell action, you have to have investors with deep pockets that are continually wanting to invest in you because otherwise when you show up to Montenegro, all of a sudden they are like ‘Oh no we heard you played this hand badly, we’re not interested’.

You mention the importance of networking, it’s super important at all levels in the game, right?

“For sure, I have a lot of friends who played those tournaments and don’t play anymore. That has happened, they misplayed one hand, or the information got altered along the way, but once it reached the backers, the backers were like, “We’re not going to invest in this guy.”

So these are backers that know poker?

“To some extent, not everyone, but what they do is ask the other players, ‘what do you think about this player? What would you pay for him?’ If they didn’t think you played well in the last tournament then they will go and tell the backer, and then the backer will make an assumption on that information, so it could be very selective depending on who they ask.”

888Live Barcelona: Martin Jacobson on the WSOP; HR politics and moreI sense a paradox with these things. I imagine you would want to play for the challenge of competing with the best consistently, but then players like Dominik talk about how close the edges are and the importance of luck and that diminishes the impact of the challenge, surely.

“Sure yeah, I mean there is always going to be challenges, even in a Super High Roller, there is still a decent gap between the very, very elite players and the pros who aren’t elite. However, it’s your responsibility to do your homework and put in as much time to study as playing. It is a full commitment I mean you also have to travel to all these places; you have to go to Macau, you have to go to Manila, to Montenegro wherever and then you have to cut out some other events.”

Back to networking again, and I don’t think you could make it as a professional poker player without networking skills these days.

“You can, if your happy playing smaller stuff and you get on a good run. If you’re good enough, but it was a lot easier back in the day.  Even this tournament yesterday, it’s a completely different game these days, even the recreational players are talking about ranges, blockers and different run outs and stuff.”

What risk aren’t you taking?

“I feel like I take quite a bit of risk considering I keep playing poker but it depends how you consider risk. It could be considered risky not doing investments and stuff. That could be irresponsible in itself. I try to find a balance right now, playing poker and doing other stuff I enjoy like boxing, working out, travelling, spending time with friends and investing looking at the business side of things because that’s an area I’m very interested in and eventually want to get into.”

What work have you been doing for Raising For Effective Giving lately?

“I haven’t done much lately, to be honest, but we are going to have a meeting in Vegas. We have a campaign for the WSOP, where we are requesting players to pledge 2% of their net winnings over the course of the summer. We are going to have a few different campaigns in Vegas during the WSOP, and hopefully, we will get some more signups.”

How does poker make you feel after all these years?

“Well a lot of ups and downs, but overall it still excites me, and I still love it!”