A Little Help from My Friends: Support in Poker



The support network one has in poker is a big part of any player’s success. Every poker player, whether professional or beginner, male or female, needs to know there are people rooting for their success. One of my greatest poker regrets occurred in 2004 when Charity, my wife at the time, called me as I was about to play a satellite for a seat in the WSOP’s Main Event. Charity was playing in the Ladies’ WSOP event and called very excited. She said, “Robert, I am the chip leader and very nervous. What should I do?” Charity had only been playing for about four years, and this was a very big deal for her.

I debated whether I should play the satellite or go support her in her event. I decided she was doing so well that she did not need me, and it is a decision I have always regretted.  Satellites run all the time, but that was a milestone for Charity.  I should have been there cheering her on. She finished close to the money, but I blame myself for not giving her support when she reached out.

I have noticed that I play much better if others are there giving me words of encouragement. Some may not believe in the power of positive energy, but I believe it is a strong force. I like to say the more people railing me, the better. We see proof of this every year when ESPN televises the final table of the WSOP Main Event.  Watching the crowd cheering on their favorite players reinforces my belief that sending positive energy sure seems to work.

Jackie Wesley, a poker player and member of Facebook group “Poker Wins, Goals & Dreams,” described a recent tournament experience in which she was the only female: “I was focused on my game when all of a sudden, I felt people behind me . . . All I could think of was I really need to make some good decisions as I did not want to let them down. I realized that support at the table and off the table keeps me wanting to strive to be a better poker player. It isn’t about the money for me; it’s about the people.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Poker is a social game, and one of my greatest joys is introducing new people to it. Not every player has a professional poker player as her mentor like Charity did, but everyone needs to learn poker in a supportive environment because a poker table can be a very intimidating place, especially for women.  As Donna Blevins, a poker coach and writer for BigGirlPoker.com, says: “When women learn to play poker, their biggest challenge is most often lack of confidence. . . . I learned how to set my intention and discover my confidence at the table.” This confidence learned at the table cannot help but spill into one’s life. But where does one get her start in poker?

Many learned from their family playing around the kitchen table while others got their start online. Still others prefer the experience of learning in a more formal environment. This is where poker schools come in. I was instrumental in forming a poker university at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles at one time, and today, Roger Rodd’s University of Poker at Commerce Casino continues that tradition. In fact, I am teaching an introductory Omaha class there January 15, 2014. Nancy Birnbaum co-founded the U.S. Women’s Poker Academy specifically to teach women the skills required to succeed at the tables.

While schools can teach beginners how to put their feet under the poker table and begin to play, that is just the first step.  To take one’s game to the next level requires study and practice, and resources like books and magazines are invaluable.  Some are geared specifically towards women like Mike Caro’s book, Poker for Women: A Course in Destroying Male Opponents at Poker…and Beyond.  MaryAnn Morrison, an advocate for gender equality in poker and founder of Woman Poker Player magazine, recognizes “that mentoring and learning from other women has produced the greatest results in morale boosting and enabling success.” Now an e-magazine, Woman Poker Player attracted 500,000 unique visitors in its first year proving that women are a growing, but often overlooked, demographic in poker.

 I read somewhere that 30% of online poker players are women, yet 95% of live tournament players are men.  We need to ask ourselves why this huge disparity exists. Maybe we are not making women feel comfortable at the table or maybe we don’t give them enough support. Whatever the reason, when we do come up with the answer, we can change the face of poker forever.





Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Follow Robert on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.  Robert is available for consulting, marketing or teaching. Reach him at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.


Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg

Over the past few years, entry fees for poker tournaments with medium-sized buy-ins have increased from around 10% of the buy-in amount to as much as 25% and 30%, and sometimes even more for smaller tournaments. These fees can add up to as much as a first-place payoff for the casino, and that’s too many golden eggs in one basket.

A typical $300 buy-in tournament before the 2003 poker boom cost a player $330 to enter, with $300 going to the prize pool and $30 to the house. Often, each player would get a free meal, a hat, or other casino-branded item with their entry. If 200 players entered, the casino made $6,000, and first place paid about $20,000. In a recent major multi-day tournament, first place paid just under $250,000, and the casino’s takeout was nearly the same.

This trend takes too much money out of players’ pockets compared to other casino offerings. Poker tournaments now have a higher takeout than horse racing, instead of being only slightly higher than sports betting and table games. This has a negative impact on the gaming industry as a whole, as players enter fewer brick-and-mortar tournaments and turn to other entertainment choices, or, if they have the option, play online poker instead. In order to retain players and acquire new ones, casinos need to strike a better balance between entry fees and buy-ins, and give players more value for their money.

While some casinos still provide tournament entrants with vouchers, food coupons or promotional items, most give nothing back to the player. That’s a lost opportunity to build player relationships and casino loyalty. Poker players have many choices when it comes to spending their hard-earned money, and most enjoy games besides poker as well. Casinos should rethink their marketing strategies and return to using poker tournaments as a low-rake proposition or even a loss leader to encourage both new and returning players to spend their gaming dollars at their property.

Online poker tournaments have low entry fees, require no tokes and are available at the click of a mouse, while brick-and-mortar tournament players have expenses above and beyond the high entry fees. In addition to the extra time invested, live players also pay for transportation, food and lodging, and are expected to toke an additional 3% after winning a tournament. That adds up quickly, and when the entry fees alone for three or four tournaments equal an entire tournament buy-in, we’re killing the goose too.

Another challenge our industry faces is tournaments that offer too many rebuys and re-entries. These multi-day events, with as many as 20 qualifying sessions, dilute the fields and reduce the importance of skill. When deep-pocketed players have the opportunity to enter the same tournament over and over again if they fail, playing good poker becomes secondary to getting lucky. I’ve seen players walk away from a short stack at the last re-entry opportunity so they could start fresh with a full stack when play resumes. That’s not what tournament poker is all about. These events may have marquee value, but they aren’t good for individual players or poker as a whole.

In 2006, I started the Midnight Madness tournament at the Normandie Casino, attracting a core group of players. They drove from all over town to play, but as it was a no-limit tournament, players occasionally lost their chips on the first hand and wanted a second chance after their late, long drive. I decided to allow players to re-enter, but only at the break. If they did re-enter, they came in as a new player – full stack, full buy-in and full entry fee. This gave players a second chance, but not a third, fourth or fifth. By allowing only one re-entry, and allowing it only at the break, I was able to maintain the integrity of the game and keep the players happy. With this model, deep-pocket players can’t buy their way to the money with multiple crapshoots, and players who can’t afford to or don’t want to re-enter still get a fair shot.

For amateurs, live tournaments are a way to gain experience, enjoy the thrill of poker, and have a chance to win. Professional players are always looking for an edge, and gravitate towards events where they can use their considerable skills to exploit weaker players. Unlimited re-entry tournaments give amateurs less value and a smaller chance of winning, which discourages them from playing future tournaments. When those players leave the pool, the difficulty level increases for professionals, and multiple re-entries reduce their edge even further. When that edge disappears, pros will hold out for better opportunities, including online poker.

We can use tournament poker to attract and retain a quality player base, but we need to re-examine the fee structure, and make rebuy and re-entry events an occasional diversion instead of a poker staple. If we do, we’ll help ensure the long-term health of our favorite game.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing and creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino, both in 1995.

In the year 2000, Robert created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker, and in 2002, he created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the internet. He is currently working with his new companies, Crown Digital Games, developers of unique mobile apps, and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group. Robert has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry.

Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert can also be reached at robertchipburnerturner@gmail.com.

Edited by Steve Schwab (thatwriter@hotmail.com)