Five Thoughts: A Greenstein Always Pays his Debts

Posted at 22:00 2012-08-08 by Rich Ryan

Last week, when PokerStars acquired Full Tilt Poker, a handful of stories began to develop. First, players wanted to know how and when they would receive their account balances on Full Tilt. That one was easy for “Rest of World” players, whose account balances will become available within 90 days, but U.S. players will have to wait for the Department of Justice to unveil its payment plan.

Another story is the relaunch of Full Tilt. Currently, PokerStars doesn’t plan to acquire licensing in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, and Estonia, but in countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Russia, Full Tilt will be up and running come November. Posters in the TwoPlusTwo community want to know whether or not Full Tilt will continue its rakeback program or adopt a VPP system like PokerStars, and there has been speculation that players will be capable of sending site-to-site transfers between PokerStars and Full Tilt. When asked about site-to-site transfers on the TwoPlusTwo Pokercast, Lee Jones, the head of Home Games for PokerStars, said, “It’s certainly in our interest for players to be able to do that, so we’ll work hard to find an acceptable solution.”

There’s also the issue of purchased/sold Full Tilt accounts after Black Friday. Some players had their entire bankrolls on Full Tilt, and when their money was frozen, they had to sell at a discounted rate. Now the players who sold their account balances will be responsible for repaying whoever bought them. This has the potential to be a disaster.

We’re going to touch upon a different story in this week’s Five Thoughts — player loans. In February, Group Bernard Tapie attorney Behnam Dayanim claimed that the debts of a few high-stakes poker players to Full Tilt were holding up a pending deal. According to Dayanim, Phil Ivey, David Benyamine, Erick Lindgren, Mike Matusow, Layne Flack, and Barry Greenstein owed Full Tilt approximately $18 million. At the time, Greenstein told PokerNews that he owed Full Tilt $400,000, but he wouldn’t just give it to GBT.

“I just had this feeling like if I dealt with them, they'd be real easy to deal with, money would go to them, and then I could just see them totally disassociating from the U.S. players. Then at some point, the American players would come to me and say, ‘Nice going. You gave Tapie money. Why didn't you look out for me? Now there's no money left for U.S. players.’”

Nice read, Barry.

Greenstein plans to pay his debt now that Full Tilt is in safe hands, but what about the other players?

1. Collecting $18 million

Collecting money from a group of people is terribly difficult — just ask anyone who has sold action for multiple tournaments. Seldom is the money collected on time, and when it is, it takes a Herculean effort to track everybody down.

Such is the case for the $18 million owed to Full Tilt by Ivey, Benyamine, Lindgren, Matusow, Flack, and Greenstein. On Tuesday, when the deal went through, Greenstein posted the following on TwoPlusTwo:

The last line is especially interesting, and knowing PokerStars, they’ve already thought of a few ways to collect the money — nobody watches $18 million burn to ashes without trying to fan the flames.

There are a couple of ways to coax these players into paying back their debts, including sponsorship deals. For a player like Lindgren, who was allegedly very dependent on his Full Tilt checks coming in the mail, you can sign him to a limited sponsorship deal. For example, if Lindgren owes Full Tilt $1 million and his sponsorship deal is worth $800,000 per year, make him take $600,000 per year for five years. This will allow Lindgren to play in as many fantasy football leagues as he wants, and PokerStars will eventually accrue the $1 million it is owed.

Lindgren may not be the best example because his popularity took a huge hit, but this plan suits players like Matusow and Benyamine perfectly.

For someone like Ivey, who allegedly plays on PokerStars under the handle “RaiseOnce,” lock his accounts until he pays the debt. I’m quite certain that Ivey, arguable the biggest action junkie in the poker world, would swallow the loss to be able to play in the Ivey Thunderdome once again. Likewise, for players like Lindgren who need to rebuild their rolls after the events of Black Friday, they need access to the tables to do so — live poker is too slow and not as profitable as grinding online.

The last option that comes to mind is legal action, but after the last 15 months of drama, it’s probably not in PokerStars’ interest to waste any more time or money in court.

In a perfect world, the players who owe Full Tilt money would take Greenstein’s lead and pay back their debts. Unfortunately, this is far from a perfect world, and none of the players who were loaned money by Full Tilt are Lannisters.

2. Negreanu’s ranting again

Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu finally broke his silence and released a new edition of “The Rant,”, which was formally known as “The Weekly Rant.” Because of the craziness of the World Series of Poker, Negreanu was unable to film as much as he’d hoped, and rather that give his audience false hope, he has decided to just film and upload sporadically rather than weekly. This week’s topics include the sale of Full Tilt, a WSOP wrap up, homosexuality, Breaking Bad, and badminton.

Yes, badminton.

Regarding the purchase of Full Tilt, Negreanu states, “I’ve never been more proud to be associated with PokerStars. I know the company is run like a well-oiled machine from top to bottom…Had PokerStars not stepped in, it seems virtually impossible that anybody was every going to get any money out of their accounts.”

Pretty standard stuff from a company man like Negreanu. He goes on to discuss his WSOP, which was fairly uneventful outside of a final table appearance in Event 5: $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em, and called it “disappointing.”

Everything is all well and good until Negreanu flies way off the radar and starts talking about the antigay Chick-fil-A (which he pronounces “chick-filla” rather than “chick-fill-ae”) story that surfaced in the United States last week. Look, Negreanu is great for the game because he’s outspoken, and he has every right to say whatever he wants whenever he wants, but the people at PokerStars must be cringing while watching their most respected pro analyze biblical text on YouTube.

Personally, Negreanu deserves a ton of credit for being unafraid to speak his mind on such a polarizing issue. His fearlessness is admirable. However, I’m afraid that one of these days he’s going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and it’s going to negatively affect him in a big way. People get very sensitive when it comes to religion and politics, and in the grand scheme of things, Negreanu is less protected than say a player in the NBA or the NFL.

Having an opinion is awesome, and too few poker players are vocal about paramount issues within the poker world, but this issue is a bit dicey. Negreanu has stones, but he should be careful.

3. Ultimate Beat

Scott Bell, a former professional poker player who was affected directly by the Ultimate Bet/Absolute Poker scandal, has spent years investigating what really happened on the two sites between 2004 and 2008. He teamed up with DoubleHead Pictures to produce a documentary about the scandal titled Ultimate Beat, and "+]a teaser was released on Thursday, Aug. 2.

Bell has clearly worked hard over the last few years researching the issue, gathering information, lining up interviews, and filming key subjects, but the “trailer” is incomplete. First, we have to identify the most important demographic for an informational documentary about the UB/AP scandal. The majority of people in the poker industry know there were two websites operated by the same company and that they stole from their players. However, if you visited random home games across the world and asked about UB/AP, few people would know anything. A majority of them might not even know what Ultimate Bet or Absolute Poker are.

A documentary like this has to target the same demographic that watches Tuesday night broadcasts of the WSOP, not online poker grinders who are privy to the ins and outs of the poker world. If the average person was channel surfing and came across this trailer, he or she would change the channel immediately. To start, the narrator is drawn out and boring, the images aren’t visually appealing, there are too many talking heads, and there’s very limited B-roll. If Bell truly has years and years of research, then he’s really dropped the ball if this trailer is a true representation of the documentary as a whole.

Conversely, Jay Rozenkrantz did the right thing by not releasing BOOM: The Incredible True Story of Online Poker too early. Rather than release an abridged, pre-Black Friday version of the film that isn’t relevant anymore, they put the project on hold and redeveloped the entire film. These things take time, and if they’re rushed or done incorrectly, then all of that hard work goes to waste.

The people outside of the poker world need to know about the UB/AP scandal, but it also needs to be presented to them in the right manner. Perhaps releasing an underdeveloped documentary less than a decade removed from the issue isn’t the best course of action for Bell and his crew.

4. Michael Phelps and poker

Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals (18 of which are gold). He’s also an avid poker player, making regular visits to Parx Casino in Pennsylvania, and the Borgata, among other casinos in Atlantic City. Phelps has been connected to several professional players, including Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Jeff Gross, Phil Hellmuth, and fellow swimmer Phil Collins. Gross was even Phelps’ roommate in Baltimore, Maryland.

After winning one of four gold medals in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Phelps took to Twitter to thank his friends and fans. Ironically, a large number of them were poker players:

Of course, one of Phelps’ biggest fans is U.S. President Barack Obama, but check out who the Baltimore Bullet tweeted at right after he sent a message to the Commander in Chief:

USA Today ranked the top 15 members of this Twitter list. Obama was number one followed closely by Lil Wayne, but Matt Stout (6th), Paul Volpe (7th), Josh Brikis (9th), Jennifer Harman (13th), and Christian Harder (15th) all received love.

Phelps announced yesterday that he was retiring, and I would wager that poker will play a part in his future. PokerStars is very happy to have Rafa Nadal on its Team SportStar roster, and I’m sure there’s room for the most decorated Olympian in history. Whatever role he plays in the poker community, we’ll certainly welcome him. He’s a perfect bridge from the poker world into the real world, and, hopefully, one day he’ll invite plenty of casual players to take the leap and deposit online.

5. Bring on more Russians!

This thought was going to go into last week’s version of the column, but with the purchase of Full Tilt, it was put on the back burner.

After 10 days of low-stakes raging on PokerStars, MicroMillions II came to a close last week. The winner of the Main Event was Argentinean “SoyDelGlobo”; however, even with his $157,218.68 cash, Argentina only netted $230,700.44 during the series. The country with the most money won was Russia with $1,119,518.12, followed by Germany ($1,009,509.88), the United Kingdom ($696,038.10), and Canada ($605,856.05). Russia also led the world in cashes by country with 24,046 (4,357 more than second-place Germany), final tables per country with 130 (30 more than second-place Germany), entrants by country with 211,968 (57,009 more then second-place Germany), and events won by country with 18 (five more than second-place Germany).

I want to believe there is a poker training facility in the heart of Russia that’s looping the Ivan Drogo/Rocky Balboa training montage from Rocky IV while great poker players are being handcrafted by Alexander Kravchenko, Vladimir Shchlemev, and Vitaly Lunkin, but that’s just a little bit too far-fetched. Most of Russia’s success has to do with the size of its population, which is nearly double Germany’s population, but there’s still something to be said about the quality of the players — Brazil has 50 million more people than Russia, yet only two Brazilians won MicroMillions bracelets, and Brazil ranked sixth in money won by country.

Along with Kravchenko, Shchlemev, and Lunkin, the successes of Andrey Zaichenko, Alexander Kostritsyn, Ivan Demidov, Max Lykov, Kirill Gerasimov, Andrey Pateychuk, Leonid Bilokur and more have helped bolster the game in Russia. According to Hendon Mob, there are 19 players with over $1 million in career tournament earnings and 163 players with at least six figures. Only one Brazilian player, one Indian player, and two Chinese players have over $1 million in career tournament earnings.

The rise of Russian poker players is sure to continue over the next few years, and it will be interesting to see if one player in particular can step out and assume the role as a leader or an ambassador.

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