DeepStacks has unlikely roots. It was formed as a side project in Florida.
Owner Chris Torina was working full-time as a law enforcement officer in Florida. Throughout his years of working as an undercover narcotics detective and SWAT officer, he spent some of his spare time unwinding from the stress of his day job by playing poker. His years of providing instruction for other officers combined with his poker skills to form DeepStacks University with online training courses, which then grew into the DeepStacks Live seminar series and on to the DeepStacks Poker Tour.
That may seem like just yesterday for Torina due to the meteoric rise of his passion project that turned into a career. His DSPT series partnered with the WPT in 2014, and WPTDeepStacks was born. That tour started with six events in the first season, grew to 16 in the second, and just announced Season 3 to start in January 2016 with 18 stops from Los Angeles to Malta and from Jacksonville to Calgary.
Step 1: Create a Brand
A passion for the game combined with a driving force to succeed pushed Torina to sell his brand with vigor and confidence. In just a few years, his DeepStacks Live company went from an idea to more than 75 events by the end of 2011. That type of initiative was scarce in the United States live poker tournament market, and Torina knew it. Not even Black Friday was enough to slow him down.
“We started out doing poker camps, but the live and online training business dried up after Black Friday, though it was on the demise before that anyway,” Torina recalled. “We were bringing the big names – Mike Matusow, Michael Mizrachi – to poker training events, and casinos wanted them to play their tournaments. So I decided to make those events our events, and DeepStacks Poker Tour was born.”
His tour was different from others because of the unique aspects of the events he hosted. Not only did he guarantee the presence of recognizable pros, he also offered live streaming of his events and offered tournaments in the United States as well as in Europe and Latin America.
Step 2: Expand the Brand
Torina’s then-girlfriend (now wife) Kat was a veteran of the poker business, having worked at the World Poker Tour for many years. As Torina was pondering the numerous ways he wanted to grow DSPT in 2013, Kat suggested he meet with Adam Pliska of the WPT. They met, and Torina explained his company and visions for the future, which focused on the mid-major poker industry with $1K and $1,500 buy-in tournaments with stellar organization, schedules, and structures. While the WPT focused on $3,500 buy-ins and higher, Torina wanted to switch the focus on the masses. Pliska liked the idea, but the two lost contact.
A reconnection by way of a wish for happy holidays to Pliska in December 2013 led to a meeting in January 2014, staff meetings at WPT, and WPTDeepStacks was born.
“We were really focused on $1,100 buy-in tournaments with a cap of $2,500 on the season-ending championship event, giving players the WPT experience through DeepStacks live event services, which included marketing, live updates, behind-the-scenes services, and an all-encompassing encounter with poker,” Torina said.
It was a hit. WPTDeepStacks replaced the WPT’s regional series of live tournaments, and the tour just wrapped up its second season with a successful bang.
The DSPT Championship was the product of a new partnership with the Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The lead-up to the tournament garnered excitement, and the result was a record field of 567 players and total prize pool of more than $1.2 million, the largest of the WPTDeepStacks to date. The entire 11-day poker series offered 10 events, garnered 2,578 entries, and paid out more than $1.8 million in all.
By the time Rodney Ramalho took his winner’s photo and collected his CA$209,152 prize money for the victory, Torina was already putting the finishing touches on the Season 3 schedule. There is truly no rest for those motivated like Torina.
What an amazing year for @WPTDeepStacks. TY to all of our casino partners & players that support us! Looking fwd to a great Season 3!— Chris Torina (@ChrisTorina) December 8, 2015
Step 3: Know Your Customer
It may be Torina’s vision that has accelerated DSPT success, but it is the customer who is at the core of company decisions. His hope has always been to cater to the recreational customer and all who felt left out of higher buy-in tournaments, and he implements that model into every step of growth.
Whether blue-collar or white-collar men and women, WPTDeepStacks players often “circle our events on their calendars and work with significant others and family members to make time to play our tournaments,” Torina explained. “They are our foundation, and we make sure to service them with quality events in their local markets.”
The combination of larger tournament fields and the WPT name has offered more opportunities for expansion of the player base. “In addition to an ever-growing influx of recreational players, the fields are now complimented by professional players. Pro players, how we organize our events from a schedule and a structure perspective, and that organization caters to them. We now have a really great mixture of professional and recreational players at our events.”
Another part of DSPT that makes it unique is the hands-on approach taken by Torina. “The definition of partnership really comes out when we work with casinos and players,” he said. “The opportunity I have to be the owner and president allows very personal relationships with my counterparts, whether a CEO, casino manager, or poker room shift supervisor.”
It is not uncommon to see Torina walking the floor during a tournament, checking on staff, and making sure customers are having positive experiences. It’s also a fairly common occurrence that Torina spends time with his team and that of the casino at restaurants and sports arenas. Those personal relationships are one of the core building blocks of the DSPT, and that translates into experiences that create bonds with the customers and DSPT, as well as customers and casinos.
Step 4: Do Not Rest
That Season 3 schedule for WPTDeepStacks was officially released on December 17, just days after Season 2 wrapped.
Action will begin at Hustler Casino in Los Angeles with a collection of tournaments from January 2-11. The Main Event will be a $1,100 buy-in tournament with a $300K guarantee beginning on January 7.
From there, action moves to Hollywood Florida for a $1 million guaranteed Main Event and then to the Dragonara Casino in Malta, all before the first month of the new year is over. The tour will head to Pennsylvania, Nevada, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, Iowa, California, and back to Canada several times before the end of 2016. That finale will again be held at Grey Eagle in Calgary, this time with a $2,500 buy-in Main Event and $500K guarantee.
There was no hiding Torina’s excitement about what is to come. “We’re going to offer close to $4.5 million in Main Event guarantees in 2016, and we even have events booked all the way through 2019 with several deals locked up for four or five years.”
“We’ve expanded our partnership with the Seminoles to include the Tampa property, and we’ll be doing three 2016 events with Seminole in total. We’ve extended our relationship with bestbet, and since Florida is such a huge market, we have four events there next year. We’re adding four more Canadian events, and we’re moving into new markets like Arizona and Oklahoma. Players have consistently asked us to host more events in the Midwest US, so we will do just that.”
For those who believe the live poker market is in trouble, it only takes a conversation with Torina to see that innovation, healthy partnerships, and customer satisfaction can overcome the darkest of Fridays.