When Full Tilt decided to drop Gus Hansen, Viktor Blom and Tom Dwan nobody would have anticipated that the former online poker room giant would hire another professional poker player to help them with their business model.
Then they hired Marc Kennedy.
What prompted this change of heart, what is Marc’s role, and how did they even become aware of the incredible talents, charm and charisma that the man possesses?
Let’s find out shall we?
Why did Full Tilt choose you for the role of Player Ambassador?
“I guess you can call me an organic signing. Full Tilt has been the number one site I have played on for the vast majority of my career. When they brought out the Black Card competition I gave it everything I could and managed to win it every single time it ran.
“Whilst I was doing that I was providing Full Tilt with a lot of feedback in terms of what I thought they could do better. When you win the Black Card competition you are assigned a VIP Account Manager. I would fire off e-mails to him and they would get forwarded to the relevant people.
“Over time that progressed to me speaking direct to Shyam, the Poker Room Manager at Full Tilt. Then I went to Dublin and sat down to have some honest conversations with them regarding what I thought they were doing well, and not doing well. I paid for the trip myself. You can get a lot more done in a face-to-face conversation, rather than playing e-mail volleyball.
“I went across at the start of this year and that was the beginning of us thinking about working together. Then Full Tilt decided they were going to be working towards a recreational model. They didn’t want to sign classic pros like they had previously. I felt I had a lot to offer behind the scenes with my experience of being an online player and someone who played a lot on their site.
“From their point of view they get a lot of data feedback but they don’t know how games form, or how the Rush player pools escalate from small to large, for example. If you are not physically playing those games it’s difficult to understand what is happening on the site. They thought the feedback I was providing was very valuable.
“I met Dominic Mansour and I have a good working relationship with him. We gel well. Over the last few months we both wanted to work with each other and we have found a way to make that happen, that fits well with the recreational player model that we are slowly rolling out at the moment.”
What are your roles and responsibilities?
“Generally speaking there are two sides to the role. The primary role is being available to garner the opinion of the wider community and be available for players to converse with via Twitch, Twitter and 2+2. I am the person they go to who they know will immediately understand what they are talking about because I am one of them.
“I live and breathe poker. My role is to be there for people. To be someone they go to, who they respect on a poker level, but also has the game knowledge that allows them to express what is going right or wrong for them. I then soak that up and convey that to the Full Tilt management in any way that they understand.”
What are your metrics for success?
“The feedback from players is important, as is the number of players on the site. There is a player ambassador side and content production side. From the Twitch side absolute viewer numbers are important, but how many we convert into Full Tilt players is important: new and former players. We will keep a close eye on that.
“On the player ambassador side of it the feedback comes from the players and how they feel the changes are being considered and pursued by Full Tilt. A company only has a limited amount of resources and not everything can be implemented. Sometimes great ideas have to be passed over. We have to find the right balance between what works from a business perspective and what works for the players.”
How were you able to win the Rush-High Leaderboard five times in succession?
“I dedicated myself to it in a way that I have never dedicated myself to anything since I started playing poker. When I first found it I fell in love with it and my passion for the game drove me to get better. I worked as hard as I could to get good. This competition came up and it reignited that passion.
“I realized that there was a bigger opportunity for me here. I feel like I treated the achievement differently that the other people who had won it. I saw it as more of a prize and I felt a responsibility to act as how I thought a pro should act for a site. Full Tilt really responded to the way that I behaved in that context.
“It was not about the money. I felt on a personal level that there had been a lot of people who had been signed by sites that could have done a lot more. I went out of my way to be available for people on the forums. If I saw someone typing into the forums about a problem with Full Tilt I would try and solve it for them. I think a lot of people who won it had the attitude that there weren’t being paid to be a site rep, where as I saw it as part of the package in itself. If I had that red name then I didn’t want people playing on the site and having a bad experience because that reflected on me.”
Describe what dedication means to you in more detail
“The very first run of the competition I won was easier than the others. There was a lot of work but it was relatively easier than all the others. The second one I won was tough. The guy who won the first low stakes leaderboard called Trickshot625 decided to step up and try and win the high stakes leaderboard.
“That started in January and in the first few days I didn’t realize what he was trying to do. He went in Day 1 fully prepared working 15-16hrs per day and he took a big lead. Initially, I was going to let him have it. I went to my girlfriend at the time – who is now my wife – and said I don’t think I can compete with this guy. I decided after only a few days that I was going to let him have it.
‘I could see in her face in the time that she was surprised. She had never seen me quit so easily and this was only four days into the competition. That led to me taking a long hard look at myself. I reminded myself that there was more to this competition and there would be opportunities if I kept winning it. I woke up on the 5 Jan and said, ‘this guy is not going to take it away from me.’
“I found a level of work ethic that I knew was inside of me but I had never produced. I knew I was a better player than him – he is a very good player – but I knew I just needed to play more hours than him. We had this mad battle for three weeks where we were playing 16-18hrs 8-tables of Rush – it was mental. We were going at it.
“One day I get a message from the VIP Manager saying that Trickshot wanted to talk to me. We hooked up and he suggested that we agreed that the runner up would get $10k and the winner would get the 100% rakeback (back then it was winner takes all). I knew I had him when he said that. I knew he was struggling. I turned him down and from that moment I had the extra motivation I needed. A few days after that he messaged me and said, ‘you have got it. I am done.’”
What parts of your life fell by the wayside during this battle with Trickshot?
“Everything. My wife was working and quit her job to help me. I didn’t have time to cook my own meals, I have three dogs and couldn’t walk them. I didn’t even shower some days. It was literally, ‘if I have 15-minutes off that’s 15-minutes that he would gain on me.’
“When he decided to quit he was still 3,000 points ahead of me, but I was gaining. He had an 11,000 point lead at one point. I was wondering if he was leveling me. I kept pushing and instead of 16hr days I was doing 12-14 hrs. and then after I had a big enough lead that no one would catch me I took my foot off the gas a little.”
What tips and techniques did you use to avoid procrastination?
“I was incredibly focused on the end goal. I have a very supportive group of friends and family. They have never once during the Black Card competition made me feel bad for missing events with them. It was a very specific focus on the end goal that I wanted to achieve.
“My relationship with my wife suffered tremendously during this time. I genuinely feared I would wake up one day and she would be gone. We didn’t have a relationship. It sounds terrible but she was more like a slave than my girlfriend. She cooked everything for me, brought me tea and water when I needed it.
“I would not have achieved anything without Kym. She has given up any sort of personal ambition for me. During my first run she was training to be a dog groomer; she loves animals. We had started negotiations to buy a shop for dog grooming, and were supposed to take over the lease at the beginning of Feb of that year, when we pulled out because of the Black Card competition. That was a dream for her and she sacrificed that for me.
“She is my PA now and I pay her a salary. She supports everything that I do. It’s amazing looking back to see what she gave up. You don’t realize it at the time because you are so focused. Even now talking to you about it brings tears to my eyes.
“The thing is with poker is it is so brutal. It is hard for your partner much more so than the person playing. When you play that many hands your win rate becomes very small. The variance is greatly increased. A combination of exhaustion and variance is brutal. There were times when I was in tears and she felt completely helpless. She couldn’t take over my work. When you are running bad she had to sit there and watch me go through it feeling completely helpless. In those situations she picks me up gives me a hug, makes me a cup of tea and it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.
What does the world look like to you?
“I see a lot of people who are unhappy with their lives. I am very grateful for the opportunities that poker has given me and the chance to live my life on my own terms and I don’t have to answer to anyone. People around me have normal lives: kids, jobs that they hate and I walk around and see a lot of unhappy people. I am so blessed. Particularly the past 7-8 years that I have played poker. I have been very happy. I wake up and am happy for everything that I have got and the freedom that I enjoy. I see a lot of people waking up and dreading their lives.”
What parts of your life are you working on and trying to improve?
“I made the decision a long time ago in my life that I wouldn’t do things that made me unhappy even if this meant pissing people off. Especially with family. Initially they found this hard to deal with. I went to Australia to live for 5 years and I came back and my family expected me to be the same person and I wasn’t. I had grown up a lot and made a decision that I wouldn’t do things that made me unhappy. I try to live in the moment and not worry about past and future events. I think sometimes people find that almost rude. I guess I am a very polarizing person: people either like me and respect my attitude on life, or they think I am arrogant. I am a very humble person, but because I choose to live life on my terms it sometimes comes across like I don’t care about other people’s lives.”
Give me a few pieces of golden advice that have served you well during your life
“I think you have to love yourself for the person you are: for all the good stuff and all the faults you have. Be aware of both sides of you, that you are who you are but you can always strive to be better. That sense of self evolution that you are always striving for a higher level. In order to achieve that it’s very important that you travel and experience as many places and cultures as you possibly can. If you only stay in one place and only experience one type of people you will struggle to live a fulfilled life and understand the points of view of the other people. You can’t judge people from the color of their skin, sexual orientation and what country they come from. You have to judge people by the choices and decisions they make in life. Too many people make wide judgments made on one piece of information rather than looking at the person as a whole.”