Rob Yong: ‘We’ve got to prove ourselves outside of Dusk Till Dawn – it’s like playing away from home’

Dusk Till Dawn has embarked on its most ambitious project yet, the Grand Prix Poker Tour, which is set to visit major football stadiums around the UK delivering low buy-in events and huge guarantees. Leg 2 kicks off this weekend at Stamford Bridge where there’s a guaranteed prize pool of £250k

PokerPlayer: Even by your standards you’ve gone big with the Grand Prix Poker Tour. Are you confident?

Rob Yong: We’ve taken on a lot. The festivals at the club are a lot of work, but here we’re also dealing with third-party partners we’re not in control of. It’s easy to write these tournaments down on paper but we need to find 50,000 players over the year – I don’t think we can do it unless we bring new players in.

Playing at big football stadiums has got to be a big draw for people that haven’t played live before though…

We’ll find out at Stamford Bridge, I suppose. We need to get 4,200 players so that’s probably about 3,200 uniques as you can play more than one flight. That’s a lot. We’ve had these numbers at Dusk Till Dawn before but it’s different when you go to other locations. We’ve got to prove ourselves outside of the club – it’s like playing away from home. But I don’t think there’s any point hiring stadiums if you’re not going to go for 4-5,000 minimum.

You got over 3,500 for the first stop at Dusk Till Dawn, which is an amazing number, but you still missed the guarantee – were you happy?

That was my own fault really. I really want the Grand Prix Tour to be about new and amateur players. Two weeks before, I took the re-entry away from the flights which I knew would cost me 25%. We actually fell short by 20%. The first Grand Prix were freezeouts and I wanted to go back to that. We should have hit 4,200 at home so it will be even harder on the road, but long term I don’t think re-entry is good for the tour. I had to take the bill on the chin.

Do you see this as part of the bigger move to cater for recreational players? You were one of the first to ban HUDs on your software back in 2013.

Yeah, we banned HUDs and had cash games running where you had to use your real name. But I decided I didn’t want to run my own online room and wanted to partner with one of the big sites. The deal was they would have to get behind the ideals of getting rid of HUDs, improving structures, getting back to pure poker.

I ended up doing a deal with partypoker. What they were willing to do was completely different and they wanted to invest in getting new players. We’ve done a lot in the last ten months.

But I’m not just the champion of the recreational player. We’re running a $10k super high roller this week and a $5k high roller next week. Every three months we do big buy-in events for the pros and the rest of the time we look after the other players.

Well you’ve definitely helped put the UK back on the map with the WPT…

Yeah, that was an interesting one. I was partnered with PokerStars for a long time but they told me that they’d never run an EPT at Dusk Till Dawn because it’s in Nottingham. I spoke to the WPT and decided it was time for DTD and PokerStars to split, which is a shame as we were together for seven or eight years.

It seems odd to say you won’t go somewhere like Nottingham…

It’s weird because PokerStars got double the runners with us than they managed anywhere else. After working with them for so long I thought they’d have more faith in me, but unfortunately they didn’t. The WPT was crazy last year – you couldn’t move in the club. It’s always a gamble though. For the WPT500 we need 2,000 players paying £500. We’ve always gambled with numbers though and we sometimes get burned.

Have you ever considered making your guarantees more manageable?

Our guarantees are only going to get bigger. We’ve only spent £15k on advertising in nine years. Our policy has been to give the advertising budget to the players and let them advertise the club for us. Yes, we might have a £100k overlay on a tournament, but we haven’t spent £100k advertising it.

The ISPT was a really big high profile tournament that you took on at late notice. It ended up with a huge overlay of about €600k but you still got a lot of positive press about it. Would you do that again?

We took the ISPT on because it was in such bad shape. We built the poker room in Wembley Stadium in 18 hours, which they said couldn’t be done. We took it on because it was screwed. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have had the opportunity.

It was the most amazing tournament. We had people walking into Wembley Stadium and saying, ‘Jesus, what have you done?’ It was probably the proudest moment we’ve ever had. It was an amazing experience.

It might be a possibility to do it again at some point, on the pitch again. It feels like we’ve got some unfinished business there. We only do one major project a year though, that’s our rule. This year we’re doing the Grand Prix Tour.

So how are things looking for the second leg at Stamford Bridge?

I want to get 5,000 for Stamford Bridge. I wouldn’t be happy with 3,500. I took off the re-entry because I think it’s a better way to go, but it’s going to make it harder to hit the numbers.

I’ve got no problem with people travelling down, playing their hearts out, getting knocked out and buying back into a different flight. It’s a good idea that we let them play again. What I don’t like is this idea that I’m sat down, I’ve got A-K, the flop comes down K-2-5 and some guy’s got J-2 and can afford to buy-in again so just calls it off. It puts people off in the long term. You’re only going to lose one person initially, but over thousands of tournaments that’s a lot of players.

It sounds like a lot of work. Are you still enjoying the whole experience?

I enjoy it when we achieve something but it’s up and down really. I wouldn’t say I’m hopping up and down every time I wake up in the morning, but it’s challenging and I enjoy challenges. But when you’re taking such high risks you’re going to fail a lot of the time.

We don’t set the bar so high we think we’re going miss it. Every guarantee we set we think we’re going to hit, but we still miss it half of the time. We try to set the bar to the max because it motivates all the staff. Is 4,200 a ridiculous number to hit for the Grand Prix Tour in London, where we haven’t been before and people don’t know us, in a football stadium? Is it risky? Of course it is. Do we think we can get 4,200 runners? Absolutely.

Do you think you get the recognition you deserve?

Oh yes, how much can you get? We’ve won every award going, it’s almost embarrassing at times. I think we get ridiculous loyalty from our players and respect from our competitors. 

But it must be frustrating when people like PokerStars rule out doing an EPT?

That was annoying, to be honest. I could have had an EPT seven or eight years ago but we weren’t ready for it, we’d only just opened our doors. That’s just set us down a different road though. We’re with the underdogs now and it suits us more to go with them. If we’d had the EPT we wouldn’t have gone down this road and be trying to fill football stadiums around the UK. My philosophy is that you’ve always got to think long term and make the right decisions. If you do that, things should work out.

The Stamford Bridge leg of the Grand Prix Poker Tour plays this weekend, November 28-29. It costs £60+£10, with multiple Day 1 flights and a £250k guarantee. You can play Day 1s online at partypoker (daily at 8pm), at Aspers, Stratford (Nov 26 & 27 – 7pm) or live at the venue (Nov 28 – 11am, 3pm, 6pm). Click here for more info.  

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