Since opening the groundbreaking Dusk Till Dawn (DTD) poker club in 2006 owner Rob Yong has never been afraid of a challenge. He defeated the government to open DTD in the first place, hosted 1,625 players in what was then Europe’s largest land-based tournament and even salvaged the doomed International Stadiums Poker Tour (ISPT) idea to draw an impressive 761 players to Wembley stadium. But now Yong is taking on his biggest adversary to date – the online poker industry.
Dusk Till Dawn’s online site, DTDpoker.co.uk, recently launched an innovative idea called online club cash games, which aims to mimic the live poker environment online. Yong wants to ‘level the playing field’ for recreational players so he has banned all tracking software and HUDs, restricted grinding to a maximum of four tables and all players are forced to play under their real name with a photo visible at the table. More changes are promised in the coming weeks.
As if changing the game wasn’t enough, Yong has upped the stakes by saying if the project is not a success within six months he will walk away from the industry. We spoke with Rob to find out why he’s gone to such lengths, and if this plan can change the face of online poker as we know it…
There may be trouble ahead
PokerPlayer: How did you come up with the idea for Online Club Cash Games?
Rob Yong: The idea came to me about three years ago when I read an article by Phil Galfond. It was about the problems that he foresaw in online gaming and some of the changes he was recommending to big players like PokerStars, Full Tilt and PartyPoker [Read the article here]. I thought it was groundbreaking and it made me stop and think about how reliant DTD is on online poker. Effectively, online supports the club and drives traffic to the club. Without qualifying people we wouldn’t be able to have such huge guarantees and the infrastructure of the club would break down. I realised that if the online game did shrink it would be a problem for DTD so I started thinking about it from a live player’s point of view.
Is the aim to recreate the live experience you have perfected in an online setting?
Absolutely. Just look at the list of things that we have put in place. We have instant Skype support where all players are linked into our online cardroom manager Richard Prew and you can ‘call the floor’ as you would live. I’m trying to make it as close to the live experience as possible while also understanding that sitting at home in your pyjamas is not as much of a social experience.
What is your main problem with the current online poker scene and how has it affected your business in particular?
It’s an uneven playing field. If you walk into a live cardroom you know who you are playing. If you walk in and see Sam Trickett, Devilfish and Phil Galfond on a table are you going to sit down? When you play online you don’t know who you are up against. My number one gripe is anonymous
gaming. It’s so ethically and morally wrong. I can’t believe that it is even in existence.
My second gripe is tracking software. All the pros say to me that it doesn’t do that much – why are 99.9% of them using it then? They’re so full of sh*t it’s unbelievable.
And my third problem is the fact that players can tell people to f**k off, use all sorts of names and there are no repercussions. On DTD you just Skype Richard Prew, he looks at their details and we can ban them right away – both online and in the club. I just think I am trying to do something now that will have to happen in five or ten years’ time anyway.
Isn’t poker a game where there has to be an uneven playing field purely because the people who work harder will have a substantial edge?
Where my argument falls down is when people say online poker is a specific activity not related to live poker. But I feel that poker is poker, wherever it is played. You have all these online businesses going around doing tours because they are trying to get live players playing on their sites. They should give them a fair environment.
If the online sites want to say that the online game is about who can use tracking software the best, who can play the most tables and who can download PokerNinja and so on – if it’s a gaming experience like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider then they should say that and stop trying to get live players to play with them – just concentrate on the online market!
How has DTDpoker.co.uk been affected by online pros killing the game?
I’ve definitely seen the number of recreational players diminish over the years. The same players win month in and month out and the same players lose. I have seen that process speed up over the years as players get more au fait with tracking software, and there is more bumhunting now to get to the recreational players. I speak to some of my friends who are online players and they say to me: Rob, a recreational player has zero chance of winning. Zero.
What you’ll find in Online Club Cash Games
Let’s go over some of the unique features to DTD’s Online Club Cash Games. The first is that you intend to publish all of the statistics and results from your Random Number Generator (RNG). Why do you think this is important?
It’s unbelievable to me that sites don’t [already] do this. The number one comment you get from players is that online poker is rigged. It’s so easy just to publish the RNG results [to prove it is not]. All sites have to do it at the end of the year to their auditors anyway. These billion dollar companies are not fixing the cards, but the player doesn’t believe this. To get new players into the game and keep recreational players safe let’s just publish them.
A controversial new feature is that you are banning all forms of tracking software and HUDs. Why?
Recreational players have said they will only play if there is no tracking software. The perception is that this gives the pros a massive advantage. I don’t have a problem with making notes on players like you would in a live environment but having stats like check-raise % on the turn and combining hand histories with friends doesn’t seem fair.
How do you predict this will change the way the games play?
The weaker players will lose their money slower. It’s good for the ecology of the game. The games will be more fun too – by taking tracking software out of the game people will be able to make less number-based decisions. That should mean less three and four-bets and more seeing flops and turns.
What is the reasoning behind making all of your tables eight-handed rather than giving the player a choice?
The more short handed you are the bigger advantage for the better player. It’s as simple as that. By seeing less hands and taking away HUDs you end up with a longer game. Online poker is about playing lots of hands with a very small edge. If I can take a small piece of that edge away the games will go on longer and the more people that can stay in the game the more enjoyable it will be.
How do you contend that people complain about eight-handed poker being boring but love the action of six-handed?
I like six-max myself. However, a lot of the time when you have an eight-handed table it will end up dropping down to six whereas if you are playing a six-handed table it will drop down to three and four-handed. That’s a significant difference. I am trying to protect the players. I think I’m in a good position to know what is good for them and I hope they will trust me.
All players are restricted to only playing four tables at once. Why?
Think about the basics – if there are twelve tables running and each one is full of seven pros that has to be bad for the ecology. I was a purist and originally wanted to restrict it to one table! but I spoke to people and even a recreational player doesn’t want to sit at home and only play one table in his pyjamas.
You dropped a bombshell when you said that you would leave DTD in six months if your project is not successful. Can you clarify what would define success for you?
Success would be getting the same amount of table hours online that we do in the club. We do 200 table hours per week at DTD – if we can’t create the same amount in DTD’s online room then I think the plan has failed.
How realistic is it to meet those targets within six months?
It would be realistic if we had some liquidity but when you start off with none it’s a bit tricky. It took us seven years to build DTD’s live room to 200 table hours per week and I only have six months to build the online room so it seems difficult. Just 1% of our database playing once per week will get us to our desired number of table hours. I think that if we can’t do that I really don’t have the support of the community. And I really don’t want to be around when people think I am a little bit mad!
Why has your focus shifted so much to the online side of the DTD brand?
For DTD to continue with me around it needs to be a more powerful and influential business. And if you’re not strong online you are not powerful in this industry. I think we are probably stronger online than any other live operator, such as Grosvenor or Genting, but when I look at the might of PokerStars I think we need to be stronger if we want to stay in the industry.
What will the future of DTD look like if you leave?
The club is very economically viable for someone coming in that already owns venues. It’s not economically viable for myself because I take ridiculous risks and do lots of crazy projects. We have all these overheads for just one venue.
Would that someone be PokerStars?
I doubt very much it would be them. I have spoke to them twice about the possibility of them doing something but they have a percentage in the Hippodrome so I doubt it.
If you were a gambling man would you say that this time next year DTD will still be operating as a poker venue?
I think anyone taking over would have to keep it like that. There is so much traffic and goodwill that goes through there that it would be crazy to change it purely to a casino. I expect it to stay a poker venue and I will be there to help integrate it. It would make a good addition to anyone I think.
How would you look back on your tenure at DTD if you do leave in six month’s time?
As an absolute success. I can’t think of anything we have failed at. From getting the license to what we have achieved – we’ve won every award at the British Poker Awards – I don’t think there is any other accolade we could receive. We even had an event at Wembley stadium!
A great legacy of DTD is that it has instilled a new level of professionalism and standards into UK poker. Was that always a goal for you?
The goal for DTD was to raise all the standards of poker in the country, not just for DTD but everyone. It’s about being a pioneer and taking some of the risks that the big operators can’t take. I think the Grosvenors, Gentings and LCIs will admit that their blind structures, schedules and formats are the same as ours. To be honest, I think everyone has copied us. It’s a nice thing to have done but it also means there is less of a need for us. I now know that if I’m sitting in Reading I have a good-structured tournament around the corner, so why would I travel to Nottingham?
When I opened DTD everyone thought I was crazy. Maybe in five years’ time everyone will be copying my online ideas?
You can read more great interviews like this every month in PokerPlayer magazine, available here.