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Emily D. Swoboda
 

Q & A: Daniel Negreanu

30 May 2007

Mobile entertainment developer I-play, with the help of a well known poker pro, has entered the poker market with two mobile products: one for learning the game and one for practice.

I-play teamed up with four-time World Series of Poker champ Daniel Negreanu to create the two products. The first, scheduled to launch in June, features streaming downloadable video clips of Negreanu offering tips on playing the game. The mobile game product will be launching in Q4 of this year.

Negreanu sat down with IGN to talk about the product, his perspective on the I-poker business--both in the United States and abroad--and his view on the U.S. I-gaming prohibition.

IGN: Tell me about the poker product and how it came to be.

Negreanu: Basically, they approached me about a cool new idea. Some of it is new. Some of is has never been done before. One aspect of it has and that's simply adding to a cell phone component where you can actually play video game poker. I had a chance to talk to the developers and they explained to me that what they were going for was a little more of a realistic feel and artificial intelligence that plays rather well. Right now the bots that are playing on that are playing against other computers and doing very well. So, that's kind of exciting--that's obviously the part that's been done before.

IGN: And the video component?

Negreanu: They're about 90-second clips and I've filmed about a hundred of these already. When you first download it you'll get about 20 in groups like, let's say for example, beginner tips, winning secrets and the final section is bluffing and tells, which a lot people find interesting.

So, not only are you going to get the game that you can practice on, but you actually get, I believe, 20 the first time you download and then you get a little bit more each time you check your cell phone. They are two separate products, but obviously they go hand in hand together. One is just a learning tool and one you can actually practice on.

One of the differences is that the developers wanted to have more of a realistic feel. They felt as though some of the games out there have a little bit of a kiddie game feel, like a little bit cartoonish. The other keys things, with some of the other cell phone games the artificial intelligence is very elementary. They were going for something that actually challenge you more and be a little more realistic. So, from that perspective, I think that is where the game will separate itself from the others.

IGN: Who developed the software?

Negreanu: Ontario-based Big Blue Bubble developed the software for the game and I-play publishes it.

IGN: Is it a money game or a play-for-free game?

Negreanu: You can't gamble for money. There is no cell phone game in the United States where you can do that, thanks to our government. But there are different forms of the game you can play. You can play small stakes, where you can just play limit and there's also a tournament feature where you just play tournaments. And you can obviously save and pause your tournaments because you're not going to want to sit there all day. Mobile gambling for money doesn't work, quite frankly.

IGN: Will the marketing efforts target U.S. players, European players?

Negreanu: It's not exclusive to the United States, I believe.

IGN: It seems like poker players just adapted to online poker. What are your thoughts on poker players adapting to mobile poker? Do you think mobile poker will be an easy transition and/or a welcome one?

Negreanu: I find that, especially with the I-play software, it's very easy to follow for people and it's actually for beginning players and for people that are just learning the game. There are so many advantages to playing on the I-play mobile game because, for instance, after each hand, it shows you what everybody had, what won. It shows you the percentage of your hand strength. One of the features that I really love: at the bottom (of the screen) it shows you what the nut hand would be -- which best possible hand is available. So, from a beginning perspective it's very easy to follow along. So, I think it's an even easier learning tool than any other ones out there.

I think this product is for people who love the game of poker and want to play it in their free time.

The software developers did a very good job of making it easy to follow along. It never looks too small because, for example, when you're playing they'll show you the necessary information. You won't necessarily see the other side of the table, unless, of course, you want to. Everything is very practical; I really like the way they laid it out.

IGN: Have you played other mobile providers' games?

Negreanu: Yeah, I've looked around just to see what they have and I, obviously, wouldn't play it for long periods of time. But I've tried them out and thought they were okay, but some of them I found were just a little bit hard to follow along. The screen did seem a little bit small. I've been a professional for over 15 years, but it was tough for me to get a feel for what was going on with the action.

IGN: What was your role in the development of this game?

Negreanu: The main thing that I've been contributing is I came up with 100 percent of the content for the video tips and I actually filmed 100 of them already, which took a lot of time. First we did them at the Venetian (in Las Vegas) and we finished up a few at a studio. I came up with the content. I relayed it. I came up with examples for it.

IGN: You're a player, but for the last several years you've also been involved in the business side of things. What have you learned about the business?

Negreanu: One thing that I learned, and it is rather interesting, is that being a poker player for so long you find that intuitively there are so many things related to business that you just get or just already know because there's a lot of similarities in the two sides. For example, I honestly believe that any great poker player, had they gone into business, would be very successful. I've learned also that there is a market for a lot of things right now and poker is still on the up. There was talk about it dying, but we haven't even come close to hitting the peak yet. It's still continuing to climb, which gives the high-profile players an opportunity to make money outside of playing the game as well.

IGN: Is there anything you would change about the business?

Negreanu: It's hard to say that from the business side I would change anything, necessarily. One thing I think would be very, very good for all the players and for poker and for the business side of it would be to get a little bit more of a cohesive television product. I think right now poker is on a lot of channels and it's kind of choppy and you don't really know what you're going to find where. There's probably too much of it; it's a little saturated. I think something that would follow more of a PGA model, with pros playing every Sunday, if you will, and the public having a better understanding of who the pros are. That would go a long way toward bringing poker to the mainstream, similar to golf. And I think that's on the horizon. I think poker players are a smart group of people in general and I think we'll see coming together as a unit is better than the lone wolves we usually are.

IGN: What are your thoughts U.S. effort to ban online poker as well as the efforts to legalize?

Negreanu: I'm disappointed. I'd have to say I'm extremely disappointed with the lack of vision that the government seems to have in regards to online poker. If I was a politician and I was running the country and I told people, 'You know what, guys, all your tax concerns? Online poker's going to pay for it.' I can't imagine that the American people wouldn't want that. I just can't.

I believe that with the amount of tax revenue that the U.S. government could gain from legalizing or regulating online poker is so significant that it could make so many positive changes. From education to poverty and I mean that realistically. All this tax money is going over and other countries are learning. The U.K. has it on the stock market. Italy has just decided to regulate. The Danish government is doing so. The U.S. government needs to take a page out of the other countries' book and understand that, first of all, online poker is not going anywhere. They cannot stop it. It is impossible to stop U.S. players. All they've done is succeed in doing all of the things that they didn't want, which is, a), make it easier for underage players to play and, b), have more of a wild-west element. Prohibition has never worked, and it won't work in this case.

So, the government really just needs to get its act together realize that it's time to regulate online poker.

IGN: What effect do you think it is having on the industry?

Negreanu: They have been effective in curbing some of the smaller companies, but the other ones are thriving. A couple have left the United States because they have a solid customer base outside of the United States.

I think what we're seeing now -- similar to years ago when they stopped a lot of credit cards from being used -- is sort-of like a bell curve situation where initially people are a little bit worried, but then the business starts to go back up.

IGN: What are your thoughts on the various grassroots organizations, such as the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), and their efforts to fight the ban on Internet gambling in the United States?

Negreanu: It's a long time coming and, frankly, my only disappointment is that none of this happened sooner to preempt what happened. I genuinely believe the big companies like PartyPoker and PokerStars, for example, should have come together and gone to Washington and put the money in the right places. Horseracing did that--I think they spent $3 million--and they got a carveout with this law. If poker, having so much more money than the racing industry, would have thrown $5 or $10 million at the right people then none of this would have happened. I think it would have been in their best interest.

Having said that, I am pleased that Alphonse D'Amato is on board now (with the PPA) and I think it's only a matter of time before things get changed. With Washington, the way things get run, things happen a lot slower than they probably should.

IGN: Do you think the efforts of organizations like the PPA are effective?

Negreanu:Yeah, but I also think that it's extremely important for more and more poker players to sign up so we can be heard.

Q & A: Daniel Negreanu is republished from iGamingNews.com.
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda