For today's interview we have SNE grinder Aarone Barone who will be sharing insight into his life and poker career. Aaron is a PokerStars grinder who relocates frequently while playing the game. He writes or "rants" about poker and life on his blog "The Rant".
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I’m 30 years old now, a dinosaur in the poker world. I’m originally from California and lived there until Black Friday; since then I’ve spent the last four years living in several different countries including Canada, Thailand, Mexico, and a brief stint in the Bahamas.
My main game has changed quite a bit during that time as the poker landscape has shifted, but in general I’ve focused on single table tournaments of varying speeds. Currently 99% of my volume is in Spin and Gos, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not the case in a year or so.
How did you get into playing poker?
It began as a Thursday-night hobby with some friends and competitive juices led me to the internet to learn more about the game. I’m still very close with that group of guys, most of whom have went on to become actuaries and engineers.
When did you first see success playing poker?
After reading up on forums (2+2, CardPlayer) I became a consistent winner in my home game and was curious to find out how I’d do against other opponents. It took a bit of convincing, but my parents allowed me to put $100 online with the the promise that if I lost the money, I’d stop hounding them about online poker. Thankfully the edges were large enough back then (2004) that my small bankroll was enough!
How do your friends and family react to your poker profession?
It varies. My family is very supportive now and while my mother claims they were always supportive, I think there’s a bit of hindsight bias. It’s obviously worked out for me, but I remember when I quit law school to focus more on poker and at the time she had some reservations about that decision.
Can’t blame her. Most friends of mine have a basic understanding of what I do and while it was a novelty in the beginning, it’s no longer noteworthy. Only time it gets brought up is when I’m introduced to significant others or friends of friends who usually pepper me with questions.
What types of games do you play?
A mixture of different $60+ SNG formats (9s, 18s, etc), MTTs, and Spin and Gos.
Where do you feel you have an edge on poker?
My ‘bread and butter’ was 9-max SNGs for the longest time and because of that, my knowledge of ICM is superior to most opponents. At the time I was confident that my postflop play was also an advantage, although now I realize that while I may have been better than the field, I still had a lot to learn. Perhaps that’s where I have a decent edge: being able to put my ego aside and admit that there’s always room for improvement.
What’s one training method you use that benefits you the most?
Some of the best insight I’ve ever had into my own game has been when I’ve talked with others about their own strengths and weaknesses. At one point I lived in a house with four other grinders, each of whom played different game types and I was able to improve my own skills just by having open discussions about how and why we’d play certain hands.
What is your biggest cash or result?
3rd in a $60 3000x Spin and Go for $18,000. Somewhat bittersweet though, first paid $180,000 and I lost AT to A3 for more than half of the chips in play. The following day I shipped a MTT for $12,000 making it a $30,000+ weekend.
What would you attribute most of your success in poker to?
Passion and hard work. I was lucky in this sense; a lot of guys come into this industry for the wrong reasons -- namely money and fame -- but I got involved because I loved the game itself. Sure, I put in a lot of time to get to where I am today, but at no point was I like ‘Man this is hard work.’ I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process, at times more than playing the game itself.
How is your SNE grind going?
Pretty well. I’m at 865,000 VPPs. On pace to finish SNE in late December. If I wanted to I could mash volume and finish a bit earlier, but I’d much rather slow down the pace and coast to the finish line. Plus, I flat out refuse to earn a single VPP over 1,000,000.
What do you think of the new PokerStars changes?
Let me start by admitting that some of my anger is born out of self interest; the changes to the VIP program raise the effective rake I'll have to pay next year by a significant margin. If I put in the same volume next year, it'll cost me $40,000.
That said, I would be less upset about the changes if they had been presented honestly and in a timely manner. That hasn't happened here. Supernova Elite is a 2-year program where players are 'rewarded' with a certain rakeback percentage the following year and these players who have now worked for ten months towards that goal, are having the rug pulled out from under them. A Stars rep argued that they're technically able to change the terms at any time, but even PokerStars ambassador Daniel Negreanu agreed that taking away the benefits is at best incredibly unethical.
PokerStars claims the changes only affect 2% of the player pool when in fact they're likely to cause a ripple effect on the entire ecosystem. By reducing rakeback, many players will be forced to move down or change formats to recoup the difference, making games tougher across the board. Stars contends that the changes will make the games softer, but I fail to see exactly how that's supposed to happen unless a glut of regulars simply decides to quit. Perhaps that’s the plan, to discourage regulars/winning players and turn the site into more of a casino-model.
Simply put, these changes appear to be nothing more than a money grab, a short-term solution for Amaya to increase profits while compromising the long-term health of PokerStars and poker itself. I'm extremely disappointed in the changes and despite having my best year to date, I'm concerned about how much longer this profession will be viable.
How will the new changes affect you and poker as a revenue source?
It’s certainly going to cost me a significant chunk of money in the short term. I’ve been forced to adapt before and am confident in my abilities to do so going forward, but I’m likely going to other formats and other sites. I’m still in the process of mapping out my plan for 2016, but PokerStars’ actions in the last 18 months have made it clear that players like myself are no longer welcome on the site.
What do you think PokerStars could have done differently this time around?
There’s a lot they could have done, but simply communicating the changes in a more timely manner would have been a nice start.
What is your HUD software of choice and have you ever tried the new Jivaro HUD?
I don’t use a HUD of any kind. I actually think HUDs should be banned as they’ve been part of the reason why the poker ecosystem has become so withered in recent years. It puts recreational players at an incredible disadvantage and they’re simply losing money too fast/not enjoying the experience enough to re-deposit.
Any big poker-related or travel plans for the upcoming year?
I’ll be spending January and February in Thailand (Chiang Mai). Probably visiting Hong Kong during that time as well and afterward I’ll either settle down for a few months in Germany, Vienna, Australia, or South Korea.