Pocket Aces – Ace Meets… Thomas Kremser

In the interview series „Pocket Aces“ Poker Digest columnist Rolf „Ace“ Slotboom ([email=acespeaks@hotmail.com]acespeaks@hotmail.com[/URL]) meets famous poker people, some of the best tournament and money players in the world or people who have, in one way or another, been of influence in the way this exciting game is played nowadays. In these interviews, Rolf will try to gain some insight in the way the best players, authors and casino managers feel towards the game, how they do what they do, what they hope to accomplish or have already accomplished, and what’s their view on how to make the beautiful game of poker bigger and better than it already is.

In this series, Rolf will confront his guests with a list of 23 questions. These questions deal with issues that, in Rolf’s opinion, are very important in today’s poker. Today’s guest is Thomas Kremser, the manager of Concord Card Casino, Europe’s biggest poker room. In addition to being voted Europe’s „Casino Staff Person of the Year 2001“, he was also Rolf’s boss when Rolf was still working as a dealer in Concord’s casinos in Vienna and Amsterdam. Mr. Kremser’s efforts in making private poker rooms legal, which was unheard of until Concord opened its doors, have been the starting point for the tremendous growth of poker that Europe has been experiencing for some time now.

This interview took place before Poker Digest magazine was bought by Card Player.

1. Who are you? What are considered to be your major accomplishments in poker and what do you think your major accomplishments are?

My name is Thomas Kremser; I am casino manager of Concord, Vienna. That is: I am in charge of the casino, but I am NOT the owner. My biggest accomplishment is getting poker into the open, in a clean environment. Back in 1993, there was just the state casino with two tables maximum, but right after we opened we went to 10, 15, sometimes even 20 tables. Where did all these new players come from? I guess a lot of them had played in coffee houses or in home games before, but we also attracted a lot of new players. So I see this as my biggest success: helping Concord become a legal and successful poker room, and I was thrilled to get confirmation at Casino Ray, where I was voted „Casino Staff Person of the Year 2001“.

2. Date of birth, place of birth. Marital status, current and former jobs etc.

I was born in Vienna, June 2nd, 1966. I’m divorced, have a seven-year-old daughter, and have been together with my girlfriend Marina, a former colleague of yours, for five years now. After I graduated in school, I studied Medicine for about three years. When I visited a casino for the first time, I lost interest in the dry stuff of the study. I worked as a croupier for Casinos Austria for six years, and after a trip to L.A. to see how they handled things over there, we started up Concord. It wasn’t easy from a legal point of view, and that’s why we are so glad and proud we made it.

3.Where do you play poker? What games / limits? Do you prefer tournaments or cash games and why?

I play at CCC mostly, but when I have time I try to visit the big tournaments as often as possible. I love playing tournaments, especially pot- or no-limit events. My cash game is not as good as my tournament game. That said, I might have become something like a „short-handed professional“, because I have to help starting up games in Concord now- when the action is a bit slow or a table is about to break, I do my best to help the game survive.

4. Have you read any poker books, do you use any computer software to improve your game? If so, which books and software do you consider to be best and / or has influenced your poker game the most?

I truly believe in improving your game through books. I have read a couple of books on tournament poker, and the books by Sklansky that were translated into German by Lothar Landauer. Not only will you find things that are new, but you also get confirmation in things you already knew, which is just as important.

5. I’ve written a lot about the right attitude at the poker table, about the „proper way to behave“. What do you think this „right attitude“ should be and how do you judge your own behavior at the table in this respect?

Well Rolf, I think that looking at player behavior, Vienna is the worst city in Europe by far. A lot of players are wholly undisciplined, and I would very much like this to improve. It used to be better: before we got competition, we were known for our clean games and our taking care of the rules. However, with all the new cardrooms that have opened here, that don’t care about rules and conduct as much as we do, they have „spoiled“ our customers as well. I will try to do whatever I can to keep poker a „gentleman game“, especially with regard to new players. If new players get lectured by the regulars, or experience unfriendliness in any way, they might leave and we will have lost a potential customer. Also, when thinking about getting television and sponsors involved, player behavior should be top notch- it’s that simple.

6. What do you think are the most important characteristics of the professional tournament player?

I would say „ability“, in the broadest sense of the word: not just regarding the gaming part, but also in being a personality at the table. Some of the best tournament players, the high rollers, make you think they are holding a better hand than you almost all of the time –which is very important when fighting to survive- and they will show you the right amount of aggressiveness at the right time. So I guess it’s about aggressiveness and changing gears, in addition to knowing the game well.

7. What do you think are the most important characteristics of the professional money player?

I guess he would need a big enough bankroll to play, so he has the choice to play whenever he wants – he should not feel forced to play by outside forces like having to pay the rent. He should be very patient when playing, and have the ability to read his opponents very well.

8. Who do you consider to be the best:

Limit hold’em money player

Pot-limit Omaha money player

All games money player

Limit hold’em tournament player

Pot-limit Omaha tournament player

No-limit hold’em tournament player

All games tournament player

Regarding tournaments, I was very impressed by Phil Hellmuth. I had the chance to see him play at Late Night Poker, the British TV show I am also involved in, and he gets everybody to focus on him, and him alone. If only he would stop screaming and smashing the table (like he still does from time to time), then he would be TRULY great. Other good tournament players are Simon Trumper, „Devilfish“ Dave Ulliott in pot-limit Omaha, and of course Marcel Luske, also because of the fun factor. Someone who has to be mentioned here is Ben Roberts. I would like to copy him to make every player a Ben Roberts- a gentleman player, playing well in tournaments and cash games alike. Finally, Markus Golser from Salzburg has done very well in live play.

9. It’s a fact that a lot of tournament stars don’t perform very well in cash games. Do you know any top tournament players you would welcome in a live game and why?

Well, it is clear that some of the players mentioned above, like Simon and Marcel, don’t always do as well in cash games as in tournaments- but how can you expect them to? Also, they are still extremely dangerous, especially when playing for high stakes.

10. As you might know, I’m a money player myself, I hardly ever play tournaments. This is partly an ego-thing, because I like to win all the time and in tournament poker that’s just not possible. On top of that, it’s hard to determine who is the „best“ tournament player, simple because there are no objective rankings (the ones that exist favor the people who enter the most tournaments, and the #1 on these rankings is therefore not necessarily the best player). I am working hard to develop some sort of worldwide tournament competition, where –just like in other sports- you will have to qualify to enter and, if you don’t perform well, you bust out. You will receive points (not money) after each event, and at the end of the year you will receive prize money based on your rankings. A competition like this should be interesting for sponsors and the television networks, and the players shouldn’t have to come up with their own money anymore. What are your thoughts on the current situation and how do you view this new poker competition?

I would like to see poker growing in the same direction you think, Rolf – I guess we think along the same lines here. I am thinking about a tour, in open casinos, professionally guided, bringing in the money through television and sponsors, thereby creating millions of viewers. The development of snooker should be our example here. We should have a poker organization (consisting of poker personalities that have the power and the respect to create a global unity) covering things, especially regarding clear and global, common rules. We have to recognize the power of tournaments: they are a good way to get new players, and people on a relatively short bankroll can win big as well.

11. A while ago, I wrote a rather controversial article about tipping. The article dealt with the situation in Vienna, where the dealers’ wages are relatively low, but instead they rely on tips from customers. In fact, because people tip so much over there, the dealers even pay the house for every half hour they’re in the box. In the article I stated this meant that people are probably tipping too well, and that I therefore could not and would not tip as much as the average player in the house. After all, I already pay table money via rake and / or time collection so the house can provide for (among others) dealers; if we are also expected to tip them extremely well we would be paying twice for the same thing, I argued. What are your thoughts on the subject and how do you put these thoughts into practice; i.e. how much do you tip in the tournaments and in the live games?

Well Rolf, as you know we have created the situation, we have invented the system. It’s a good system and it’s important, because tends to keep things in perspective. All the table money that comes in is divided among the employees who don’t get direct tips- it doesn’t go to management or to pay the bills. The system also regulates the dealer’s income, because the table money that he pays becomes less for every additional year he works, and this will keep him motivated. Even though the system will help him make more every year, because of the current situation in Vienna with so many poker rooms, his income has still dropped considerably over the past three years. So, basically, the system favors everybody, and everybody’s happy with it.

12. What are your favorite poker places in the world and why?

I usually visit places for only a couple of days, so I cannot really comment. In Europe, Vienna is probably the best place from a player’s point of view. Personally, I like Nova Gorica, especially during the warmer months. By the way, our mutual friend Alex Mozir (the casino’s assistant director) is not working there anymore. He has gone to Bonaire, if I’m not mistaken: the climate is even better over there, and the girls more beautiful- just the way he likes it.

13.In Europe, the main structure of poker is pot-limit. Poker purists claim that limit poker is no poker, however in the U.S. a lot of professionals don’t want to play pot-limit and the casinos are reluctant to offer it, fearing it might break the weaker players too soon. In my opinion, pot-limit and limit poker can very well co-exist. In pot-limit poker (unlike in limit) there are often big winners, and this attracts a lot of new customers (especially the gambler-type of players) who are not interested in a „boring“ limit game. I think it is good for poker business if players see it’s possible to win big on any given day. What are your views on the subject?

From the casino side I would say that a mixture is probably best, but you MUST have limit poker, to give new players the chance to get into poker in a cheap way- you don’t want to lose them forever. From the player’s point of view, pot-limit poker is a lot more interesting of course. It gets your adrenaline flowing and because of the power of chips you are playing REAL poker.

14. In the U.S., if people talk about pot-limit, they always mention pot-limit hold’em. In my opinion, pot-limit hold’em is not a good game because the weaker players have virtually no chance of winning and therefore the game will almost certainly die out. In pot-limit Omaha however, even weak players are often able to book mammoth wins (even though it is in fact a highly skillful game), and therefore the games will tend to thrive. This having said, in the U.S. a lot of people seem to think PLO is „all just luck“, because they keep thinking in limit hold’em terms like “having the best hand stand up”. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, I guess that in pot-limit Omaha, with so many draws and so many possibilities, the weaker players have a better chance to survive. Let me put it differently: I couldn’t use PLO to prove that poker is a game of skill (laughs). You have to be lucky on your made hands (to have them stand up) AND on your draws (to make them). However, this gambling factor is a big attraction of the game.

15. Just like fellow Card Player columnist Mr. Bob Ciaffone, I am known to be a little bit of a rules freak. My main concerns here are the ways most casinos handle the „one player to a hand“ and „English only“ rules, often doing nothing to enforce them strictly. On the other hand, interpreting and enforcing some of the rules too strictly often harms the new, inexperienced players and benefits angle-shooters. What are your thoughts on the subject?

I share your concerns regarding „English Only“, especially in pot-limit (even though we don’t have that many pot-limit games). Still, the problem is the same and it needs to be addressed. It is not that easy to control though, as it always involves the Chinese. They are a big family wherever they are in the world and sometimes, as a group, they try to put pressure on the casino. Even though they are good customers, we simply have to stand up if things get out of hand, even if it costs customers- the rules are simply more important. That said, in the current situation it’s not as easy as in the past: your clients can simply move elsewhere if they wish, if they don’t get what they want from you.

16. Do you regularly visit or even contribute to discussion forums and newsgroups like TwoPlusTwo, RGP, Poker Pages and / or European-poker.com? If so, which do you think is best and why? Also, on RGP you can post anything you like, but on TwoPlusTwo a lot of posts are deleted because they are deemed offending, inappropriate etc. In my opinion, there is a lot less unfriendliness and personal attacking on TwoPlusTwo than on RGP, maybe because of this. On the other hand, quite a few people claim that most posters who are barred from TwoPlusTwo are barred simply because they disagree with the ones who are running the forum (Mason Malmuth, David Sklansky and Ray Zee). Do you have any opinions on this?

I visit them, and I even posted for the first time regarding a decision I made at Late Night Poker. I’m planning to contribute a bit more in the future, because issues that are important all over the world are being discussed there.

17. On these forums, a lot has been written about cheating in poker. For instance, Men „The Master“ Nguyen has been accused of signaling other players during hands (especially his „horses“), stealing chips from tournaments to use them in later events etc. Also, there are rumors that a few players in the big money games in the Bellagio have percentages in each other which might influence the game’s honesty, and basically goes against the entire meaning of the game: playing one against one (in tournaments, this percentage thing is even more common). Do you share my concern here and how do you think these problems can or should be faced?

I share your concerns regarding the percentage taking, especially in the big tournaments. You never know who is playing partners, but if it becomes clear there is a collusion situation, the casino simply has to take a firm stand. In tournaments, I always keep control over the chips myself, exactly because of the stealing issue you mentioned- we had a case like this in Vienna as well. For the future, things should be like this: Clear Rules & No Partnerships.

18. The two major poker publications, Poker Digest and Card Player, both have the policy to report on poker from a positive point of view. Any scandals that may occur, any injustices, quarrels or cheating allegations are avoided as much as possible. That is: the magazines will not actively search or investigate these kinds of questions, and they will report about them only when there is a compelling need to do so. With this policy, they will try to promote the game of poker more effectively, the readers will feel more comfortable going to the poker room and the overall casino business might benefit in the long run. Do you agree with this policy, or do you think the magazines should be more alert regarding the wrongs that are also part of the game?

Well, I guess it is OK to try to show poker from the positive side. The bad rumors will be told on the Internet and at the tables, anyway.

19. In my opinion, a lot of casinos don’t do everything they can to reward the regular customers. In the U.S., a few casinos have come to acknowledge the importance of keeping their regular customers in (Hollywood Park in L.A., for example). What are your thoughts on this, and what does your casino do to reward its core player base?

To improve your casino, you need to advertise outside to get new players in, but you also try to keep the ones you have happy. In CCC, most of our promotions are aimed at „keep the regulars happy“. The main thing here is to keep changing your promotions all the time, in order to keep interest.

20. A lot of people claim tournaments aren’t good for poker, (especially the bigger tournaments), because they tend to get all the money into the pockets of two or three players and the rest loses- some might even be broke because of the tournament. Either way, the tournament has harmed the casino’s cash game player base, and it is the income of these cash games (through rake and / or time collection) that poker rooms thrive on. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, the tournaments have always been a tool to get the players in, hoping they will play cash, but we have a big problem now. A lot of players have become „Educated Tournament Tourists“; they simply go from tournament to tournament without ever playing in live games. I would like to make this situation, which we have created ourselves, undone, but this will be hard to do- and as you know, casinos cannot live on entry fees alone. A related point is that the times that the tournaments take place (7 pm till 12 pm), are exactly the times we want the average, working guy in to play the cash games. But he doesn’t do this now, as he plays a small buy-in tournament for a couple of hours and then goes home. The BIG tournaments we organize have been good to us, though. They create action, raise interest for local players to play with the big boys and for higher stakes, and all the foreigners love it: they are always positive, which is not always the case with our regulars. (laughs)

21. In the U.S., most poker rooms try to increase their revenues by attracting players from other areas, or from other casinos in the direct neighborhood. In my opinion, the casinos should focus on trying to get NEW players in by offering low-limit games, advertising in mainstream media etc. In L.A., a large percentage of the population (more than 80%, if I’m not mistaken) doesn’t even know a cardroom exists in their neighborhood: they don’t even know they can play poker legally in their own state. What are your thoughts on this and do you think your casino focuses enough on these „new“ players, and therefore the long-term continuity of the games?

Getting new players has always been one of our top priorities. I don’t know any casino that has been as successful in this respect as we have. In my opinion, without fresh money we simply have no business.

22. What are your thoughts about playing poker on the Internet? Does it help in getting new players and creating new customers, or do you think Internet poker hurts the overall business?

The „Play Money“ option on the Internet is a great way to get players into the game. Playing for low stakes, without having to dress up or go out, might give him that little bit of extra knowledge of the game and confidence in his abilities to enter a regular cardroom. I think quite a few new cash game players have been created through Internet play.

23. A lot of people claim the future of poker is golden. The big tournaments are always full, there seem to be more new players than ever, Internet poker is booming and it will be just a matter of time before television networks and sponsors discover the game. At the same time, the juice in tournaments and the rake in live games keeps getting higher, a lot of poker rooms are being closed down and even the prestigious and innovative TOC is history. What do you think: is the future of poker golden- or maybe not?

I believe there is a big future for poker, to where it should be:
Clear rules

Good behavior

Television & sponsors involved

Getting outside money in, plus the interest of new players

Under supervision of a Poker Federation, like the FIFA in soccer