Ahead of Day 1C of the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event, PokerStars had some exciting news. The ranks of Team PokerStars Pro, the world’s premiere stable of poker players, has just added another exceptional talent to its ranks. Today, for the first time, Jeff Gross will be wearing the famous Red Spade of PokerStars.
If you’ve been watching poker across any format over the past few years, Gross will already be a very familiar face. Not only has the 30-year-old from Ann Arbor, Michigan, won close to $3 million in live tournaments and at least another $1 million online, but he is also one of the most popular video streamers in the game.
For close to a year-and-a-half, Gross has been inviting viewers to his YouTube and Twitch channels to share the highs and lows of high-stakes professional poker. No punches are pulled: it’s a full package of the thrills and spills of this volatile life.
But Gross is always keen to focus on the fun aspects of poker. And why wouldn’t he? It’s the game that has allowed him to travel across the world to do what he loves, and has also introduced him to some great friends. He is a former room-mate of the Olympic swimming sensation Michael Phelps, having met him at a poker table, and he also lists the likes of Antonio Esfandiari, Bill Perkins and Jaime Staples among his buddies.
In March this year, Gross and Staples were among those to set sail to the Virgin Islands aboard Perkins’ “StreamBoat“–playing poker on a luxury yacht in the Caribbean. What’s not to love?
Gross took up video blogging ahead of the WSOP this year and has been keeping his audience engaged in all his activities through a busy month or so in Las Vegas. In between racking up five cashes, he has also been on the commentary team for Poker Go, providing television coverage of the event.
PokerStars Blog was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Gross on the eve of his unveiling as a Team PokerStars Pro. Here’s what this most engaging player had to say.
Everyone remembers how they first got into poker. What’s your origin story?
I started when I was 14 or 15, with friends. I played soccer when I was growing up and someone brought some chips and we played 25c/50c. Then when I was old enough I put a little bit of money online. I was playing in college pretty extensively. I always loved the game. I always loved board games, then when I knew you could keep score, win money, it was very appealing to me. I’ve been playing for about 15 years but professionally since I was 21, when I graduated college.
How did you go from newbie to pro?
I just kind of got immersed in the game and even now I’m still learning every day, learning something new, trying to get better. That’s something that’s very exciting to me. The game is constantly evolving, constantly getting tougher but also more interesting. It’s just something that I really, really enjoy. I’m just really, really happy that this is what I get to do. I love it so much, and it’s something that I have a passion for. If you put the time in, if you become a winning player, you can actually generate some wealth. You can keep score. There’s an actual value to it.
Where did streaming come in?
With Twitch, if you stream, you can build something as well. That’s what got me back into online poker. I found my love for it again. With Twitch, you’re able to build an audience and learn too, because I get to replay my own stuff. It’s a way for me to log my own work and look back. I’ll show friends hands. It’s one thing to send a hand history, it’s another to have a video of it. It makes it a lot more fun and enjoyable. I think that’s a big part of it, to build something to really enjoy it.
What else do you get out of it?
There’s some guys and girls who are very private and just want to be in their own little world, and that’s great. But there are others who like to share and tell a story. For me, it’s just fun. I want to look back when I have kids. I’m married now, I’m 30-years-old, and my wife (who actually just played the ladies event for the first time ever, first ever event) she enjoys poker and watching, but to me I want to look back later on and say, “This is what I did. At this time in my life, this is what was going on.”
Hopefully, it can help other people get into the game too. If they want to play poker either for a hobby or if they want to try it out semi-pro or pro, this can show them what it is to do it. To say, “Hey look, it’s not all easy. You’re not just going to wake up and win money if you’re decent at poker. It doesn’t necessarily work like that.”
But whether it’s a hobby or for a living, it’s fun, and this is how it kind of works. This is how I do it, and I’m happy to share my experiences, good or bad.
A good way to introduce variance
Yes. This summer, I was doing PokerGo, so I missed about a third of the summer, but result-wise, out of the nine years, this has been my least exciting in terms of overall results. I’ve had five cashes but nothing huge. Granted, the Main is tomorrow so it can still be the greatest summer ever. But it’s sort of fun, you just don’t know. You could “Doug Polk it”, you win a bracelet and you vlog it, or you could brick and have some tough beats and some rough luck. You don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s exciting. It’s a story. You’re live, getting to feel the ups and downs of a player.
Of course, it’s more fun when you’re doing well and you’re winning, but also just showing that, hey, you don’t win every day. Tournaments can be tough. Giving analysis of it on the way, I think it’s cool and fun to document it along the way and see how it goes.
You mentioned vlogging. How is that going?
The vlogging is brand new. This started this summer. Jaime Staples mentioned this to me, and Kevin Martin has done it, Doug has obviously started doing it. A few others, Andrew Neeme, obviously Negreanu has a very successful channel and has been doing it too. The vlogging was sort of a new project, which I really enjoy.
Obviously it’s not going to replace Twitch, right?
Twitch I started in December 2015, so it’s been a year and a half. For me it’s a little different. I’ve been a spotty streamer, where I’ll go a month straight or three weeks, then I’ll take a month off, just based on where I am. Not being able to play in the USA is difficult, and I travel a lot but playing the SCOOPs the WCOOPs is fun. I love streaming. I really do.
I’m also learning what works, what doesn’t work. It’s a learning process.
I’m going to be out of the country more and streaming more and I’m really looking forward to doing it on PokerStars, streaming consistently.
Will you set a strict streaming schedule?
I love the way Jason Somerville does seasons, really lock into the year, know where you’re going live, know where you’re going to stream. And then doing more of that, giving people more of a heads up on exactly what you’re doing rather than just an hour here or there. That’s something I’m really going to do. I’m going to map out my year and do more streams.
What’s your main motivation for this?
I got asked this by Poker News a couple of weeks ago, “What are you vlogging for? What is the end goal? Are you making money?” The answer, truthfully, is that doing YouTube videos, you’re not really making money. You hope to break even. You have to pay an editor, you have a camera, you have help.
But it’s not about making money. I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, “Man I love your blogs. You’re the reason I’m out here. I love your energy.” I see that with Doug too. I see people stop and they want to talk to him. Love or hate Doug, and he’s polarising, he’s good for poker. People are watching his videos, they’re learning, they’re enjoying.
Just because he tells you about “flatting”, or ranges, it doesn’t mean someone who is new to poker, comes in, is going to just like know how to play. I put 10, 15 years of hard work on hands. You need new people coming in.
If you’re a professional, you need new people coming in and try it, whether it’s for a hobby or for a living. You need that kind of stuff. These type of Twitch streams, vlogs, it’s really good for the game. You want people to have fun.
You’ve always been keen to stress the fun element.
Ultimately you have to realise as a professional, or as anyone at the table, if you are playing a cash game or a tournament and you are nasty, if you’re tanking, if you make it unpleasant, you could literally run someone from ever coming back with that one experience. Or, you joke around, you can have some fun.
Of course you want to win. Be serious, take your time. Make good thoughts. But be respectful of the game, and to others. Every single person, whether you’re an ambassador for a site or somebody, or just playing, you literally can make a difference in the game.
I think that’s something that is really overlooked. You can be emotional–people are playing for a living and maybe you’re not running so well–and of course this can affect your overall general persona. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to remember fundamentally what it’s all about. People want to have a good time. People want to play a game that has skill with an element of luck and enjoy themselves.
I think that’s something that I really try to emphasise because I think it’s super important. I’m passionate about poker, I’m passionate about growing the game, and that’s what’s important.
Did you know this from the start, or did you have your own learning curve? No. I remember I used to yell and tell bad beats. Antonio Esfandiari is one of my best friends, we travel around to events and play tournaments and stay together when we go. And even four or five years ago, I was guilty. I’d tell bad beats. You just kind of learn: that’s not what it’s about. You’ve signed up for it. You get ace-king v ace-queen, it’s a 70-30. You’re going to lose three out of ten. It’s not the craziest thing in the world.
It takes a while to ingrain that. I’m talking about, “Look, variance happens and life happens.” You could run terrible the entire summer, and then have decent run in the Main Event, win one or two flips, get there on a hand, and it could end up being where you ran above expectation. That’s something we all know but you don’t really think about.
Variance happens in other areas of life as well. That’s kind of the message I want to get: be positive, it comes in various ways and different times. You just really want to be upbeat in general.
How did you get to know Michael Phelps, and what did you learn from him?
I met Mike at a poker table, in Canada. I was from Ann Arbor and he went to school there. It was summertime, a 30-minute drive over the border. I was 19. That was fun, he loves poker too. I was living with Michael Phelps for almost seven years in Baltimore. Living with him was great, seeing his work ethic, seeing some ups and downs for sure. You could definitely transfer it to life, to poker as well.
Sports are so mentally involved. Oftentimes–and this is something my dad would tell me–it’s not what happens, it’s how you react to what happens. Bad stuff is going to happen every day, and good stuff too. But be even-keeled and try to make the best decision at all times. Some of the stuff rubbed off there.
What are your next plans?
I’m going to hit Barcelona, going to want to do the New Jersey festival. I’ve been at the BSOP last two years, maybe do that as well. Bahamas. PokerStars obviously has the biggest events, biggest prize-pools, biggest guarantees. It’s exciting. I can’t wait. I go to most of the stops, but I’ve never been to Barcelona. I’m really looking forward to that, I’m looking forward to the World Championship of Online Poker. I’m going to be doing StreamBoat 2 there. I’m just over the moon excited. It’s going to be quite an event.
The Main Event, I’m playing tomorrow, I’ve got to try to remember to focus on that because there’s so much exciting stuff coming up, like the WCOOP and like Barcelona. But I’m trying to stay focused on the Main right now before getting too amped up for that.
What’s your strategy for the WSOP Main Event?
Just be focused. There are so many distractions, so much stuff going on. Just be focused, be in the moment, because it’s such a special tournament. It’s every poker player’s dream to win the Main Event.
In 2009, Joe Cada won the Main Event, from Michigan. Then 2013, Ryan Riess, from Michigan. Every four years. I said someone from Michigan is going to win this year. I’m not saying I’m going to win, but someone from Michigan will. So I’m going to try to capitalise on that pattern. Every four years, like clockwork.
Tell us about your WSOP giveaway
There’s a pinned tweet on my Twitter page. I’m giving away five percent of my World Series Main Event, and even if I don’t cash I’ll give $100 per person. I’m giving away six in total, one percent is also for a retweet giveaway.
I also sell on Stake Kings. I usually do 10 percent just across the board any tournament, break it down in really small pieces, so a lot of people can have a sweat in it. That to me is fun, for the fans. People want to interact. They can say they have a piece, even if it’s .05 percent, they’re playing like $20 or $5 they can be a part of it.
Antonio Esfandiari, Brian Rast, they do the same, Doug Polk, Jaime Staples, Kevin Martin, Tonka. They all sell on there. Same thing. They want to let people feel part of it, especially on Twitch. When you’re watching the Sunday Million, the Sunday Grand, they can literally have 1 percent of every tournament you’re in so they’re sweating the all-ins, the doubles, the gets theres, the holds, the heartbreak, the emotion.
It’s fun to be able to be watching and see the hole cards and hear analysis and get to be a part of that. I like doing that for the tournaments I play. It’s fun to have people feel the ride with you.
You played in the World Cup of Soccer in Vegas this year. How did that go?
It’s great. Timothy Adams puts it on with Byron Kaverman, they play a lot. It’s 12 teams, it was a really well run event and we ended up getting to the finals for USA. We went six and 0… and then we played Germany in the finals. [Goes silent.] They’re tough, man. They’re tough on the tables, they’re tough on the field. They only had one sub we had like seven. We ended up falling short. There were some nice goals and highlights in the vlog.