The Blogfiles: BJ Nemeth

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Intro: BJ Nemeth is working backwards.  Many serious bloggers launch their site, then get their dream gig writing for one of the pubs out there.  BJ already worked that “dream” gig, for Card Player magazine, no less, when he launched their live tournament blogging initiative. Now, free from the constraints of publication affiliation, BJ’s got his own blog up, providing his unedited insight and opinions to the poker community for the first time.

WCP: When did you get your poker blog up and running?

Bj_nemeth_2BJ: Using Apple’s iWeb software and my existing .Mac account, I put up the beginnings of my website in late April. I started by posting my online portfolio, compiling some of my work (articles and photos) from my time reporting for Card Player magazine. That let me get comfortable with the software for about a week, and start my site with more content than just a few blog posts. (I’m a big believer in the Ted Turner theory that "Content is king.")

The website was ready for primetime when I posted my first blog entry on Sunday, April 30, 2006. I wrote an introduction to my blog, which was basically my mission statement.

WCP: You were with Card Player for awhile right when the poker boom was taking off. How’d you get hooked up with them and what were your responsibilities?

BJ: When the 2004 World Series began, I was unemployed…

Then I saw Card Player for the first time in Bellagio’s poker room, and quickly realized that I could improve this magazine. (I come from a publishing background.) I walked into Card Player’soffice unannounced and dropped off my resume and portfolio. It sat in a pile for two weeks, but when Barry & Jeff Shulman finally saw it, they called me to set up a meeting the next day at Bellagio’s sportsbook.

They had me work on a side project for about two weeks before I was officially hired full-time. I continued to do side projects in the Art Department and helped them with the magazine on deadlines.

Bj_nemeth_2_1I was there less than two weeks when the WSOP Main Event was about to begin. They asked me if I wanted to play in the media charity event and write something about it, and I jumped at the chance. With 165 entrants, I nearly made the final table, finishing 15th.

As soon as I busted out, Barry Shulman pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to write about the Main Event. Hell yes! He asked his fiancee, Allyn Jaffrey, if they should have me read some other tournament reports (Andy Glazer, for example) to give me an idea. But Allyn said, "No, let him start by writing his own way. Then we can guide him from there." I owe her a lot for that, because it let me develop my own style naturally rather than being too heavily influenced by others.

At the time, I didn’t know I was the ONLY reporter for CardPlayer.com. The way they described it, I thought I would be writing about the experience from a spectator’s view, rather than actual sports-style reporting. I assumed that Card Player had an established reporter who was handling that. But they didn’t. (Andy Glazer wrote about the final table for the magazine, but not for CardPlayer.com.)

I slowly realized that I was their only reporter, and if you read my daily reports from the 2004 WSOP Main Event (still available on CardPlayer.com, and in the portfolio on my website), you can see my evolution from spectator to sports reporter.

During that coverage, I worked closely with Jeremy Andrews, who was doing a lot of the work on CardPlayer.com (and still does). When the WSOP ended, we both wanted to continue covering Las Vegas tournaments. I loved the work, and Jeremy loved having fresh new content for the website. But Jeff Shulman vetoed the idea, saying the WSOP was a special case, and Card Player doesn’t normally cover tournaments that way. We even offered to do some light coverage for the site on our own time (evenings and weekends), but that was vetoed as well. They didn’t want us "burning out."

Shortly after this, the Art Director who had been with the magazine for over ten years left to become a teacher. There was some panic in the office, because nobody was trained to take her place. I didn’t want the job, but I told them that I could easily handle it, for the good of the magazine. It was a tough job, because we had a three-person art department putting out a magazine every two weeks, Jenn_creason_1and the week she left we started doing Card Player Europe once a month on top of that. I was easily working 60 hour weeks, sometimes working past midnight to get everything finished.

When Jen Creason (at left) began reporting for Pokerwire.com in Tunica in January 2005, Barry and Jeff realized they should be doing the same thing. I had done great work at the 2004 WSOP, so they tapped me for the job, and immediately started looking for a new Art Director.

The next two months were spent doing two full-time jobs simultaneously — Art Directing and Tournament Reporting.

It was the busiest time of my life, and I was sleeping only a few hours a night. I literally did nothing but eat, sleep, and work. But that was good practice for the 2005 WSOP, which was pretty much the same schedule.

WCP: How much has the poker media changed from 2003 to the present?

BJ: I still consider myself fairly new to the poker scene ‚Äî I only started two years ago. (Although like a lot of people, I’ve played the game my entire life.) But here’s my assessment:

Even with the explosion of televised poker in 2003 (thanks to Chris Moneymaker on ESPN and the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel), the poker-specific magazines and websites were behind the curve. They were getting more readers and more visitors to their websites, but they weren’t improving their coverage. For example, Card Player didn’t have any serious magazine competition (they would just buy other poker magazines), so there wasn’t much pressure.

The old paradigm was tournament reports. Andy Glazer or Max Shapiro would watch a tournament and take detailed notes, and then write a solid summary at the end of the day. That’s what I did at the 2004 WSOP.

Mike Paulle was already blogging for PokerPages.com when Jen Creason (Pokerwire.com) showed up on the scene in early 2005. Paulle had no competition before that, and was providing what might be called "relaxed" updates. Jen was a whirlwind by comparison, running around getting hand updates and chip counts, and posting them online as quickly as she could.

Dannyglover

I started reporting live at the next tournament (2005 LA Poker Classic), and took my cue from Jen. However, I was also taking photographs and writing end-of-day reports, rather than just live updates. After a few tournaments with us relative youngsters, Mike Paulle quoted Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon: "I’m too old for this shit." (He’s in his 60s.) After the 2005 WSOP, he retired.

The big sites have since added video and audio content, but the emphasis is still on live up-to-the-minute updates. I think that’s important, but it’s not the whole story. It’s hard to find a good daily report nowadays, and that’s ultimately the best historical record. If I want a thorough recap of the recent Mirage Poker Showdown, I don’t want to sift through pages of live updates. Give me something well-written that I can read, giving me highlights and analysis, and the story of the tournament from day one to the final table.

If I had my way, I wouldn’t restrict media access at the WSOP until the Main Event (and only for logistical reasons). I’m a big believer in competition; it makes everyone work harder and strive to do new and better things.

I hope that the media restrictions at this year’s WSOP at least force more creativity into the alternative coverage at smaller sites. I don’t trust the mainstream poker media to take risks.

As for me, I have my own plans to do something new at the 2006 WSOP, but it’s hardly revolutionary.

WCP: Which poker player photographs the best?

Doyle_brunsonBJ: It’s always easier to photograph players in sunglasses, because you don’t have to wait to see their eyes. If a player is looking down, it looks bad. But if they’re looking down and wearing sunglasses, you can get away with it.

Doyle Brunson is a great subject. His face has so much character, and almost any expression (smiling, frowning, straight poker face) looks great on him. Also, he usually holds his head up at the poker table, making it easier to get good shots.

Jennifer_tilly002_1Jennifer Tilly is also great. She knows how to be photographed, and she’s much more beautiful than some people give her credit for. The photo shoot after she won her WSOP bracelet was a blast.

WCP: The worst?

BJ: Some players just aren’t attractive, but I won’t embarrass them with names.

He’s not an unattractive guy, but it took me a while to get a good shot of Barry Greenstein at the table. He has deep-set features, and he rarely smiles when he plays. When he grew out the beard after last year’s WSOP, he became easier to photograph.

WCP: You’re originally from Atlanta, which is where we’re based. What do you miss most about ATL?

BJ: That’s where all my family and closest friends live, and I miss them the most. I also miss Braves games, jogging around Stone Mountain, and good Southern barbecue.

WCP: Does the Braves consecutive run of divisional titles end this year?

BJ: They’ve been counted out many times before, but Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz always find a way to win the division. I wrote a column on the Braves for Points North (a local Atlanta magazine) in 2003, suggesting their 12th title that year would probably be their last for a while. (The point was to encourage everyone to strongly support the team in the playoffs, the way we did in ’91 and ’92.) I love that article, it was published in Points North Magazine. I don’t think I’m any more nervous this year than I was back in early 1999 or 2000. We’ll just have to wait and see.

WCP: What was your most memorable poker covering experience?

This one’s easy. Johnny Chan’s tenth bracelet, when he was playing heads up against Phil "Unabomber" Laak. The entire tournament room was electric, and those of us in Media Row knew we were watching something special. Dr. Pauly and Jay Greenspan closed their computers, and just sat and watched as spectators, enjoying the moment. I took the opposite tact, typing as much information on every hand as quickly as I could, including their dialogue. I wanted the people who weren’t there to share the same feeling that we had.

It’s a shame it only lasted 16 hands.

WCP: From who you’ve met, what poker player’s table/TV image most differs from their real life personality?

Hellmuthmonitor_3BJ: I don’t know Phil Hellmuth (at right) well enough to comment on somebody like him. Mike Matusow is pretty much WYSIWYG. He might be nicer than what you see on TV, because he will spend time talking to fans. Daniel Negreanu is as friendly and cool as he appears, but it’s hard for him sometimes because he gets mobbed for photos and autographs ‚Äî he accommodates the fans as much as possible, but you can only do so much.

This is a tough question, because I don’t watch as much poker on TV, now that I’ve been at the events live. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson looks like he might be part of a threatening motorcycle gang, but he is an incredibly nice, gentle guy. Wouldn’t harm a flea.

WCP: Is poker a sport?

BJ: I’ve put a lot of thought into this question when I started reporting. More than any healthy person should. Ultimately, it comes down to semantics.

Poker is a game, not a sport.

If you look up the relevant definitions for game and sport, they’re nearly identical (competitive activity), although "sport" requires a physical component. Poker could theoretically be played by a fully paralyzed quadriplegic with nothing but blinking eyes to indicate his betting.

The sport question comes up a lot because the analogy works from a media perspective. We cover it like a sport, and fans watch it like a sport. The sports analogy makes it easier for us to talk about the things we need to talk about.

But from the player’s perspective, strictly speaking, it’s a game.

WCP: You’ve spent some time developing screenplays. What movie should’ve won best picture last year?

La_confidentialBJ: I haven’t had much time for movies since entering the world of poker. I used to go out of my way to see every Best Picture nominee, but now I’m out of the loop.

So let me rewind to 1997, when I was living in Burbank and following things much more closely. "L.A. Confidential" definitely should have won that year. "Titanic" was a better movie than some critics give it credit for, but it’s no "L.A. Confidential." That film was amazing.

More recently, I think "Pirates of the Caribbean" should have won, but the Academy rarely considers a film like that to be "best." But it has as perfect a script as I’ve ever seen, with fantastic characters, a great plot, and it never slows down while you never know what’s coming next. And the production values are incredible, from director on down. It’s on my all-time top 10 list for movies.

WCP: But LA Confidential never gave us lines like, "You jump I jump," "You’re so stupid Rose!" and "Come baaack. Come baaack." All we got from LA Confidential was, "Rollo Tomasi."

BJ: But "L.A. Confidential" gave us great moments rather than catch phrases. I was dragged to see that movie by a girlfriend, but then I had to be dragged out … I wanted to see it again.

The moments of realization in that movie … when Kevin Spacey realizes that Guy Pearce tattled on the other cops … When Guy Pearce realizes that the arrest that made him a hero was a setup … When Russell Crowe realizes he’s being used as nothing but a thug … when Guy Pearce realizes that James Cromwell is the crooked cop behind it all, because he mentioned "Rollo Tomasi" … what an interwoven bunch of characters.

If you want catch phrases, I’ll point to "Pirates of the Caribbean"

Captain Jack Sparrow, after being slapped by a woman: "Not I deserved that." After he’s slapped by a different woman: "I may have deserved that."

Captain Jack Sparrow: "This girl. How far are you willing to go to save her?"
Will Turner: "I’d die for her."
Captain Jack Sparrow: "Oh, good. No worries then."

Commodore Norrington: "You are without doubt the worse pirate I’ve ever heard of."
Captain Jack Sparrow: "But you have heard of me."

Pirate: "You? You’re supposed to be dead."
Captain Jack Sparrow: "Am I not?"

And many, many more.

WCP: Who will win American Idol tonight?

Katharine_mcphee_american_idol BJ: I’m not an avid fan, but I have watched a few seasons of American Idol. (The second season, the third season, and the end of this season.) I like Katharine McPhee when she does the sultry stuff (I also liked her "Over the Rainbow"), but I think Taylor Hicks deserves to win. Plus, from the show’s perspective, he’ll be a better champion for them because I think he has a better future in the business. He’s distinctive, while she could easily get lost among all the other pretty young female singers.

WCP: Sounds like you’ve got a case of the McPheever…

BJ: I’m a sucker for attractive women. And I melt if they can sing in that low, jazzy voice. My friends and I call it a "Spice voice," after a girl we knew in college. It took on added meaning once the Spice Channel appeared.

Would I buy an album of hers? Not unless she releases a collection of old jazz standards.

WCP: What’s the greatest poker movie ever made (has there been a good one???)?

BJ: I have yet to see a great poker movie, but I’m looking forward to "Lucky You," because it’s got Curtis Hanson behind it as writer/director. He did a little movie you might have heard of called "L.A. Confidential."

It stars Eric Bana ("The Hulk," "Black Hawk Down"), Robert Duvall ("The Godfather," "Apocalypse Now"), and Drew Barrymore ("E.T.," "The Wedding Singer," "Charlie’s Angels"). It’s certainly not a slam dunk (I know very little about the script), but I spent a day on the set back in May 2005, and I was impressed with the passion behind that movie.

WCP: What’s your favorite Vegas card room?

Bel_gate_photoBJ: The Bellagio. I used to play poker more often (before reporting), and it was definitely my home casino, where I usually played $2-$5 no-limit hold’em. I’m just more comfortable there than anywhere else.

In terms of tournaments, Jack McClelland and his staff are second to none.

My biggest win was in the late summer of 2004. I bought in for $200 in the $2-$5 game, and in 7-8 hours I turned it into about $2,700. So I put $1,200 in my pocket ($200 buy-in plus $1,000 profit) and sat down at the $5-$10 no-limit game with $1,500. (Those of us in the $2-$5 limit called it "the big game" because it was in the high-limit area, where the real players played.) I had a rough start, losing about half on a set of sixes when the other guy hit a flush on the turn. But I believe I played better that day than ever before or since. I turned it around, and when I eventually finished the day after 18 hours or so, I cashed out $6,500. My profit that day was $7,500, and I would later use that money to buy a car. It was a great feeling.

The single biggest hand of my life was flopping a full house with deuces on a board of 10-10-2 ‚Äî the other two guys had tens, but the guy with K-10 moved all in on the flop, and when I called, the guy with J-10 happily mucked. It was a $3,000 pot, but I think I could have made more if he didn’t push. I tipped the dealer (Tim) $50, and he later said it was the biggest tip he ever got. We eventually became friends, and he helped me set up the infamous 12-player drunken sit-n-go in the Bahamas with Isabelle Mercier, Gavin Smith, and Wil Wheaton.

WCP: What’s your dream six-person table, can be living, dead, or ficticious people…

Isabelle_mercier BJ: I’d be tempted to invite old cowboys like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, but I would be asking them about everything but poker, so that’s probably not in the spirit of the question.

To me, the ideal poker game is social and relaxed, with a bunch of friends having a great time while playing poker. So I’d invite friends, including some from the poker media. (We always spend so much time around poker, but we don’t get to play as often as we’d like.)

My Six-Player Table: Amy Calistri, the three Pokerwire girls (Jen, Heather, and Amanda), and Isabelle Mercier. The sixth seat would be mine, of course. I told you I’m a sucker for the ladies. :)

Thanks BJ and nice work on the new site. Readers, check out our interview with T.J. Cloutier later tonight.

 

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